UFC 296: Best Bets for Edwards-Covington and More

There are belts on the line in the welterweight and flyweight divisions this weekend.

December 14, 2023

It’s been almost a month since the last title was up for grabs at UFC at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. We’ll head to another iconic sports city for UFC 296, as Las Vegas and T-Mobile Arena will play host to this event on Saturday night. There are belts on the line in the Welterweight and Flyweight divisions, with a few other particularly interesting matchups in the leadup to the co-main events. Let’s jump in with a preview of the marquee portions of the event and some best bets.

Main Event – Welterweight Championship
Leon Edwards (-170) vs. Colby Covington (+145)

Even for casual UFC fans, Covington is a known figure, so this fight is going to get a ton of attention. Like his personality, there are also very few questions about his fighting style and his primary paths to victory are pretty clear. He was a wrestler from his childhood up through college, where he reached the NCAA tournament, won All-American honors, and won conference championships on two separate occasions. That background combined in wrestling with his endurance been a key to his success. Of his 12 UFC wins, three have come via submission while seven have come via decision – including six of his last seven victories. Takedowns and grinding this fight to a slow pace is his path to a win here.

Edwards is also the better striker compared to Covington, an important factor given his two-inch advantage in both arm and leg reach.

Edwards is the current champ of the weight class, defeating Kamaru Usman twice to do so. The first time may have been a fluky knockout just before the final bell, but he then followed that up with a fairly dominant victory by majority decision in a rematch. In some ways, his style resembles that of Covington in that he is comfortable grinding out bouts to earn victories. In 15 UFC fights—  in which Edwards has been victorious 13 times – nine have come via decision. Edwards is also the better striker compared to Covington, an important factor given his two-inch advantage in both arm and leg reach.

Covington has the advantage as a wrestler, and he’ll need to dominate that area if he plans to win this fight. However, he’s only 2-2 in his last four matches, losing to the aforementioned Usman on each occasion. He also hasn’t been in the octagon for 21 months. Meanwhile, Edwards has beaten Usman twice since Covington has fought.

Edwards is the favorite, and rightfully so. Covington is a tough person and fighter, however, so it won’t be easy. Each fighter lasts an average of 16:30 per bout, which leads us to a few different angles to attack this one.

Best Bets: Leon Edwards; fight to go the distance (-180)
Alternative Bet: Edwards by points (+135)

Co-Main Event – Flyweight Championship
Alexandre Pantoja (-190) vs. Brandon Royval (+160)

In the other UFC 296 main event, Pantoja is the current holder of the belt in this division and is defending his crown for the first time since defeating Brandon Moreno in early July. He’s won four consecutive fights, two via decision and two via submission. Though he’s won only two fights in the UFC via KO or TKO, Pantoja has a significant advantage as a striker over Royval (4.41 significant strikes per min. vs. 3.45 for Royval).

If there were to be a case for Royval, it would be his track record in the UFC (5-2) and his ability to get the job done on the mat. Four of his fights have ended via submission – he’s 3-1 – but the problem is that he lost to Pantoja via rear-naked choke roughly 28 months ago. As was noted, Royval has won three straight so maybe his momentum will carry him.

Best Bet: Pantoja

Shavkat Rakhmonov (-600) vs. Stephen Thompson (+450)

Based on the odds, this is not much of a contest. Rakhmonov remains undefeated as a professional fighter at 17-0, which includes a 5-0 mark in UFC. Each of those wins has come via stoppage, so unlike the co-main events, the chances of this going the distance are slim. To get a bit more specific, Rakhmonov has won four of his five UFC fights via submission.

Of those nine fights, seven of have come via decision, so Thompson’s strategy is pretty clearly to get to the end of the fight. To be fair, he’s been good at it…

Thompson presents the opposite profile, as he’s 41 years old and on the tail end of his career. Since an excellent start in UFC, he’s just 4-5 since 2017. Of those nine fights, seven of have come via decision, so Thompson’s strategy is pretty clearly to get to the end of the fight. To be fair, he’s been good at it, as only one of his career losses has come via stoppage.

Unfortunately, Thompson is running out of gas, making Rakhmonov a straightforward pick on paper. The real question is how get value on a bet without laying -600.

Best Bets: Rakhmonov via submission (+115), fight to not go the distance (-250), over 1.5 rounds (-165)

Paddy Pimblett (-350) vs. Tony Ferguson (+270)

The odds aren’t quite so lopsided in this one, but this is another case of a fighter being on the wrong side of his career in Ferguson. He’s lost six consecutive fights after an excellent start to his UFC career that peaked with an interim title in the lightweight division. Those days aren’t coming back, though.

The jury is still out Pimblett even though he’s 4-0 in UFC, due to the level of competition he’s faced. He’s won three of four of those bouts via stoppage, while Ferguson has reached a decision only twice in his six-fight losing streak. On the other hand, he’s made it to round three in thee of those four stoppages, so he should at least make this a matchup worth watching.

Best Bet: Over 2.5 rounds (+110), fight to not go the distance (-200), Pimblett

Ian Garry (-350) vs. Vicente Luque (+270)

Garry is a welterweight on the rise at just 26 years old and could be on a collision course with Rakhmonov in the future. Of all the main card matchups, this one sets up to be the most classic in terms of a standup brawl.  Garry lands 6.67 significant strikes per minute while Luque sits at 5.17.

To be fair, Luque has shown more versatility in his repertoire of late as he won his last fight against Rafael dos Anjos by controlling the match and landing eight of 11 takedowns. He’ll likely have to do something similar to find success in this fight, but as the odds suggest, we shouldn’t count on that.

Best Bet: Garry via KO/TKO (+135)

Dale Weber
Dale began working at RotoWire in 2017 writing MLB game wraps. He now covers primarily MLB, NFL and racing, but also has experience writing in a wide range of sports, including MMA, golf and soccer.