Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad (UFC Vegas 21)

Leon Edwards and Colby Covington will clash at UFC 296 on Saturday, December 16.

The UFC Welterweight Championship will be on the line when Edwards defends the title against Covington in the five-round main event.

Read on for the latest Edwards vs. Covington betting odds, as well as our detailed fight breakdowns, analysis, and predictions before UFC 296.

Edwards vs. Covington betting odds

Leon Edwards will enter UFC 296 as the betting favorite with odds of -160 up against Covington, who can be found at +130 odds at most sites.

  • Leon Edwards: -160
  • Colby Covington: +130

Check out our expert UFC 296 predictions here:

Colby Covington celebrates after his fight with Robbie Lawler at UFC Newark
Colby Covington celebrates after his fight with Robbie Lawler at UFC Newark (UFC/Getty Images)

Edwards vs. Covington predictions

Braeden Arbour

Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington caps off the UFC’s 2023 year of fights. Both men bring alot of problems to solve for the other. Leon Edwards is the longer, bigger fighter and both the better kickboxer and probably a bit more technically well rounded. Colby Covington is a high level wrestler, whose greatest asset is his work ethic and pressure.

Covington has a very high striking output in most of his fights but a low accuracy, mainly because he fills spaces with punches without the intention of landing, and more so to keep his opponents constantly in a reactive state. He also feints often, especially ducking to imply a level change before he enters with punches. Covington does an especially good job of feinting high when he intends to go low and faking low when he intends to go high. If he finds his opponent’s back up towards the cage, he likes to fake a flying knee so that he fully drops as he comes back down to the mat and shoots for the hips. On the other side, he feints low and walks through with step through over hands from both sides.

Edwards will want to keep the fight in open space, as he is the more proficient kickboxer. Both men constantly switch stances, but hammering at Covington’s body when they find themselves in mirrored stances is important. When fighting the opposite watch for Leon to attack the lead leg instead to halt the forward pressure and take some spring off of Covingtons power double legs. The biggest issue that Edwards has faced is his sometimes inability to commend the space in the octagon. Even if he is landing consistently, he finds himself being backed up instead of maintaining the center of the ring. It’s imperative that when he creates the opportunities to circle back to the middle of the canvas, he does so.

Covington is not always the most defensively sound when he enters range. He is willing to eat a shot to land his own and make contact to initiate the wrestling exchanges. Edwards is very good at getting to a frame in the clinch and landing elbows over the top. The biggest weapon of importance for Edwards in this fight are those elbows. The moment he feels Covington get around him, he needs to frame, elbow and circle to create damage and stop himself from getting stuck in place. Covington suffered a major jaw break in 2019 in his title bid against Kamaru Usman, and in an alleged altercation with Jorge Masvidal earlier this year there was speculation that his jaw was again compromised along with dental issues. While it’s difficult to know exactly the extent of this, Leon’s elbows are a significant tool when Covington tries to come in close and bury his head into the chest of Leon. It’s also notable that Covington will drop his head and wind back his arms when throwing flurries leaving exposure.

The biggest reason why Leon has to take his opportunities to punish Covington on his way in, circle out and work from the outside is because at the point in which Covington secures the takedown he is most effective. Covington does a good job of transitioning from a double leg takedown into swiveling to a rear body lock and controlling the back. Covington does not play the jiu-jitsu game from here by securing both hooks, but instead prefers to get the outside hook and pin his opponent towards the cage, where he can both maintain a higher head position and control and also work for a potential choke or ground and pound. If he is in top position with his opponent flattened out, he does a good job of keeping his head low and pressed to his opponent’s sacrificing the force he can generate with his ground strikes so that he can leave little to no room for them to get up. This plays well into his general game where Covington is a master at eating away at the clock in dominant fashion.

While Edwards should look to deny any and all opportunities for Covington to finish the takedown, it’s easier said than done. In a situation where the exchange is too far gone to defend, I believe that Edwards should look to counter grapple and take top position when he can rather than keep forcing a standup that isn’t there. Many of Covington’s opponents get stuck in a rhythm of constant defense and find themselves having just not done enough regardless of whether they take much damage. Edwards does not have the wrestling chops of Covington but has surprised fans with flashes of brilliance against others who on paper should have been much better than him on the mat, taking down kamaru Usman and Gunnar Nelson for example. He should be aggressive and contend with Covington in wrestling exchanges because if he is able to reverse position, Covington is not a guard player once again and mistakes from Covington on the bottom are better chances for Edwrads to reset on the feet than getting into a cycle of working up with Covington still on him and bringing him back down. For Edwards, it’s all about breaking the cycle and any momentum that Covington starts to get. Every time Covington explodes in, Edwards has to frame and punish and everytime he does get Edwards down, Edwards has to threaten with something of his own instead of just defend.

However I do believe that Edwards is capable of this. Covington is the smaller fighter, and coming back from a layoff. Edwards’ confidence is at an all time high as evident in the shift between his last two fights, and I believe that we will see a better version of him yet again. If these improvements materialize in his ability to command space and take more initiative in controlling center as well as aggressiveness the chances of Edwards winning should be very high.

Pick: Leon Edwards to win

Leon Edwards defeated Kamaru Usman at UFC 278 (Zuffa LLC)
Leon Edwards defeats Kamaru Usman at UFC 278 (Zuffa LLC)

Michael Pounders

Leon “Rocky” Edwards took his time, methodically climbing the rankings, en route to winning the welterweight strap and defending it 5 months later. The patience Edwards exhibits in his career mirrors the patience he has in the cage. Interestingly, that patience has resulted in some criticism that Leon is too casual or disinterested to be a top tier champion.

Make no doubt about it, despite his willingness to let fights come to him, “Rocky” is one of the best and most dangerous fighters on the roster. He is a lethally accurate and powerful southpaw striker who lands with sniper-like precision. His wrestling, both offensively and defensively, has increased substantially. Without losing a fight since 2015, Edwards has learned and grown after each scrap in the cage, resulting in a better version of himself in the following fight. His wrestling is the most prevalent evidence of his growth.

Edwards’ reactions, posting ability, balance, and calm demeanor have all significantly increased when defensively wrestling. Because his skill has grown throughout his career, it almost seems that the better the wrestler is that he’s facing, the better his takedown defense becomes. By improving his takedown defense to the level he has, Edwards has created an environment in the cage that forces opponents to relentlessly wrestle- often ineffectively- or stand and trade with him.

The latter option is as dangerous as it is difficult. Edwards has crisp, fast, technical, powerful, varied, and incredibly accurate striking that can shut the lights out in an instant just as easily it can continue for 25 minutes, picking opponents apart.

Colby “Chaos” Covington hasn’t graced the octagon since March of 2022. Despite his inactivity, Covington is a fairly predictable fighter, both in terms of style and production. Possibly, a more appropriate nickname for Covington would be “cardio” because the aspect of his game that is often unmatched in the cage is his ability to weaponize cardio.

Even after fights where he attempts over 500 strikes and shoots nearly 20 takedowns, Covington rarely looks tired at the end of the fight. Knowing that he is not going to stop or go away unless put out is a mental advantage as much as it is physical. The drawbacks from Covington’s high octane pressure striking are a lack of accuracy, power, and defense.

Because Colby is always moving and seemingly always striking or wrestling, when he strikes, he tends to hit a lot of air and rarely plants his feet to generate power. That is not to say he is without power, he can crack when he does plant and land, but the power threat is significantly less than most other contenders.

Additionally, while Colby’s constant movement makes him a difficult target to hit, because he’s often throwing himself, his chin and body tend to vulnerable. Wrestling, though, is what put Covington on the map and what has propelled him to and through the rankings. He is a highly-accredited wrestler who translated success from the NCAA mats to the UFC canvas fluidly. He shoots, on average, more than 4 takedowns per fight at a 45% success rate.

Concerningly, though, Covington struggles to hold opponents down once he gets them on the mat and rarely secures submissions. Instead, Colby uses his wrestling like his striking: weaponizing cardio through mat returns, to exhaust his opponents en route to decision wins.

While I think the odds in this fight are skewed because of star power, ironically, I think it is the star power of the contender that is increasing the value of the champion. Taking names off the resume, one fighter is a sniper on the feet with fight-ending power, reliable takedown defense, has been far more active, and has beaten the previously dominant champion of the division not once but twice.

Meanwhile, the other fighter is a volume-based striker with little power and poor striking defense, is an excellent wrestler with elite cardio, but has not fought in 1.5 years and has not beaten a fighter currently on the UFC roster in 5 years. Stylistically, Leon’s sniper counter striking is the perfect skillset to thwart the overzealous pressure striking of Covington which often leaves his chin exposed.

Moreover, while Covington is a decorated wrestler, he has struggled to take down bigger and stronger fighters, and has struggled to hold anyone down consistently. Leon’s natural size and athleticism coupled with the improvements he showed against Usman should negate Colby’s wrestling. In short, Colby will have to fight a perfect 25 minutes and weaponize cardio unlike anyone has been able to do against the champion to win. Conversely, Edwards can fight with his natural style and win this fight in more ways: out-striking, out-damaging, and even out-wrestling. I love the -150 on Edwards and am confidently taking “And Still!” to end 2023.

Best Bet: Edwards to win (-150)

Colby Covington lands a knee against Robbie Lawler (Zuffa LLC)
Colby Covington lands a knee against Robbie Lawler (Zuffa LLC)

Joe Pounders

Leon “Rocky” Edwards, the number 4 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, is, perhaps, underrated. This is the case even after defeating the once top of pound-for-pound rankings, Kamaru Usman, with a trending KO head kick, and then, beating him again to show his victory was far from a one-strike fluke. Here, he will look to earn his second title defense, and in doing so, propel himself to becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport.

The way in which Leon impresses is through hyper-technical striking with an underlying skillset truly rooted in mixed martial arts. While many elite champions of recent note have technical striking at their disposal, Leon’s striking is arguably the most impressive from an enjoyment perspective, as he blends crisp southpaw striking with devasting kicks. Moreover, he strikes with a sense of calmness and confidence, trusting his understanding of distance and timing will propel him to victory over any adversary, and each of those pillars of striking will be of the utmost importance in this fight as he is facing a heavy-pressure, output striker in Colby Covington.

Facing a fighter who will likely win the output battle is not lost on Leon Edwards. He has stated in several interviews he expects Colby to pressure and land pepper strikes early in the fight, but plans to utilize his higher-end ability to find a finish in round 2 or 3. While his striking allows him to do so, he will need to lean on his defensive grappling to keep the fight standing, and even though his grappling is quite strong in all areas, the non-stop pace Colby will put forth will test Leon. If he can pass the pace and grappling attack, he has everything in his fight arsenal to make true of his promise, that is, finish Colby Covington.

Underestimating the technical skillset of Colby Covington is something many have done, but only a select few have come out victorious over him. The reasoning for this is due to his repeatable style, which inherently mandates elite skills to do so against the best of the best.

The way Covington fights is similar to the now UFC Middleweight champion, Sean Strickland, where Covington looks to put non-stop pressure and output on his opponent. The difference between the two is that where Strickland has fantastic striking defense to negate many attempts thrown back his way, Covington has elite grappling to use if the pressure he puts forth on the feet consequently gets him tagged too many times. So, the elite attributes of Covington are winning the output battle on the feet, elite cardio, extremely talented on the ground, and perhaps most importantly, the fighter that dictates the direction of the fight from the moment it ensues.

While all those positive attributes are well earned for Covington, the pitiful of his fight game boils down to minimal power – a consequence of non-stop output – and defensive lapses on the feet. The lack of power is of minimal concern, but the lack of defensive prowess on the feet is critical, particularly when facing a sniper like Leon, who can land a devasting KO while being the fighter moving backward. If Covington is not careful, he too can fall victim to the fight-ending ability of Leon, but if he can sure up his defense, he has the skills to get the victory here.

I am a fan of both fighters from a stylistic perspective. The pace, cardio, and well-rounded ability Colby has is a repeatable style that is fun to watch. Meanwhile, the elite technician that is Leon makes him extremely entertaining to watch as a fight fan. While I enjoy both styles, it is hard to ignore the greatest ability Leon has with precision striking lining up with the weakest point of Colby’s game which is defensive striking. Because of this, I am trusting what the champion is stating himself, that is, Leon will get a finish here.

Best bet: Leon Edwards by stoppage

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