UFC 296: Edwards vs. Covington Betting Preview, Expert Picks and Analysis

UFC 296: Edwards vs. Covington Betting Preview, Expert Picks and Analysis

The final UFC event of 2023 is days away from getting underway, and we’ve called in our UFC betting expert for what promises to be an exciting, and profitable Saturday night. 

We have not one, but two titles on the line at UFC 296. In the co-main event, Alexandre Pantoja will look to defend his recently acquired Flyweight belt against rising star Brandon Royval. Flyweight fights are always exhilarating to watch, and the speed in the hands of these two men is borderline unbelievable. The two combatants have a combined 31 finishes between them, ensuring the fight could be turned on its head at a moment’s notice. In the main event, Colby Covington is taking on Leon Edwards, with Edwards’ Welterweight belt up for grabs. Covington is just 2-2 in his last four fights, and hasn’t been very active in his pursuit for the belt. Sometimes, a fighter’s flashy public image will vault them to an undeserved title shot, and Covington is certainly benefitting from that. Across the cage, the champion is undefeated in his last 12 fights, and will look to add to that tally at the expense of the American fighter.

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UFC 296 Betting Preview, Expert Picks & Analysis

UFC Welterweight Championship Bout: Leon Edwards (C) vs Colby Covington (#3)

In the main event, Leon Edwards (21-3, 1 NC) will look to defend his title at the legendary Madison Square Garden. He hasn’t lost a fight since 2015, when he was easily manhandled by a future champion, Kamaru Usman. Since then, he has been on an absolute tear, winning 9 straight fights to set up a rematch with Usman, this time with a championship on the line. After getting dominated for the better part of 24 minutes, Edwards was starting a career altering defeat in the face. However, he was able to ‘pull it out of the fire,’ land a massive head kick, and leave Usman unconscious on the canvas. The two squared off for a third time earlier this year, with few experts giving Edwards a chance to replicate his last second knockout in the trilogy. While he didn’t put Usman away, Edwards dominated the fight from start to finish, and walked away with a comfortable decision victory over his rival. Edwards has a quality stand up game, sound take down defense, and the will to win like few others in the promotion. His ability to dictate the pace and location of the fight, while keeping himself safe (he’s never been finished), has led to bountiful success in the UFC. While Colby Covington (17-3) may not pose the same type of threat Usman did, he is still more than capable of pulling off the upset. 

Covington has been a mainstay near the top of the UFC rankings for the last several years. He claimed the interim Welterweight Championship in 2018, in the midst of a 7 fight win streak. His streak was snapped by Usman after a controversial late stoppage in 2019, and he’s since only fought once per year, going 2-1 since that fight. Covington lacks the size and strength to dominate fights from start to finish, but he more than makes up for it with his cardio. The self proclaimed “Donald Trump's favorite fighter” refuses to cut weight, allowing him to be in optimal shape when the fight night rolls around. His NCAA wrestling experience allows him to leverage his smaller frame into an advantageous position, and with Edwards being significantly smaller than Usman, he should find more success with his takedowns. His stand up game is nothing to scoff at, but in all likelihood, Covington needs to get this fight to the mat to secure a victory. 

At first glance, this fight appears easy to gauge. Edwards hasn’t lost in over 8 years, beating Usman twice along the way, while Covington’s two recent losses were both against Usman. However, stylistically, these two fighters are very different, and it cannot be assumed Edwards will emerge victorious. Edwards is consistently taken down in his bouts, and if Covington can get on top, he will not relent from a dominant position. The British fighter will need to stay upright, put his reach advantage to good use, and avoid any clinch or scramble positions. For Covington, that will be the exact gameplan, and I expect it to work. The lack of activity for the 35 year old Covington is concerning, but his cardio will not be an issue, and his polished set of tools will allow him to stay competitive in the stand up game, while setting up a shot to the mat. He’s coming in as a rightful underdog, but considering Edwards is seemingly unable to string together an entire 25 minutes of activity, Covington will get plenty of chances to make a meaningful impact in this bout. There is plenty on the line for these two men, and the home crowd will be sent home happy when their American boy gets the job done, winning on all 3 judges' scorecards.

Best Bet: Colby Covington to Win (+130)


UFC Flyweight Championship Bout: Alexandre Pantoja (C) vs Brandon Royval (#2)

Alexandre Pantoja (26-5) has a wealth of experience, and after being forced to wait for a title shot, he didn’t let the opportunity slip. After starting his UFC career a very respectable 6-3, it appeared as though he’d be unable to take the final leap needed for a shot at UFC gold. However, a decision win against Manel Kape, and a pair of submission victories Brandon Royval and Alex Perez granted him a title shot in the wide open Flyweight division, where he edged out a win against the former champion, Brandon Moreno. Pantoja is truly a joy to watch. His slick submission game has led to 10 taps throughout his career, but his heavy hands on the feet has allowed him to stand and trade with the best in the world. He’s often the shorter fighter when he’s in the octagon, but quick feet and rapid, yet powerful hands leaves very few holes to exploit in his game. While he may have beat Brandon Royval (15-6) once on the way to the title, Royval has since string together 3 straight wins, and is ready to level up the score at 1-1. 

Royval started his UFC career with a bang, winning back to back fights via submission in 2020. His rapid rise to stardom was halted, after losing to a pair of future champions in Brandon Moreno and Pantoja in back to back fights. He’s since rebounded, winning three straight fights, one by submission, decision, and knockout. Royval has power in his fists, uses his range well, and effectively dips in and out of exchanges. He’s been able to pile on the pressure, while staying safe, which is a fine line to tow. On the mat, he occasionally lacks the grappling power to take advantage of his solid fundamentals, but he is overall inept on the floor. 

Before getting into the upcoming bout, it must be stated that these two fought just 2 years ago, with Pantoja taking the victory. It was a razor close first round, with both fighters taking the round on different judge’s scorecards. Royval was able to dictate the tempo on the feet, but he was clearly outmatched on the mat. Pantoja didn’t need a second invitation to put his jiu-jitsu black belt to use, finishing the fight early in the second round with a rear-naked choke. In their upcoming title fight, it's hard to imagine it going any differently. Royval may be the better stand up artist, but he’s unlikely to find the knockout, and will need to consistently rack up points over all 5 rounds to get the nod. He’s great on the ground, but his biggest strength is neutralized by superior grappling from Pantoja. This fight will not stay on the feet for the entire 25 minutes, and Pantoja will make quick work of Royval when it inevitably goes to the mat. He’s a -175 favorite on the moneyline, and +150 to win by submission, and I’ll lean towards the outright win rather than a prop. Pantoja has had numerous ground and pound knockouts, so there’s no telling how the fight will finish once it hits the ground. He’ll probably sink in a submission, but the moneyline is the safer, and more advisable pick.

PICK: Alexandre Pantoja to Win (-175)


UFC Main Card Welterweight Bout: Shavkat Rakhmonov (#5) vs Stephen Thompson (#6)

Stephen Thompson (17-6-1) is entering the twilight of his career, and he is desperate to vault himself back into the title picture with a big win over Shavkat Rakhmonov (17-0). Thompson joined the UFC in 2012, 2 years before Rakhmonov had participated in a professional MMA fight. He got off to a flying start, with a first round head kick KO, before losing to Matt Brown just 2 months later. Undeterred by his first career loss, he rattled off 7 straight wins to set up a title shot against the then-champion, Tyron Woodley. The two fought out a draw in their first meeting, before Woodley edged out a majority decision in the rematch. It was very clear Thompson deserved to be fighting for the belt, but he’s since gone 4-4, dropping winnable fights against Darren Till and Anthony Pettis along the way. He most recently put on a striking clinic in a main event bout against Kevin Holland, forcing Holland’s corner to throw in the white towel before the 5th round got underway. He is one of very few karate based fighters in the UFC, and he makes use of every inch of his 6 foot 3 reach. At 40 years of age, Thompson cannot afford to drop a single fight if he intends to earn another crack at a UFC championship. 

Across the octagon, Shavkat Rakhmonov takes no prisoners, and will happily end Thompson’s career to keep his undefeated streak alive. He’s a perfect 5-0 in the UFC, with 4 submissions and 1 knockout. He can stand and trade with the best in the business, but the Kazakh native will be wary of getting into prolonged striking exchanges with a striking technician like Thompson. In all likelihood, he will need to get this fight to the mat as soon as possible, where he should be able to sink in a choke. His relentless Dagestani-esque fighting style has caused problems for strikers in the past, and when he gets to the ground, Thompson will be in a world of pain. 

As sad as it will be to see him go, this will likely be a retirement fight for Thompson. He’s had a great UFC career, and will go down as one of the best fighters to never taste a championship belt, but he’ll be a step behind in this matchup. It’s very difficult to envision the -600 favorite being unable to wrestle Thompson into his realm, and once he does so, it will be curtains for the UFC veteran. Rakhmonov is simply too good on the mat and in transition to allow Thompson to evade his grasp for the 15 minutes, and we’ll be teasing down the price by taking him to get a TKO/KO/Submission at -175. While he was unable to quickly put Neil Magny away in his last fight, he eventually did so, and Thompson lacks the grappling defense to survive any prolonged sequences on the mat. His perfect record will remain intact, and he will likely need just one more victory before earning a shot at doing what Thompson was never able to do, and win a UFC championship.

PICK: Shavkat Rakhmonov by Finish  (-175) 

Spencer 's Picks
Content Contributor

Meet Spencer's Picks, a seasoned gambling enthusiast with over four years of experience in the world of sports betting. Spencer has honed his expertise as a UFC betting specialist, and you can find his comprehensive betting previews for every Pay-Per-View event at Dimers.com. With a keen eye for the octagon action, he offers valuable insights that help bettors make informed decisions.

When he's not analyzing fights or calculating odds, you can connect with Spencer on Instagram, where he shares his thoughts and predictions. As an authority in the realm of sports betting, Spencer's Picks is your go-to source for all things UFC. With a passion for the sport and a talent for picking winners, he's the name you'll want to follow for a winning edge in the betting world. Follow him on Instagram @spencerspicks to stay updated on the latest UFC betting trends and tips.

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