UFC seems to have figured out the rest of its championship bouts for the year, starting with another crack at finding a light heavyweight champion.
UFC president Dana White announced a light heavyweight title fight between former belt-holders Jiří Procházka and Alex Pereira will become the co-main event of UFC 295 on Nov. 11, which is already being headlined by the heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic.
Additionally, UFC 296 on Dec. 16 will see a welterweight title fight between champion Leon Edwards and Colby Covington and a flyweight title fight between champion Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Royval.
🚨 HUGE FIGHT NEWS 🚨
November's #UFC295 co-main event will be @Jiri_BJP vs @AlexPereiraUFC for the vacant light heavyweight title!
AND your #UFC296 headliners will be @Leon_EdwardsMMA vs @ColbyCovMMA, with Alexandre Pantoja vs @BrandonRoyval serving as the co-main! pic.twitter.com/GTD5pnd1BD
— UFC (@ufc) September 21, 2023
White announced more fights for the Dec. 16 card on Friday night. Tony Ferguson is set to take on Paddy Pimblett at UFC 296. Ferguson holds a 26-9 record, though he's lost his last six bouts. Pimblett is 20-3 in his career, and has won four straight.
White also confimred that Shavkat Rakhmonov will take on Stephen Thompson at the event. Rakhmonov holds a 17-0 MMA record and is a perfect 5-0 in the UFC. He last beat Geoff Neal with a standing rear-naked choke in March at UFC 285. Thompson, 40, holds a 12-6-1 UFC record. He last beat Kevin Holland via TKO in December.
— danawhite (@danawhite) September 23, 2023
UFC 295 will be held at Madison Square Garden, while UFC 296 will be at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Who will win UFC's cursed light heavyweight belt?
The Procházka-Pereira bout will be the third straight time two fighters have faced off for a vacant light heavyweight belt. Since Jones left the division in 2020, there has been a grand total of one successful title defense: Jan Blachowicz holding off Israel Adesanya on March 6, 2021.
Since then, Blachowicz has lost the belt to Glover Teixeira, Teixeira lost it to Procházka and then Procházka was forced to vacate the title due to what White called "the worst shoulder injury in UFC history." Procházka has not fought since June 12, 2022.
Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev fought to a controversial draw in the UFC's first crack at finding a belt-holder after Procházka. Then, Jamahal Hill beat Teixeira and tore his Achilles tendon months later. Now, the UFC is bringing it all back home with Procházka.
Pereira is making a widely expected move to light heavyweight after a pair of fights against Adesanya, whom Pereira stunned for the middleweight belt last year. Adesanya took the title back in April (then lost it this month), leaving Pereira — a very large middleweight — to move up a division.
Colby Covington gets another title shot
Edwards, who has not lost since 2015, defeated longtime welterweight champ Kamaru Usman last year and held off the former No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter for his first title defense in March. His next challenger will be Covington, a guy Usman defeated twice, once by TKO and once by unanimous decision.
Covington has fought only once since his second loss to Usman, a dominant performance against an aging Jorge Masvidal on March 5, 2022. Part of the reason might have been injuries incurred from Masvidal's attack on Covington in Miami later that month, but Covington has been allowed to retain top contender status over the last year-plus without a single fight.
Now, he gets first crack at Edwards.
Alexandre Pantoja's first flyweight title defense is a rematch
Pantoja captured the UFC flyweight belt with a split-decision win over Brandon Moreno. Rather than another title rematch involving Moreno, who faced Deiveson Figueiredo four times for the belt, the UFC set up a rematch against Royval instead.
The 26-5 Pantoja defeated Royval in August 2021 via submission. That was part of back-to-back losses to Royval, with Moreno being the other, but he has since defeated Rogério Bontorin, Matt Schnell and Matheus Nicolau to get his chance against Pantoja.