As we turn to the fall schedule, there are five confirmed title bouts, with four current champs trying to carve out their legacy. In the case of the fifth, former champs Jiří Procházka and Alex Pereira will try to claim the vacant light heavyweight title at UFC 295.
But what do the analytics behind the fights suggest about these marquee matchups? Using predictive models agnostic of betting lines, we examined how each champion's matchup appears from a favorability view.
Essentially, is this a good matchup for the champion or the challenger? The inputs consider each fighter's performance metrics inside the Octagon and select factors about the fighter outside the cage. The higher the score, the more favorable the incumbent champ matches.
These scores don't indicate how to bet the fight versus the relative favorability running from the riskiest to the best matchup.
Reed Kuhn and Ian Parker look ahead at five future title fights that are currently scheduled, along with a fight that's likely to get booked. Kuhn provides the model projections for each fight, while Parker details the betting perspective.
Confirmed UFC championship bouts
Lightweight title: Islam Makhachev (c) vs. Charles Oliveira, UFC 294 on Oct. 21
Analysis: +0.31, strongly favorable for the champion.
Kuhn on what the numbers mean: This pairing has the intrigue of a chess match between Makhachev's wrestling and Oliveira's submission game. The latter has always made Oliveira a live dog, but Makhachev's recent striking proved he could keep the fight standing and test his opponent's chin instead of his ground game. The last meeting saw Makhachev winning on both levels, so this rematch has potential for the same.
Parker on where the bettors lean: Makhachev inside the distance. I love Oliviera; he is one of the most exciting fighters ever to grace the Octagon. But he is running into his kryptonite in Mahkachev. I don't see this fight going much differently, as Oliviera is the same fighter he was two fights ago, and I believe that Mahkachev will be the one to continue to get better. Mahkachev inside the distance will be the play for me.
Heavyweight title: Jon Jones (c) vs. Stipe Miocic, UFC 295 on Nov. 11
Analysis: +0.35, most strongly favorable for the champion.
Kuhn on what the numbers mean: Now beyond 40, the best days of Miocic are likely behind him, while Jones has now shaken off the cage rust from his long layoff. They're headed in different directions, with Miocic having to return from his two-year hiatus. Miocic is a boxer-wrestler hybrid, but he'll have trouble with Jones at a distance. And if the fight goes to the mat, Jones has the better finishing potential.
Parker on where the bettors lean: Jones inside the distance. It likely won't happen in Round 1, as I don't see Jones tagging Miocic on the feet -- and Stipe will be able to scramble initially -- but I think Jones will get a finish against Miocic, similar to what he did against Ciryl Gane in his heavyweight debut. Throughout the fight, the top pressure of Jones will eventually lead to a finish. Jones inside the distance looks like the play, but if you feel like getting a bit greedy, Jones by submission could be fun.
Light heavyweight title: Jiří Procházka vs. Alex Pereira, UFC 295 on Nov. 11
Analysis: +0.16, mildly favorable for the champion.
Kuhn on what the numbers mean: This has the making of a standup war, featuring lots of offense and very little defense. So, perhaps a short war. But Jiri is the natural 205-pounder, and despite eating his fair share of punches, he should be able to eat many more than Periera. Add in that Jiri is much younger and maybe still getting better, and this doesn't look like the near pick 'em it opened at. Given that neither man will likely initiate takedowns, I expect Jiri's long-range accuracy and pressuring pace to test his opponent's chin first.
Parker on where the bettors lean: Fight ends inside the distance. Maybe? Currently, Jiri is the slight favorite at -120, while Perreira is coming in at -110. The line makes sense and wouldn't shock me if they flipped a little in opposite directions. This will be a kickboxing fight with MMA gloves amongst two fighters who carry tremendous KO power and aren't afraid to throw down. My biggest question in this fight is how Jiri will be after his recovery from injury and the long layoff. While I don't favor either side, I would keep a close eye on the under and see where that lands.
Welterweight title: Leon Edwards (c) vs. Colby Covington, UFC 296 on Dec. 16
Analysis: -0.06, slightly unfavorable for the champion.
Kuhn on what the numbers mean: An incumbent champ showing up less favorably could be a fight night dog, depending on market movements. With two wins over former champ Kamaru Usman, Edwards has twice done something Covington could not, despite two tries himself. But Edwards will face a considerable volume disadvantage, as Covington typically outpaces him by more than 2-to-1 on the feet. Add in the challenger's wrestling credentials, and suddenly, the current champion could face uphill rounds on multiple levels.
Parker on where the bettors lean: Over 3.5 rounds. In Covington, Edwards will have to fend off the high pace and relentless wrestling he puts forward, similar to Usman in the first fight. I see bettors looking for this fight to go into the later rounds. Covington is exceptionally durable, and Edwards could spend all five rounds defending takedowns while trying to counter.
Flyweight title: Alexandre Pantoja (c) vs. Brandon Royval, UFC 296 on Dec. 16
Analysis: +0.02, barely favorable for the champion.
Kuhn on what the numbers mean: This one is a bit surprising, especially given that Pantoja already has a big win over Royval. But whenever Royval isn't facing champ-level talent, he's been an elite finisher. In limited minutes of action, Royval's knockdown rate is above average and gives him a solid puncher's chance when combined with Pantoja's historically loose striking defense. I still see an uphill battle for Royval, but depending on where prices land, there may be some value in an epic knockout upset. This matchup is the closest of all the current booked and projected title fights.
Parker on where the bettors lean: Pantoja to win. Both fighters fight at a suffocating pace and are unafraid to get into a brawl. Pantoja is sitting at -260, which makes sense, as he just dethroned Brandon Moreno with his submission skills. Royval is a tough opponent with good power and submission skills as well. However, he sometimes gets reckless and has been caught and subbed before. If he makes even the slightest mistake against Pantoja...it's over.
Projected UFC championship bouts
Men's bantamweight title: Alexander Volkanovski (c) vs. Ilia Topuria
Analysis: +0.21, mildly favorable for the champion.
Kuhn on what the numbers mean: Volkanovski is undoubtedly flirting with GOAT status at featherweight, having proved his striking against elite talent. While Topuria cemented his title shot with a lopsided win, the quality of his opponents is nowhere near what the champ has faced for the last few years. A fresh face in the title picture is welcome, but don't expect Topuria to see nearly the same success he had while earning his title shot.
Parker on where the bettors lean: Volkanovski by decision. Before his last dominant performance against Yair Rodriguez, Volkanovski put on a gritty performance in which many thought he won against the lightweight champion Mahkachev. A win here over Topuria might get him that rematch he desires. Topuria is a good wrestler with technical boxing and carries a ton of power. In his fight against Josh Emmett, Topuria showed every aspect of his game, and he looked flawless. However, the difference between fighting Emmett and Alexander Volkanovski is vast. Look for Volk to win by decision and the fight to go the distance.