The final UFC card of the year is happening this Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event will feature a pair of title fights to cap off the night: Leon Edwards defending his welterweight title against Colby Covington and Alexandre Pantoja putting his newly-won flyweight title up against Brandon Royval.
As is the case with any major UFC card, there is going to be a lot of action on the main card. With four fights on the night, there will be plenty of action packed into each bout. Let’s take a look at each of them as well as our expert picks on who will walk away with their hand held high.
Leon Edwards to win fight vs. Colby Covington
Leon Edwards (C, -160) vs. Colby Covington (+130) – Welterweight Title
A lot of talk has been focused on the résumé of Covington. While he has defeated more than a few notable names, his record may not be as good as it seems on the surface. He beat Jorge Masvidal, a once deadly fighter in the middle of a four-fight losing streak who ultimately retired shortly after. Tyron Woodley suffered a broken rib and was also in the middle of a four-fight losing streak before retiring. Robbie Lawler – you guessed it – had well faded and is now retired.
The real positive among Covington’s most recent wins is his victory over Rafael dos Anjos. Unlike the others, dos Anjos is still going. And unlike the others, he carried a three-fight winning streak into his bout with Covington. That said, he was clearly better as a lightweight but still managed to do enough against Covington that some feel he should have earned the win.
Covington does have great fighting ability and fantastic endurance. But when competing against a top contender like Kamaru Usman – who he lost to twice – he has yet to show he can get over the hump. Edwards has come into his own after his shocking title win. His striking has become a strong point as well.
If Edwards can keep this bout upright and away from the mat, his striking should give him an edge. Should Covington be able to make this a mat-based affair, then the jury is out. For now, it is hard to go against Edwards’ recent form and momentum. He may not get the finish but should walk away with his welterweight title still held high.
Pick: Edwards moneyline (-160)
Alexandre Pantoja (C, -188) vs. Brandon Royval (+162) – Flyweight Title
This is a rematch from August 2021 when Pantoja managed to submit Royval. Since then, Royval has become a much more solid fighter, earning a shot at the flyweight title after winning his last three fights. He looks just as formidable as he did in the first battle, if not a bit more well-rounded.
Pantoja looks not only more confident, but more dangerous coming into this fight. He edged out Brandon Moreno in becoming the flyweight champion and has shown a wild toughness in every fight in the division. He has gone toe-to-toe with not only Moreno, but heavy hitters like Deiveson Figueiredo without being stopped and that bodes well for his chances in this one.
If there is one area in which Pantoja has a clear advantage it’s jiu-jitsu. Both fighters are even but it is tough to picture Royval finding enough of an edge to pull off the win. Then again, he does have the kind of power to land the perfect shot and end things in an instant. Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t appear to be in the cards for this one.
Pick: Pantoja moneyline (-188)
Shavkat Rakhmonov (-600) vs. Stephen Thompson (+450)
In the welterweight division, Rakhmonov is quickly establishing himself as a force no one wants to collide with. He manages to get the job done in each fight and has shown enough versatility to get there no matter what the situation may be. Because of that, he is a massive favourite in this one.
His fight against Geoff Neal was about as close to a challenge as he’s received so far. Even then, Neal only slowed Rakhmonov down before ultimately being submitted in the third round. Rakhmonov does what good fighters do: he figures out how to win when things aren’t going his way.
On the other side of the cage is Thompson, an experienced fighter who has fought his share of elite opponents. Thompson has only been stopped once before, a loss in the final seconds of Round 2 in his battle with Anthony Pettis.
Thompson has what it takes to pull off the upset here, but this will likely end up looking like another test that Rakhmonov overcomes. Both fighters have the ability to end things quickly. If this goes past the first round-and-a-half, it would be surprising.
Pick: Rakhmonov by KO, TKO or DQ (+250)
Shavkat Rakhmonov to win via KO, TKO or DQ
Tony Ferguson (+240) vs. Paddy Pimblett (-300)
Paddy “The Baddy” has been one of the most talked about fighters in the lightweight division for some time now. He can talk the talk and has shown so far that he can walk the walk. It’s hard to tell what kind of ceiling he has but we must remember that Ferguson was, at one point, one of the best lightweights around.
A six-fight losing streak later, and Ferguson is the clear underdog in this one. Pimblett has looked impressive but hasn’t faced the level of competition that Ferguson has. He arguably should have lost to Jared Gordon, escaping with a win by decision.
All that said, it’s hard to see Ferguson regaining his form. He looks like a shell of himself and it’s tough to see him overcoming the energy that Pimblett brings to the Octagon. Ferguson should have it in him to take this fight the distance and at least let the scorecards make the decision.
Pimblett may have limited upside in the lightweight division but at least he still has upside. It’s hard to picture Ferguson snapping out of his losing streak at this point. Maybe the old Ferguson will show up in this fight, but the judges will likely lean toward Pimblett at the end.
Pick: Pimblett by decision or technical decision (+190)