The UFC will be returning to London tomorrow night for an epic rematch between two rivals in a very exciting main event. UFC 286 will bring fight fans back to the O2 Arena for one of the most anticipated title fights in some time and what is sure to be a great night of fights.
After the new welterweight champion shocked the world last year, he’s going to be out to prove that it was not a fluke and cap off the trilogy against a longtime rival by keeping his belt in the main event. Plus, a lightweight championship eliminator pits two wildly exciting fighters against each other and two popular welterweights will look to crack the top 15.
Welterweight bout: Gunnar Nelson vs. Bryan Barbarena
Before the welterweights close the show, a couple of hungry contenders will look to jump into the rankings with a big performance. Nelson is looking to string together a winning streak after a victory over Takashi Sato a year ago brought his record to 18-5. With 12 submission wins, Nelson is a dangerous grappler who can force any opponent to tap. This will be a very important fight for him too because he has dropped three of his last five, so getting some momentum going here could be huge.
Across the octagon, it’s a similar story for Barbarena. A loss to Rafael dos Anjos in December snapped a three-fight winning streak and brought his record to 18-9. Barbarena is an absolute warrior and his willingness to get into brawls has made him a crowd favorite. With 11 wins by knockout, he’s proven he is very dangerous but it’s his toughness that is really both his beast weapon and perhaps his biggest detriment. One thing’s for sure: this is not going to be a boring fight.
My Pick: Nelson via decision
Lightweight bout: Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev
Speaking of crowd favorites, they don’t get much more popular than Gaethje. The former lightweight title challenger has been in some absolute wars, including one against Michael Chandler in 2021 that may have been the fight of the year. With a 23-4 record and 19 knockouts, Gaethje has proven he belongs in the octagon against anyone not named Khabib (but, come on, Khabib did that to everyone). Gaethje is another fighter who is always willing to put on a show one way or another, so watch for some fireworks in this one.
And Fiziev is certainly no stranger to fireworks. The sixth-ranked lightweight contender actually comes into this fight the betting favorite against a higher-ranked opponent, due in large part to his 12-1 record and six-fight winning streak. In his last two bouts, Fiziev has knocked out the aforementioned dos Anjos and Brad Riddell in spectacular fashion and looks like he could do the same to anyone in the weight class. This will be a big test for Fiziev, but if he keeps up this streak, he’ll be in line for a title shot very soon.
My Pick: Fiziev via decision
Welterweight Championship bout: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman
On August 20th, 2022, Leon Edwards shocked the world and put an end to one of the most dominant streaks in the history of the UFC when he landed a head kick against then-champion Kamaru Usman in the closing seconds of the fifth and final round. Usman was well ahead on the scorecards and everyone was ready to pack it up before the unforgettable moment. It was the equivalent of sinking a buzzer-beating 50-point shot or hitting a 10-run homerun in the bottom of the ninth – there’s just nothing else like it in sports. Now, Edwards will have to prove that was anything but a fluke.
Lucky kick or not, Edwards’ resume speaks for itself. He has a 20-3 record with seven knockouts and three submissions. He’s riding a 10-fight winning streak, with his last loss coming all the way back in 2015 against, you guessed it, Kamaru Usman. He possesses incredible boxing skills and, as he showed in the last fight, an unmatched savviness in the striking game that he can carry late into fights, long after fatigue has set in. That head kick was a thing of beauty, as he set it up first with his hands to get Usman moving exactly where he wanted him to be. There’s no denying Edwards is a worthy champion. Now, he just needs to keep his title.
That’s easier said than done though as he has to beat for the second straight time a man who is considered to be the greatest welterweight of all-time and a surefire Hall of Fame inductee in the future. Prior to the loss, Usman had been riding a 19-fight win streak and was sporting a 20-1 record with nine knockout wins. The last six wins in that streak had all been title fights and the loss left him just one win short of Anderson Silva’s all-time record for consecutive UFC victories. And unparalleled grappler, Usman has made a living out of overpowering and overwhelming his opponents en route to having his hand raised. After the last result, there’s no question he is going to be looking to take this fight to ground instead of standing in front of Edwards. The champ will have to be ready for that.
My Pick: Usman via decision
UFC 286 will be held Saturday, March 18 at 5 PM ET. Fight fans can order the pay per view through ESPN+ and receive a special offer: $124.98 for UFC 286 and an ESPN+ annual plan. ESPN+ subscribers can order the pay per view for $79.99.