Since beginning the year in January, the UFC has presented a total of 19 championship fights on pay-per-view. 2023 closes out for the MMA promotion this weekend with UFC 296, but not before two more belts are handed out.
Dana White and company don’t have to travel very far to get to UFC 296 on Saturday, either. It’s right in their own backyard in Las Vegas.
T-Mobile Arena is the host venue to the last pay-per-view of the old year. Absent of any new cancellations between now and Saturday evening, UFC 296 (10 pm ET/ 7 pm PT, ESPN+ pay-per-view, United States) will see 13 contests held. 2023’s schedule of events is topped by two title fights, including the UFC 296 main event of the evening.
Welterweight Title Up For Grabs in Last UFC Fight of ’23
Your last UFC main event of the year is the battle for the promotion’s welterweight championship. Incumbent titleholder Leon Edwards (21-3, 1 NC MMA, 13-2, 1 NC UFC) defends the strap when he meets No. 3 contender Colby Covington (17-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC.)
As with all UFC championship fights, the UFC 296 main event is an advertised maximum of five rounds at five minutes per round to close out both the show and the 2023 schedule of events.
— UFC (@ufc) December 13, 2023
UFC 296 Main Event Fighter Comparison and Betting Odds
Heading into the UFC 296 main event on Saturday night, champion Leon Edwards stands as the taller man at six feet even, compared to Colby Covington’s 5-foot-11 frame. Edwards owns a two-inch reach (74 inches to 72 inches) and leg reach (43 inches to 41 inches) advantage over Covington.
As of Thursday morning, the oddsmakers have Leon Edwards installed as a -170 favorite on the money line, with Colby Covington countering as a +145 underdog. If you plan on betting on this or any other fight happening this weekend, please wager responsibly.
Leon Edwards Looking to Run Unbeaten Streak to 12 Fights in UFC 296 Main Event
Champion Leon Edwards has posted a 4-0 record with one no-contest over his last five fights. All told, he’s currently on an 11-fight unbeaten streak. Last time out, he scored a majority decision victory over Kamaru Usman (20-4 MMA, 15-3 UFC) in a trilogy bout between the two on March 18 in UFC 286 in London.
Edwards has had some choice words to say about Covington during his media availability earlier this week, including the fact that his opponent’s been inactive of late.
“I can’t see him– he’s already turned down all the younger guys coming up,” Edwards told the press. “He’s turned down everyone the UFC offered him and sat out for two years, so now I can’t see him winning the belt and fighting all the young up-and-comers. I just can’t see it happening. I think when someone like that gets stuff handed to them so easily all the time that he feels like he can do that.”
These are some pretty critical shots fired off by the championship in this war of words. However, as is his brand, Colby Covington can return fire all the same.
Colby Covington Returns After Lengthy Hiatus
In the other corner, Colby Covington has gone 3-2 in his last five fights and has alternated wins and losses in his last four. Almost two years ago, he defeated Jorge Masvidal (35-17 MMA, 12-10 UFC) in UFC 272‘s main event.
Any time that Covington gets in front of a microphone on press row, his explosive personality will come out to play. His Wednesday media availability was no different, where he stood up for United Kingdom-based MMA supporters.
“It could have been in the UK, but he said an all-time (expletive deleted) you to all the UK fans,” Covington said of Edwards’ decision to not fight in England, “and said ‘No, I don’t want to defend this title in the UK. I’d rather come to US soil, so history repeats itself. It’s just going to be another 1776 and that means British don’t come to America. You come to America, you’re going home empty-handed, junior.”
In the same press conference, Covington took some time to slam Edwards with personal attacks.
“He has no redeeming qualities,” he said. “The guy’s a complete joke. He’s low-IQ. I’d love for the media to go ask him, like, what is his level of education? Did he even get through grade school?”
We all know Colby Covington can talk a tough game, but will he deliver with aggression when the time comes? Tune into the UFC 296 main event for the answer.
Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction
Stylistically, the UFC 296 main event looks to favor Colby Covington. Although both Covington and Leon Edwards own black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, an edge is given to the former’s background as a former collegiate wrestler at Oregon State.
Edwards Has a Diverse Game Plan
In MMA, it’s not just about a fighter using a single tactic to predicate his attacks. Sometimes, they’ll need to pull out all the pages in the playbook to get the job done. Leon Edwards used everything in his arsenal versus Usman back in March.
For a chunk of the first round, Edwards and Usman stalked each other, but it was his takedown defense that told the story on the evening. With little exception, Usman couldn’t dump him.
Leon Edwards stuck to his plan of attack all fight long, peppering Usman with a variety of strikes along the way. If Edwards can avoid getting taken down by Covington, he’ll be golden on Saturday night.
Covington Can Turn UFC 296 Main Event Into Wrestling Match
In the other corner, keeping Colby Covington on his feet is easier said than done. Once he puts his opponent on the mat, he might not get up. Jorge Masvidal found this out in 2022.
During the first round of a scheduled five, Covington took the back mount upon landing his second takedown of Masvidal of the period. It was Covington’s world for the remainder of the round, exposing Masvidal with several submission attempts while softening him up with ground and pound.
While Covington didn’t get the finish that evening, he controlled the fight from bell to bell. All it takes for Colby Covington to win the title from Edwards is one takedown. If he can get Leon Edwards on the ground a single time, it could be a wrap.
This is a brilliant fight to end out the year in the UFC. There’s one certainty about the UFC 296 main event: The winner will have truly earned it.
Prediction: Colby Covington by Unanimous Decision.