UFC 296 – Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington – Main Card Betting Predictions

Instead of sticking to the main card, here are my breakdowns for a handful of fights that I find stylistically interesting on UFC 296.

Martin Buday vs. Shamil Gaziev

Heavyweight prospects can be difficult to evaluate. Shamil Gaziev possesses superb punching power and can wrestle opponents to the mat, but it’s hard to know where his ceiling lies due to his quick wins and weak level of opposition.

Knocking out Darko Stosic is a good result, but he looked shaky in other victories.

Against Grigoriy Ponomarev and Kirill Kornilov, Gaziev’s gas tank depleted quickly and he will be facing one of the few heavyweights that can push a pace this weekend.

I didn’t like how Martin Buday looked when he got taken down by Jake Collier, but the hulking Slovak is a proficient grappler when he’s the one on top and has the ability to wear out opponents in the clinch.

Both men are sloppy and hittable in open space, so I wouldn’t be surprised by another early knockout by Gaziev – but I believe his chances of success are frontloaded.

We’ve seen Buday work his way into fights after early adversity and I think it could happen again this weekend.

I’m tempted to bet Martin Buday now that the odds have improved, although waiting for a live bet entry may be optimal.

Ariane Lipski vs. Casey O’Neil

Casey O’Neil has some major deficiencies in her skill set, but possesses traits that will carry her far in women’s MMA.

Durability, persistence and a stellar ground game have enabled O’Neil to ascend the flyweight rankings – despite having weak wrestling and horrendous striking defense.

She came up short against a opponent who could stuff her shots and box her up in Jennifer Maia, and Ariane Lipski has the potential to follow the same blueprint.

In her earlier career, Lipski showed massive ineptitude on the mat and there is no evidence she has corrected this problem. However, it’s clear that she is much harder to take down these days as a result of training at Lioness Studio with Amanda Nunes.

JJ Aldrich got a couple of good entries on Lipski, but was unable to wrestle her to the mat. My inclination is that Lipski’s takedown defense will hold up in the clinch – she just needs to avoid getting caught out of position by a well-timed shot.

Lipski is the far cleaner striker and I expect to her to win the aggregate of exchanges, but she needs to be aware of optics and volume.

Even when O’Neil gets cracked clean in the face, she keeps moving forward and will throw until the final bell rings.

My main concern for Lipski is that her margin for error is small, since conceding a takedown could be the round or even the fight.

I could see this going either way, but Ariane Lipski is the infinitely more attractive betting side at +160.

Irene Aldana vs. Karol Rosa

I feel that Irene Aldana is overrated as a contender. People get mesmerized by the Mexican’s aesthetic boxing, while neglecting the fact she has awful defense, grappling and fight IQ.

Against a stationary opponent like Karol Rosa, Aldana will find a home for her offense. Aldana is good at picking her shots and there will be openings for her powerful left hook – but I’m not expecting a mismatch in a striking battle.

Rosa has shown an ability to immediately fire back after being hit (Aldana is susceptible to counters) and could have success with low kicks and clinch strikes.

I’m not counting on Rosa to score takedowns, but she has a clear advantage on the mat.

Furthermore, Aldana is in her mid-thirties and coming off a disastrous title bout where she failed to pull the trigger – so this could be a difficult fight to get motivated for. On the other hand, Rosa is entering her athletic prime right now and still has room for improvements.

I’m expecting a highly competitive fight and I think there is a decent edge on Karol Rosa at +150 and up.

Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Royval

Looking at Alexandre Pantoja’s skill set, I don’t consider him to be an elite fighter across the board.

His Muay Thai is effective, but he’s supremely hittable and relies on his chin more than he should. I also don’t consider him to be an overwhelming wrestler.

However, Pantoja is the best back taker in modern MMA and is extremely adept at tying up with opponents and obtaining a dominant position (his crab ride back take is a thing of beauty).

With insane durability, Pantoja can get the crap beaten out of him and immediately turn a round in his favor with a back take. This is how he won the belt from Brandom Moreno in round five with one of the most clutch back takes in UFC history.

That said, Moreno didn’t push the pace as much as I was expecting and Pantoja prevailed by winning big moments over five rounds.

Brandon Royval doesn’t have the same wrestling and submission defense as Moreno, but I think he can do a better job of pushing the pace and making this a cardio-draining fight.

In the first encounter, I liked how Royval stayed in Pantoja’s face, ripping the body and giving him no time to breathe.

A similar approach would be wise here, since Pantoja will be forced to throw hard in order to stand his ground and over time – it should deplete his gas tank.

I’m not sure if Royval can withstand the early barrage without getting starched or submitted, but I think there is a great chance he takes over if he can extend the fight. Royval is built for five rounds and I believe Pantoja will find it more difficult to get his grappling going once fatigue sets in.

A bet on Brandon Royval probably looks dreadful if it loses, but this is a winnable fight for “Raw Dawg” and I’m picking him to spring the upset.

Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington

I cashed on Leon Edwards in both of his victories over Kamaru Usman, but neither performance was inspiring.

Edwards got thoroughly out-grappled at UFC 278 before landing the head kick of his career and then cruised to a decision at UFC 286 where Usman was heavily injured and could barely bend his knees.

In both contests, Edwards failed to hold his ground and was backed up against the fence (where Colby Covington does his best work).

Edwards is likely to land the more eye-catching shots in open space and could possibly find a knockout, but I’m not confident he can defend Covington’s chain-wrestling.

Covington has so many different techniques for disrupting an opponent’s balance and is tremendous at making them carry his weight. Even if he fails on the first attempt, Covington should be able to make Edwards work at an uncomfortable pace – which will pay dividends in the later rounds.

That said, Covington is getting long in the tooth and hasn’t competed for nearly two years. I thought he looked stiff against Jorge Masvidal and it’s possible Edwards is catching him at the right time in his career.

You can make a case for either fighter, but Colby Covington is the more enticing side for a bet at +140.