Getting prepared for UFC action this coming Saturday? Here is everything you need to know about the event with our Guide to UFC 257.
Date: January 23, 2021
Location: Etihad Arena in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN+ PPV
Lightweights: Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor
Overall Records: Poirier 26-6 1 NC, McGregor 22-4
UFC Records: Poirier 18-5 1 NC, McGregor 10-2
Last Fight: Poirier def. Hooker, UDec, UFC On ESPN 12 (6/27/20), McGregor def. Cerrone, R1 TKO, UFC 246 (1/18/20)
Last Five Fights: Poirier 4-1, McGregor 3-2
Rankings: Poirier #2, McGregor #4
Betting Odds: Poirier +245, McGregor -315
Preview: The biggest star in the history of UFC makes his long-awaited return to action after a year off when McGregor steps inside the Octagon for a rare rematch. McGregor had big, grandiose plans for 2020, and got it off on the right foot with a 40-second destruction of Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 in January 2020. However, like so many others both in the fight game and outside of it, the coronavirus pandemic derailed a lot of plans and McGregor didn’t fight the three times he had planned to. It took some time to get him back in action, as there were a lot of reasons to keep him sidelined, but when he and Poirier started talking about a charity boxing match, that set the wheels in motion for this fight to happen.
Poirier also fought only once in 2020, which was a decision win over Dan Hooker in June in one of the best fights of 2020. He was rumored to fight Tony Ferguson later in the year, but contract negotiations didn’t pan out, which is what brought that charity boxing match with McGregor to the forefront, which ultimately led to deals being made with both for this fight. It is weird to see McGregor engage in a rematch, as this will only be the second time he’s fought someone twice, and the other time it happened, it was him avenging a loss. He finished Poirier in the first round at UFC 178 in September 2014, but so much has happened in the six-plus years since that fight.
McGregor and Poirier are both different, and better, fighters, and both have added a tremendous amount of size, as that fight took place at featherweight. McGregor will still have that slight reach advantage, and he actually might be the bigger of the two. They are both southpaws, but McGregor has more unique attacks on his feet as he mixes everything well, while Poirier is mostly a straight boxer on his feet. Poirier has some great grappling, though that is an underrated aspect of McGregor’s game. Poirier has taken a lot of damage in his career, and while he excels when the going gets tough, the wars will eventually catch up to him.
You can easily say McGregor is the fresher fighter when it comes to a fight standpoint, and when he is focused, like many say he is now, he is one of the best in the world. It is hard to imagine the fight going much different than the first one, and McGregor has said he would finish Poirier in less than a minute. That might not happen, but there is a reason McGregor is a solid favorite in this fight. This will show where he stands and a lot is riding in this fight, and it should be good while it lasts.
Lightweights: Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler
Overall Records: Hooker 20-9, Chandler 21-5
UFC Records: Hooker 10-5, Chandler UFC Debut
Last Fight: Poirier def. Hooker, UDec, UFC On ESPN 12 (6/27/20), Chandler def. Henderson, R1 KO, Bellator 243 (8/7/20)
Last Five Fights: Hooker 3-2, Chandler 4-1
Rankings: Hooker #6
Betting Odds: Hooker -130, Chandler -130
Preview: Michael Chandler’s long-awaited debut, one of the biggest free agent signings of the past few years for UFC, finally goes down here when he battles Dan Hooker in the co-main event. For UFC fans unfamiliar with Chandler, they are in for a treat as he is legimately one of the ten best 155-pound fighters in the world, and might even be one of the five best. There were lots of different opponents being talked about for his first fight in UFC, but it eventually went to Hooker, who represents a very good challenge for Chandler.
Hooker is coming off a 2020 which saw him in two Fight Of The Year candidates, but he went 1-1 during the year. He is right back outside of the top five at 155 lbs., so a win for Chandler here would vault him right into that position, while Hooker could get back up there with a win. Hooker is a fighter that lands with a great amount of volume, but he also tends to take a lot of damage in fights. His willingness to take damage to give it has hurt him in the past, as it has cost him fights with Dustin Poirier and Edson Barboza, but also given him wins over the likes of Paul Felder, Al Iaquinta and Gilbert Burns.
Chandler is a strong wrestler with some absolutely brutal knockout power. He can finish opponents with one punch or a series of punches, but he can also take them down, smother them and submit them as well. Chandler is very well-rounded, and he should lean on that as Hooker has had the most issues against pressure fighters who have good grappling. Hooker does have a good submission game, but favors the striking. Chandler has been finished twice in his career from strikes, however.
This is a very intriguing fight and will show if Chandler is going to be a legitimate title contender in UFC. I like him in this fight, though Hooker is a dangerous opponent. This should be a fun one.
Women’s Flyweights: Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood
Overall Records: Eye 15-8 1 NC, Calderwood 14-5
UFC Records: Eye 5-7 1 NC, Calderwood 6-5
Last Fight: Calvillo def. Eye, UDec, UFC On ESPN 10 (6/13/20), Maia def. Calderwood, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN+ 31 (8/1/20)
Last Five Fights: Eye 3-2, Calderwood 3-2
Rankings: Eye #6, Calderwood #7
Betting Odds: Eye -110, Calderwood -120
Preview: Eye and Calderwood meet in a battle of flyweights looking to get back into the win column and back into title contention. Eye is coming off of a decision loss to Cynthia Calvillo in June, while Calderwood is coming off a submission loss to Jennifer Maia in August. There has been some bad blood brewing between the two as Calderwood has been heavily critical of Eye missing weight in her last two fights. Eye seemed to find the problem leading to the weight misses, as she visited doctors who told her that her gallbladder needed to be removed, so it was, and it led to dietary changes for her, which she’s been very open about.
Calderwood lost her chance to fight for the title with the Maia loss, and a win here would get her back in the mix. Both women train in Las Vegas, with Eye being a member of the Xtreme Couture camp and Calderwood at the Syndicate MMA camp, and with both spending time at UFC Performance Institute, they likely have run into each other at times. Both women are predominantly strikers. Calderwood tends to land more over the course of a fight, but Eye is very good at avoiding being hit and using her footwork. Both have tried to show off their grappling skills of late, which both are showing improvement in. Calderwood does have three submission losses in UFC, and while Eye hasn’t submitted anyone since 2012, she’s shown more of a willingness to go for them in recent fights.
This is more of an evenly-matched fight that could really go either way. I don’t expect a finish in this one, so it’ll come down to who can excel in making their gameplan work, and who can do enough to win the rounds. It might be a close fight when all is said and done. It might not end up being the most eventful fight on the card, but should still be a solid fight.
Lightweights: Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
Overall Records: Frevola 8-1-1, Azaitar 13-0
UFC Records: Frevola 2-1-1, Azaitar 2-0
Last Fight: Frevola def. Pena, SpDec, UFC On ESPN+ 19 (10/12/19), Azaitar def. Worthy, R1 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 35 (9/12/20)
Last Five Fights: Frevola 3-1-1, Azaitar 5-0
Betting Odds: Frevola +130, Azaitar -160
Preview: Frevola and Azaitar get a featured slot on the main card which should be a showcase for both. Frevola comes into the fight unbeaten in his last three, but he’s been out of action since a decision win over Luis Pena in October 2019. Azaitar comes into this fight with a perfect 13-0 record and is regarded highly as an up-and-coming prospect. Azaitar has just two appearances inside the Octagon, but both have been impressive, as he’s won both via first-round knockout. He has been training jiu-jitsu and boxing since he was a kid, so you could say he was bred to be a fighter.
Frevola has a good wrestling and jiu-jitsu base to work from while also having some decent striking. Azaitar has the power, as ten of his thirteen wins have come via knockout, and he averages over eight strikes landed per minute, and his takedown defense is top-notch. Frevola averages over three takedowns per fifteen minutes and has three submission wins under his belt. Frevola is always a game fighter but I’m kind of expecting Azaitar to run through him in this one. This should be an explosive fight while it lasts.
Women’s Strawweights: Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas
Overall Records: Rodriguez 13-1-2, Ribas 10-1
UFC Records: Rodriguez 2-1-2, Ribas 4-0
Last Fight: Esparza def. Rodriguez, SpDec, UFC On ESPN 14 (7/25/20), Ribas def. VanZant, R1 SUB, UFC 251 (7/11/20)
Last Five Fights: Rodriguez 2-1-2, Ribas 5-0
Rankings: Rodriguez #8, Ribas #9
Betting Odds: Rodriguez +250, Ribas -325
Preview: A strawweight bout featuring one of the most-hyped fighters in UFC today opens the pay-per-view as fan favorite Ribas looks to remain undefeated in UFC against Rodriguez, who is looking to rebound from her first loss. Rodriguez is taking this fight as a replacement for Michelle Waterson, and after being someone who was hyped as a future title challenger, she’s looking to derail the hype train of Ribas. Ribas has looked great in her four UFC fights and is coming back to Fight Island, the scene of her last win, a submission over Paige VanZant in July. She also holds wins over Randa Markos and Mackenzie Dern, so she’s had quality wins on her way up to top-ten competition.
Rodriguez returns after a close split decision loss to Carla Esparza in July, and she holds a distinction of being a rare fighter who has two draws in UFC. She’s going to need to avoid a close fight in this one. Both women are very active strikes who tend to land a lot, but Ribas is also very skilled at avoiding being hit. When it comes to the grappling, Ribas is much better there than Rodriguez as she is successful on the majority of her takedown attempts and is great at defending takedowns. If the fight hits the mat, Ribas is also very active in hunting for submissions and maintaining top position.
Ribas would be best served getting Rodriguez to the mat, as in her one loss and two draws in UFC, she was taken down multiple times by her opponents while also not being able to score takedowns of her own. Ribas has a lot of hype, all well deserved, and this will be her first test against a top-ten opponent, but she’s coming in as a big favorite for good reason, as this is a good match-up for her skill set. I see her taking this in a competitive fight.
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET, 5:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN & ESPN +
Lightweights: Arman Tsarukyan vs. Nasrat Haqparast
Overall Records: Tsarukyan 15-2, Haqparast 12-3
UFC Records: Tsarukyan 2-1, Haqparast 4-2
Last Fight: Tsarukyan def. Ramos, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 30 (7/18/20), Haqparast def. Munoz, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 32 (8/8/20)
Last Five Fights: Tsarukyan 4-1, Haqparast 4-1
Betting Odds: Tsarukyan -270, Haqparast +210
Preview: An intriguing lightweight match-up between a pair of prospects highlights the prelims as Tsarukyan and Haqparast look to inch themselves closer to the top fifteen with a win here. Tsarukyan has won his last two fights coming into this one, with his last win being a decision over a very tough Davi Ramos in July. Haqparast is coming into this fight having won four of his last five, which saw him pick up two post-fight bonus checks.
Both have loads of potential at young ages, as Tsarukyan is only 24 and Haqparast is 25. Tsarukyan comes from a strong wrestling base, and while he might not always be successful looking for the takedown, as he’s only completed 14% of his attempts, he is relentless at trying to get opponents down. He also mixes everything up well, as his 15 career wins have seen even splits between knockout, submission and decision wins. Haqparast is a heavy striker, landing almost six strikes per minute during his UFC tenure, and he’s very good at avoiding being hit. What is important for him here is his ability to avoid being taken down.
That is going to be a key factor in this one. He also has scored nine of his twelve wins by knockout, so the power is there. This should be a really interesting and exciting fight and is a good example of quality matchmaking on this card.
Middleweights: Brad Tavares vs. Antonio Carlos Junior
Overall Records: Tavares 17-6, Carlos Junior 10-4 1 NC
UFC Records: Tavares 12-6, Carlos Junior 7-4 1 NC
Last Fight: Shahbazyan def. Tavares, R1 KO, UFC 244 (11/2/19), Hall def. Carlos Junior, SpDec, UFC On ESPN+ 16 (9/14/19)
Last Five Fights: Tavares 3-2, Carlos Junior 3-2
Rankings: Tavares #14
Betting Odds: Tavares -140, Carlos Junior +110
Preview: A pair of middleweights, both of whom were out of action for the entire 2020 year, and both of whom are on two-fight losing skids, get back to action looking to get back into the win column on the first pay-per-view event of the year. Tavares has spent the past year recovering from a torn ACL, and is looking to bounce back from consecutive losses to Israel Adesanya and Edmen Shahbazyan. That is stiff competition, which Tavares isn’t afraid to face, and he’s remained ranked in the middleweight division despite being out of action, and when you look at who has actually defeated him on his record, you’ll see he faces really tough competition.
Carlos Junior is also returning from dealing with knee injuries, and his last two fights have seen him drop decisions to Uriah Hall and Ian Heinisch, also two ranked fighters. He doesn’t have the resume of Tavares, but he’s faced some solid competition in the past. There is a definite styles clash in this fight as Tavares is a striker while Carlos Junior is a grappler. Carlos Junior won’t scare anyone on the feet, as he’s never won a fight by knockout, but you definitely don’t want to go to the ground with him, where eight of his ten career wins have come. Tavares is a fighter that likes to drag his opponents to deep water, as only two of his twelve UFC wins have come by a finish, but he pressures with his striking and is good in the clinch, to go along with solid takedown defense.
Carlos Junior will be looking to use his five-inch reach advantage to get the fight to the mat, and it could be game over if he is able to get it there, though it should be noted that Tavares has never been submitted in his career. This is a pretty evenly matched fight and the winner will come out with some momentum, and with both having their backs against the wall, they could pull out all the stops.
Women’s Bantamweights: Julianna Pena vs. Sara McMann
Overall Records: Pena 9-4, McMann 12-5
UFC Records: Pena 5-2, McMann 6-5
Last Fight: De Randamie def. Pena, R3 SUB, UFC On ESPN 16 (10/3/20), McMann def. Lansberg, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 24 (1/25/20)
Last Five Fights: Pena 3-2, McMann 3-2
Rankings: Pena #7, McMann #9
Betting Odds: Pena +105, McMann -135
Preview: This fight features two bantamweights looking to figure out their place in the division right now as Pena and McMann both get back to action. Pena looked well on her way to challenging for a title before running into the buzzsaw that is Valentina Shevchenko, which halted her momentum. She then took a long time off to have a child, missing over two years before coming back to beat Nicco Montano. She then missed over a year due to injuries and the pandemic, and suffered a loss to Germaine de Randamie in her last fight. McMann is a former title challenger who found herself on the wrong end of a two-fight losing skid before she also took time off to have a child. She got back to action a year ago, winning a decision over Lina Lansberg, and is fighting for the first time since then.
These two are very similar fighters in that neither will scare opponents on the feet, but they both like to grapple. McMann is an Olympian in wrestling, and when that part of her game is on point, she is very hard to control. She averages almost five takedowns per fifteen minutes and is the all-time leader in takedowns landed for the division. Pena is also very high on the list, but she won’t be the better of the two in that department in this contest, which is rare. Where Pena might be better if this hits the mat is that she is active hunting for submissions, but can also finish with some damaging ground-and-pound if she gets on top.
The bantamweight division is kind of a mess when it comes to title challengers, which is a reason why Amanda Nunes hasn’t defended that title since 2019. The winner should break through to the next level, so this is a pivotal fight in that sense. It might not be the best fight on the card, but is yet another evenly matched fight here.
Light Heavyweights: Khalil Rountree vs. Marcin Prachnio
Overall Records: Rountree 8-4 1 NC, Prachnio 13-5
UFC Records: Rountree 4-4 1 NC, Prachnio 0-3
Last Fight: Cutelaba def. Rountree, R1 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 18 (9/28/19), Rodriguez def. Prachnio, R1 KO, UFC On ESPN 15 (8/22/20)
Last Five Fights: Rountree 2-2 1 NC, Prachnio 2-3
Betting Odds: Rountree -340, Prachnio +260
Preview: A light heavyweight bout with a pair of strikers kicks off the ESPN portion of the prelims as Rountree and Prachnio fight to get into the win column. Rountree is fighting for the first time since September 2019 and had been flirting with the idea of retirement. He decided against doing so, signing a new UFC contract in the process, and the first fight of that new deal sees a fight that has to have him salivating. Prachnio’s UFC run has to be considered a disaster for him, as he has lost all three of his fights and is in a must-win fight. Worse for Prachnio, all three losses have come via a first-round knockout. It’s a surprise that he even got a fourth fight, but this feels like a fight to get Rountree back on the horse.
Make no mistake about this fight: this one is going to be on the feet. Neither man has even ever attempted a takedown during their UFC careers, so we can just throw that out. Rountree has to be looking at the fact that not only has Prachnio been finished in all three fights, but that he’s been knocked down in each fight. Prachnio gets hit way more often than he hits, and with that jaw being a question, he’s going to need to look at clinching and pressuring Rountree. The problem, there, is that Rountree has a strong Muay Thai base and he can punish in close range with knees and elbows.
I’m not saying this fight is a foregone conclusion, but this is trending every way towards Rountree winning in impressive fashion. If you want a finish, there will likely be one in this fight, and this is a good way to kick off some televised prelims.
Early Preliminary Card
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET, 3:30 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN+
Middleweights: Andrew Sanchez vs. Makhmud Muradov
Overall Records: Sanchez 12-5, Muradov 24-6
UFC Records: Sanchez 5-3, Muradov 2-0
Last Fight: Sanchez def. Turman, R1 KO, UFC On ESPN+ 32 (8/8/20), Muradov def. Smith, R3 KO, UFC On ESPN 7 (12/7/19)
Last Five Fights: Sanchez 3-2, Muradov 5-0
Betting Odds: Sanchez +115, Muradov -145
Preview: Two middleweight prospects hoping to score a big win meet in the prelims as Sanchez looks to remain in the win column against Muradov. Muradov actually comes into this fight as a late replacement for Andre Muniz, and he’s been eager to get back to action after having not fought in 2020. Sanchez did fight in 2020, scoring an emphatic one-punch knockout of Wellington Turman in August, the first time he’s finished an opponent in UFC. Speaking of one-punch knockouts, when we last saw Muradov inside the Octagon, he too was delivering a one-punch knockout, sending Trevor Smith into another orbit with a big right hand in December 2019.
Sanchez has struggled with consistency in UFC ever since winning season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter, as he’s never won more than two straight fights. He has a tall task against Muradov, who has won 13 straight fights coming into this one. Muradov is likely best known as being a member of Floyd Mayweather’s agency, but he has tremendous power, with 16 of his 24 wins coming by knockout. He hasn’t lost in over four years, and hasn’t truly been stopped in over seven years. Muradov lands a lot and doesn’t really absorb a lot of punches, while Sanchez tends to get hit quite often.
Both like takedowns, and both have never been taken down in UFC. Sanchez has shown some good flashes, but Muradov is a highly-touted prospect with more upside. Both are eager to win, and this should be good.
Featherweights: Nik Lentz vs. Movsar Evloev
Overall Records: Lentz 30-11-2 1 NC, Evloev 13-0
UFC Records: Lentz 14-8-1 1 NC, Evloev 3-0
Last Fight: Allen def. Lentz, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 24 (1/24/20), Evloev def. Grundy, UDEC, UFC On ESPN 14 (7/25/20)
Last Five Fights: Lentz 2-3, Evloev 5-0
Betting Odds: Lentz +350, Evloev -500
Preview: A fight that was put together on short notice after Lentz lost his opponent on the 1/16 takes place here as the veteran faces one of the fresh faces of the featherweight division. Lentz has been a mainstay on UFC roster since debuting in 2009, and this will mark his 25th fight in UFC. For a contrast, Evloev didn’t even make his professional debut until late in 2014, and this will be just his 14th career fight. Evloev’s first thirteen career fights couldn’t have gone better, as he’s won all of them, including his last three in UFC. Lentz is finding himself in a must-win situation having lost his last two.
These guys both excel in the wrestling department as each averages over three takedowns per fifteen minutes in UFC action. Neither will make anyone fear with their striking, though Lentz does have a few knockout finishes in UFC. All of Evloev’s UFC fights have gone the distance, but he’s been a clear winner in all of them. He also hasn’t fought against anyone with the experience of Lentz, and Lentz knows how to pull out the tough fights.
Evloev is coming into the fight as a big favorite, for good reason as his overall record is impressive and Lentz has been struggling as of late, but it would be unwise to count Lentz completely out. Lentz has a new fire lit under him, but Evloev is someone expected to be a contender in the future and Lentz would be a good name on his resume. This should be a fairly competitive fight, and let’s see if the newcomer can best the veteran in this one.
Flyweights: Amir Albazi vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Overall Records: Albazi 13-1, Zhumagulov 13-4
UFC Records: Albazi 1-0, Zhumagulov 0-1
Last Fight: Albazi def. Gordon, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN+ 30 (7/18/20), Paiva def. Zhumagulov, UDec, UFC 251 (7/11/20)
Last Five Fights: Albazi 4-1, Zhumagulov 4-1
Rankings: Albazi #15
Betting Odds: Albazi -110, Zhumagulov -120
Preview: A pair of flyweights each competing in their second UFC bout will open the show as Albazi and Zhumagulov look to establish themselves in the 125-pound division. Albazi had a successful UFC debut, submitting Malcolm Gordon in the first round in July, while Zhumagulov was on the losing end of a split decision to Raulian Paiva, also in July. Both looked good in their fights, but Albazi was definitely more impressive. Albazi is good on his feet, but also great on the mat, as evidenced in the win over Gordon.
Zhumagulov is more polished on the feet, but he does like to look for takedowns as well, even though he was only two-for-eleven on takedown attempts over fifteen minutes against Paiva. Albazi likes to finish fights, as twelve of his thirteen wins have been by stoppage, and he’s only seen the third round twice in his career. Zhumagulov has some knockout wins on his record, but he also is well-versed in dragging fights to deep waters.
A quick fight favors Albazi, while a long fight puts it in the hands of Zhumagulov. This is almost a pick ’em on the betting odds, but I lean towards Albazi in this one as I see more paths to victory for him. This should be a solid start to the card.