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|Main Card (ESPN+ / UFC Fight Pass)|
|155lbs.||Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor|
The trilogy is among us, as Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor look to close a chapter. One in which is very important in the progression of each’s career. For the winner, bragging rights and a title shot. For the loser, heartbreak and a speed bump in their future goals. With the stakes higher than ever, expect both men to be at their best come Saturday night.
Dustin Poirier has had an amazing career thus far, as he’s undoubtedly a future UFC Hall of Famer. Often doubted, Poirier has made a career off being the underdog. In fact, the Louisianan has opened as a betting underdog in five of his last eight fights. With an 11-2 record since 2015, and big-time wins over McGregor, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez and Max Holloway twice, you’d think Poirier would get some respect. Well, yet again, he opened as the betting underdog for the trilogy. At least the fans respect the ‘Diamond’, as Poirier has now swung the odds in his favor.
Conor McGregor returns to the octagon for the second time in 2021. A rarity, as McGregor hasn’t made the walk twice in a calendar year since 2016. Perhaps this is a good thing though, a sign that we might see the former Champ-Champ once again become an active MMA fighter. The sport exploded in due part to McGregor, and still pops whenever fights. While his trash talk and antics rile everyone up, people forget how talented he is in the octagon. He even might have in his most recent fight. One thing I know is to never doubt the man, even when you think he’s done.
Which brings me to my prediction. At UFC 178, I picked Poirier. At UFC 257, I picked McGregor. At UFC 264, I’m picking McGregor. Can I go 0-3? Possibly, but I’m banking on McGregor returning to his former self. That means, back to the karate stance that aided him in keeping distance, picking his shots and bouncing heads off the canvas. The boxing stance against Poirier in the second fight opened him to the leg kicks that shut down his leg and led him to being knocked out. His piston left hand is still as potent as ever, it’s just best utilized when his stance is wide and opponents have to be wary of his leg attacks. Poirier is crafty and durable though, so I’m wary if he survives the early portion of the fight, the later it goes, the more it turns in his favor. However, if McGregor does in fact return to the norm like I believe, I see him closing the chapter on the trilogy in round two via knockout.
|170 lbs.||Gilbert Burns vs. Stephen Thompson|
The welterweight division is kind of a mess, as you have Colby Covington and Leon Edwards waiting in the wings to fight Kamaru Usman. UFC president Dana White confirmed that Covington was next, but who knows if that holds up. What I do know is that the winner of this fight is not in line for a title shot, but most definitely a title eliminator.
Stephen Thompson is one of the best strikers in the UFC, and has been a top ten Welterweight since 2015. Despite coming short of UFC gold on two occasions, Thompson has made it known that he is not yet done in his quest for the strap. With two straight wins over prominent names like Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, ‘Wonderboy’ is certainly a viable contender still at 170 pounds.
Gilbert Burns made the right choice when he moved up to Welterweight, as the Brazilian took down four opponents en route to a UFC title shot. While Burns ultimately lost to Kamaru Usman, he gave a good account of himself and positioned himself as a top contender. Another title shot is unlucky for some time, but if Burns can knock off Wonderboy, he will be one step closer.
As for a prediction, I have Thompson winning. Ever since being ragdolled by Matt Brown, Wonderboy has done a great job working on his takedown defense. In fact, Thompson has been taken down only twice in the last fourteen fights. With the ability to keep it on the feet, I favor his striking over Burns. It’s not that the Brazilian isn’t a great striker, but it’s going to be awfully difficult to deal with Thompson’s karate stance, distance control and four inch reach advantage. I see Thompson using his jab often, as he thoroughly outpoints Burns on the feet to a decision victory.
|265 lbs.||Tai Tuivasa vs. Greg Hardy|
This isn’t exactly a main card worthy fight, but Heavyweight’s due tend to deliver big knockouts from time to time. That’s what Tai Tuivasa has done thus far in the UFC, as four of his five wins inside the octagon have come via knockout. Winner of his last two, Tuivasa is finally headed on the right track to make a run in the division.
Greg Hardy hasn’t quite done much in the Heavyweight division, but his name value has kept earning him these main card spots. Despite being TKO’d in his last fight against Marcin Tybura, Hardy has a chance to redeem himself against a surging Tuivasa. Hardy has made a knack of finishing foes, as six of his eight wins have come by knockout.
As for a prediction, I’m going with Hardy. This is not a confident pick by any means, but Hardy is the more tempered striker and has a five inch reach advantage. I could see him sticking to the outside and jabbing his way to victory. Tuivasa is often wild and prone to being taken down. Perhaps Hardy could exploit that, but it’s doubtful given he has only landed one takedown in eight UFC fights. Regardless, I have Hardy winning via decision.
|W 135 lbs.||Irene Aldana vs. Yana Kunitskaya|
At UFC 265, Amanda Nunes will fight Julianna Pena. After that, there is no clear contender awaiting in the wings. With that in mind, this fight is all the more important for both. Irene Aldana is coming off a five round defeat to Holly Holm. A fight in which vintage Holm showed up and gave Aldana a lesson in striking. However, before the loss, Aldana was rolling, winning five of her previous six fights. A knockout over the previously undefeated Ketlen Vieira stands out among those wins.
Yana Kunitskaya is coming off a victory over Said Ketlen Vieira, which marked her second in a row and fourth in the last five. With a lone loss to Aspen Ladd in that stretch, Kunitskaya has been trending closer and closer to a title shot. A win over Aldana will only enhance her case.
As for a prediction, I’m siding with Aldana. Up until Holly Holm, Aldana seemed destined to fight for a title. With excellent takedown defense and an ability to pop up should she be taken down, I’m confident in saying that Aldana wins the standup battle. Not because she’s the better striker, but her work rate and cardio are off the charts. A little more striking accuracy would be beneficial, but the volume alone should get Aldana a decision victory here.
|135 lbs.||Sean O’Malley vs. Kris Moutinho|
Originally Louis Smolka was scheduled to fight Sean O’Malley, but an injury forced him out and in steps UFC debutant Kris Moutinho. Obviously this is a less than ideal fight for the newcomer, but it’s an opportunity to make a name for yourself on the biggest stage. With two consecutive wins heading in, Moutinho will look to keep the momentum going.
O’Malley most recently bounced back nicely from his first professional defeat, as he knocked out Thomas Almeida. While I would have thought a better fight than Smolka would have come after, I guess I was wrong. One thing is for sure, O’Malley is an exciting fighter and it’s only a matter of time before he fights the top fifteen of the division.
As for a prediction, I have O’Malley winning. I don’t think on short notice that Moutinho has anything for ‘Sugar’. I expect this one to end rather early, as O’Malley does what he does best, knock opponents out.
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+ / UFC Fight Pass)|
|170 lbs.||Carlos Condit vs. Max Griffin|
Before 2020 rolled around, Carlos Condit had lost five fights in a row and was submitted in three of those defeats. With retirement in mind, Condit took nearly two years off before he entered the cage again. This time however, Condit won, for the first time in over five years. Condit followed that victory with another, marking his first win streak since 2011-2012.
Max Griffin too has caught stride of late, winning his last two fights. Before the winning streak, Griffin was 3-6, with a very controversial loss to Thiago Alves as one of those losses. Credit Griffin though, who has stopped his last two opponents, earning him a fight against the former Interim Welterweight Champion.
As for a prediction, I’ve got Max Griffin winning. My heart wants to pick Carlos Condit, but my head can’t forget that he has awful takedown defense. In fact, during the last four fights of the five fight losing streak, Condit was taken down 14 times. To go even further, it was 14 takedowns in just over 31 minutes of cage time. While Griffin has good striking, he’s shown to have solid wrestling abilities. With a takedown success rate at 51% and an average of 1.7 takedowns per minute, expect Griffin to fully exploit Condit’s known weakness. So with that, I have Griffin winning his third straight fight via decision.
|170 lbs.||Niko Price vs. Michel Pereira|
If anything, this fight has ‘Fight of the Night’ written all over it. In one corner, you have Niko Price, a borderline wildman. He seemingly lives for the violence, and very much abides by the phrase “live by the sword, die by the sword”. In fact, of Price’s 20 professional fights, only two of them have gone the full three rounds. Oddly enough, Price’s most recent fight with Donald Cerrone was a decision, his first in the UFC.
In the other corner, you have Michel Pereira. A human highlight reel, who recently has tempered himself somewhat. Whether that’s because he realized he didn’t have the cardio to go a full three rounds against better competition or that to be the cream of the crop, it’s best to not run around and throw aerial attacks every 20 seconds.
As for a prediction, I’m going with Niko Price. I realize that he’s been finished in three of his last six fights, but he’s also shown a real solid chin at times. Perhaps his defensive striking needs work, but given his style, that’s doubtful. The big reason I like Price is that he’s not going to be afraid to bring the fight to Pereira. He’s got excellent striking volume and power. His cardio and pace are hard to match, so the later this fight goes, the better it is for Price. In the end, I feel like Price stops the Brazilian – let’s say via third round TKO.
|145 lbs.||Ryan Hall vs. Ilia Topuria|
This fight is exciting and I commend the matchmaking here. Both men are ground specialists, who will absolutely delight us with their scrambling and submission attempts. The mystery in this fight is how Ryan Hall is going to look after two years away from the octagon due to a plague of injuries and lack of opponents stepping up to fight him. He’s not exactly a spring chicken either, as he’s 36 years old. Regardless, I expect the ‘Wizard’ to be locked in for his return.
Ilia Topuria has lived up to the hype thus far. In two UFC fights, he’s bested Youssef Zalal and Damon Jackson. The most recent fight against Damon Jackson was an absolute masterclass. Topuria showed off his hands, going to the body often, eventually opening up the knockout blow. If his hands continue to progress, a Featherweight contender could be upon us.
As for a prediction, it’s tough not to side with Topuria. He’s well rounded, undefeated and a stylistically tough matchup for Hall. However, I’m going with the upset here. Hall might not be the best striker, but he is excellent in keeping distance and avoiding being hit. In fact, in a little more than 47 minutes of cage time, he’s been hit with 46 significant strikes. That’s less than a strike a minute. Obviously if this fight hits the mat, I’m comfortable with Hall’s abilities. Regardless, Hall surprises on the feet and wins this fight via decision by avoiding strikes and landing leg kicks.
|185 lbs.||Driscus du Plessis vs. Trevin Giles|
This should be a good fight, as you have two surging Middleweights looking to extend their winning streaks and catapult themselves into a bigger fight. Driscus du Plessis is a former KSW and EFC Champion. du Plessis’ base is kickboxing, but make no mistake, he’s got grappling chops too. With nine of his fifteen wins coming via submission, I wouldn’t get too comfortable thinking he is going to keep the fight standing.
Trevin Giles’ UFC tenure has been streaky, as his first two fights inside the octagon ended in knockout wins. The next two fights would result in submission defeats, albeit to tough competition. Now, Giles has strung together three straight victories. Notably defeating James Krause and the previously undefeated Roman Dolidze. A fourth consecutive win at Middleweight would all but lead to a top fifteen fight.
As for a prediction, I’ve got Giles. While he may not have the kickboxing background du Plessis has, Giles is an accurate and defensively sound striker. He also mixes in timely takedowns and has vastly improved his takedown defense. The cause for concern for me about du Plessis, is that he’s too hittable. Markus Perez was pressuring and landing some good shots on the South African, well, up until the knockout blow. This time however, it’s Giles who is going to land the knockout blow, as I have him winning his fourth straight fight.
|Early Preliminary Card (ESPN+ / UFC Fight Pass)|
|W 125 lbs.||Jennifer Maia vs. Jessica Eye|
I hate to say this because I like Jessica Eye, but her time in the sun at Flyweight seems to be nearing an end. That’s not because she isn’t talented, but her defensive wrestling and fight IQ are so inconsistent, that it’s hard to trust her. Against wrestlers or grapplers, Eye has struggled to keep the fight on the feet. Unfortunately for her, Maia is an excellent grappler.
The Brazilian is 3-3 inside the octagon, fighting the absolute best the division has to offer. With wins over Alexis Davis, Roxanne Modafferi and a submission over Joanne Calderwood, Maia is one of the best Flyweights on the roster. Most recently, Maia fought Valentina Shevchenko for the Flyweight Championship. While Maia ultimately lost, she did however go the full five rounds with the Champion. Even taking down and controlling Shevchenko for a decisive round in her favor.
As for the prediction, I have Maia winning via decision. I could see a scenario where she submits Eye, but ‘Evil’ is as tough as they come and will avoid being finished. What she won’t avoid is being taken down and controlled for three rounds. So with that, give me Maia to win via decision.
|185 lbs.||Amari Akhmedov vs. Brad Tavares|
This is a toss-up. In one corner, you have an under the radar Amari Akhmedov. I say that because it’s doubtful you’d know the Russian has nine UFC wins under his belt. In fact, over Akhmedov’s last eight fights, he is an impressive 6-1-1. Most recently, ‘Wolverine’ submitted Tom Breese.
In the other corner, you have Brad Taveras. A Hawaiin who has been with the UFC for over a decade. Tavares, a former Ultimate Fighter contestant, has 19 fights inside the octagon. One of the crazier things about Tavares is that he fought and beat Phil Baroni in the UFC. Recently, Taveres ended a two-fight skid and near three year winless streak against Antonio Carlos Junior.
As for a prediction, I’m going with Akhmedov. I don’t like his gas tank, but I do like that he wrestles and will push opponents up to the cage for control time. Tavares has solid takedown defense, so it’s very possible that he shrugs off the Russian, tiring him in the process. On the feet, both men are low output and are rather inaccurate. They both are defensively sound though, which could make this fight a real stalemate. Given all the intangibles, one takedown or control time against the cage could be the difference here – which is why I have Akhmedov winning via decision.
|125 lbs.||Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Jerome Rivera|
For a promotion that is cutting bait on fighters, it’s surprising to see the UFC give Jerome Rivera a fourth chance to get a win inside the octagon. Then again, he has stepped up on short notice on numerous occasions. In fact, his three UFC fights have taken place in three different weight classes; Flyweight, Bantamweight and Featherweight. Above his natural weight class of Flyweight, Rivera has been stopped twice.
Zhalgas Zhumagulov was touted entering the UFC, but he too has yet to win inside the octagon. With wins over Tyson Nam, Tagir Ulanbekov and Ali Bagautinov on the regional scene, expectations were high for the Kazakh. His debut didn’t go his way, even though me and the majority of media members saw Zhumagulov as the victor. The most recent fight against Amir Albazi, he definitely didn’t win though.
As for a prediction, I have Zhumagulov finally getting his UFC win. The Kazakh does a nice job blending his striking with his wrestling. The overall output is decent, but in this particular fight, I see only wrestling needed to aid him to victory. Rivera has awful takedown defense, which was exploited recently by Francisco Figueiredo. A fight that saw Rivera taken down each round, and controlled for a total of seven minutes of the fifteen minute fight. I expect more of the same, as Zhumagulov cruises to a unanimous decision.
|185 lbs.||Alen Amedovski vs. Hu Yaozong|
This fight is one of the odder one’s I’ve seen booked. Two fighters, who are 0-2 inside the octagon and quite frankly, I had no idea either were still in the UFC. Throw in the fact that Alen Amedovski hasn’t fought in nearly two years and Hu Yaozong is four months away from a three year absence – and I’m not really sure what to expect.
If I were to dissect this fight, it begins with the notion if either are truly UFC caliber. I think not. For one, Yaozong was signed after winning his first three fights against cans on the regional scene. With the UFC looking to expand in China, local talent was sought to fill out their card in Shanghai. Yaozong was fortunate to get the call, but clearly, it was too soon for the young fighter.
Meanwhile, Amedovski entered the UFC undefeated with an 8-0 record. All eight of his victories came via knockout. While cans are mixed into that record, Amedovski fought some real competition in Bellator. One fight lasted 109 seconds, while the other lasted a mere 12 seconds. In my opinion, the Macedonia born fighter was a good signing and ready for the octagon.
As for a prediction, I’m siding with Amedovski. Yaozong is far from UFC caliber and getting this third opportunity after being out for nearly three years is kind of crazy. Especially when you think of all the roster cuts they’ve made in the last year. Regardless, I got Amedovski getting his first UFC win via first round knockout.