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Dan Tom

UFC 296: Quick Picks and Prognostications

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main card for UFC 296.

UFC 296 takes place Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN2 and early prelims on ESPN+.

Last event’s results: 5-1

Overall picks for UFC main cards in 2023: 124-84-6

Welcome to MMA Junkie’s Quick Picks and Prognostications, where I’ll be giving brief, fight-day breakdowns for UFC main cards.

With that in mind, I hope these write-ups don’t come off as curt or dismissive, as my goal here is to offer quick picks and analysis in a digestible format. All odds listed are provided by FanDuel.

If you’d like more detailed analysis from me, then feel free to check out my weekly show, The Protect Ya’ Neck Podcast.

So, without further ado…

Bryce Mitchell (-220) vs. Josh Emmett (+176)

Kicking off the main card in Las Vegas is an impromptu featherweight fight between Bryce Mitchell and Josh Emmett.

With Giga Chikadze being forced to withdraw due to a pulled groin, Emmett will now be faced with a completely different stylistic threat in Mitchell.

Although Mitchell keeps proving his detractors wrong, I have a hard time siding with him on short notice against a similar stylistic archetype that’s troubled him in the past.

Emmett may not exactly shine against southpaws, but Mitchell doesn’t possess the same type of kicking attacks that have traditionally troubled him in the past.

Add in the fact that Emmett has spent a career training with high-level grapplers at Team Alpha Male, and I can’t help but side with Emmett to survive the early storm en route to a second-round knockout win.

Tony Ferguson (+240) vs. Paddy Pimblett (-310)

Filling out the main card is a lightweight bout between Tony Ferguson and Paddy Pimblett.

Despite this having the feeling of a crossroads fight with an obvious intention to put over the younger talent, I believe that this battle could play out much differently than the odds project.

Although Ferguson is amid an ultra-depressing six-fight skid, I can’t help but point to the difference in skill level and experience.

I also noticed that Pimblett is the hardest to push back toward the fence – a place where Ferguson does his best work.

Add in the fact that Ferguson has quietly stunned every opponent who has recently finished him with left hands (which happen to be Pimblett’s common culprit), and I’ll be taking a flier on the former uncrowned lightweight king to finally get back in the win column via a TKO in round 2.

Shavkat Rakhmonov (-700) vs. Stephen Thompson (+470)

Serving as another crossroads fight on the main card is an encounter between Shavkat Rakhmonov and Stephen Thompson.

I’m a big fan of “Wonderboy,” but you can’t help but feel that this somewhat cruel booking is because Thompson declined to fight an overweight Michel Pereira earlier this year. But I digress.

Even though the big octagon should help Thompson’s striking style, I suspect that Rakhmonov – who is good about working the body – will eventually find an opportunity that allows for his proprioception to shine a la an opportunistic counter.

The pick is Rakhmonov by round 2 club-and-sub.

Alexandre Pantoja (-194) vs. Brandon Royval (+156)


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 15: (L-R) Opponents Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil and Brandon Royval face off during the UFC 296 ceremonial weigh-in at MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 15, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The co-main event in Las Vegas features a rematch for the flyweight title between Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Royval.

As stated in my in-depth breakdown, this is a fight that could go in multiple directions.

Although it felt like Royval initially had some momentum in their first fight, the countering dynamic of the style match came through as soon as the American exposed his back.

From spinning assaults off the counter to granby rolls in the scrambles, Royval’s entertaining style comes with a cost in the back-take department.

Add in the durability issues that can be present with long and lanky fighters who cut down these lighter-weight classes, and I can’t help but side with Pantoja to retain his title this Saturday.

The pick is Pantoja via TKO in round 3.

Leon Edwards (-170) vs. Colby Covington (+138)


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 15: (L-R) Opponents Leon Edwards of Jamaica and Colby Covington face off during the UFC 296 ceremonial weigh-in at MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 15, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The main event for UFC 296 features a welterweight title fight between Leon Edwards and Colby Covington.

As stated in my in-depth breakdown, Covington is a much better fighter than he’s typically given credit for.

That said, I suspect that this is a tougher fight for him than the numbers suggest.

Not only has Covington’s pressure game appeared to regress in recent years, but fighters who can contend with him inside of the wrestling realm have traditionally been his toughest fights.

Add in the fact that left hands and bodywork appear to be his common culprit, and I forecast Edwards forcing a stoppage via strikes by the fourth round.

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