On Saturday night, Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards meet in a rubber match for the welterweight championship in the main event of UFC 286. Their previous meeting saw Usman dominate the fight before Edwards scored a knockout with a head kick in the final minute of Round 5, ending Usman’s long reign as champion.
Usman has been the better fighter throughout their previous two meetings, winning nearly every moment of both fights, but it is the Edwards head kick that is the moment that truly stands out in their rivalry.
“It’s weird because on the ride to the hospital that night, I was already over it,” Usman told “Morning Kombat” this week. “I was over it. When you feel that sense of relief of all the expectations, you just hear it all quiet down. All of the people that were jumping on the ship making it heavy and needed to go, now have kind of jumped off.
“It makes the sport fun for me and it wasn’t as much fun with all the noise. I love the position I ascended to and I appreciated it because I know I put in all the work I did over the years. But it wasn’t as necessarily as fun as the journey. I love that I get to really enjoy the sport again. I’ve enjoyed the times of me and my daughter getting to drive to the gym every day, there and back.”
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With so much happening on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of “Morning Kombat”), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).
|Edwards (c) vs. Usman||Usman||Usman||Usman||Edwards||Usman|
|Gaethje vs. Fiziev||Fiziev||Fiziev||Fiziev||Fiziev||Gaethje|
|Nelson vs. Barberena||Barberena||Nelson||Nelson||Nelson||Barberena|
|O’Neill vs. Maia||O’Neill||O’Neill||O’Neill||O’Neill||O’Neill|
|Vettori vs. Dolidze||Dolidze||Vettori||Vettori||Vettori||Vettori|
|Records to date (2023)
Campbell: It took Edwards producing a 10-fight unbeaten streak and a dramatic fifth-round knockout of Usman in their rematch last summer for “Rocky” to finally get his due as a legit welterweight title contender (and now a champion). Yet for as inspirational a moment as his stunning head kick turned out to be, Edwards enters the trilogy as the betting underdog once again. And there’s good reason to believe Usman when he said the loss had more to do with him losing focus than anything else after he dominated the three previous rounds before Edwards finished the fight. Usman, even as he closes in on age 36, remains a more dominant grappler and a better overall mixed martial artist than his British rival and has largely proved that over the eight rounds between them. With newfound motivation to regain his title, look for Usman to handle his business as deliberately as possible by backing Edwards up and using the threat of a takedown to open up his striking.
Brookhouse: I think there’s a very legitimate chance Usman was broken by a single kick. We’ve seen plenty of elite fighters who suffered one knockout and were never the same again, especially later on in their career. That said, I just can’t go with Edwards as the pick here. Before that one Edwards kick, Usman had dominated the fight. Edwards looked totally defeated in the corner round after round. What’s more likely here? Usman falls victim to a big one-shot KO or this fight plays out like all but one second of their two prior meetings?
Mahjouri: Reducing Edwards’ win over Usman to a lucky shot is disrespectful. Usman was too comfortable in the closing minutes of the fight and fell into Edwards’ perfectly-laid trap. It’s also worth noting that Edwards was struggling with the elevation in their second meeting. Still, Usman was the better fighter for the vast majority of that fight. It’s unfair to count out Usman, who was 56 seconds away from tying Anderson Silva’s all-time win streak record, quite yet. He should still wield the wrestling advantage and can do damage with his punches. Usman’s clearest path to victory is grinding out a decision against the fence as he did in his first fight with Jorge Masvidal. It won’t sit well with the London crowd, but it’s Usman’s job to make them happy. Expect a competitive fight, but one that should go to the former champion.
Campbell: Armed with a six-fight win streak, including a trio of brutal knockouts, Fiziev might be catching the dangerous Gaethje at just the right time after “The Highlight” twice came up empty in undisputed title bids over the past three years. At 34, and given the incredible mileage accrued in recent years as one of the most exciting and barbaric fighters in UFC history, Gaethje’s inevitable decline will likely happen quickly once it begins. Provided Fiziev is able to keep his distance from the calculated brawler and snipe from the outside, Gaethje’s lack of commitment to his own wrestling attack makes him very hittable in the standup.
Mahjouri: Fiziev is a force on the feet. A decorated Muay Thai striker, Fiziev has scored knockouts in eight of his 12 MMA fights. Gaethje is one you should never count out and he possesses the ferocious spirit to knock out anyone in the lightweight division. Plus, Gaethje tells CBS Sports he’s more likely than ever to lean on his collegiate wrestling background. The problem there is that Gaethje has never actually attempted a takedown in the UFC and Fiziev has a stellar 92% takedown defense. Gaethje won’t make it easy, but Fiziev has a good chance of cracking Gaethje’s weathered chin over 15 minutes.
Wise: While it is true that the damage accrued by Gaethje is due to catch up with him, getting the brawling brute as an underdog here just feels too juicy to pass up. Fiziev is a well-rounded fighter who can pick away at a distance. But Gaethje tends to bring the fight out of everyone he faces by sheer will. Just ask Charles Oliveira, who many expected to wrestle him to the mat early but instead chose to stand and trade with the former interim titleholder before eventually scoring the submission. Gaethje has a way of making fighters fight his style and until he is truly finished by one of the elite still active, I’ll side with “The Highlight” to produce again.
Campbell: A surprising three-fight win streak, which ended in his submission loss to Rafael dos Anjos last December, gave Barberena the confidence (and job security) to put thoughts on an early retirement aside at age 33. He has become an interesting overachiever as a celebrated brawler who has sharpened his striking enough to surprise veteran fighters like Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown. Even though Nelson is technically a step up in class from Barberena’s recent wins, his own repeated layoffs, which include just one fight in the last three years, have weakened his reputation. Barberena will need to push a pace and lure Nelson into a slugfest, but he has the gas tank and willingness to win the fight due to his high volume and durability.
Brookhouse: Barberena’s wrestling is just not up to the level it needs to be against someone with Nelson’s skills. Nelson is a pest on the feet with his karate-based striking and that will force Barberena into trying to attack with big blitzes. That kind of forward rush just opens up opportunities for Nelson to take the fight to the ground, where this becomes a total mismatch. Barberena coming in on short notice with the deficiencies he has in wrestling and grappling just is not going to walk out of this one with a win.
Mahjouri: Nelson hasn’t left much of an impression on MMA fans, but that’s more because of his quiet demeanor and inconsistent fight schedule. His five career losses ordered by most recent are Gilbert Burns, Edwards, Santiago Ponzinibbio, Demian Maia and Rick Story. That is a pretty high level of opposition. Barberena is a slugger coming off a submission loss to Rafael dos Anjos. Nelson has only been knocked out once in 24 professional fights and has 12 submissions to his credit. It may be too late for Nelson to make a serious run at the top, but at 34 years old he has the tools and competition experience to shut down Barberena’s brawling style.
Brookhouse: This fight feels better as an add-on to a parlay with Vettori -280 than a standalone. Vettori is good at a grinding, patient approach to fighting. Dolidze has had plenty of success as a professional, with only one loss in his career. But according to UFC Stats, Dolidze has just a 33% takedown defense, which puts him in a very bad spot against someone like Vettori, who will look to smother, take the fight to the ground and smother some more. In a three-round fight, that’s a solid recipe for a Vettori decision victory.
Who wins Edwards vs. Usman at UFC 286? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 286, all from the MMA expert who profited more than $6,200 in 2022, and find out.