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UFC 296: Leon Edwards retains welterweight title against Colby Covington

Leon Edwards successfully defended his welterweight belt Saturday night, unanimously outpointing Colby Covington at UFC 296.

Dec 16, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Leon Edwards (red gloves) fights Colby Covington (blue gloves) during UFC 296 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports(USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

In a bout that hardly lived up to its billing, Edwards (22-3) showed poise and patience as he picked his spots to outclass Covington (17-4), beating the former interim champion at his own game.

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Rather than using his strengths on his feet as a striker, Edwards chose to grapple and counter whenever Covington took shots for a takedown.

“It was way easier than expected,” Edwards said in the postfight interview. “I’m a mixed martial artist. I know everyone sees me as a striker, so it’s good to go out there and show different parts of my game.”

It was an emotionally charged bout after Covington mentioned Edwards’ deceased father at the final pre-fight press conference.

Edwards lost his father when he was a teenager, as he’s previously explained his dad was shot and killed in a London nightclub during a skirmish over money.

Edwards had to be restrained after Covington’s remarks, but he got revenge Saturday night.

“It was very difficult,” Edwards also said. “Last night I spoke to my mum and she said, ‘Understand what he said was hurtful but you need to remember where you came from.’”

After entering the arena draped in an American flag, Covington made a pit stop to share a quick word with former President Donald Trump before stepping into the octagon.

Trump sat ringside, with UFC CEO Dana White, musician Kid Rock and UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell.

White shot down the rumor that Trump would have put the belt on Covington had he won.

“You guys think Secret Service would’ve let Trump get into the octagon?” White asked.

In the co-main event, Alexandre Pantoja (27-5) successfully defended his flyweight belt in his first title defense, winning a unanimous decision over Brandon Royval (15-7).

Pantoja used a methodical approach by dominating with his agility and grappling ability to wear down Royval, the second-ranked flyweight in the world.

“I didn’t expect a war like that,” Pantoja said. “That’s the flyweight division … all good fighters. I’m very happy to represent this division.”

It was the second time Pantoja beat Royval, the first coming by way of a second-round submission with a rear naked choke during a UFC Fight Night event on Feb. 6, 2021.

“He evolved so much and he learned (since) his last fight with me,” Pantoja said. “He’s gone to another level. He deserves all my respect.”

Shavkat Rakhmonov (18-0-0) kept his unblemished record intact when he made Stephen Thompson (17-7-1) submit with a rear naked choke at 4:56 of the second round in their welterweight battle.

Paddy Pimblett (21-3) used a dominating first round to set the tone against crowd favorite Tony Ferguson (25-10). Pimblett was quicker, more accurate and used his grappling skills to earn a unanimous decision in the lightweight bout.

Josh Emmett (19-4) opened the main card with an overhand right to the top-left side of Bryce Mitchell’s head in their featherweight match. Slipping a right jab, Emmett countered with a devastating punch that knocked Mitchell (16-2) out cold at 1:57 of the first round of the scheduled three-round 145-pound bout.

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