A pair of big fights have been added to the UFC’s final Pay-Per-View event of 2023, promotion President and CEO Dana White announced on Friday.
After Stephen Thompson (17-6-1) announced the bout earlier in the day, White confirmed that “Wonderboy” would indeed face Shavkat Rakhmonov (17-0) at UFC 296, scheduled for the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 16.
In addition, White revealed a bout that will no doubt get fight fans talking: Paddy Pimblett (20-3) will face former UFC interim lightweight champ Tony Ferguson (25-9) at the event. That fight comes completely out of left field, but continues in the tradition of the UFC lining up aging stars for fights with young up-and-comers.
Thompson will enter his welterweight fight with Kazakh Rakhmonov off a win over Kevin Holland that felt like a return to form for the karate-based fighter. Rakhmonov, however, is both undefeated in the UFC and his career, having finished all 17 of his wins — with victories over Geoff Neal, Neil Magny, and Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira among them (not to mention Jun-Yong Park prior to the pair entering the UFC).
As for Paddy Pimblett, he remains undefeated under the UFC banner, but took plenty of criticism after scraping by in a decision win over Jared Gordon last December. Pimblett has not fought since, at least in part due to injury. Ferguson, meanwhile, is on a six-fight skid that most recently saw him come up short against Bobby “King” Green. He’s been submitted in his past two fights, and finished in his past three.
As popular as “El Cucuy” is and always has been, he’s entered must-win territory.
UFC 296 is set to be headlined by welterweight champ Leon Edwards defending his title against Colby Covington, while newly crowned flyweight king Alexandre Pantoja takes on Brandon Royval. No other fights have been announced or reported for the card thus far, but those four alone are sure to make it must-see TV.