UFC 296 Review (17/12/2023)
By Mick Robson
Patreons got this review first, as well as all the content The Arena puts out. For early access and to support the work we put in here, check out patreon.com/thearenamedia
Note: To support and read everything early, you need to be at least on the "Nosebleed Section" tier- that's $3 USD (or $5 AUD). Less than a cup of coffee a month to help keep this thing going!
Playing catch up on the MMA side of things as we tie up all the loose ends heading into the holiday season! While we primarily focus on pro wrestling on The Arena, we do have some supplementary MMA content. At this present time, sticking to the numbered UFC events, and the last one for 2023 is UFC 296!
Also, if you're a big UFC fan and want to see more MMA content on The Arena, please reach out. The reason I don't cover all the Fight Nights or write more UFC-centric articles isn't due to a lack of interest or knowledge, it's honestly just that the analytics show that these get less views than the wrestling stuff. But I realise it could be a circular thing, and maybe these don't get the same traction because I'm the "wrestling guy". But I've got over 20 years of UFC viewing under my belt, going back to Shamrock vs. Ortiz at UFC 40. As it is, UFC coverage will stay a supplementary thing to the wrestling content until I hear a demand for it to be otherwise.
Back to this event- UFC typically load up their year-end cards, and this one has some heavy hitters, including two title fights. For better or worse, Colby Covington creates a buzz about himself whenever he fights, and deserved or not, is getting a title shot against our UFC Welterweight Champion, Leonn Edwards, who shocked the world when , 4 rounds down, he head kicked the dominant Kamaru Usman and put him to sleep. Leon's star has exploded since then, and has the potential to rise if he can turn back the challenge of a man like Covington.
In the co-main, the flyweight title is up for grabs, as Alexandre Pantoja, coming off his Fight of the Night winning title victory against Brandon Moreno in July, faces the ever dangerous "Raw Dawg", Brandon Royval. The 125ers are known for blinding speed, ferocity and technique, will we see more of the same here?
Plenty of big names up and down the card too, such as Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, Tony Ferguson, Paddy Pimblett, Josh Emmett, Bryce Mitchell, Cody Garbrandt, and many more!
Let's do this!
Fight Pass Prelims
Fight 1: (265) Shamil Gaziev def. Martin Buday via TKO (punches) at 0:56 of R2
Thoughts: Gaziev was clearly the sharper striker from the outset, throwing straight down the middle in combinations. Buday had his eyebrow busted open badly, to the point that referee Mark Smith called the doctor in to check on it. Buday was tough and wanted to fight on, but couldn't offer anything in the way of offense and the fight was waved off. Impressive UFC debut for Gaziev.
Fight 2: (145) Andre Fili def. Lucas Almeida via TKO (punches) at 3:32 of R1
Thoughts: I noticed during this fight that there's an entire section of floor seats completely empty for these prelim fights. It's one of my biggest pet peeves- if I buy a ticket to an event, I'm getting my money's worth and going for every bit of it. That extends to music etc as well. About this fight, Fili was sharp as hell. Unorthodox movement- Joe Rogan likened it to capoeira- allowed him to find the range and fire a devastating straight right that crumpled Almeida. Fili is a veteran of the fight game, but at 33 years old, is nowhere near declining athletically. Excellent showing.
Fight 3: (125) Tagir Ulanbekov def Cody Durden via submission (face crank) at 4:25 of R2
Thoughts: This battle between top 15 flyweights had an early sense of danger, as Ulanbekov dropped Durden with a right hand and snatched up a guillotine, but Durden showed great toughness in both fighting out of that and subsequent submission attempts. In the second round, Ulanbekov backpacked him, and kept working until he finally found the sub. Dominant performance by Ulanbekov.
Fight 1: (W-125) Ariane Lipski def. Casey O'Neil via submission (armbar) at 1:18 of R2
Thoughts: Lipski brought an aggressive striking attack from the outset which hurt O'Neill, requiring the Scottish-born Aussie to shoot, but the takedown defense was also on point. Early in R2, Lipski rocked O'Neill again, and was relentless in the pursuit of the finish, first with ground and pound and then switching to submissions. Exciting, well-rounded performance from Lipski, who took Casey's #12 ranking with this victory.
Fight 2: (135) Cody Garbrandt def. Brian Kelleher via KO (punch) at 3:42 of R1
Thoughts: Garbrandt received a huge "Cody" chant from the crowd to start the fight, showing that despite not having the greatest record in recent times, the people are still very much behind the former UFC Bantamweight Champion. He looked focused here, and despite a little early success with leg kicks, Kelleher didn't really have an answer for the power of Garbrandt, and once he unloaded with some big shots, Kelleher went from wobbly legs to completely out in fairly short order. Hopefully, Garbrandt can find the consistency to get back to a top level, now winning 2 straight after previously losing 5 of the prior 6 fights.
Fight 3: (W-135) Irene Aldana def. Karol Rosa via unanimous decision (29-28 X 3)
Thoughts: The first time the judges were needed on this card, and it deservedly got Fight of the Night. Rosa was extremely effective, particularly in the early goinng, with leg kicks, landing over 60 by fight's end, and setting the new women's bantamweight record. Aldana stuck to a boxing-centric approach, and it paid off in R2 & R3, busting up Rosa's face and taking the life out of her with body shots. Awesome fight by both ladies, showing why they're both ranked in the top 10 of the division.
Fight 4: (205) Alonzo Menifield def. Dustin Jacoby via UD (29-28 X 3)
Thoughts: It seemed like Jacoby was the more technical striker, but it didn't really matter when Menifield has "fist go brrrrr" kinda power. Jacoby took the first round with his timing and shot placement, but early in the second, Menifield landed one of his bombs, and from there, a lot of the fight was Jacoby trying to survive/recover, which, to his credit, he did a nice job of. Feel like lesser men would have been taken out by that Menifield onslaught. Good fight overall.
Fight 1: (145) Josh Emmett def. Bryce Mitchell via KO (punch) at 1:57 of R1
Thoughts: Damn! Emmett sent Mitchell to the shadow realm! Credit to him for not following up with unnecessary punches when it was clear Mitchell was out cold, something Mitchell acknowledged himself in a social media post after the fight, letting the fans know that he's okay. The commentary team were bigging up Emmett's power before and during the fight, and it was really the first proper punch that connected that put Mitchell out. In a scary moment, Mitchell had convulsions after being KOed. Credit to his balls of steel stepping up on short notice, and I'm glad he's okay. Even more credit to Emmett for still being a force at featherweight at 38 years old.
Fight 2: (155) Paddy Pimblett def. Tony Ferguson via UD (30-27 X 3)
Thoughts: After a gun-slinging first round, which Pimblett got the better of, things slowed down considerably. Ferguson had his moments in the striking, so Paddy went the safer route, grappling and keeping top control. Tony was a little too content to stay on his back looking for submissions, rather than trying to get back to his feet. As much as the fans and the UFC love Tony Ferguson, you have to think this is it with 7 straight losses, tying BJ Penn for the longest losing streak in UFC history. Sad times.
There was a fight between Sean Strickland and Dricus du Plessis in the audience. They fight atop a January PPV card at UFC 297. Hard to know how real it was, I don't like calling things in the UFC fake but hmm.... The commentary team mention the fight in the crowd then show the UFC 297 graphic.
Fight 3: (170) Shavkat Rakhmonov def. Stephen Thompson via submission (rear naked choke) at 4:56 of R2
Thoughts: The first round of this was incredibly uneventful, as Shavkat just held Thompson against the fence for the better part of 5 minutes. There was some hope when Wonderboy broke free in the late seconds of R1, but R2 was more of the same, albeit slightly more exciting, as Thompson was taken down and constantly having to defend different submissions until he finally succcumbed to the RNC. This marked the first time Wonderboy had ever been submitted in his career. Back to back sad times for longtime UFC fans.
Fight 4: UFC Flyweight Championship- Alexandre Pantoja def. Brandon Royval via UD (50-45 X 2, 49-46)
Thoughts: Pantoja is a breath of fresh air as the champion. He started the fight as the aggressor, when a lot of champions sit back and wait for the challenger to come to them- especially since judges often reward that mentality by handing any remotely close decision to the defending champ. Pantoja brought the fight, at the flyweight signature fast pace, striking and grappling constantly. The pace did slow in the second half of the fight, but it was still Pantoja initiating, top control, back control, looking for subs, the working. For Royval's part, he took an opportunity towards the end of R4 and the beginning of R5 to take the fight to a fatiguing Pantoja, but the champ gutted it out and got one last takedown to steal the fight. A good watch and impressive performance by the flyweights.
Pantoja was critical of himself for having a boring fight in the post-fight interview, but Rogan argued against that assessment, saying it was a technical fight, and I agree. Wasn't a complete blood and guts war, but enough activity that it stayed compelling through 25 minutes.
Main Event: UFC Welterweight Championship- Leon Edwards def. Colby Covington via UD (49-46 X 3)
Thoughts: Writing this review a few days after the event and knowing the result, I heard a lot of people call this fight "boring". And while I can understand that point of view if you're a Covington fan, to me I had a certain level of fascination watching Colby, for all his trash talk, bravado, and insults that go way too far... watching him basically freeze in the fight was a major contrast to how he acted in the days and weeks leading into the PPV. Michael Chandler said it best on Twitter/X: "the guy who calls out the 'triggered' sure is afraid to pull the trigger".
Jon Anik pointed out that Colby had been out of the cage for almost 2 years, and he fought like it. Leon Edwards was the fastest fighter to begin with, and an attack that primarily focused on leg kicks only widened that gap, allowing the champ to basically tee off at will. Colby got top control halfway through the final round, and acted like he won after the final round, but too little, too late.
A quick shout-out to Octagon Girls Brittany Palmer and Arianny Celeste, who worked their last event here at UFC 296. Thanks for the memories.
One of those shows where the prelims outshone the PPV main card. That was reflected in the post-fight bonuses, with only one Performance of the Night bonus going to a PPV fighter (Josh Emmett). I mentioned I didn't find the main event as boring as some people did, but I'm not going to pretend it was a classic either. And the losses for Ferguson and Wonderboy just made me sad. Father Time gets everyone (although I think Wonderboy just ran into a buzzsaw in Shavkat, he's still got something in the tank to offer in my opinion).
Not the time for a PPV to underperform if you're an Aussie UFC fan like myself. They've just announced this past week that PPVs will no longer be accessible live through UFC Fight Pass, you'll need to use Foxtel's Main Event or Kayo Sports. And while Kayo promises that you can order the PPV without a subscription, some of the social media replies are saying otherwise, along with plenty of comments about Kayo forcing ads into their broadcast, as well as low streaming quality. So it looks like I'll be watching UFC PPVs at licensed venues, or looking into alternate means to watch...
UFC is on a bit of a holiday break hiatus, with the next live show happening on January 14 (Australian time). I may review an old show or write a UFC-based article in the meantime, but in any case, wishing you a happy holidays!
Until next time, take care.