Five Fights to Make After UFC 296

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2023 is in the books for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The world’s leading fight promotion wrapped up its calendar year with UFC 296 on Saturday, December 16th from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, coming as the organization’s 43rd total event since UFC Vegas 67 in mid-January and their 674th total event in 30 years of existence. Last night’s card saw championship fights saw both respected champions secure defenses over their opponents with seven finishes across the twelve-fight pay-per-view.

With 2024 on the verge and a list of victorious talents ready for their next octagon tests, here are five fights to make after UFC 296.

5) Josh Emmett vs. Edson Barboza

Featherweight Josh Emmett took home “Performance of the Night” honors with his “Knockout of the Year” contender in the night’s pay-per-view opener. Known for usual power in his left hook, the Team Alpha Male athlete connected with a clean right ending Mitchell’s day in vicious fashion just under two minutes inside the first round. The finish snapped a two-fight skid after back-to-back losses this year to Yair Rodriguez and Ilia Topuria and his first stoppage victory since a first-round knockout of Mirsad Bektic in the summer of 2019.

Emmett’s next opponent, in a fight for standup fans, could come against that of Edson Barboza. The two were originally slated to meet in May of 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the planned event to be cancelled entirely. Barboza, despite his last loss coming to that of Mitchell in March of last year, saw a strong year with an April knockout of Billy Quarantillo and a five-round unanimous decision over Sodiq Yusuff in October.

4) Paddy Pimblett vs. Bobby Green

The hype train rolls on for 28-year-old Paddy Pimblett. His hand was raised in a unanimous decision after three decisive rounds over Tony Ferguson handing the former interim UFC Lightweight Champion his seventh consecutive loss. Pimblett, a former Cage Warriors Featherweight Champion and Cage Warriors Lightweight title challenger, currently rides opposite momentum with a seven-fight win streak with five alone under the UFC banner.

A bigger challenge awaits for the rising star, and Bobby Green could likely be the next challenge. The former two-divisional King of the Cage Champion and 48-fight veteran is recovering from a devastating defeat by knockout to Jalin Turner in December, but the well-rounded talent remains an unpredictable force having two finishing wins this year over the aforementioned Tony Ferguson and a 33-second knockout of Grant Dawson. Pairing Pimblett and Green has the makings of good buildup and likely matchmaking from the promotional team.

3) Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Moreno / Amir Albazi winner

Saturday saw Alexandre Pantoja take home his first title defense as UFC Flyweight Champion. The win came with late adversity after a hard charge from Denver, Colorado’s Brandon Royval, but his hand was raised for the second time in 2023 after taking the divisional championship in his trilogy bout with Brandon Moreno at July’s UFC 290. Pantoja has now won his last six fights in-a-row including a prior victory of Royval by submission in 2021 and additional wins of Manel Kape and Alex Perez.

Brandon Moreno and Amir Albazi are scheduled to fight in late February of this upcoming year in what could only be the next 125-pound challenger for the belt. Former two-time Flyweight Champion Moreno will look to bounce back after the July loss to Pantoja as Xtreme Couture MMA’s Amir Albazi looks to extend his six-fight win streak.

2) Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Colby Covington

Former M-1 Welterweight Champion Shavkat Rakhmonov may only be 29 years of age, but the Master of Sport in both Combat Sambo and MMA may be the most feared man on the planet. The Kazakh star dominated welterweight veteran and striking specialist Stephen Thompson for nearly ten minutes before sinking in a second-round rear-naked choke. Rakhmonov is unbeaten through 18 fights since October of 2014 with a 100% finishing streak consisting of eight knockouts and ten submissions.

Although he may be the majority most fans want to see contest for welterweight gold, Rakhmonov still likely sits one fight away and could be matched up with Colby Covington. The main event headliner did not find victory against Leon Edwards, but the former interim Welterweight Champion and now three-time title challenger hosts abilities that could be a good test for the quickly-rising Rakhmonov including Covington’s NCAA Division I Wrestling background and his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

1) Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad

Dominant the night was for Leon Edwards. The reigning and defending UFC Welterweight Champion nullified all striking, grappling, and wrestling threats from a returning Colby Covington taking home his second title defense after five, five-minute rounds. Edwards, representing his longtime gym of Team Renegade and home of Birmingham, England, has won twelve consecutive fights since May of 2016 and hopes to continue his successes as the first and only Jamaican-born UFC champion in company history.

Along the twelve-fight run, however, came a March of 2021 meeting with Belal Muhammad. The fight ended in the second round after Edwards delivered an inadvertent eye poke that saw Muhammad unable to continue, but the ending resulted in a “No Contest” to both fighters’ resumes. Former Titan FC Welterweight Champion and Roufusport fighter Muhammad rides his own respectable win streak of nine in-a-row since the spring of 2019 with victories over notables Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson, Vicente Luque, and, most recently, Gilbert Burns.


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Wesley Riddle is a 29-year-old writer residing in Raleigh, North Carolina from Harrisonburg, Virginia. He has been part of the MMASucka team since the fourth quarter of 2016. Additionally, he serves as a writer with partner site Last Word on Motorsports.

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