UFC 286 takes place tomorrow in London, England and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman
Last year, Edwards pulled off one of the most shocking upsets in UFC history when he knocked out Usman with a head kick in the final round of their rematch, despite coming up second-best for most of the fight. Now, they will meet again to settle the score, with Edwards defending his welterweight title on home soil.
Edwards ‘Rocky’ moniker seemed more fitting than ever after that incredible comeback win, but can he repeat his success against Usman? There are reasons to question that, as he was clearly being out-landed by Usman on the feet and outwrestled too before landing that perfect kick.
Edwards has a tendency to be a somewhat cautious, conservative fighter, and that can be seen in the stats as Usman threw far three times more strikes than him over the course of the fight, though it should be noted that when he did attack the percentage that were deemed significant was far higher than Usman’s.
That’s an indication of Edwards striking ability, as was the technique that set up his KO win over Usman, setting it up beautifully with a jab that was followed with a high kick on the same side.
The question now is whether Edwards’ stunning win has given him the kind of confidence needed to change his mindset and really unleash the full extent of his striking skills, which could make him a more dangerous opponent for Usman this time around, instead of waiting cautiously in the hope of another miracle finish.
I’m not so sure he can change his style that easily. And Usman will surely be more wary of Edwards’ striking threat this time around and may use his wrestling advantage more to secure a win, which is an area that it feels like ‘Rocky’ has less chance of overcoming.
Usman has shown impressive mental resilience in the way he’s conducted himself after losing his title in such a shocking way, which suggests that he still believes in himself. And I he has good reason to feel that way as he’s still one of the best fighters in the sport, and I think he will prove it here by winning a clear decision to reclaim the belt.
Pick: Kamaru Usman wins by decision.
Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev
Gaethje returns to action after an unsuccessful attempt to win the title last year, while Fiziev is on a roll at the moment with six wins in a row, including KO finishes in his last two fights.
Clearly then Fiziev has plenty of power, but that’s backed up by very high-level muay thai technique that sees him deliver his strikes with impressive speed and fluidity, while he also has surprisingly strong takedown defense.
While Gaethje can wrestle it’s unlikely he’ll even look to test Fiziev’s defense as he’s never one to back down from a striking battle. Gaethje has a proud record of being one of the most exciting and entertaining strikers in the sport with his relentlessly aggressive style that’ll see him deliver high-volume punches and devastating low kicks, all while showing incredible toughness.
Gaethje’s been in a scary amount of wars over the years though, even dating back long before his time in the UFC, at at 34 that’s the time when that kind of punishment can start to catch up with a fighter fast. Fiziev’s potent mix of technique, speed and power feels like a good counter to Gaethje’s own weaponry, even giving him a run for his money in the low-kick department, and so I’d expect it to be a spectacular striking battle for as long as it lasts, but Fiziev will eventually emerge victorious in the third round via TKO.
Pick: Rafael Fiziev to win by TKO in Rd3.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Bryan Barberena
“Nelson came back from a long break with a victory by decision last year and now faces Barberena, who lost his last fight after winning three in a row before that.
These two have distinctly different striking styles, with Nelson using a low-volume but precise karate style from a distance, while Barberena is a relentless slugger with an iron chin who will try to break his opponent will with his swarming attacks.
while striking is Barberena’s strong suit, Nelson is at his best in the grappling department with his excellent jiu-jitsu enabling him to control the action on the mat and work for submissions, while he has solid takedown ability too.
And I think that’s likely to be Nelson’s key to win this fight as Barberena is not particularly strong at defending takedowns and was submitted in his last fight. So I believe Nelson will be able to cause him more problems in that department and emerge with a second round submission finish.
Pick: Gunnar Nelson wins by submission in Rd2.
Jennifer Maia vs. Casey O’Neill
“O’Neill has a perfect record of 9-0 and has won all four of her UFC fights since debuting in 2021 and now fights Maia, who has a 5-5 UFC record but has been consistently going up against some of the best fighters the flyweight division has to offere.
Maia is a former Invicta FC champion is a well-rounded, durable fighter who has solid muay thai striking, is good in the clinch and has a black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. However, while she was more of a finisher on the regional scene, she has struggled against high-level competition and these days her fights almost always go to the scorecards.
O’Neill is a young and very confident fighter who likes to pressure her opponents with somewhat rudimentary, but aggressive, high-volume striking on the feet and strong wrestling ability on the mat. She has a 2″ height and 5” reach advantage over Maia here and has shown the ability to finish fights on the ground via ground-and-pound and submissions.
O’Neill is coming back from a knee injury that kept her out of action for a year, so it remains to be seen how she will perform after that. Maia is not someone to be underestimated, as she’s proven her toughness over the years, but, O’Neill’s aggression, higher output and wrestling advantage will be important factors here that lead her to a decision win.
Pick: Casey O’Neill wins by decision.
Marvin Vettori vs. Roman Dolidze
A former middleweight title contender, Vettori is looking to bounce back from a loss to Robert Whittaker in his last fight as he faces Dolidze, who has been in fine form courtesy of a four-fight winning streak.
The 29-year-old Vettori is a tough and relentless boxer who can break down his opponents with his pace, pressure and durability. He doesn’t have much in the way of knockout power, but he makes up for it with his cardio and granite chin and has generally only struggled against more skilled strikers who can outsmart and out-finesse him on the feet.
Vettori also has a solid wrestling game that allows him to control where the fight takes place. He can go for takedowns, but in this fight it may that he’ll opt to utilize his takedown defense to keep the action on the feet, while if he is brought to the mat he’s proven to be hard to finish, helping him maintain a record of having never been stopped by strikes or submission in his career.
Dolidze, 34, isn’t particularly technical on the feet and tends to offer up low-volume offense, but he’s still dangerous as he’s a strong fighter with the kind of power that can end fights with a single strike.
Dolidze’s well-rounded skill-set includes being a good wrestler and a talented grappler too can finish opponents via heavy ground-and-pound or submission. Or in some instance both combined, as he showcased last time out when he trapped Hermansson in a rare calf-slicer while landing heavy strikes to claim an impressive TKO win.
Still, I think Dolidze will have a hard time getting Vettori to the mat here and will find ‘The Italian Dream’ is also a tough nut to crack on the feet thanks to his sturdy chin and higher-volume, more consistent work on the feet, leading Vettori to a decision victory.
Pick: Marvin Vettori wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Jack Shore vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Chris Duncan vs. Omar Morales
Sam Patterson vs. Yanal Ashmoz
Muhammad Mokaev vs. Jafel Filho
Lerone Murphy vs. Gabriel Santos
Christian Leroy Duncan vs. Dusko Todorovic
Malcolm Gordon vs. Jake Hadley
Joanne Wood vs. Luana Carolina
Jai Herbert vs. Ludovit Klein
Juliana Miller vs. Veronica Macedo