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Guide to UFC 269: Oliveira vs. Poirier

Getting prepared for UFC action this coming Saturday? Here is everything you need to know about the event with our Guide to UFC 269.

UFC 269

Date: December 11, 2021

Location: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card

Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT

Where To Watch: ESPN+ pay-per-view

UFC Lightweight Championship- Charles Oliveira(c) vs. #1 Dustin Poirier

Overall : Oliveira 31-8 1 NC, Poirier 28-6 1 NC

UFC Records: Oliveira 19-8 1 NC, Poirier 20-5 1 NC

Last fight: Oliveira def. Chandler (title fight)–R2 TKO–UFC 262 (5/15/21), Poirier def. McGregor–R1 TKO–UFC 264 (7/10/21)

Last five fights: Oliveira 5-0, Poirier 4-1

Bettings odds: Oliveira +125, Poirier -150

Background: The main event of UFC 269 is an exciting and anticipated match-up for the UFC Lightweight Championship. Oliveira makes his first title defense against the former interim champion in Poirier, who is trying, once again, to be the ultimate undisputed king of the division. Oliveira won the vacant title in May at UFC 262, overcoming a storm in the first round to finish Michael Chandler early in the second and complete a remarkable career resurgence. He came into his UFC debut in 2010 and won two fights over the span of about 45 days, running his record to 14-0 and look like a future champion at just 20-years-old. He then endured struggles, losing as much as he won and having weight issues, but then went on a run of winning eight straight fights, getting a shot at the vacant lightweight title and fulfilling a lifelong journey with the win over Chandler. Poirier gets his second shot at becoming the top guy in the lightweight division. He won an interim title over Max Holloway in April 2019, but came up short in suffering a submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a unification bout in October 2019. He fought just once in 2020, bouncing back with a win over Dan Hooker in an incredible fight. That led to a showdown and rematch with Conor McGregor in January. He avenged the loss, finishing McGregor in the second round, leading to a trilogy bout in July. That was another win for Poirier as McGregor broke his leg at the end of the first. With McGregor in his past, Poirier may be one of the biggest stars in the sport at the moment, and he gets a chance to now fulfill the journey he’s been on and a shot at becoming the undisputed top guy at lightweight.

How they match up: This is a very intriguing match-up of two of the most well-rounded fighters in the division, and perhaps in the sport. Oliveira has always been known for his grappling and submissions, because, after all, he does hold the UFC record for most wins by submission. He also has the most wins by finish in UFC history, and he’s shown off his improved striking during his win streak, and especially in his win over Chandler. However, Poirier is one of the most proficient strikers in the lightweight division, and one of the better pure boxers with pinpoint accuracy. Oliveira will likely be looking for the takedown, knowing that one of Poirier’s favorite techniques is to jump up for the guillotine, even if it means giving up a takedown. You don’t want to give Oliveira an easy takedown, as he’s so crafty and masterful on the mat that you just don’t want to let him work there. It would be like throwing a fastball down the middle to Barry Bonds during his peak- avoid it at all costs. Poirier needs to keep this on the feet and pressure Oliveira constantly, mixing in the leg kicks with his excellent combinations. Oliveira has folded under pressure in the past, an area where he has tremendously improved over his run. This is such a great match-up, and these two are likely the best in the division at the moment, which should make for a tremendous battle.

What’s at stake: One of the biggest crowns in the sport is on the line, as the winner is the undisputed UFC Lightweight Champion, the top guy in one of the absolute toughest divisions in the sport. Poirier has already carved himself out a Hall Of Fame resumé and an undisputed lightweight championship would be the rubber stamp he might need to get into the UFC Hall Of Fame one day. Oliveira is a borderline candidate to join him one day, and another win would certainly add to his legacy. They’re fighting for a title, a ranking, a legacy, and to be recognized as one of the absolute best in the sport. There’s lots at stake, and this could end up being one of the best fights of the year and an absolute crazy fight.

Pick: Poirier

UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship- Amanda Nunes(c) vs. #3 Julianna Pena

Overall Records: Nunes 21-4, Pena 10-4

UFC Records: Nunes 14-1, Pena 6-2

Last fight: Nunes def. Anderson (title fight)–R1 SUB–UFC 259 (3/6/21), Pena def. McMann–R3 SUB–UFC 257 (1/23/21)

Last five fights: Nunes 5-0, Pena 3-2

Bettings odds: Nunes -1000, Pena +600

Background: After a four-month delay due to Nunes suffering from a bout of COVID-19, the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship is finally going to be defended as Nunes welcomes the challenge of Pena in the co-main event. Nunes is defending the bantamweight crown for the first time in two years, as it was last on the line at UFC 245 in December 2019, when she defeated Germaine de Randamie. Nunes has defended the UFC Women’s Featherweight Championship twice since then, scoring wins over Felicia Spencer and Megan Anderson. Overall, Nunes has won twelve straight fights. Pena looks to score the upset, and she’s been boasting some big talk, claiming to be the toughest test for Nunes to date. Pena is just 2–2 over her last four fights, but is coming off a win over Sara McMann in January. The title had to be defended against someone, and Pena was the best option, as far as a fresh opponent for Nunes, there was, so she’ll get the shot. She’s not the weakest challenge for Nunes, but certainly close to it.

How they match up: This is definitely a fight that is more about lack of options than it is about competition. There is nowhere that you can say Pena has even a chance of being able to compete with Nunes. That’s just how far Nunes is ahead of the rest of the division. Pena doesn’t have good striking, as she’s wild on the feet and doesn’t hit hard. Nunes’ boxing is crisp and she has tons of power in her fists. Pena’s strong point has always been her grappling, and she’s a good wrestler when compared to the rest of the division. She’s scored takedowns against every opponent she’s fought so far. She likely won’t be able to take Nunes down, though, as Nunes boasts an incredible 83% takedown defense rate. Pena is also one of the worst at defending takedowns in the division, so, if anything, Nunes taking her down seems more likely. This just feels like a thrashing from start-to-finish, and more about how long Nunes wants to keep Pena in the fight.

What’s at stake: On paper, this seems like a cake walk for Nunes, but she shouldn’t treat it as such. A win by Pena would arguably be the biggest upset in UFC history, and a real shock to the system. Nunes is way too good and way too talented to lose this one, and it would hurt her legacy if she lost. She has the title of greatest female fighter of all-time and this is just to add to that legacy. A win by Pena would shake things up, and would open up the division because Pena might not even be one of the top-five best fighters in the division. It’s unlikely to happen, but crazy things happen in this sport all the time.

Pick: Nunes

Welterweights: #12 Geoff Neal vs. #14 Santiago Ponzinibbio

Overall Records: Neal 13-4, Ponzinibbio 28-4

UFC Records: Neal 5-2, Ponzinibbio 10-3

Last fight: Magny def. Neal–UDec–UFC On ESPN 24 (5/8/21), Ponzinibbio def. Baeza–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21)

Last five fights: Neal 3-2, Ponzinibbio 4-1

Bettings odds: Neal +110, Ponzinibbio -130

Background: An exciting welterweight match-up takes place here as Neal looks to get back into the win column against Ponzinibbio, who looks to start a win streak here. Neal looked well on his way to being a title challenger at some point during 2021 or early 2022, but then some major health issues set him back, then back-to-back losses to Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny now have him trying to hold onto his spot in the rankings. Hopefully, his head is on right as Neal just recently was arrested on Thanksgiving Day for DWI, but there was zero talk of him not being able to fight here. Ponzinibbio was also well on his way to fighting for a title, as he had gone on a seven-fight win streak from 2016 thru 2018, finishing the likes of Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny. However, injuries kept him out of action for over two years, and, when he was finally able to return in January, he suffered a first-round knockout loss at the hands of Li Jingliang. He bounced back with a decision win over Miguel Baeza in an incredible fight in June, and is now looking to make it two straight and get himself back into the top ten.

How they match up: Both men are high-volume strikers with lots of power, and neither mind trading inside the pocket. Ponzinibbio lands just ever so slightly more traditionally, but he’s not as accurate as Neal. Both are really good at defending themselves from being hit. Ponzinibbio has a really strong jab, but Neal fights out of the southpaw position, where it should be easier to see that left jab coming and to swat it away. Neal does have some heavy calf kicks, and he uses them well to set up the powerful left hand that puts opponents down. Ponzinibbio would rather work inside the pocket, as being on the outside would allow Neal to pick him apart, but Neal has a strong clinch game should Ponzinibbio get too close. Ponzinibbio also tends to be a little more reckless on the feet, while Neal is patient, though sometimes too patient for his own good. With both needing an impressive win, they’ll likely pull out all the stops.

What’s at stake: Both men were on the cusp of breaking into that elite tier of the 170 lb. division, and a win by either gets them back on that path and likely back into the top ten. A loss for either, though, would be a huge detriment, as welterweight has a lot of strong prospects who are surging, and the loser could find themselves out of the mix for quite some time. It’s an important fight for both, and the styles make for what should be a highly competitive and explosive fight.

Pick: Neal

Flyweights: #6 Kai Kara-France vs. #7 BW Cody Garbrandt

Overall Records: Kara-France 22-9 1 NC, Garbrandt 12-4

UFC Records: Kara-France 5-2, Garbrandt 7-4

Last fight: Kara-France def. Bontorin–R1 KO–UFC 259 (3/6/21), Font def. Garbrandt–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 46 (5/22/21)

Last five fights: Kara-France 3-2, Garbrandt 1-4

Bettings odds: Kara-France +120, Garbrandt -145

Background: A flyweight bout graces the main card as a former champion makes his divisional debut in search of adding a second UFC championship to his career resumé, but he gets a tough first test at 125 lbs. in the form of an exciting striker. Kara-France will be looking to pull the upset as he welcomes former UFC Bantamweight Champion Garbrandt to the flyweight division. Kara-France is looking to put his name back into the title picture and score his second straight win. He was riding an eight-fight win streak at one point, which culminated in him starting with a 3–0 UFC record, but he’s gone just 2–2 since then. He is coming off a first-round knockout win over Rogerio Bontorin in March. Garbrandt is finally making a move he’s talked about doing for quite some time, dropping to flyweight and trying to become the eighth fighter to win titles in two different UFC weight classes. The decision to make the move was made easier when he suffered a decision loss to Rob Font in May, which made him 1–4 over his Last five fights at 135 lbs. after starting his career 11–0, which included defeating Dominick Cruz to win the bantamweight title.

How they match up: A big question coming into this fight is how Garbrandt’s speed will transfer in the move to the flyweight division. He was always one of the fastest strikers at bantamweight, and arguably the fastest. The flyweights are just as quick as him, though. His power might translate better, though, at flyweight, which could make up for any speed that might be lost. He’s always had a fast and powerful jab to go along with quick leg kicks. Kara-France is a very good technical kickboxer, like many of his City Kickboxing teammates, as he works well from the outside, has good leg kicks and some good counters. He also has a big right hand with lots of power, and Garbrandt’s chin has been suspect for a bit, though it’s been better in his recent fights. Garbrandt has also been hit by bigger opponents, but that sometimes means nothing. Both have strong takedown defense, but Garbrandt is the better wrestler of the two, even if he doesn’t tend to show it off all that much. This might be a fight where he should showcase it. It likely becomes a slugfest, on the feet, though, with someone ending the night going down for the finish.

What’s at stake: Garbrandt is going to get a title shot with a win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a knockout, submission or decision, a win means he’s the next challenger for the UFC Flyweight Championship. He was going to get an immediate title shot when he was planning to drop in 2020, but an injury and the clear need to do a rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno, at the time, led to Garbrandt staying at bantamweight for the time being. Kara-France wants to be the guy who denies him getting a title shot, and if he is able to finish Garbrandt, he could find himself either next in line, or in a title eliminator. It’s a fight that has major title shot implications on the line, and, outside of the main events, may actually be the third most important fight on the card when it comes to title pictures.

Pick: Garbrandt

Bantamweights: Raulian Paiva vs. Sean O’Malley

Overall Records: Paiva 21-3, O’Malley 14-1

UFC Records: Paiva 3-2, O’Malley 6-1

Last fight: Paiva def. Phillips–MajDec–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21), O’Malley def. Moutinho–R3 TKO–UFC 264 (7/10/21)

Last five fights: Paiva 3-2, O’Malley 4-1

Bettings odds: Paiva +275, O’Malley -350

Background: A bantamweight bout opens the main card as the polarizing O’Malley looks to keep his win streak going against the tough and underrated Paiva. A lot of fans were upset at this booking, saying that O’Malley deserved a bigger name, but that is completely disrespectful to the talents of Paiva, who was ranked after his most recent win before some other ranked fighters won or lost. This will be Paiva’s second outing at bantamweight, as he scored a majority decision win over Kyler Phillips in July, which actually ran his win streak to three straight. He had been competing at flyweight, but he was starting to struggle to make weight, even missing for one fight and pulling out of another fight on weigh-in day due to issues. O’Malley comes into this one looking for this third straight win. He started his career 12-0, with wins in his first four UFC bouts, and his style and personality quickly got him a huge following. He then suffered his first loss to Marlon Vera, which, despite what anyone wants to say, was a legitimate loss. Back-to-back finishes of Thomas Almeida and Kris Moutinho now have O’Malley back close to being ranked once again.

How they match up: O’Malley is a high-volume striker who really likes to work on the outside and punish opponents and pick them apart from range. He utilizes strong calf kicks to keep opponents at a distance, and he’s not afraid to throw some crazy kicks in there. He’s also a dangerous counter striker when opponents try to get inside his range. He’s also ridiculously accurate with his strikes, ranking 4th all-time in UFC history for significant strike accuracy among those with at least five UFC bouts. His defense is also top notch. Paiva does tend to get hit a lot, but he has improved on his feet in his most recent Octagon appearances. Paiva will need to make a point of checking the leg kicks that he should know are coming from O’Malley. O’Malley has injured himself landing leg kicks, so checking them could put him in trouble and open Paiva for some takedowns. Paiva is not super successful on his takedown attempts, only completing 27% of his attempts, but he is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. O’Malley does have an underrated ground game, but we haven’t seen a whole lot of it, so who knows if he can handle playing with Paiva on the mat. This feels like it could be a showcase for O’Malley, but Paiva is going to make it tough on him everywhere.

What’s at stake: A spot in the bantamweight rankings and a potential fight against a top-ten opponent loom at stake for the winner. O’Malley is the most-called out guy at 135 lbs., with just about everyone wanting to fight him, knowing it would get attention. There are a few guys who don’t think he deserves it yet, so this could be a fight where he changes their minds. Paiva is a tough match-up, and a win over O’Malley would put him in the mix of fighting a top-level bantamweight next. O’Malley has been touted as the next big thing in the bantamweight division, but he needs to continue to score wins if he’s going to live up to those expectations.

Pick: O’Malley

Preliminary Card

Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET, 5:00 p.m. PT

Where To Watch: ESPN2 & ESPN+

Featherweights: #7 Josh Emmett vs. #9 Dan Ige

Overall Records: Emmett 16-2, Ige 15-4

UFC Records: Emmett 7-2, Ige 7-3

Last fight: Emmett def. Burgos–UDec–UFC On ESPN 11 (6/20/20), Jung def. Ige–UDec–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21)

Last five fights: Emmett 4-1, Ige 3-2

Bettings odds: Emmett -165, Ige +140

Background: A featherweight bout that could’ve headlined a Fight Night event easily takes the stage as the featured prelim as Emmett makes his long-awaited return from an injury layoff to take on Ige in what should be an exciting fight. Emmett is fighting for the first time since a June 2020 win over Shane Burgos in one of the best fights of 2020. He suffered a litany of injuries to his left leg in that fight, including a torn ACL, an MCL sprain, a Bakers cyst rupture, and fractures to the femur and tibia. It’s taken him a long time to recover, but he picks up right where he left off against a highly-ranked foe in Ige. Ige is looking to get his name back into the title picture as he looks to rebound from a loss to Chan Sung Jung in a main event bout in June. Ige was on a six-fight win streak at one point, but has lost two of three, but both were main events, as the other loss came to Calvin Kattar. He does have nine finish wins and has never been finished in his career.

How they match up: The big question coming into this fight is whether Emmett’s injuries made him lose a step. It’s a long time to recover and the injuries were bad enough that there was fear of him losing his leg. He should still have the power in his hands, which has been a huge difference in his fights. Ige is the more accurate striker of the two, and tends to get hit less than Emmett, but he can’t match the pure power. Ige does have the speed when it comes to foot work, so he’ll be looking to utilize his movement to keep Emmett from landing the power shots. Emmett has incredible heart and durability, while Ige will have the cardio and wrestling advantage. Ige could look to make this a grind against the fence to keep Emmett from being able to land those bombs. The biggest key, again, will be if the injuries have slowed down and changed Emmett as a fighter. Ige is equally durable, and he might choose to go the takedown path to try and ensure a win. This one likely goes the distance, and likely leaves people wanting more.

What’s at stake: Honestly, I wish this fight were five rounds. It’s certainly a match-up that would deserve five rounds under most circumstances. I get why they wouldn’t want to rush Emmett back into a five-round fight due to his injuries, so it’s understandable. That being said, the winner here should be in a five-round fight next, and against a top-five opponent. This is a pivotal fight to try and find a new contender for Alexander Volkanovski, who doesn’t seem too keen on fighting Max Holloway for a third time. I don’t expect a win for either to mean a title shot next, but Emmett would be closer to it as it would be four straight wins. This should be a really exciting fight.

Pick: Emmett

Bantamweights: #8 Pedro Munhoz vs. #10 Dominick Cruz

Overall Records: Munhoz 19-6 1 NC, Cruz 23-3

UFC Records: Munhoz 9-6 1 NC, Cruz 6-2

Last fight: Aldo def. Munhoz–UDec–UFC 265 (8/7/21), Cruz def. Kenney–SpDec–UFC 259 (3/6/21)

Last five fights: Munhoz 2-3, Cruz 3-2

Bettings odds: Munhoz -110, Cruz -110

Background: An interesting bantamweight clash, yet another fight on these prelims that could’ve headlined a Fight Night card, takes place here as Munhoz looks to end a tough stretch of bad luck, while former UFC Bantamweight Champion Cruz looks to make one last run at the title. Munhoz comes into this fight off a decision loss to Jose Aldo, a fight he was extremely competitive in but Aldo turned in an incredible showing. It was Munhoz’ third loss over his last four fights, though the other losses came to Frankie Edgar and Aljamain Sterling, so he’s only losing to former or current champions. Prior to the setback, he had won seven of eight. Cruz fights for the second time in 2021, the first time he’s fought multiple times in a year since 2016, and only the second time since 2011. In fact, this is only his seventh fight in the last ten years. He showed he still has fight left in him with a decision win over Casey Kenney in March, and Cruz still boasts that impressive 23–3 record.

How they match up: Munhoz is going to be a great test to see what Cruz has left. He looked good in the win over Kenney after only having fought once in the four-plus years preceding it, but it could’ve been as much as Kenney didn’t look as good as he had more than Cruz looking like a title contender. Munhoz brought the fight to Aldo his last time out, and he’s a tough and durable fighter. Cruz has always been about his movement and footwork and avoiding being hit, as he’s defended 72% of significant strikes attempted on him. Cruz also throws with a lot of volume, but he’s not super accurate in actually landing his shots. He needs to mix in more of his leg kicks than he did against Kenney, and also work to the body, two areas where Aldo had success against Munhoz. Munhoz did land a lot of leg kicks against Aldo, and he should look to do the same here as Cruz struggled in defending leg kicks against Henry Cejudo. Cruz’s movement game might be trouble for Munhoz, who likes to come straight forward in fights, and Cruz could look to take it down, as he’s always been a little underrated in his wrestling. This is such an interesting fight, and one that may have benefitted from being five rounds.

What’s at stake: Cruz believes he has another title run in him, so this is a big fight for him if he wants to show that he does have it in him. He would need another win or two if he beats Munhoz, so he should look at being active and fighting probably more than twice a year as he’s 36 with a ton of injuries in his career. Munhoz had talked about dropping down to flyweight before this booking came about, and it’s totally possible that happens regardless as a loss would only cement his gatekeeper status at bantamweight, but a win would keep him in the same spot. The future of both men is really dependent on the outcome of this fight.

Pick: Cruz

Heavyweights: #11 Augusto Sakai vs. Tai Tuivasa

Overall Records: Sakai 15-3-1, Tuivasa 12-3

UFC Records: Sakai 4-2, Tuivasa 6-3

Last fight: Rozenstruik def. Sakai–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21), Tuivasa def. Hardy–R1 KO–UFC 264 (7/10/21)

Last five fights: Sakai 3-2, Tuivasa 3-2

Bettings odds: Sakai -105, Tuivasa -105

Background: A heavyweight bout that likely won’t go the distance takes place here as Sakai battles the ultra popular Tuivasa. This bout was originally scheduled to take place a couple of weeks ago at the UFC APEX, but travel restrictions pushed it back to here, and, honestly, that’s for the best as Tuivasa has no business fighting in an empty arena. He’s got so much personality and charisma that he deserves to fight in front of a full arena. Sakai is coming off a pair of losses in main event bouts, as he was finished by Alistair Overeem and Jairzinho Rozenstruik in his last two fights. That ended a six-fight win streak, which also saw four consecutive wins to kick off his UFC career. Tuivasa has had an up-and-down career thus far. He started his career 9–0, including a 3–0 run to start his UFC career, but then lost three straight, which brought up rumors that he was cut from the UFC roster. He never was, and has since bounced back with three straight wins, all by first-round knockout, with the last two coming in 67 seconds or less. He’s coming off a popular finish of Greg Hardy in July.

How they match up: This one doesn’t feel like it’s going the distance, or, at least, it shouldn’t. Tuivasa is a power puncher who has a penchant for finishing fights early, and Sakai hasn’t had the chin or durability in recent outings. This is a step up in competition for Tuivasa over his last three fights, and harkens back to the level of competition he fought when he had his losing skid. It’s also a way to see if Tuivasa can truly break into that top-ten level or if he’ll always be a mid-level heavyweight. Sakai does tend to land slightly more significant strikes per minute than Tuivasa, but he’s also ugly on the feet. Sakai will likely look to pressure Tuivasa against the fence in the clinch, and he may be wise to take it to the ground. This will come down to who makes their offense mean more, and I sense that will end up being Tuivasa.

What’s at stake: Will we see a “Shoey”? That is the question everyone has whenever Tuivasa steps inside the Octagon, and the fans will be loud in anticipation should he score the win. You know it’s coming if he wins, as well as a great post-fight interview, but a win would also mean four straight for him, a spot inside the heavyweight rankings, and would put Tuivasa on a good path to getting a big-name opponent next. Sakai really can’t afford another loss if he still has UFC title aspirations, as three straight losses as a heavyweight is hard to overcome. A loss could also see him drop outside of the rankings, so this is a big fight for Sakai.

Pick: Tuivasa

Middleweights: Jordan Wright vs. Bruno Silva

Overall Records: Wright 12-1 1 NC, Silva 21-6

UFC Records: Wright 2-1, Silva 2-0

Last fight: Wright def. Pickett–R1 TKO–UFC 262 (5/15/21), Silva def. Sanchez–R3 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 53 (10/16/21)

Last five fights: Wright 3-1 1 NC, Silva 5-0

Bettings odds: Wright +290, Silva -375

Background: A pair of knockout artists in the middleweight division kick off the ESPN portion of the prelims as Wright and Silva both look for another impressive win. Wright is looking to score his second straight win after scoring a 64-second knockout of Jamie Pickett at UFC 262 in May. That win was a bounce back for Wright, who suffered his first career loss in his previous bout, and kept his finish rate at a perfect 100%. 11 of his 12 wins have come in the first round, with eight of those coming in 92 seconds or less. Silva is also a power house finisher. He comes in riding a six-fight win streak, including his last two inside the Octagon, and is coming in off a come-from-behind third-round knockout of Andrew Sanchez in October. Silva has scored an incredible 18 of his 21 wins by knockout, with 12 coming inside the first round.

How they match up: Wright has shown that he’s either going to knock you down and finish you, or he’s going to be the victim of being knocked down and finished. Wright has a karate style and likes to fight from the outside, picking his spots to attack. If he finds a proper opening, he knows how to make opponents pay, but it’s also a style that can be negated by pressure. Silva is a knockout artist who is no stranger to getting into slugfests. This is a perfect style match-up for him as well, as he’s struggled with wrestlers during his two UFC bouts, though they both ended up going his way. Wright is going to be willing to stand-and-trade with Silva, and it will lead to a fight that ends up not lasting very long. Silva’s experience will come into play as he bullies Wright around with pressure and heavy shots, leading to a first-round finish.

What’s at stake: The winner here could be fighting someone near the rankings in their next fight, and both are looking to climb the middleweight ladder. Now is the right time to start making moves at 185 lbs., because Israel Adesanya, should he defeat Robert Whittaker for a second time, is going to eventually need challengers. Both of these men are going to be chasing a performance bonus, and they’ll have plenty of competition on this show. This should be an explosive battle.

Pick: Silva

Early Preliminary Card

Start Time: 6:00 p.m. ET, 3:00 p.m. PT

Where To Watch: ESPN+

Middleweights: Andre Muniz vs. Eryk Anders

Overall Records: Muniz 21-4, Anders 14-5 1 NC

UFC Records: Muniz 3-0, Anders 6-5 1 NC

Last fight: Muniz def. Souza–R1 SUB–UFC 262 (5/15/21), Anders def. Stewart–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21)

Last five fights: Muniz 5-0, Anders 3-1 1 NC

Bettings odds: Muniz -150, Anders +125

Background: An interesting middleweight bout caps off the early prelims as Muniz looks to remain undefeated inside the Octagon as he takes of former football player Anders. Muniz comes into this fight riding a seven-fight win streak, including three straight since signing a UFC contract, and is coming off a first-round submission win that sent legend Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza into retirement. Muniz is 15–1 over his last 16 fights, with the lone loss coming to Azamat Murzakanov, and he isn’t quite getting the attention he may deserve at this point. Anders comes into this fight as a short-notice replacement for Dricus Du Plessis as he makes his move back to the middleweight division. He’s coming off a decision win over Darren Stewart at 205 lbs. at UFC 263 in June. It’s the only win Anders has scored over his last three fights, but he has just one loss in his Last five fights following a stretch where he had last four of five.

How they match up: Muniz is going to have a significant edge in the grappling department, and that’s the one thing most clear about this fight. Everything after that makes this fight a real toss-up. Muniz has 14 wins by submission in his career, including his past two UFC wins. He’s also been knocked out in all four of his career losses, and Anders does bring some power, being able to finish both with his fists and his legs. Anders will be superior to Muniz on the feet, as Muniz has lackluster striking and barely lands two significant strikes per minute. However, Anders tends to be slow-paced and inconsistent on the feet, and while he is difficult to take down, the openings will be there. If the fight goes to the mat, it might be easy work for Muniz. Anders is going to have to show incredible improvement, but I still see Muniz getting him to the mat and finding yet another submission.

What’s at stake: Muniz was ranked inside the top-15 at middleweight following the win over Souza, but, since he hasn’t fought since then and there’s been lots of activity in the division, he’s fallen out. A win, however, could get him back inside the rankings and set him up for a ranked opponent for his next fight. Plus, an eight-fight win streak looks good on your record. For Anders, he showed lots of potential when he first debuted, but he’s suffered lots of struggles over the past few years. Having a solid home at a solid training camp like he does at the Fight Ready camp in Arizona should benefit Anders, and if he’s going to ever find himself in the title picture, he needs a win here to start a run.

Pick: Muniz

Women’s Flyweights: Miranda Maverick vs. Erin Blanchfield

Overall Records: Maverick 9-3, Blanchfield 7-1

UFC Records: Maverick 2-1, Blanchfield 1-0

Last fight: Barber def. Maverick–SpDec–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21), Blanchfield def. Alpar–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 50 (9/18/21)

Last five fights: Maverick 4-1, Blanchfield 4-1

Bettings odds: Maverick -140, Blanchfield +115

Background: A fight that wasn’t even planned for this card takes place here as super prospects at flyweight battle. This was originally scheduled to be a fight between Maycee Barber and Montana De La Rosa, but first De La Rosa pulled out and Blanchfield stepped in, then Barber pulled out and Maverick stepped in. Maverick is actually looking to rebound from a loss to Barber in July, which ended her five-fight win streak. Maverick is a 24-year-old with a bright future. Blanchfield also has a bright future, and she’s only 22-years-old. She’s entering the Octagon for the second time, coming off an impressive debut where she scored a dominant decision win over Sarah Alpar, which even had a pair of 30–25 scorecards. It marked the fourth straight win for the young Blanchfield.

How they match up: This is one of the more difficult fights to figure out what is going to happen and who is going to win, and is truly a toss-up bout. Both are still improving as fighters, and the hope is neither stunts their growth in this one. Blanchfield showed a high-volume striking pace in her win over Alpar, and also showed that she tends to not get hit all that much. Maverick also has strong striking defense and tends to land twice as much as she gets hit. Maverick will also have the strength and wrestling advantage in this one, but Blanchfield does strong work in the clinch and has the better grappling and submissions of the two. Blanchfield needs to be the aggressive fighter in control of the fight and can’t let Maverick show off her physical strength. Blanchfield could look to take it down, and Maverick does struggle defending the takedown at times. There just seems to be more holes in the game of Maverick. Flip a coin, draw a name out of a hat, whatever you want, it’s really that close of a fight, and could come down to a really close fight on the scorecards.

What’s at stake: Even with the short-notice circumstances surrounding this match-up, I don’t like these two being booked against each other right now at all. The big point is I don’t want either to lose, as Valentina Shevchenko will need opponents, and these are two young prospects who have been talked about as being potential threats to Shevchenko. Maverick is definitely someone who you don’t want losing twice in a row, but that could very well happen. A loss would be more hurtful for Maverick at this point, so she has more to lose in this one. Both will be fighting for a title in the future, and this might not be the only time they fight in their careers.

Pick: Blanchfield

Flyweights: #4 Alex Perez vs. #9 Matt Schnell

Overall Records: Perez 24-6, Schnell 15-6

UFC Records: Perez 6-2, Schnell 5-4

Last fight: Figueiredo def. Perez (title fight)–R1 SUB–UFC 255 (11/21/20), Bontorin def. Schnell–UDec–UFC 262 (5/15/21)

Last five fights: Perez 3-2, Schnell 3-2

Bettings odds: Perez -350, Schnell +275

Background: A fight that was originally supposed to happen in May, then again in August, then again in September, finally goes down here in December as flyweights Perez and Schnell both look to get back into the win column. Perez will be fighting for the first time in over a year, when he unsuccessfully challenged Deiveson Figueiredo for the UFC Flyweight Championship, being submitted in the first round. That ended a three-fight win streak, so Perez will be looking to start a new one here. Schnell is also looking to rebound from a loss, as he suffered a decision loss to Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 262 in May. After starting his UFC career 0–2, Schnell went on to win four straight, but is just 1–2 over his last three fights, and will be moving back down to 125 lbs. after his Last fight took place at bantamweight.

How they match up: Schnell has all of the tools to be an elite flyweight, but he hasn’t quite lived up to that level yet. He has knockout power and a strong wrestling game, but he doesn’t tend to fight with a sense of urgency, and it cost him against Bontorin, and this is another fight where it could cost him. Perez is slow-paced on the feet and doesn’t have much aggression, but it goads his opponents into fighting slow and allowing him to find the takedown, and he does excellent work on the mat. Schnell does have an excellent submission game, but his wrestling still has question marks, and Perez could utilize some hard leg kicks to set up his takedowns. Perez is more accurate on his feet. Schnell should look to land the heavy right hand as much as possible, but I see Perez using his wrestling and a strong top game to either get a submission or ride it out to a decision.

What’s at stake: The division is different than the last time Perez fought, as Brandon Moreno now is at the top, so Perez could be right back in the title mix with a win. Schnell has always been on the cusp of breaking into that upper echelon of the division, and a win here could finally get him there. Neither will be fighting for a title next with a win, but it would be a start to where a few more wins could bring that title shot.

Pick: Perez

Featherweights: Ryan Hall vs. Darrick Minner

Overall Records: Hall 8-2, Minner 26-12

UFC Records: Hall 4-1, Minner 2-2

Last fight: Topuria def. Hall–R1 KO–UFC 264 (7/10/21), Elkins def. Minner–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21)

Last five fights: Hall 4-1, Minner 3-2

Bettings odds: Hall -225, Minner +185

Background: A featherweight battle of submission specialists takes place here as former TUF winner Hall looks to bounce back when he takes on Minner, who is also looking to bounce back from a loss. Hall had always been someone who had been tough to get fights due to his style, but, after two years out of action, he was finally able to return in July. It didn’t go well for him, as Ilia Topuria completely denied his grappling and knocked Hall out in the first round. It ended his eight-fight win streak. He gets a willing opponent in this bout as Minner fights for the 39th time in his career, and for the fifth time inside the Octagon. Minner has scored 22 of his 26 wins by submission, but he hasn’t won more than two straight fights in over six years.

How they match up: Hall is not going to scare most people on the feet, but it’s an area that doesn’t need to be overlooked, because he did drop the durable Darren Elkins twice when they fought. You know what Hall is going to do, though, and that is use unique attacks to look at getting opponents to the mat. He’s not an overwhelming takedown artist, as he’s only scored one takedown in his five UFC bouts, but he’s famous for spamming the Imanari roll. Minner does like to chase submissions and is not afraid to go to the mat with seasoned ground specialists, as he’s confident in his own skills to get the job done on the mat. Hall tends to have an outstanding gas tank, so he’ll try to wear Minner down early, making it easier to find the submission later in the fight. Minner could blitz Hall on the feet early and get him in trouble with his fists, but it’ll come at the price of emptying his gas tank. I see Hall stretching the fight out, which will make his chasing submissions easier, and Minner doesn’t exactly have the best submission defense despite his numerous submission wins.

What’s at stake: Hall needs a win if he’s going to remain a part of the roster. He’s got a very polarizing style and has been hard to get opponents to fight him, plus his fights can be very uneventful, to say the least. He’s definitely talented, but without opponents willing to engage with him on the ground, he doesn’t bring a ton to the table. Minner has been a career journeyman who has had some good moments during his first four UFC bouts, and while he may never be a title contender, he can always be a solid addition to an undercard. This could be an eventful fight.

Pick: Hall

Bantamweights: Randy Costa vs. Tony Kelley

Overall Records: Costa 6-2, Kelley 6-2

UFC Records: Costa 2-2, Kelley 1-1

Last fight: Yanez def. Costa–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21), Kelley def. AlQaisi–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 37 (10/10/20)

Last five fights: Costa 3-2, Kelley 3-2

Bettings odds: Costa -200, Kelley +165

Background: A pair of action bantamweights battle early on one of the biggest fights of the year as Costa and Kelley both look to score another win inside the Octagon. Costa comes into his second fight of 2021 looking to rebound from a crazy second-round TKO loss to Adrian Yanez in a fight where he won the first round. That ended Costa’s two-fight win streak. All six of Costa’s wins have come by knockout, all in the first round, with four coming in less than a minute. Kelley returns from a long layoff, as he hasn’t fought in 14 months. He won his Last fight, scoring a decision win over Ali AlQaisi in October 2020 in Abu Dhabi, moving himself to 2-2 over his last four after winning the first five fights of his career. He’s scored five of his seven wins via a finish.

How they match up: Costa is going to come out blitzing with tons of aggression and tons of power and looking for the early finish. He is a high-volume striker, but he also gets hit a lot. Kelley is going to have to weather an early storm, but his chances for success could be dependent on getting out of the first round. As noted, all of Costa’s wins have been inside the first round. However, the two times he’s gone past the first round, he’s lost. Kelley does like to come forward and doesn’t have strong striking defense, and a weak puncher in AlQaisi even was able to tag him a few times. Costa doesn’t have the best technique on the feet at all times, but his blitzing style makes him dangerous and entertaining at the same time. This feels like a huge opportunity for Costa to bounce back with an impressive win, and could signal the first time Kelley is finished in his career.

What’s at stake: This is looking to be just a fun bantamweight fight between two fighters who aren’t close to the rankings at the moment, but have potential to climb the rankings if things fall the right way. Both will likely look to score a post-fight bonus, which might be more important than climbing the rankings at the moment. A loss wouldn’t hurt either that bad, but would put them in a situation where they would definitely need a win in their next fight.

Pick: Costa

Women’s Flyweights: Gillian Robertson vs. Priscila Cachoeira

Overall Records: Robertson 9-6, Cachoeira 10-3

UFC Records: Robertson 6-4, Cachoeira 2-3

Last fight: Maverick def. Robertson–UDec–UFC 260 (3/27/21), Cachoeira def. Mazany–R2 TKO–UFC 262 (5/15/21)

Last five fights: Robertson 2-3, Cachoeira 2-3

Bettings odds: Robertson -375, Cachoeira +280

Background: A women’s flyweight fight featuring one fighter on a losing skid going against a fighter on a win streak sees Robertson take on Cachoeira in the opening fight of the night. Robertson comes into this fight looking to end a two-fight losing skid, as she’s dropped back-to-back decisions to Taila Santos and Miranda Maverick. That followed a stretch where she had won four of five, and seven of her nine career wins have come by stoppage. Cachoeira comes into this fight riding a two-fight win streak, scoring knockout wins over Shana Dobson and Gina Mazany. Those were the first two wins of her UFC career, as she started her run 0-3 after signing a UFC contract following an 8-0 start to her career. Six of Cachoeira’s ten career wins have come by knockout.

How they match up: For the longest time, Cachoeira legitimately looked to be one of the worst fighters on the UFC roster. Her recent wins have been good, and she’s shown some solid power in those wins over Dobson and Mazany, and perhaps she’s not as bad as her first few outings have shown. She likely falls back to where she was before in this one, where she isn’t technically good on the feet, but has durability. Robertson is going to look to bring this one back to her wheelhouse and take it to the mat, and her submission skills will be tough for Cachoeira to match. Cachoeira was taken down multiple times by Mazany, but Mazany was unable to capitalize and got tired, leading to the finish. Robertson is too talented on the mat to not get the better of it, and this should get Robertson back to her winning ways.

What’s at stake: A loss by either could effectively end their UFC careers. A Robertson loss would be three straight and put her at 6–5 during her UFC career, but she would likely get another shot since she often takes short-notice fights. She’s been ranked before, and a win would get her back on the way to being ranked once again. Cachoeira was looking on the cusp of being cut from the roster after her three straight losses, but the two wins have saved her from the chopping block for now. A third straight win would solidify that she has improved greatly, and would possibly get her matched up against a ranked opponent next.

Pick: Robertson

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