UFC 296 blew the roof off T-Mobile Arena last night (Sat., Dec. 16, 2023) in Las Vegas, Nevada, which featured a Welterweight title fight that saw Leon Edwards dominate Colby Covington to earn a unanimous decision win, retaining his title in the process (see it again here). In the co-headlining act, Alexandre Pantoja earned his first-ever Flyweight title defense after winning a unanimous decision over Brandon Royval after 25 minutes. In further action, Shavkat Rakhmonov submitted Stephen Thompson to improve his record to 18-0 (highlights).
Biggest Winner: Leon Edwards
Forget the fact that Joe Rogan insisted that Edwards ending the final two minutes of the fight on his back was not a good look, “Rocky” dominated that fight and kept his strap, that’s all that matters. As a matter of fact, those final two minutes were the only shining moments for “Chaos” because Edwards had his way with him from the opening bell. While it was not the exciting and spectacular finish (or fight) he may have wanted, Edwards got the job done and earned his second straight title defense. And he silenced perhaps the most brash fighter in the game and made him eats his words, too. Big wins for the brawling Brit all around, who is now unbeaten in 13 straights fights inside the world-famous Octagon.
Runner Up: Josh Emmett
Is there a better way to snap a two-fight losing streak than by scoring a contender for knockout of the year? The answer is no, there isn’t. That’s just what Emmett did last night after absolutely crushing Bryce Mitchell with a one of the most beautiful overhand right hand strikes we have ever witnessed inside the Octagon. But elation quickly turned to worry for Emmett — who could very well be the hardest hitter at 145 pounds — as a scary scene unfolded with Mitchell convulsing on the floor. He eventually made his way up, but he was still out of it and visibly hurt. As for Emmett, he gets a new lease on his combat life and confidence moving forward thanks to his $50,000-winning punch.
Honorable Mention: Shavkat Rakhmonov
Rakhmonov added to his ever-growing resume by dominating Stephen Thompson before eventually submitting him with a rear-naked choke in the final round. In doing so, “Nomad” kept his 100-percent finish rate by stopping his eighteenth different opponent. He also became the first man to ever submit “Wonderboy,” improving to 6-0 inside the Octagon, 18-0 overall. He can expect to move up a spot or two in the rankings, all while throwing his name in the championship hat. That said, Belal Muhammad is still waiting in the wings for his title shot, though UFC matchmakers could very well pit them against one another to see who gets next.
Biggest Loser(s): Tony Ferguson and Colby Covington
I really hate to put “El Cucuy” here because he did put on a valiant effort against Paddy Pimblett, going the distance with “The Baddie” when everyone expected an easy finish for the fighting Englishman. But the fact remains that Ferguson has now lost seven straight fights inside the Octagon. We all love Ferguson because his unique personality and quirky pressers have given us sheer entertainment throughout the years. But at the end of the day no one wants to see him lose another fight under the UFC banner or anywhere else, for that matter. There were times when it seemed as if “El Cucuy” was about to get finished, but he dug deep and showed the toughness that has made him a fan-favorite throughout the years to make it to the final bell. Now it remains to be seen if the promotion will have a long sit-down with the former interim Lightweight champion about calling it a day.
Now on to Covington, who I have absolutely zero issue putting in this column. After talking the talk all week, “Chaos” threw up a dud and simply did not show up to fight. Credit to Edwards, but Covington was a shell of himself in there. A lot of it can be attributed to his near two-year layoff, but the fact remains he will have a hard time trying to bounce back from this dreadful performance. Furthermore, another shot at the 170-pound strap doesn’t look promising anytime soon, and why Covington was surprised with the verdict is beyond me. The wrestling Welterweight will have to go back to the drawing board and hope he has a better offering his next time around.
For complete UFC 296 results, coverage, and highlights, click HERE.
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