The final Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view extravaganza of 2023 takes place on December 16th emanating from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. UFC 296 brings a little bit of everything to cap a huge year for the world’s premier MMA promotion.
A pair of title fights sit atop the marquee. The headliner features sworn enemies finally settling the score after nearly coming to blows countless times in the past. The co-main event sees a new ruler’s first defense against a hungry former challenger eager for redemption.
But the real main attraction pits current UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards against despised rival Colby Covington. Their bitter feud spanning several years now culminates with gold up for grabs.
To call Edwards and Covington anything less than mortal enemies severely downplays their animosity. These two fighters harbor legitimate hatred towards one another on an ugly personal level even by MMA standards.
The barrage of vicious insults have long since crossed basic lines of decency. Ethnic slurs, attacks of family members, none of it is off limits for these fierce opponents. Edwards and Covington had to be separated on camera to prevent outright violence erupting before.
That genuine bad blood promises explosive theater when they collide for five rounds or less. Beyond championship implications themselves, the chance to defeat their most hated rival means everything to both men now.
Edwards provides technical brilliance and tactical nuance inside the cage. His immaculate footwork and striking defense allow him to land pinpoint counters that have dropped previous contenders. Once opponents hit the mat, Edwards exhibits a strong grappling game as well.
Alternatively, Covington applies relentless pressure behind seemingly infinite cardio reserves. A decorated Division I wrestler, he unleashes nasty ground and pound while glued tightly to foes. His pace rarely slows while drowning opponents under waves of offense over the full 25 minutes.
This clash of styles – Edwards’ cerebral approach against Covington’s chaotic swarm – makes for fascinating viewing. Neither man figures to take a backwards step or show passivity given their disdain for one another. Sparks should fly from the opening horn at UFC 296.
And that bad blood extends beyond just the main event too. Covington’s bitterly former friend turned enemy Jorge Masvidal returns against James Krause in another anticipated showdown.
Masvidal and Covington were once extremely close teammates at American Top Team gym in Florida. But an ugly falling out led to their public spat spilling into the cage when Covington narrowly defeated his former ally at UFC 272.
Now Covington can antagonize Masvidal cageside by defeating another member of their gym. Meanwhile, Masvidal aims to take out his frustration over the Covington losses on unfortunate Krause. This figures to be emotional and exciting.
The co-main event brings high stakes action to crown a genuine new king of the 125-pound kingdom. Reigning UFC flyweight champion Alex Pantoja looks to commence his first title defense opposite former challenger Brandon Royval.
Their initial clash saw Pantoja snatch victory via second round submission by rear naked choke. Since then, Royval has looked better than ever stringing together three straight violent stoppage wins to vault back into contention at flyweight.
Pantoja’s slick Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and sneaky knockout power present problems everywhere. Meanwhile the creative striking and crafty wrestling prowess of Royval makes him a complex puzzle to solve as well.
Additional elite talents featured across UFC 296’s main card include former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz returning against red-hot Chinese prospect Liudvik Sholinian. Plus heavyweight slugger Bojan Velickovic battles submission specialist Rodrigo Nascimento.
Of course the centerpiece remains the heated headliner years in the making. Colby Covington continues his Chaos world tour invasion when he challenges Leon Edwards for welterweight supremacy. Their genuine bad blood and contrasting styles could set UFC 296’s climax ablaze.
Strap in for a wild end of year event as scores finally get settled and new champions potentially get crowned at UFC 296 live from Las Vegas!