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Preview: UFC 296 Prelims

Emmett vs. Mitchell


The Ultimate Fighting Championship loaded up its last card of 2023, as the UFC 296 prelims on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas are better than some entire events the promotion has staged this year. The featured slot could easily be a UFC Fight Night main event, as Josh Emmett takes on Bryce Mitchell in a battle of ranked featherweights with an interesting dynamic. Directly underneath are two bouts involving former title contenders: Irene Aldana looks to rebound against Karol Rosa at 135 pounds, and onetime bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt looks to get his career back on track against Brian Kelleher. Add in some top prospects and some pairings that just look like guaranteed fun—Alonzo Menifield and Dustin Jacoby should have a banger at light heavyweight, while Andre Fili could engage Lucas Almeida in an absolute scrap at 145 pounds—and this represents a strong appetizer for an even better main course.

Now to the preview for the UFC 296 “Edwards vs. Covington” prelims:

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Featherweights #6 FW | Josh Emmett (18-4, 9-4 UFC) vs. #10 FW | Bryce Mitchell (16-1, 7-1 UFC)

ODDS: Mitchell (-225), Emmett (+185)

Emmett has hit a clear ceiling in 2023, but this represents a good chance for him to end the year on a high note. Emmett was a solid but unremarkable lightweight upon hitting the UFC in 2016, but a subsequent cut to featherweight immediately seemed like a turning point for the Californian. His fight against Felipe Arantes made it apparent that Emmett’s move down unlocked some highly effective knockout power. Emmett then suddenly became a contender after a knockout victory over Ricardo Lamas, though a subsequent loss to Jeremy Stephens raised some worries that the ride would be short-lived. It was a decent-enough performance from Emmett, but the finishing sequence saw him suffer multiple career-threatening facial fractures—a worrying issue for a fighter dependent on his durability. Those concerns were surprisingly unnecessary. Emmett snapped back into form quickly upon his return and cruised up the ladder as a potent finishing threat. A 2020 win over Shane Burgos was a big spot that propelled Emmett back into contender status, though it required yet another long injury layoff since he apparently won the three-round war despite suffering a torn ACL early in the fight. While victories over Dan Ige and Calvin Kattar were a bit controversial, they put Emmett in position to become interim champion earlier this year. However, Yair Rodriguez gave Emmett the most one-sided loss of his career, as the Mexican’s speed and versatility were able to outmaneuver his consistent power punching; a similarly dominant loss to Ilia Topuria confirmed that while Emmett has a floor as a Top 10 featherweight at worst, there are not enough wrinkles to his game to get him to the top of the mountain.

Mitchell steps in on short notice in this interesting pairing, as he also seems to be figuring out how to navigate coming up against his divisional ceiling. Mitchell looked to be a fairly one-dimensional grappling specialist upon hitting the UFC in 2018, but that proved to be all “Thug Nasty” needed for a few years. He is truly a terror on the mat when given the chance, even landing a rare twister submission on Matt Sayles in late 2019. While Mitchell’s striking is not particularly potent, it has proven effective enough to allow the rest of his game to work. He is able to stay at range and land with impressive accuracy, giving him enough time and space to adjust and pick his spots as his fights go on. A 2022 win over Edson Barboza was a clear proof of concept that Mitchell’s game could work at a high level, but the cracks have started to show a bit in his last two outings. Topuria dominated in his victory over Mitchell, proving too quick for the Arkansas native to outmaneuver and too talented to outscramble; and while Mitchell rebounded with a win over Dan Ige in September, it was a surprisingly dicey performance that saw him get tagged on the feet and save himself with some well-timed takedowns. It does seem like Mitchell is coming up against a clear athletic ceiling, and his recent form suggests this is going to be a tough fight. His ability to strike from range does make for an advantageous matchup in some broad strokes, but Emmett should be fast enough to track Mitchell down and stout enough to stuff a lot of his takedowns, stranding “Thug Nasty” in some tough spots at times. The pick is Emmett via second-round knockout.

Jump To »
Emmett vs. Mitchell
Aldana vs. Rosa
Garbrandt vs. Kelleher
O’Neill vs. Lipski
Jacoby vs. Menifield
Ulanbekov vs. Durden
Fili vs. Almeida
Buday vs. Gaziev
Brown vs. Salikhov

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