UFC 296: Edwards vs. Covington Predictions & Fight Picks

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UFC 296: Edwards vs. Covington takes place on Sunday (AEDT) at the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada – and we’ve got our UFC picks for all the fights below.

UFC 296: Edwards vs. Covington Predictions

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Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington Prediction

Leon Edwards cemented his status as welterweight champion with back-to-back wins over Kamaru Usman and now looks to extend his 12-fight unbeaten run against Colby Covington, who returns after an almost two-year absence since beating his rival Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision at UFC 272.

The 32-year-old Edwards is a fighter who has proven to be very well-rounded during his rise to the top of the division. Surprisingly for a UK fighter his wrestling has been a strong suit with good takedowns and top control, while he’s also not easy to take down, is comfortable working his way back to his feet and can more than hold his own in the clinch too. Still, his willingness to wrestle in the UFC was initially unexpected since he is also a skilled striker with a nice balance of speed, movement, technique and power. Despite those attributes he’s not the kind of fighter to overcommit looking for a big finish, preferring a more cautious approach that relies on making his strikes count when he does land them, while staying sound defensively.

The 35-year-old Covington is a fighter who relishes fighting at a high-pace, weaponizing his impressive cardio to make his opponents wilt. His boxing style covers up for his lack of power and finessewith sheer volume and toughness. There’s no doubt his biggest strength is his wrestling though and he can be relentless with his takedowns and operates well in the clinch too. He’s not the biggest welterweight though and will be giving up 3″ in height and 2″ in reach to Edwards. It’s also concerning that he’s had such a long layoff, and his two wars with Usman were gruelling and may well have taken a toll on him.

It remains to be seen if Covington still has the hunger to shake off the ring rust and perform at his best at this stage in his career. Either way I think it’s a tricky fight for him as Edwards is the slicker and harder-hitting striker of the two and won’t be easy to take down and keep there for extended periods. It will be interesting to see how Edwards deals with Covington’s pressure, but I’ll take him to pick the contender apart on the feet with clean strikes and do enough to avoid being bullied in the wrestling department to win on the scorecards.

Prediction: Leon Edwards to win by decision.

Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Royval Prediction

Alexandre Pantoja seized the flyweight title from Brandon Moreno last time out via split-decision and now heads into a rematch against Brandon Royval, who he previously submitted back in 2021. Royval has since gone on a three-fight winning streak though and now gets a chance to not only get revenge, but also become champion too.

The first fight between Pantoja and Royval was entertaining and competitive for as long as it lasted. Pantoja led the charge by instantly taking the fight to the mat and did a good job of getting back control several times, but Royval proved difficult to contain as he constantly tried to create scrambling opportunities and threatened with leg locks. The high pace on the mat continued on the feet too, with both fighters having their moments, exchanging big punches, while Royval also threatened with kicks. In the end though Pantoja was able to get Royval down again in the second round again to set up a rear-naked choke finish.

Pantoja has already shown he can do well against a familiar opponent as he’s now beaten former champ Moreno on no less than three occasions. That last five-round title encounter between them was valuable for this upcoming fight as like Royval, Moreno constantly pushes a high pace, and Pantoja coped with that admirably. Royval’s unpredictable creativity will be something he’ll have to be mindful of all fight long though, whether with his versatile striking or spur-of-the-moment submissions.

Pantoja is a very good all-rounder though and fights well under pressure. I expect his wrestling advantage to continue to be a big factor in this fight, enabling him to get the action to the canvas when he wants too, while he punches hard enough and has a strong enough chin to earn respect on the feet too. In the end though I see a similar outcome to the last fight where Royval’s eagerness to scramble on the mat and create chaos runs him into trouble against the more calculated Pantoja, who sinks in another choke before the fight reaches the championship rounds.

Prediction: Alexandre Pantoja to win by submission in Rd3.

Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Stephen Thompson Prediction

The undefeated Shavkat Rakhmonov has been an unstoppable force in the welterweight division so far, winning all five of his UFC fights inside the distance, and now goes up against one of the division’s best known veterans in Stephen Thompson, who is coming off a TKO victory against Kevin Holland a year ago.

The 29-year-old Rakhmonov is impressively well-rounded, pushes a hard pace wherever the fight goes and has shown little in the way of weaknesses during his 17-0 career to date. On the feet he has compact boxing and a versatile array of kicks, ensuring he has plenty of finishing potential, while also demonstrating a sturdy chin. He’s strong in the clinch too and continues to impress when he brings the fight to the mat with good wrestling control, hard ground-and-pound and dangerous submissions. When all of his attributes are combined it’s no surprise that all 17 of Rakhmonov’s fights have been stopped inside the distance, with 8 by way of strikes and 9 by submission.

Thompson is an exceptionally seasoned striker whose gone from a point-fighting karate background through to being a stand-out kickboxer and then enjoying success in MMA too, fighting for the welterweight title on two occasions. ‘Wonderboy’ is an awkward nickname now that he’s 40-years-old, but it is still genuinely a marvel that Thompson continues to age so gracefully, retaining much of the speed, athleticism and agility that has been a hallmark of his striking style for many years. He can still throw up lightning-quick head kicks, his movement and distance management is excellent and he remains quite sharp on the counter. It’s only natural that his reactions aren’t quite as good as they used to be though and so as good as he is defensively, he can be caught out more often now than in the past, and as a result can be hurt too.

However, even putting aside Thompson’s age this is still a very tough stylistic match-up for him due to Rakhmonov’s major advantage on the mat. Thompson’s always been about keeping the fight upright, but that’s going to be hard to do here, and his takedown defense is weaker than it used to be, so I think it’s only a matter of time before he’s flat on his back. From there a submission finish looks likely and I’ll say it happens within a couple of rounds.

Prediction: Shavkat Rakhmonov to win by submission in Rd2.

Tony Ferguson vs. Paddy Pimblett Prediction

Tony Ferguson will attempt to break his six-fight losing slump when he goes up against Paddy Pimblett, who returns after a year on the sidelines due to ankle surgery seeking to add to his four-fight unbeaten run in the UFC so far.

Only a few months shy of his 40th birthday some feel that Ferguson should already have hung up his gloves as he’s looked a shadow of his former self since his 12-fight winning streak came to a screeching halt in 2020.

Ferguson clearly still believes he can turn things around though, and has been working with ex-Navy Seal and ultramarathon-runner David Goggins ahead of this fight in an attempt to shake things up and get back to his best.  It’s a strange choice though as cardio has always been one of Ferguson’s strongest suits, and isn’t the reason for his downfall.  The real problem is that he can no longer rely on his exceptional durability that allowed him to outlast opponents in a war of attrition.  All those wars have clearly taken a toll on him in the long-run, and meanwhile weaknesses in his ground game have also been exposed, leaving him vulnerable to dominant wrestlers and submission specialists.

So this could be viewed as a chance to get Pimblett a big-name win as he’s shown signs of star power and is in his prime at 28.  Pimblett has his own problems though, as despite his winning streak his performances have often left something to be desired, not least his latest decision win over Jared Gordon last December, which many felt he should have lost.

Pimblett is at his best on the mat as he has genuinely good finishing instincts via submission.  However, his wrestling is on the weaker side, particularly defensively, and although he carries good power on the feet he’s not the most technical and is extremely hittable.  That’s led to him being rocked several times in the Octagon, though he has shown good powers of recovery.

I suspect Pimblett will quickly run into trouble against virtually anybody that’s ranked at 155lbs, and an in his prime Ferguson would have been a big favorite, but the veteran does look shot at this point, so I’ll take Pimblett to find a submission by the second round.

Prediction: Paddy Pimblett to win by submission in Rd2.

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UFC 296: Edwards vs. Covington Prelims

(Predicted winners in bold)

Bryce Mitchell vs. Josh Emmett

Irene Aldana vs. Karol Rosa

Cody Garbrandt vs. Brian Kelleher

Casey O’Neill vs. Ariane Lipski

Alonzo Menifield vs. Dustin Jacoby

Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Cody Durden

Andre Fili vs. Lucas Almeida

Martin Buday vs. Shamil Gaziev

Randy Brown vs. Muslim Salikhov

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About Ross Cole

Ross Cole is one of the most prolific mixed martial arts writers in the world, having written more than 17,000 MMA news stories for MMA Insight, which he founded in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts, and reaching millions of die-hard MMA fans in the process. You can read more of Ross's work at MMAInsight.com.