UFC 297

UFC 297: Main Card Predictions

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2024 kicks off in style with a solid fight card in UFC 297, emanating from the ScoatiaBank Arena in Toronto, Canada. A card that may not have the same name value as last month’s event in Las Vegas. But it’s certainly one mixed with veterans, up-and-coming talent, and capped off with fireworks in the headliner.

Sean Strickland’s now personal UFC middleweight title collision with Dricus Du Plessis has brought more attention to the card than expected following a heated year-end press conference one month ago. Their main event is something nobody would have predicted one year ago, but has now become a blood-feud that is sure to deliver fireworks. The co-headliner will see Raquel Pennington face Mayra Bueno Silva in a fight to determine the vacant UFC bantamweight champion. The pressure is high for the women considering the legacy left behind by Amanda Nunes. But at the very least, it will revive a division that stagnated a while ago.

Elsewhere on the card, we’ll see Neil Magny return against Mike Mallott in your standard veteran vs. newbie fight. Arnold Allen faces Movsar Evloev in what has the potential to be an absolute banger on paper, and Chris Curtis returns to face Marc-André Barriault. Other names such as Charles Jourdain, Brad Katona, Priscilla Cachoeira and Ramon Taveras build up the prelims on a card that has all the potential to greatly over-deliver.

Check out the UFC 297 predictions by several of The Scrap’s team members:

UFC 297

UFC Middleweight Championship

(C) Sean Strickland vs. (2) Dricus Du Plessis

Anik: This battle between two ruthless trash talkers screams a barnburner to me. Both fighters are quite active, and that is why I believe the timing of their punches is so accurate. They are also some of the most well-rounded middleweights… But due to their bad blood, I am expecting a stand-up war. While Strickland has been training hard, he has also been receiving cuts on his body due to playing fireworks with Nina Drama. Let’s hope that the cut does not affect his health, especially when cutting weight.

Strickland’s defense and cardio might be the best in the division. However, Du Plessis has an awkward style that has given every opponent trouble, along with his pulverising punches. If the South African’s power can get Strickland to retreat, he will be able to knock him out. However, if the fight goes past the second round, I expect Strickland to put on a jab masterclass and outlast Du Plessis.

Official Prediction: Sean Strickland via Unanimous Decision

Evan: I usually do my best to keep my personal life out of my work. Especially when it comes to this sport. Candidly though, it’s been very difficult to do when covering this fight specifically. The ramped-up trash talk between Strickland and Du Plessis at the UFC Press Conference last month to promote this matchup was sort of hard for me to stomach. Watching and listening to these two spew vile insults at each other was par for the course in this sport. But it’s when DDP used Sean’s childhood trauma as a metaphor for how badly he planned to beat him in their fight, that I found profoundly disturbing.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and defend Strickland. I find much of his world views to be bigoted and repulsive. But I unfortunately relate to him as well, because I share much of the similar trauma he went through myself. From his appearance on the Theo Von podcast to listening to him attack Ian Garry’s wife in the buildup for UFC 297, it had made the entire experience of covering Sean as a champion and this fights itself one that’s become very triggering for my own memories. I just hope this time can be used as an example of why using the lowest-hanging fruit of someone’s past traumas or insulting their families as a way to promote fights, does more damage than anything. It’s also not that entertaining.

As I jump off my soap box though, the fight itself between these two is fantastic on paper. It’s a sprinter vs. marathon runner matchup… It should highlight Du Plessis’ potent offensive skills, against Strickland’s tricky defensive ability. I’ve got the utmost respect for DDP’s finishing prowess and expect him to swarm Sean early. But if he doesn’t get a finish within the first three rounds, I think the South African contender could be in big trouble. I’m backing the champion in this one to deter the challenger’s pressure behind a calculated jab, good counterpunching, dictating the pace, and stellar takedown defense in what might turn into a 25-minute war.

Official Prediction: Sean Strickland via Unanimous Decision

Mishal: This feels like the first real evolution of the middleweight division outside of Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker. A fight that unexpectedly has become personal on one side between two men who a year ago, seemed unlikely to be in this position. Sean Strickland is coming off probably the most impressive championship performance in middleweight history by dethroning Israel Adesanya at UFC 293. Dricus Du Plessis equally is coming off of a dominating upset over Robert Whittaker at UFC 290. Both men are red hot, either at or approaching their primes and will deliver something truly spectacular.

I only see this fight going two ways; Strickland grinding it out to a hard-fought but close decision using his innovative defensive skills and stand-up game. Or Du Plessis starching the champion in the earlier rounds using his awkward style that gave elite-level guys like Robert Whittaker issues. Strickland does have openings considering how wreckless Du Plessis can be, as well as his cardio which feels unlimited. But a key element that makes this a tough task for the new champion is past issues dealing with power punchers. Strickland showed problems against both Pereira and Cannonier that saw him get finished and out-pointed due to the significant power difference that exists. It’s an issue I see coming into play yet again with the tank that is the challenger.

Du Plessis isn’t fancy, technical or as composed in his style compared to Strickland. But once he steps into the octagon, he intends to get his opponent out of there and rarely goes to a decision. The champion can turn this into a grinding, physical war on the feet the longer this plays out… Especially as the championship rounds approach. I do, however, hedge my bets behind the South African finding his way in and getting Strickland out of there inside 3. If not, we’re in for a war.

Official Prediction: Dricus Du Plessis via 3rd Round KO/TKO

Vacant UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship

(2) Raquel Pennington vs. (3) Mayra Bueno Silva

Anik: Whether fans are excited for this fight or not, this was the right fight to make. Both fighters have gone on streaks that are worthy of title shots. Although Bueno Silva’s submission over Holly Holm was overturned to a no contest due to testing positive for a banned substance, let’s remind ourselves what it is: Ritalinic Acid. This was meant to treat her ADHD, so I believe she had no intention of cheating.

Bueno Silva is in her prime, and has nasty submissions to back up her improved striking. While Pennington is durable, consistent, and strong, Bueno Silva’s speed and variety lead me to believe her time has come. Not only that, having her as champion will bring more eyes to the women’s bantamweight division. She likes to trash talk, and she’s an entertaining fighter.

Official Prediction: Mayra Bueno Silva via 2nd Round KO/TKO

Evan: This division is in search of any sort of life and identity in the post-Amanda Nunes era. But the excitement level for this title fight is seemingly nonexistent. Long gone are the days of fighters like Nunes, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and Holly Holm carrying the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division to promotional prominence. Nevertheless, Silva and Pennington are both are deserving of this shot.

In terms of the fight itself, I think it’s going to be far more competitive and entertaining than people expect. The more grimy and sloppy Raquel can make this, the better her chances are going to be. Between her experience, toughness, and gamesmanship, Pennington has the tools to give Silva real issues. If she can muck it up enough and get Silva into the clinch, Pennington’s dirty boxing should shine. Additionally, Mayra is very hittable. Per UFC Stats, she absorbs 4.7 strikes per minute, which is a fairly high rate of damage to take. If this turns into a slug fest, Raquel’s got a real shot to exploit those defensive deficiencies.

With that being said, I’m still going to give the slight edge to the Brazilian here. Silva’s power, kicking arsenal, submission game, and finishing instincts will ultimately be too much for Pennington.

Official Prediction: Mayra Bueno Silva via 4th Round TKO or Submission

Mishal: As little hype as this fight might have, this feels like the only logical direction for the division to take. Mayra Bueno Silva feels like the next phase at bantamweight. She is an aggressive fighter with a clear intent to either hurt or finish every opponent she steps in there with. Standing across from her will be former title challenger, Raquel Pennington. She is riding a five-fight win streak, only losing to elite fighters.

Pennington may bring along her traditional brand of grit and toughness to this fight. But the momentum here lies with Silva being the more powerful, and faster of the two. The former title challenger can present some challenges for the rising star the longer this fight goes. I just feel Silva is coming to make a statement against a veteran of the game.

Official Prediction: Mayra Bueno Silva via 3rd Round Submission

Welterweight Bout: (13) Neil Magny vs. Mike Malott

Anik: This is arguably the most important fight for Canadian fans. They will find out if their hometown hero, Mike Malott, is the real deal or not. He faces a tricky opponent in longtime gatekeeper and winningest welterweight in UFC history, Neil Magny. Malott has a similar structure and striking to Magny’s last opponent, Ian Garry. If he can maintain the distance, use leg kicks, and even mix in a few takedowns, it will be a great night for “Proper”.

Official Prediction: Mike Malott via Unanimous Decision

Evan: I love the matchmaking here from the UFC. Neil Magny provides the perfect test and step up in competition for a prospect like Mike Malott. I’m not ready to jump on the Canadian’s hype train just yet. While Malott has shown real capability as a finisher, both with his power standing and submission ability on the ground, I feel he’s still limited in many ways.

I could easily see Malott catching Magny early with a big shot or overpowering him in the grappling exchanges. There’s also the reality that Magny is 36 years old now, in a division that is unrelentingly brutal to ageing veterans. However, I’ve got a gut feeling we get a vintage performance from him here. I like Magny to outpoint Malott on the feet utilizing a quality jab and his seven-inch reach advantage. He could very well push the hometown favorite back to the fence line, where he can put him against the cage in the clinch. From there, I expect Magny to wear down Malott or make him work to defend the position. He could even use takedown attempts en route to a close upset win on the judge’s scorecards. 

Official Prediction: Neil Magny via Split-Decision

Mishal: In all honesty, this probably doesn’t have a place on the main card of any major show. But, here we are… Neil Magny has a lot of work to do to build up confidence in fans following the bullying put on him by Ian Garry last year. Now, he’s being served up Canada’s own Mike Malott. A rising, dangerous prospect.

Malott is on a tear, finishing his last 5 opponents in 2 rounds or less. He has already shown how popular he is in his own country with his performance at UFC 289. This does look like a changing of the guard scenario that UFC does put out when a division mainstay isn’t where he once was. This is likely to become yet another in the record books. Magny does possess the experience factor over the younger Malott. But it’s the youth, speed, and elite ground game of Malott that poses the biggest threat to the Welterweight gatekeeper.

Official Prediction: Mike Malott via 3rd Round Submission

Featherweight Bout: (3) Arnold Allen vs. (9) Movsar Evloev

Anik: This fight is the most intriguing for me. These two are a combined 17-1 in the UFC… But I do believe this one is where Evloev loses his zero. Allen is arguably the biggest featherweight on the roster, and he hits like a truck. On the other hand, Evloev will have to muster a tremendous amount of energy to hold down the massive Allen on the ground. He has also shown that he gasses late in fights. If Allen invests in body shots, and defends some takedowns, I believe he will show levels against the undefeated Russian.

Official Prediction: Arnold Allen via Unanimous Decision

Evan: Arnold Allen may have lost to Max Holloway in his last Octagon appearance, but it felt like even in defeat, the English contender’s stock went up. There were some fans and pundits alike too, that felt Allen should’ve gotten the nod from the judges on the scorecards last April. Now he’ll face the surging and undefeated, Movsar Evloev, in a matchup that could be the best of the card. Stylistically, Evloev’s grappling ability and pace could present real issues for Allen. Especially if he can get this fight up against the cage. Evloev’s array of takedowns from the clinch would favor him from those positions.

However, I believe Allen is going to be able to control the range with his superior technical striking ability and force Evloev to shoot consistently from the outside. Allen currently sports a 76% takedown defense rate, according to UFC Stats. His ability to stuff takedowns efficiently, fight behind a calculated jab, and precise counterpunching is why I favor Allen in this matchup. Look for him to take advantage of the Russian’s tendency to consistently attack on a straight line. He’ll also be able to capitalize on Evloev’s lack of head movement on his way to an impressive decision victory.

Official Prediction: Arnold Allen via Unanimous Decision

Mishal: Outside the main event, this has banger written all over it. It’s collision between two contenders in the prime of their careers. One undefeated, and the other only suffering a loss to Max Holloway of all people. These are the kind of fights we need more of… But nonetheless, I’m satisfied a match of this much potential quality is booked.

Allen is coming off a loss in a match where he showed his elite status in the division. Evloev is impressive in his own right, yet hasn’t displayed the same kind of potential that Allen had much earlier. Most of the advantages on paper do fall more in line with Allen, namely in the striking department where the difference between the two could not be more apparent. Additionally, Evloev’s primary strengths lie in his grappling game. But it’ll be put to the test against Allen, who hasn’t been taken down in roughly a decade. Evloev should be looking for a way to drag this fight off the feet. But Allen’s sheer strength and size will make it a tough task for the Russian to overcome.

Official Prediction: Arnold Allen via Unanimous Decision

Middleweight Bout: (13) Chris Curtis vs. Marc-André Barriault

Anik: This can easily be the fight of the night. Barriault put on an absolute show during his last fight in Canada at UFC 289. His durability and willingness to be technical is a strength. However, Chris Curtis spars with the best middleweights in the world at Xtreme Couture. Not only does he pressure fighters, but he also hits like a truck and can take one to give one. Brawling with Curtis is a mistake.

Official Prediction: Chris Curtis via 2nd Round KO/TKO

Evan: This matchup could be the sleeper for FOTN. Curtis and Barriault both have fighting styles that are extremely fan friendly. I expect this to end up being a bit of a boxing brawl if you will, which would favor Curtis in my eyes. I think he beats up Barriault inside of the pocket, blasting him with good uppercuts and brutal body shots. If the Canadian tries taking it to the mat, I believe Curtis has the better overall grappling ability and defensive wrestling skills to shut that down as well.

Official Prediction: Chris Curtis via 2nd Round TKO

Mishal: Sadly, this is a fill-in for Dominick Reyes vs. Carlos Ulberg. But it’s a decent replacement fight to kick things off in Toronto. While neither guy is of the very elite of their division, this should be a wild scrap as is almost every fight they’re involved in. Chris Curtis is the kind of fighter that relishes a good war… One with less strategy and more swinging for the fences. Barriault on the other hand, does seem to be the more measured and patient of the two.

The wilder this gets, the more it favors the higher-ranked Curtis. Barriault, however, does have tools to swing this in his direction. Barriault’s forward-heavy pressure, well-rounded style could find openings against the brawling, counter-striking style Curtis seems to hinge on in most his performances. Despite being edged out in the experience department, I do like the chances that the underdog brings to this fight.

Official Prediction: Marc-André Barriault via Decision

From now through 1/15, get $15 off when you bundle the UFC 297 PPV and a year of ESPN+. Current subscribers will also get $10 off when buying UFC 297.

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