UFC 296 Results: Leon Edwards beats hardly active Colby Covington, Alexandre Pantoja defends flyweight belt

Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2023/12/17/ufc-296-results-leon-edwards-beats-hardly-active-colby-covington-alexandre-pantoja-defends-flyweight-belt/

For 25 minutes on Saturday night, UFC Welterweight Champion Leon Edwards had complete and utter control over Colby Covington. Due to Covington having an overly cautious game plan and Edwards possessing the ability to out-land him on the feet and block nearly all takedown attempts, Edwards defended his belt for the second time with a lopsided unanimous decision result.

Edwards’ win headlined UFC 296, which ended the promotion’s calendar year from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

From the very start of the fight, Edwards was the better striker on the feet. Working at a slow pace, Edwards periodically connected with punches to the head and kicks to the legs of Covington. Always moving backward, Covington didn’t have much of a response to these strikes.

The pedestrian pace of the fight continued into the championship rounds. Covington attempted to take Edwards down numerous times, although Edwards was able to stop a majority of the shots. In one instance, Edwards took Covington to the mat. Covington was able to get some control in the final round, although it was all too late for him by then.

The Las Vegas crowd voiced their opinions in between rounds, often booing the fight for its slow pace. But the pace was dictated by the man who decided to be the passenger for the contest: Covington.

The way Saturday’s main event played out makes the matchup of Edwards and Covington even worse in retrospect. Covington is a polarizing figure — including going as low as attacking Edwards’ late father, who was murdered — but he carries some buzz in the MMA world. But Covington didn’t come into this weekend with the track record to match the clout he has.

Covington lost a pair of title shots to Kamaru Usman from 2019 to 2021, making this weekend the third consecutive title opportunity that he squandered. His past three wins were against Jorge Masvidal, Tyron Woodley, and Robbie Lawler: three names who are retired from MMA or at the very least no longer UFC fighters. The last victory against a fighter still on the active UFC roster is Rafael dos Anjos, who he beat five years ago.

Edwards picked up his 12th straight victory on Saturday, making him undefeated since 2016. He earned the UFC Welterweight Championship with an upset knockout of Kamaru Usman in 2022 and defended his title in a rematch against the former champ in March of this year.

Alexandre Pantoja retains flyweight belt in hard-fought win over Brandon Royval

Alexandre Pantoja picked up his first win as UFC Flyweight Champion in Saturday’s co-main event, putting together a dominant performance against a competitive challenger in Brandon Royval.

Pantoja succeeded throughout the fight against Royval, although it never felt like the threat of Royva having a big, fight-ending moment ever went away. Royval proved to be a tough and long-lasting fighter, keeping up with the fast pace of Pantoja through essentially all of the fight.

Pantoja earned loads of ground control throughout the fight. On the feet, Pantoja had some moments of brilliance where he could stun Royval. In the second round, Royval looked briefly rocked by a strong overhand right from Pantoja. The champion also was a submission threat at times, having Royval defending a rear naked choke attempt in the fourth round.

Pantoja will likely face the winner of a February fight between former champ Brandon Moreno and Amir Albazi. When Pantoja beat Moreno earlier this year, it was in a close split decision result, justifying an eventual rematch between the two. But a win for Albazi would arguably also solidify a title shot for him as well, as he’s currently ranked second in the division and possesses five wins in the UFC.

Shavkat Rakhmonov, Paddy Pimblett Beat UFC Vets

Before the title fights on Saturday, a pair of veteran UFC talents suffered losses to rising talents.

Undefeated welterweight Shavkat Rakhmonov continued his seemingly inevitable quest towards a welterweight title shot with a victory over Stephen Thompson. Rakhmonov had a grinding performance against Thompson, pressing against him with clinches and grappling before securing a rear naked choke submission late in the second round.

Rakhmonov entered this weekend fifth in the welterweight division and is likely a couple of fights at most away from a title shot. He has won seven fights in the UFC, including notable victories over Geoff Neal and Neil Magny.

Paddy Pimblett had a less impressive victory before that, beating Tony Ferguson on scorecards. While Pimblett knocked Ferguson down and hurt him with strikes early, later in the fight he became significantly fatigued and attempted to stall the match out to resist attacks from the veteran.

The fight was Pimblett’s fifth straight UFC win but was not the type of fight you would want from him. Considering Ferguson suffered his seventh consecutive defeat in the performance, a struggling decision result from Pimblett doesn’t necessarily signal that he’s the future of the division. In Rakhmonov’s performance, he put away an experienced name who is still winning. Pimblett, on the other hand, sweat out a decision against a fighter who hasn’t won since 2019. While the theme of “rising name beats experienced fighter” was in both fights, the performances painted different pictures.

Josh Emmett stops Bryce Mitchell with a scary KO

Saturday’s main card opened with a scary and brutal knockout, as Josh Emmett landed one singular punch that put Bryce Mitchell to sleep. An overhand right from Emmett sent Mitchell to the canvas and put an end to their fight in just under two minutes.

What followed the stoppage was a few scary minutes. Mitchell started convulsing on the canvas after the stoppage and struggled to stand under his weight after he returned to his feet. 

The victory for Emmett was seen by bookies as an upset, although in retrospect it’s hard to view this bout that way. Emmett has dangerous, powerful striking and a wrestling background that can stop Mitchell from getting the fight to the ground. On top of that, Mitchell was a short-notice replacement for Emmett’s original opponent, Giga Chikadze. The brutal and even worrying outcome of the fight certainly wasn’t expected, but the fact that Emmett won using his strikes in some sort of form should have been no shock.

Cody Garbrandt has first good year in a long time

The short-lived title reign of Cody Garbrandt feels like it was ages ago. In the short 30-year history of the UFC, it was. Just under seven years ago we see Garbrandt beat Dominick Cruz to earn the UFC Bantamweight Championship.

Garbrandt struggled for years after that defeat. He was finished three times from 2017 to 2019 and won just once up until 2021. But this year was different for him. Garbrandt picked up his second consecutive win of 2023 on Saturday, stopping fellow vet Brian Kelleher in the first round with a counter right hook.

Along with a March win over Trevin Jones, Garbrandt has now won two consecutive fights for the first time since his title victory all those years ago. There are certainly things about Garbrandt in 2023 (and soon 2024) that are worth questioning, like his durability. But one thing that was apparent on Saturday was that his speed and power is still there.

Quick Prelim Thoughts

In an early “Fight of the Night” candidate, Irene Aldana, and Karol Rosa engaged in a bloody, sloppy three-round brawl. Aldana earned the nod from judges after the all-action three-round bout, taking two of the three rounds on each scorecard. The fight was Aldana’s first appearance since losing a bantamweight title fight to Amanda Nunes in June.

After a dominant stand-up performance, Ariane Lipski caught Casey O’Neill with an armbar in the second round to pick up a submission win. Lipski is now on a three-fight winning streak for the first time since she entered UFC in 2019. At one point an undefeated flyweight contender, O’Neill will head into the new year on a two-fight losing streak.

A dominant performance both on the feet and on the ground from Tagir Ulanbekov came to a close in the second round, as he submitted Cody Durden with a rear naked choke. Ulanbekov appeared for the first time since his November 2022 win over Nate Maness.

Andre Fili had a quick win on the prelims, stopping Lucas Almeida in the first round with a clean right hook for a knockdown. The fight was Fili’s first appearance since crossing the 10-year mark on the UFC roster.

Shamil Gaziev remained undefeated in the opening bout of the evening, stopping heavyweight Martin Buday early in the second round with strikes on the feet. Gaziev was given a UFC debut opportunity after winning on “Dana White’s Contender Series” in September.

Main Card 

  • Bout 12: Leon Edwards def. Colby Covington via Decision, Unanimous (UFC Welterweight Championship)
  • Bout 11: Alexandre Pantoja def. Brandon Royval via Decision, Unanimous (UFC Flyweight Championship)
  • Bout 10: Shavkat Rakhmonov def. Stephen Thompson via Submission, Rear Naked Choke (RD 2, 4:56)
  • Bout 9: Paddy Pimblett def. Tony Ferguson via Decision, Unanimous
  • Bout 8: Josh Emmett def. Bryce Mitchell via TKO, Strikes (RD 1, 1:57)

Preliminary Card 

  • Bout 7: Alonzo Menifield def. Dustin Jacoby via Decision, Unanimous
  • Bout 6: Irene Aldana def. Karol Rosa via Decision, Unanimous
  • Bout 5: Cody Garbrandt def. Brian Kelleher via TKO, Strikes (RD 1, 3:42)
  • Bout 4: Ariane Lipski def. Casey O’Neill via Submission, Armbar (RD 2, 1:18)

Early Prelims 

  • Bout 3: Tagir Ulanbekov def. Cody Durden via Submission, Rear Naked Choke (RD 2, 4:25)
  • Bout 2: Andre Fili def. Lucas Almeida via TKO, Strikes (RD 1, 3:32)
  • Bout 1: Shamil Gaziev def. Martin Buday via TKO, Strikes (RD 2, 0:56)