Preview: A Bantamweight Rematch Pits the New Champ Against an Old Foe at UFC 299

As the countdown to UFC 300 nears an end, we have one more pay-per-view card to hold us over and it’s a good one. A whopping 15 ranked fighters and one champion will step into the octagon Saturday night as the UFC makes its return to Miami for a stacked card.

A newly crowned champion will face off against an old foe who already holds a victory over him in a very exciting championship main event. Plus, a former lightweight champion will face a fast-rising star and two of the best welterweights in the world will meet for the first time.

Welterweight bout: Gilbert Burns vs. Jack Della Maddalena

A UFC veteran, Gilbert Burns is accustomed to big fights. The former championship challenger boasts a 22-6 record with six knockouts and nine submissions. He’s an incredibly dangerous grappler with dynamite in his hands and he can certainly end any fight in a hurry. Lately though, Burns has had a hard time getting over the hump, losing three of his last six against some of the best fighters in the class. He is likely finding himself in the gatekeeper role for the welterweight division now, facing rising stars as opposed to getting the big opportunities for himself. However, if he were to turn away this contender, he might find himself getting another shot very soon.

A talented up-and-comer, Jack Della Maddalena has done nothing but win since stepping into the octagon, to the tune of a perfect 6-0 record. His professional record now stands at 16-2 with 11 knockouts and he holds the 11th spot in the welterweight rankings. Maddalena is as scrappy and tough as they come and he’s a tough out for anyone. With a solid all-around game, it will be interesting to see what each fighter brings to the table in this matchup. Maddalena will likely look to keep this a striking battle, but he’s going to have to avoid the hands of Burns if he wants to survive and score another huge win.

My pick: Burns via decision

Lightweight bout: Dustin Poirier vs. Benoit Saint Denis

The lightweight division has long been the most stacked the UFC has to offer and it’s almost unfair how much new talent is constantly emerging. One of the stalwarts atop the division, Dustin Poirier will be looking to bounce back from a knockout loss to Justin Gaethje in July. Poirier’s record now at 29-8 with 14 knockouts including two over Conor McGregor (though one of those came due to a leg injury). Since those wins though, Poirier has dropped two of three, including a championship loss to Charles Oliveira and the aforementioned Gaethje fight. There’s no question he’s still one of the best in the world, but he’s in need of a win now and at risk of falling into the same situation as Gilbert Burns, just in one weight class down.

And the situation of this fight is incredibly similar as Benoit Saint Denis is quickly becoming a star and current holds the 12th spot in the lightweight rankings. He also holds a 13-1 record with nine submission victories and since coming to the UFC, he’s 5-1 with three knockouts and two submissions. Only one of his 14 fights has actually gone the distance. In other words, this guy knows how to finish fights. This is a clear ramp up in competition for Saint Denis but if he can finish Poirier he will prove he belongs in the top tier of this stacked division.

My pick: Saint Denis via 3rd round submission

Bantamweight Championship bout: Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera

Who doesn’t love a rematch? On August 15, 2022, Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera faced off at UFC 252. Vera got the better of his opponent that night and scored a TKO victory in the closing seconds of the first round after O’Malley suffered a leg injury. Since then, Vera has posted a 5-2 record, with wins over former champions like Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz. All O’Malley has done since then is win, racking up five victories of his own, including one over Aljamain Sterling to capture the bantamweight crown. Now, the two will meet again, with the championship on the line.

Sean O’Malley is, simply put, one of the most fun fighters to watch. His showboating antics combined with his pinpoint striking makes for a great show every time out. That striking was on display when he dropped Sterling early in the second round to take the title. He currently holds a 17-1 record with 12 knockouts and now he has the chance to avenge the only blemish on his resume. The gameplan will be no secret: pick Vera apart on the feet.

Of course, that has always been O’Malley’s gameplan and it didn’t work in the first meeting between these two. Then again, that was due in large part to O’Malley’s leg injury. Vera holds a 23-8-1 record with 10 submissions and eight knockouts of his own. A true veteran, Vera’s UFC debut came all the way back in 2014. He’s been one of the best for a long time and yet, he’s never challenged for the championship. Having already beaten the current champ and finally getting his opportunity, Vera will be both confident and motivated, which is a very dangerous combination. It will be interesting to see if he is willing to strike with O’Malley, given that he has knocked him out once before. He should have the grappling advantage, but getting the champ to the ground has proven to be no easy task for his prior opponents. This could be a very interesting chess match between two of the best in the world.

My pick: O’Malley via decision

UFC 299 will be held Saturday, March 9 at 10 PM ET. ESPN+ subscribers can order the pay per view for $79.99.

Mike Mack
Mack is the Editorial Director for Marvel and ESPN content and he has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed "nerd."