MMA: Previewing UFC 296 in Las Vegas

darren cooper
By:
Darren Cooper
14/12/2023/
UFC

Highlights

  • Saturday is the last big UFC card of 2023 with a pair of title fights headlining the card and perhaps a former U.S. President will be cage side.
  • UFC Welterweight champ Leon Edwards makes his second title defense against Colby Covington in the Main Event.
  • The UFC Flyweight title is on the line in the Co-Main Event when Alexandre Pantoja takes on Brandon Royval. It’s a rematch from two years ago.

UFC 296 promises to send the year out with a bang.

The UFC’s beloved brand of mayhem has its final big card of the year Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. There are five fights on the main card, with the undercard starting at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+.

Michigan sportsbooks don’t shy away from a good fight. They have posted odds on each of the night’s 14 bouts, including props on method of victory for each fighter, how long each fight will go and spreads on the card if it goes to a decision.

Welcome Chaos 

The Main Event sees British-born champ Leon Edwards get in the Octagon with Colby “Chaos” Covington. Edwards is 21-3 and has won 12 fights in a row, including a stunning fifth-round KO of Kamaru Usman.

Covington hasn’t fought in 21 months. He has become sort of a crossover star with his vocal support of Donald Trump and Republican ideologies. There’s talk Trump, or members of his family, may be cage side for this one. This is Covington’s third shot at a title. The Californian has embraced the Super Villain persona.

DraftKings had Edwards as the slight favorite at -166 on the moneyline and Covington +140. It also had Edwards as +275 to win by KO.

So Soon, So Good? 

The Co-Main Event sees two fighters get back in the cage after just meeting two years ago. Alexandre Pantoja vanquished Brandon Royval with a rear naked choke in the second round of their non-title fight.

But Pantoja went on to win the flyweight title and who’s the top contender now? It’s Royval. 

Pantoja is 26-5 in his UFC career and doesn’t mind striking or rolling around on the mat. Royval has won three straight fights since the loss to Pantoja.

The odds at DraftKings have Pantoja the favorite at -192 to win the fight with Royval at +160. The over/under is at 2.5 rounds. Not surprisingly considering their first fight, Pantoja to win by a submission is +120.

Waiting In the Wings 

There are plenty of good fights on the undercard, but most eyes will be on rising UFC welterweight star Shavkat Rakhmonov, who puts his 17-0 record on the line against 40-year old Stephen Thompson.

Rakhmonov was the first Kazakh fighter to sign with UFC and all of his 17 wins have either come from KO or submission. In fact, only two of his fights have even gone into the third round.

Thompson is a UFC veteran, but his better days might be behind him. He’s only won four of his last 10 fights.

This fight has some of the biggest odds of the night. BetMGM has Rakhmonov as a huge -650 moneyline favorite.

Born and raised in Louisiana, Darren Cooper has a fond appreciation for bayous, Mardi Gras beads and the sports betting industry. Darren has worked for multiple print and online publications since 1998, primarily as a sports columnist in the Northeast. He’s covered a Super Bowl (it was a blowout), the World Series (same) and the NBA Draft (man, those guys are tall). For the last few years he’s dug deep into the sports gambling industry as it exploded across America, learning how the legal sausage is made and how while all the sportsbooks look the same, they all have different identities and styles. He’s learned to always bet within his means -- and take the under. When not in front of his computer creating, Darren spends time with his three boys. He runs, reads and is always looking for the next big thing to write about.