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UFC 269 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):

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155 lbs.: UFC Lightweight Champion Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier – This is a great fight and storyline between two fighters, who went through adversity and have risen to the top. Charles Oliveira is one of the very best grapplers and submission artists on the planet. Currently the UFC’s all-time leader in finishes with 17 and submissions with 14, Oliveira is not one to mix it up on the ground with. Even on the feet, Oliveira has vastly improved to where he can legitimately win fights without the need of grappling. As evidenced by the four knockdowns in the last five fights, as well the knockout victory over Michael Chandler. Often labeled as one to quit, I think Oliveira proved that he is no longer that guy. As for Dustin Poirier, I can imagine that he is more relaxed and less on edge heading into this fight. Having faced Conor McGregor in back-to-back fights, one in which the Irishman was cordial and the other in which he was not, Poirier did an excellent job staying focused and keeping his eye on the prize. Primarily a striker, Poirier is one of the best pressure boxers in the UFC. With excellent volume, cardio for days and pace that breaks fighters, Poirier is among the elite of the UFC. I’d even argue that Poirier is peaking, as evidenced by the seven wins in the last eight and five of which have come via stoppage.

As for a prediction, I have Poirier winning. While Oliveira has vastly improved his striking to complement his already dangerous grappling, I’m not convinced that the Brazilian can get this fight to the mat. Not that Poirier has shown that he has stout takedown defense, but Oliveira’s takedown setups, while improved, are not overpowering. On the feet, Oliveira can be competitive, but for the most part, it’s Poirier’s world. As the fight wanes, look for Poirier to build momentum, as his cardio will take over. In the end, I predict that Poirier will become the new Undisputed Lightweight Champion via knockout.

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135 lbs.: UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena – Unless Julianna Pena has something up her sleeve, I find it really hard to imagine that she wins this fight. While Pena has shown that she has good offensive wrestling to go along with her grappling, the lack of volume and overall striking abilities have weighed her down. In fights against upper-tier competition, Pena has yet to show that she has what it takes. While I give her a pass against Valentina Shevchenko, I can’t overlook that she was submitted by Germaine de Randamie. A kickboxer who had never won won a fight via submission. As for Amanda Nunes, what’s there more to say? She’s the complete package, and has shown that she not only can win fights via knockout, but with her wrestling. With her cardio down pat, Nunes is making it harder and harder to see where she has deficiencies.

As for a prediction, I obviously have Nunes winning. While I get why Pena is getting the title shot, I don’t think her night ends in anything other than a devastating loss. Nunes is too strong, too powerful and has excellent takedown defense. In my opinion, this fight might look like a mismatch very early. So with that said, I predict that Nunes retains her Bantamweight title via knockout.

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170 lbs.: Geoff Neal vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio – One has to wonder, if Santiago Ponzinibbio was healthy during his rise up the Welterweight ranks, could he have contended for the title? He had won seven straight fights in a span of nearly three years. He defeated notables such as Neil Magny, Gunnar Nelson, Mike Perry and Zak Cummings. And, Ponzinibbio was as high as 7th in the Welterweight rankings. While injuries ultimately cost him two years of action, and perhaps rust had something to do with his winning streak being halted against Li Jingliang, Ponzinibbio is back on track and ranked in the top fifteen once again. A striker to the core, Ponzinibbio features an excellent jab. With solid cardio, the ability to push a hard pace and volume, Ponzinibbio can be a handful to deal with on the feet. As for Geoff Neal, he too is a striker. A more violent and powerful one at that, as he has won eight of his thirteen wins via knockout. With a diverse striking arsenal, Neal has proven that his hands aren’t the only thing made of steel, his legs are too. As evidenced by the two head kick knockout in two of his four victories in the UFC.

As for a prediction, I have Neal winning. While I do worry about his cardio and at times, his volume, this fight feels more suited for Neal than his previous two-fights. Ponzinibbio is not one to grapple like Neil Magny and the Argentinian is not the elusive and tricky striker like Stephen Thomson. He’s talented on the feet, but open to getting hit. Absorbing 4.38 significant strikes per minute and 104 in his most recent fight, Ponzinibbio is getting hit a little too much for my taste. Against someone as powerful as Neal, that won’t fly. So with that said, I predict that Neal wins via knockout.

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125 lbs.: Cody Garbrandt vs. Kai Kara-France – This should be a good one and I’m curious as to how Cody Garbrandt is going to look at weigh-ins. I can’t imagine this cut is going to be easy and for that, I do worry he may be compromised. I mean, we’ve seen T.J. Dillashaw drop down to Flyweight, look like skeletor and get knocked out in thirty-two seconds by Henry Cejudo. Obviously you can’t just base it off one instance, but it’s definitely something to think about. A former NCAA Division II wrestler and amatuer boxer, Garbrandt has a fairly well rounded game. However, Garbrandt more often than not, has relied on his boxing. While it’s been a strength throughout his career, it’s also been a weakness. Not due to skill, but due his inability to reset after being hurt. Instead, Garbrandt will often go into the fire with reckless abandon. It’s what cost him his Bantamweight belt, the rematch against T.J. Dillashaw and against Pedro Munhoz. As for Kara-France, the Australian is a striker who boasts excellent takedown defense. In addition, Kara-France has proven to be a high output striker, a decent wrestler and one who is fairly defensively sound.

As for a prediction, I have Garbrandt winning. Regardless of all the red flags, Garbrandt is the more skilled fighter of the two. With a power edge, a size advantage and better wrestling, I believe that Garbrandt can defeat Kara-France. A fighter who has lost nine of his thirty-one professional fights and before his most recent knockout victory over Rogerio Bontorin, hadn’t knocked anyone out in the previous nine fights. So with that said, I predict that Garbrandt will win via decision.

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135 lbs.: Sean O’Malley vs. Raulian Paiva – This is a fun fight to open the main card, and one in which I understand why the UFC has on tap to kick off the PPV. Sean O’Malley is not only a solid fighter, but he has built up a rabid fanbase in such a short time. When the name of the game is to put butt’s in seats and sell PPV’s, O’Malley seems to check off both boxes. A striker to the core, O’Malley’s volume is unmatched. Currently ranked number one all-time in the UFC in strikes landed per minute at 8.37 and strikes differential at 4.94, O’Malley has proven that standing with him just isn’t smart. The key to neutralizing O’Malley is by chopping him down via leg kicks or by implementing a heavy wrestling approach. Two gameplans that don’t really mesh with Raulian Paiva, who is mainly a striker that doesn’t often throw leg strikes. With solid cardio, durability and volume, Paiva looks to takeover in fights the later it goes.

As for a prediction, I have O’Malley. While Paiva has proven to be extremely tough to put away, he has yet to face anyone who can put up the volume that O’Malley can. In Suga’s last fight alone, he landed 230 significant strikes. Paiva in his combined five UFC fights hasn’t even reached that mark. In what I expect to be a dominant performance by O’Malley, I foresee a TKO finish.

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UFC 269 ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN2/ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET):

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145 lbs.: Josh Emmett vs. Dan Ige – This could very well be your ‘Fight of the Night’, as both men are known to entertain when they step inside the octagon. Josh Emmett is primarily a striker who possesses legitimate power. Recording at least one knockdown in the last six fights, and a total of ten in that span, Emmett has a claim to being the heaviest handed fighter in the Featherweight division. Dan Ige though is extremely durable, having never been stopped in nineteen professional fights. Fairly well rounded, Ige is a hard-nosed striker and one who isn’t shy to attempt several takedowns to get the fight to the mat. Sporting a 25% takedown accuracy, it’s not too often he succeeds in such. In fact, in Ige’s last six fights, he landed only three of the twenty three takedown attempts.

As for a prediction, I have Emmett. While Ige is extremely tough and has shown the ability to compete with some elite strikers, the power of Emmett is going to be a game changer. Even with excellent durability, Ige is going to do his best to avoid brawling with Emmett. Another reason why I like Emmett is that with the exception of one fight, where he was taken down eight times, he’s been only taken down once in his eight other fights inside the octagon. So with that said, in a fun fight, I predict that Emmett will land the more convincing shots and earn himself a decision nod.

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135 lbs.: Dominick Cruz vs. Pedro Munhoz – This is an important fight in not only a crowded Bantamweight division, but for both men. Pedro Munhoz, still ranked eighth, can’t afford to lose another fight. A loss would not only be the fourth in the last five, but it unravels everything Munhoz has done to be ranked within the top ten. Primarily a high output striker who’s arsenal includes debilitating leg kicks, Munhoz has in ways, shed his excellent grappling abilities that carried him early on his career. With two knockout victories in his last three wins and three ‘Fight of the Night’ bonuses in his last five fights, perhaps striking is his forte. As for Cruz, he is the more well rounded fighter of the two. With wrestling to go along with his technical striking, which is guided by unique footwork and angles, Cruz has proven to be one of the most defensively sound fighters on the roster. In fact, opponents are landing a mere 28% of the significant strikes they throw at Cruz.

As for a prediction, I’m siding with Cruz. While Munoz is the more accurate, powerful and high output striker, he has often been doomed by his inability to cut off the cage. Allowing opponents to fight at range, Munhoz has been getting hit often and is absorbing a staggering 6.02 significant striker per minute. Against Cruz, who notably fights at range, I see this as problematic. Inaccurate as he may be on the feet, Cruz has excellent cardio and is always active. In what I expect to be a fun fight, I believe Cruz will do enough to outpoint and edge out a decision victory.

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265 lbs.: Augusto Sakai vs. Tai Tuivasa – This should be a crowd pleaser, as both men are pure strikers who have laid waste to most of their opponents. Augusto Sakai may be struggling of late, but that is in part to facing excellent competition in Alistair Overeem and Jairzinho Rozenstruick. While many may believe that his durability is gone, I’d argue that before those fights, it had been noted as a strength. Punishment and father time do play roles in diminishing durability, but with only nineteen fights and age thirty, none of those seem to be the case. As for Tai Tuivasa, the Shoey drinking slugger has seemingly come into his own of late. With three straight opening round knockouts, including most recently a sixty-seven second knockout over Greg Hardy, Tuivasa is not one you want to go toe-to-toe with.

As for a prediction, I’m siding with Sakai. While I understand that both fighters are currently headed in opposite directions, I still believe that Sakai has the better skill set in this fight. Of course, this being a Heavyweight fight and Tuivasa sporting eleven knockouts in twelve wins, all it takes is one punch. However, Sakai boasts good durability, cardio and the ability to land with volume and power. As long as Sakai can withstand any early adversity, the later this fight goes, the more it leans towards Sakai. So with that said, I predict that Sakai wins via late TKO.

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185 lbs.: Bruno Silva vs. Jordan Wright – This fight should be fireworks for however long it lasts. Both men are finishers to the core and more often than not, waste no time putting down their opponents. Bruno Silva is a striker who has devastating power. Often winging shots with the intent to put opponents to sleep, Silva does open himself up to being taken down. Which in his last fight against Andrew Sanchez, happened seven times. Regardless, Silva won’t have to worry about wrestling against a fellow striker in Jordan Wright. With an extensive striking background, Wright has a vast arsenal of strikes in his tool chest. When in range, Wright looks to get off his kicks. When in the clinch, Wright uses the Muay Thai plum to knee opponents non-stop. In fact, both UFC victories were as a result of the Muay Thai plum knees.

As for a prediction, I’m siding with Silva. While this fight is going to be chaotic, it’s the durability and power of Silva that I trust. Despite Wright’s record indicating only one knockout loss, he’s actually been put down twice. In a fight that was eventually changed to a no contest, Anthony Hernandez, who has one knockout victory in his eight wins, put Wright out in forty seconds. Durability aside, Wright’s resume isn’t spectacular. Before entering the UFC, Wright had fought eleven opponents who had a combined record of 25-45. In three fights in the UFC, his opponents are a combined 39-19. While much better, in terms of UFC standards, it isn’t spectacular. So with all that said, I predict that Silva wins via knockout.

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UFC 269 ‘Prelims’ Card on UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):

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185 lbs.: Eryk Anders vs. Andre Muniz – Despite being the early preliminary headliner, this is an important fight in the Middleweight division. Andre Muniz may not be a household name, but he’s quickly climbing up the Middleweight ranks. With seven consecutive wins and an inverted armbar submission victory over Ronaldo Souza, Muniz is on the cusp of fighting the upper tier of the division. An excellent grappler and submission specialist, Muniz looks to get the fight to the mat as early as possible. With little striking skills, Muniz is every sense of the word, a specialist. A good one at that, as fourteen of his eighteen stoppage victories have come via submission. Having never been submitted, Eryk Anders will undoubtedly have to be on high alert in this one. Primarily a striker, the former Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker is explosive and powerful. With eight of his fourteen wins coming via knockout, Anders isn’t one you want to stand around with for long.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Muniz. While his striking deficiencies are going to get him in trouble one day, I don’t think it happens in this fight. Anders is physically strong and boasts a solid 76% takedown defense. However, despite having an advantage in the striking department, Anders finds himself wrestling or in the clinch way more often than he should. In fact, in Anders’ last seven fights, he has attempted eighteen takedowns, with only three being successful. I would have to think that Anders avoids wrestling and grappling all together. Then again, it’s a constant in his fights, especially when he tires. Something that Muniz will capitalize on, as he will get this fight on the ground one way or another and lock in a fight-ending submission.

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125 lbs.: Erin Blanchfield vs. Miranda Maverick – This is a solid fight in the Women’s Flyweight division, as it pits two young talents against each other. Erin Blanchfield has excellent ground skills, and showed that in her UFC debut. Accumulating nearly ten minutes of control time and landing 120 significant strikes, Blanchfield was a machine from start to finish. With evolving striking, it’s only a matter of time before Blanchfield is near the top of the division. The same could be said about Miranda Maverick too. With already excellent wrestling and size, improvement to her striking and overall activity could be the difference in becoming a legitimate contender at Flyweight.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Maverick. In what is one of the tougher fights to predict on the card, I believe that Maverick is the better striker and that between her size and defensive wrestling, she can keep the fight upright long enough to edge out rounds. While Blanchfield easily took Sarah Alpar down in her debut, I don’t see her finding as much ease this time around. A work in progress on the feet, I see this being a fight where she gets slightly outpointed. So with that said, I predict that Maverick wins this fight via decision.

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125 lbs.: Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell – Despite losing to Rogerio Bontorin, Matt Schnell is presented with an opportunity to rebound against a top five ranked opponent in Alex Perez. An early Christmas gift for Schnell, who had a run halted with losses in two of his last three fights. Regardless, the ninth ranked Schnell has an opportunity to catapult himself right back in the title picture with a win. A solid grappler with ground skills, Schnell more than often opts to strike. While he has good boxing, is fast and throws with volume, Schnell’s durability is always something that’s worrisome. As for Perez, he is a well rounded fighter that can win a fight on the feet or with his wrestling. With six stoppages in his last eight wins, four of which came via submission, Perez is a fighter that is evolving into a more dangerous version of himself each fight.

As for a prediction, I have Perez winning. While Schnell has the submission chops to make this interesting, especially given Perez’s woes with submission defense, I don’t really believe he’s got another path to victory in this fight. Perez is the better striker, wrestler and isn’t the one with the questionable chin. Having seen Schnell stopped via strikes in three of his four losses in the UFC, there isn’t much confidence he can handle opponents with some power. So with that said, I predict that Perez wins via knockout.

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145 lbs.: Ryan Hall vs. Darrick Minner – Given both men are grapplers, this fight could go either two ways. One, both neutralize each other and we could have ourselves a pretty tame kickboxing match. Two, both enter the fire and we get an exciting grappling affair that features scrambles, reversals and submission attempts. While I could see the first scenario playing out early, I believe that ultimately it will turn into a grappling affair. One in which could result in a highlight reel submission victory. Ryan Hall is one of the most decorated BJJ practitioners on the planet. While Hall has sparingly shown his BJJ in mixed martial arts, only winning three of his eight wins via submission, when he has, you get something spectacular like the Imanari roll to heel hook submission over B.J. Penn. As for Darrick Miner, he’s never been one for judges. In thirty-eight fights, Miner has only been to the scorecards four times. He has been stopped in eleven of his twelve losses and has won twenty-three of his twenty-six wins via stoppage. Of those twenty-three wins via stoppage, Miner has won twenty-two by submission.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Hall. Despite a career’s worth of inactivity, Hall will not only make his quickest turnaround since joining the UFC in 2015, but this will be the first time since joining the promotion that he has fought twice in the same year. Obviously the most recent result doesn’t sit well with Hall, but this matchup almost seems tailored for him to bounce back. Not only is Hall the better striker, which isn’t saying much, but Miner’s ability to work himself into disadvantageous positions and get submitted, falls right into Hall’s game. So with that said, I predict that Hall wins via submission.

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135 lbs.: Randy Costa vs. Tony Kelley – This is an excellent fight, as both men are strikers. In fact, between the two, only Tony Kelley has attempted one takedown in his two fights inside the octagon. Make no mistake though, this fight will be a striking contest and an early contender for Fight of the Night. Randy Costa isn’t one to accumulate cage time, as all six of his professional victories have come via first round knockout. With a pressure heavy style, Costa marches forward and throws a barrage of strikes. Landing an absurd 8.64 significant strikes per minute, Costa stylistically speaking, checks in at number one all-time in the UFC in that category. As for Kelley, while he is a more well rounded fighter, he prefers to strike. With good head movement and footwork, Kelley does an excellent job of countering opponents and hitting them at odd angles. Having been taken down a combined ten times in two fights inside the octagon, Kelley may have a slight takedown defense issue. However, Costa will unlikely exploit that weakness, as he has shown zero intent to wrestle in four UFC fights.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Costa. While Kelley may find some success with his counter striking early, especially given Costa’s pressure style, his lack of striking defense is going to be his downfall. With a hands low approach, in two fights, Kelley has been hit by 57% of strikes thrown at him and is absorbing 4.77 significant strikes per minute. In other words, against someone with legitimate power like Costa, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. One in which I foresee happening, as I predict that Costa will win via knockout.

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125 lbs.: Priscila Cachoeira vs. Gillian Robertson – This is an intriguing fight, as you have two fighters heading in opposite directions. Gillian Robertson, before the two-fight losing streak, had won six of her eight UFC fights and was ranked in the top fifteen of the division. Known for her excellent grappling and submissions, Robertson has asserted herself as a finisher inside the octagon. With five stoppages, four coming via submission, Robertson is not one to play around with her food. The same could be said about Priscila Cachoeira, who has won six of her last seven wins via knockout. Primarily a striker, the Brazilian features a blend of power and volume. With an iron chin and excellent cardio, Cachoeira looks to outlast her opponents and eventually take them out. Having won two straight, the Brazilian heads into this fight with momentum.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Cachoeira. While takedown defense is an area of concern, especially against a grappler like Robertson, I believe that the Brazilian has adequate submission defense and grappling to get back to her feet. As the fight wanes, Cachoeira will begin to shrug off a tired Robertson’s takedown attempts and exploit the Canadian’s weakness of striking. In the end and despite the odds seeing Robertson as a heavy favorite, I predict that Cachoeira will defeat Robertson via TKO.

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