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UFC 296: Edwards vs. Covington Free Picks, Predictions, and Analysis

Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Cody Durden

Tagir Ulanbekov comes into Saturday 3-1 in his four fights with the UFC, adding to a 14-2 record and many thinking he is one of the hottest prospects in this flyweight division. To me, the storyline in this one, however, is just another guy overlooking Cody Durden. 

The last time we saw Tagir in the octagon was over a year ago, a win over Nate Maness. In August, Tagir withdrew from the Jake Hadley fight (for undisclosed reasons) at UFC Nashville, as Durden stepped in on late notice to take on Hadley as a +190 underdog. 

Picking up his fourth straight win in that fight via unanimous decision, Durden has just one loss (to undefeated Muhammed Mokaev) since 2020, and I think can take advantage of Tagir’s ring rust in this one. Add in edges across the board in striking, a relatively even ground game, I like Durden to grind out yet another underdog cash in this one.

Pick: Cody Durden (+150 at Caesars Sportsbook)

Tony Ferguson vs. Paddy Pimblett

As is often the case with UFC legends, all signs are pointing toward El Cucuy going out on his shield despite the writing on the wall he should walk away. His last win (2019) came against a similar story in Cowboy Cerrone, as he comes into Saturday having lost six straight with four of which came inside the distance (ITD).

Even though he won his last fight, officially, this feels like a fight Paddy needs to get back on track as well. In one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen, and I bet Paddy that night, Pimblett won a decision a year ago vs. Jared Gordon and has not fought since. Having completed reconstructive surgery on his ankle in the time since Paddy will look to make it seven of his past eight wins to come ITD here.

Realistically, if it was not for that first round ankle injury vs. Gordon, Paddy probably gets that one done early as well. Ferguson knows coming into this one a seventh straight loss likely ends his UFC career, and he can’t afford to wait for his spots. Look for both to go for the finish early, and one of these two finds success doing just that.

Pick: Fight to End via Decision – No (-190 at FanDuel Sportsbook)

Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington

The welterweight strap will be on the line in Saturday’s main event, as Leon Edwards will make his first defense against someone not named Kamaru Usman. Colby Covington, who is no stranger to wars with Usman, will look to overcome a 650-day layoff in what could be (with a loss) his last realistic shot at winning the belt. 

The angle for me on this one is similar to the angle in taking Sean Strickland vs. Izzy earlier this year. Izzy had just come off the most emotional win of his career, finally winning a battle against his nemesis in Alex Pereira, and throwing everything at the wall in the process. Understandably, he came out emotionally flat in that fight and paid the price, and I expect a similar start from Leon.

Similar to Strickland (in a few ways), Colby is too sharp of a fighter to allow for that, and I think takes some early rounds in the process. Significantly better on the ground with 4x the takedown average, I think Chaos holds his own on the feet, coming into Saturday landing 2x the significant strikes per minute. 

With more paths to victory and more desperate for a win, I like for Colby “Chaos” to take this fight and become the welterweight champion in the process. 

Pick: Colby Covington (+135 at Caesars Sportsbook)

Johnny Covers

Johnny has been covering the sports betting markets and handicapping UFC for the better part of the past decade. Along the way, he has written for publications such as Oddschecker, Betting Pros, Sportsbook Review, Yardbarker, and many more. Johnny runs giving out free UFC analysis and picks on every card, going 56% in 2021, 65% in 2022, and trending at 60% for 2023. He has also made multiple appearances on UFC's official betting show "On the Line" along side head MMA oddsmaker at Circa Sportsbooks Nick Kalikas and professional sports bettor Gianni the Greek .