What’s Next: UFC 296 Winners

Leon Edwards UFC 296
Leon Edwards, UFC 296 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

After another year under the microscope, the UFC saw off another monumentally successful year as UFC 296 marked the final event of 2023.

With Colby Covington predictably being a major talking point coming into fight night, disgusting comments he made earlier during fight week stole the headlines. It took away from the fact he was undeservedly in the spot he was in, but ultimately once again, he couldn’t cash his ticket.

Let’s take a look at what could be next for the winners on the night.

Leon Edwards

Leon Edwards continues to befit his nickname, “Rocky”, and this fight almost had shades of Rocky 3.

Coming into the fight, the British champion wasn’t keen on giving the title shot to Colby Covington for a multitude of reasons. One being that he believed he just didn’t deserve it. The other reason, Leon unfortunately became victim of during the press conference on Thursday evening, Colby’s trashy persona.

Despite all of that, the 32-year-old once again exhibited his championship mindset. After the antics of fight week, Edwards somehow put it all to the back of his mind and came in on Saturday night and performed flawlessly.

The Brummy’s grappling and wrestling have always come under criticism due to the fact he trains out of the UK, and it isn’t a prominent Martial Art over there. He put a lot of those doubts to bed against Kamaru Usman back in March, but Colby’s relentless style resulted in people resurfacing that area of his game again.

He once again put those doubts to bed. He even went as far as securing two takedowns of his own, from three attempts. After dispatching of Colby Covington so simply, who from the welterweight pile is next? For me there is only one person who should come to mind, despite him being someone who divides opinions amongst fans. That man is, Belal Muhammad.

With Shavkat Rakhmonov having scored another finish, a large portion of fans believe he should leapfrog Muhammad. But he still hasn’t accumulated the impressive performances Belal has.

Whatever your opinions are of Muhammad’s fight style, he has more than earned his title shot.

Edwards’ Next Fight: Belal Muhammad

Alexandre Pantoja

“The Cannibal” once again showed why his skillset is a very difficult one to overcome, making it five wins in a row.

Despite Brandon Royval having came on leaps and bounds since their first meeting in 2021, the Brazilian made easy work of him, scoring two 50-45’s and a 49-46. In the five rounds of action, Pantoja totted up over 15 minutes of control time.

The flyweight division is in a precarious spot. This fight marked the first flyweight title fight in over three years, that didn’t involve either Brandon Moreno or Deiveson Figueiredo. But the division might not be moving on from both of those former champions entirely.

Brandon Moreno was in attendance at UFC 296 as he weighed in as a backup just a day prior. The Mexican is scheduled to take on Amir Albazi in February, and the winner of that will surely dictate who Pantoja will take on next. For the division to even slightly move on from old rivalries, Albazi may be the man with heavy support come February 24th.

Pantoja’s Next Fight: Winner of Brandon Moreno vs Amir Albazi

Shavkat Rakhmonov

The aforementioned “Nomad” continued his devastatingly impressive run with a second round submission win over Stephen Thompson.

That now totals five UFC submission wins in just six fights, the 29-year-old is undoubtedly on a run to the 170lb title. “Wonderboy” was arguably the toughest test of his three year UFC tenure so far, but the Uzbek didn’t even break a sweat.

Because of the impressive nature of his performances, it has led to fans wanting to fast track Rakhmonov to a title fight, and the majority of them have called for him to be next. Despite that, I completely disagree with that notion.

Shavkat is yet to become a household name in MMA, and there is still time for him to gain mainstream popularity. As well as that, he is still on the right side of 30 and so there is still time to build his name and resume.

The only issue is, there is a lack of names at the top end of the welterweight division that make sense for Shavkat. Gilbert Burns is a name that would’ve made sense, had he not just been booked to fight Jack Della Maddalena. There is a man who has been unsuccessful with three title attempts, and currently sits inside the top three.

Yes, let’s give Shavkat Rakhmonov, Colby Covington. If “Chaos” wants to actually work back up to a fourth title fight, then the path must run through “The Nomad”.

Rakhmonov’s Next Fight: Colby Covington 

Paddy Pimblett

The scouser showed mental toughness to come in and win dominantly, after a turbulent 2022. Despite picking up three wins last year, there was a big grey cloud over “The Baddy’s” run.

The majority of those question marks surfaced after his performance over Jared Gordon, as the majority of fans and media personalities adjudged Gordon as the winner. Not only that, but Paddy picked up a terrible ankle injury that put him on the sidelines till this past weekend.

Putting all of those situations together, it made for a pressure situation for the 28-year-old, and despite Ferguson having been on a six fight losing skid, he was still dangerous.

Pimblett showed a different side to his game, by dominating on the ground for a large majority of the 15 minute fight.

I think it is now time to introduce the 28-year-old to the top 15 of the lightweight division. Bobby Green still stands as one of the most popular fighters in the division, and that is a fight that could be a lot of fun.

Pimblett’s Next Fight: Bobby Green

Josh Emmett

Josh Emmett opened up the main card by scoring one of the most vicious one punch knockouts ever seen.

Emmett entered the gauntlet early in 2023 by taking on both Yair Rodriguez and Ilia Topuria. After coming up short on both occasions, the future of the 38-year-old began to be doubted. After coming so close to his title shot, it begged the questions, what is left for him?

But now he has bounced back with a devastating finish and is back in the front of people’s minds.

I think it’s fair to say Emmett may not be in a position again where he is close to a title shot, but his performance on Saturday night showed, he still has a lot to give.

With him originally being booked to fight Giga Chikadze, why not just rebook that one for next year?

Emmett’s Next Fight: Giga Chikadze