The UFC circuit is kicking off 2024 with UFC 297, taking place in Toronto on Saturday. The Scotiabank Arena will host two title fights on January 20. Former welterweight title holder Dricus Du Plessis will face off against current middleweight champion Sean Strickland for the UFC Middleweight Championship. Before that, we’ll also see Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva compete for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship.
UFC 297 is the first UFC event in Toronto since December 2018, and we’re expecting it to be a great show. To help you get ready for the big fights, we’ve picked our best bets for each of the five fights on the main card. Keep reading to see our picks. All odds are courtesy of bet365, where you can go to place your UFC bets now.
Sean Strickland to win fight vs. Dricus Du Plessis
Sean Strickland (C, -125) vs. Dricus Du Plessis (+100) – Middleweight Title
Sean Strickland vs. Dricus Du Plessis should be one of the tightest UFC matchups in recent history. On the face of things, there’s not much to split these two fighters.
Both fighters are extremely experienced. Strickland made his UFC debut nearly a decade ago, while Du Plessis was plying his trade in international MMA competitions before officially joining the UFC in 2020. Physically, the fighters are very similar as well. Strickland and Du Plessis are both six-foot-one with a 76-inch reach. Du Plessis has a slightly longer leg reach at 43 inches compared to Strickland’s 41.5 inches.
At the same time, once you dive a little deeper, these fighters are actually quite different. Strickland’s 54% finishing rate compared to Du Plessis’s 95% is one of the first things that stands out. This tells us that Strickland goes in prepared to fight to the end, while Du Plessis does everything he can to end them. If you’ve watched these fighters, this checks out.
Du Plessis has only had one match finish. He’s won 10 of his 20 winning fights via submission and won another nine via TKO/KO. Strickland, meanwhile, looks to tire out his opponents and overwhelm them with a boxing-like style of constant attack. The older Strickland gets, the riskier this strategy becomes, but as of right now it’s still working for him.
As we saw in Strickland’s last title fight against Israel Adesanya, he’s still got it. His style can still disrupt even the most dangerous of knockout fighters. Du Plessis’ only real chance is winning this one via submission, but given Strickland’s 84% takedown defence, a submission victory for Du Plessis doesn’t seem that likely either. In our view, Strickland should win this fight.
Pick: Strickland to win by decision or technical decision (+375).
Raquel Pennington (+140) vs. Mayra Bueno Silva (-170) – Bantamweight Title
Raquel Pennington is undefeated in her last five UFC fights and is ranked one place above her opponent in this fight, Mayra Bueno Silva. Despite this being the case, she’s still the underdog here. Bet365 has made Silva a slight favourite with -170 odds compared to Pennington’s +140. Are these odds fair? If you ask us, maybe not.
Silva has a lot going for her. She’s aggressive and very skilled on the ground. Eight of Silva’s 10 victories have come via submission. She’s a decisive operator always looking for the one chance she needs to take her opponent down and make them submit. The problem for her in this matchup is that she won’t get many of those chances.
Unlike Silva, Pennington is a conservative, calculating fighter as 75% of her fights have been decided via decision. It’s not like Pennington hasn’t fought anyone difficult either. She’s recently beaten Ketlen Vieira, Pannie Kianzad, and Macy Chiasson convincingly. Four of her last five fights have gone the distance. Simply put, Pennington is hard to beat.
Bet365 and other sportsbooks may be backing Silva, but we think Pennington will get the win here and become the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion for the first time in her long career.
Pick: Pennington moneyline (+140)
Neil Magny (+300) vs. Mike Malott (-400)
Canada’s own Mike Malott takes on Neil Magny in the last matchup of the night before the two big title fights. Malott is a huge favourite and with good reason. The Ontario native has lost just one fight in his 13-year MMA career. Magny, meanwhile, is an industry veteran with 12 losses to his name across multiple weight classes.
Stylistically, this fight is similar to the others we’ve previewed. Magny likes to see fights to the end while Malott goes for the kill. Malott has only fought in one professional fight that went the distance and 66% of his victories have come via submission and 33% have come via knockout. For comparison, Magny has won 66% of his fights via decision. Typically, we’d say this contrast of styles would give Magny a chance, but Malott is just too good a fighter for Magny.
Magny’s record in his last eight matches is 4-4. Additionally, he’s lost via submission in two of his last five fights. Malott has not lost a fight since 2014. Five of his last six bputs have been decided in the first round. It would be stunning if this match ends in anything else but a Malott victory in the first or second round.
Pick: Malott by submission (+120).
Chris Curtis (-188) vs. Marc-André Barriault (+162)
Chris Curtis got off to a flying start when he joined the UFC in 2021. The Cincinnati native won his first three fights. Since then, though, he’s won just one of his last four bouts. The 36-year-old has retired before, but he seems committed to keeping at it and staying in the UFC as long as he can. A loss to Marc-André Barriault might change things though, so Curtis needs to get a win here. Barriault has won two fights on the bounce and three of his last four overall. A win here would be nice for the Quebecer, but it’s not do-or-die like it is for Curtis.
Because of these fighters’ styles, this bout could be the most exciting fight of the night. Curtis is a powerful counter-attacker, while Barriault is a hard-hitting bruiser who looks to overpower and wear out his opponent and deliver big hits whenever possible. Unfortunately for Barriault, his easiest path to victory is abandoning this strategy and limiting the number of chances Curtis has to counter attack.
Barriault is who he is and he’s unfortunately someone who’s a bad matchup against a fighter like Curtis. Because we can’t see Barriault changing his stripes, we’re taking Curtis here.
Pick: Curtis moneyline (-188).
Chris Curtis to win fight vs. Marc-André Barriault
Arnold Allen (+162) vs. Movsar Evloev (-188)
In a couple of years, we could be talking about one of these fighters contending for the UFC Featherweight Title. Right now though, this is a match between two aspiring stars that could go either way.
As you can tell from the odds, Movsar Evloev is a considerable favourite in this match. The Russian all-rounder is undefeated, but he’s never fought against someone with the quality Allen possesses. Allen is first and foremost a striker. He works best when there’s some distance between him and his opponent. Evloev isn’t as limited, so it makes sense why he’d be a favourite here.
The biggest reason Evloev is favourite is because of his ground game. It’s one place where there is a major difference between these two fighters. If Evloev gets Allen on his back, it could be lights out for the Englishman before you know it.
Pick: Evloev to win by decision or technical decision (-130).