The first pay per view of the year for the UFC kicks things off with the return of the biggest star in the sport. In the co-headliner, we have the much-anticipated debut of former Bellator Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler. As always let’s break this down and see who I believe will be the victors this weekend.
Marina Rodriguez vs Amanda Ribas
Amanda Ribas in a short time has made a big impression on the fans and it’s easy to see why. First, in interviews she has constantly shown an infectious and high energy personality which can only bring a smile to the face. Inside the octagon she has proven to be a killer with an incredibly well-rounded game. In her fight with Mackenzie Dern, Ribas demonstrated excellent take down defense and used her superior striking to completely outclass the fellow Brazilian on route to a wide point win. Then last time out, Ribas completely dominated fan favorite Paige Van Zant immediately getting PVZ to the ground and locking up a brutal submission. From everything I have seen so far Ribas seems to be the real deal with little reason to doubt her becoming a major threat in the division further down the line. While I do see Ribas winning handily, Rodriguez is a very formidable challenge with a fairly respectable record even within her losses. Her last fight was a split decision loss to the queen of split decision wins otherwise known as Carla Esparza and before that she had a draw against Cynthia Calvillo. Rodriguez, despite losing, has looked good in these fights and this is against better competition than Ribas has faced so an upset could potentially be on the cards. What troubled me though is the last round of the Calvillo fight, Rodriguez was winning the fight until in the third round was easily taken down and faced some ruthless ground and pound from Calvillo. So, while there is plenty of danger for Ribas I see this fight becoming a way for her to demonstrate her superior grappling skills. I’m very undecided on how exactly the fight will end so I’ll just take a shot in the dark and have some fun.
Amanda Ribas 2nd Round Submission
Matt Frevola vs Ottman Azaitar
A fun fight that I feel would have been much more fun slightly earlier in the career of Frevola. Frevola makes a number of mistakes on his feet, mostly leaving his chin out in the air and as a result has been knocked out cold. Since being knocked out Frevola has used much more grappling in his fights recently and in this particular fight dragging his opponent in deep waters with the grappling will likely be his best chance at getting the win. Azaitar is a very powerful striker who throws almost every single punch will full power so more than likely will come into this fight looking for a 1st round knockout. Eventually I see this style working against Azaitar but honestly, I doubt Frevola will be the one to accomplish that in this stage of his career.
Prediction: Ottoman Azaitar 1st Round KO
Jessica Eye vs Joanne Calderwood
This is actually a pretty interesting matchup and has potential to be a fun one at that. Both fighters are hit and miss with their records and in many of their wins scrape close split decisions. Joanne Calderwood was on route to a title shot due to a single win over Andrea Lee (Yes, this division is awful) but disappointed in a bout against Jenifer Maia. However, a win over Eye could be enough to secure a title shot. Jessica Eye has had a tough go around lately and in her title fight she was put away easily with a brutal head kick and since has won one and lost one. Eye in her last two fights has missed weight and in the Calvillo fight weigh-in she looked particularly distressed, breaking down as she missed weight. It’s a clear struggle for Eye and is affecting her ability to be able to push the pace. Joanna Calderwood is a very good striker and was doing well against Maia until making the ill-informed decision to take her down. Eye may have the edge on power but personally I always tend to side with the skill when it comes to striking (not including Ngannou). I see a close competitive fight with a number of close exchanges but the skill of Calderwood will be enough to slightly separate her in these moments. I don’t see a clear result in this fight as both these fighters have proven to be incredibly unreliable and even Calderwood has shown pacing issues in her fights so Eye can very well make this a rugged fight. But again I’m going to give the edge to the slightly more skilled fighter.
Joanne Calderwood Split Decision
Dan Hooker vs Michael Chandler
This basically the perfect match up that could have been made for Dan Hooker after his loss to Poirier. He deserved a big name on the strength of the fight alone and Chandler, despite making his UFC debut, is a former world champ and has a limited space of time to make his mark on the sport. Naturally a big question is how good is Chandler? Personally, I feel he’s a very solid fighter with some excellent attributes although outside of Eddie Alvarez his resume does not add up to much at all. The fight is 3 rounds which is actually when both men perform at their absolute best as they both tend to gas out in the later rounds. Michael Chandler has made it known he believes Hooker is a major challenge and in striking a bad matchup so is claiming he is going to use his wrestling in this fight to grind out the win. The issue here is contrary to popular belief, Dan Hooker has excellent take down defense like the rest of his gym at City Kickboxing and in terms of technical striking Hooker is vastly superior to Chandler. A positive in the striking for Chandler is that at times Hooker is far too willing to take shots to the chin and shows very little defense at times. Chandler is a very fast and heavy-handed puncher so if he sets the pace right perhaps he could gain an early stoppage but this completely ignores the iron chin Hooker has shown in his fights.
Hooker is very good at countering his opponents and makes good use of his long reach advantage which will be a major issue for Chandler who may struggle to get on the inside. Chandler is going to have to show major caution when stepping into range both for striking and his takedowns as in the past Hooker has proven to be very devastating with his knee strikes which could act as the perfect response should Chandler go in for a takedown. Initially I was thinking this may be a dog fight for 3 rounds but on further inspection there is reason to believe Chandler’s chin is fading. It was only in 2019 that Chandler was finished in the first minute of the first round by Featherweight fighter Patricio Freira who granted is a great striker but still significantly smaller than Hooker. That shows Chandler may have a weakness for counter punching. If Chandler can get into the space of Hooker in an intelligent way and use pocket striking to disguise his takedowns he has a great chance of winning this fight. Yet still the one image that permeates in my mind is Chandler ducking in for a takedown and eating a hard Knee from Hooker much like the Jim Miller fight.
Prediction: Dan Hooker 2nd Round TKO
Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor
My thoughts on this fight have varied in a number of different ways. When first announced, I quickly believed Poirier would win but further analysis and looking at both men’s careers I began to see the fight more in favor of Conor which gradually continued to grow. All the way until the press conference I have been extremely confident that Conor will win and had little doubt. Yet just before writing my predictions I took one last look at things and while I still favor Conor I now see that potentially Poirier could cause an upset. Before getting to this I want to quickly direct anyone reading this to my previous article which explored Poirier’s patterns that could get him knocked out and in that article, you can see the ways I see Conor winning in this fight. Like everyone, if Conor wins I expect it to occur within the first two rounds and it to be a counter shot when Dustin is attacking. I understand some are trying to dispel the idea of Conor struggling with cardio which I disagree with. Historically Conor’s punching power fades the more the fight goes on and this is mostly down to his style. Conor is very fast twitch and requires so much movement to do what he does well, which naturally takes up a lot of energy.
Dustin Poirier has shown to be incredibly durable during his fights and has managed to pull through adversity especially since his move to 155 which was needed for his durability and chin. While visibly Poirier looks tired in fights this is deceiving as Poirier’s output is usually the same from the second round onwards. What is also worth noting is Dustin is much more powerful than Nate Diaz so if Conor does in fact tire out the power of Dustin will be much more of a problem. In terms of the grappling Conor defensively is very sound despite a couple of submissions, but Poirier is a much better offensive grappler than Conor. Dustin has a nasty Darce Choke meaning if Conor gets tired and this fight goes to the ground Dustin can easily lock up that submission.
While Poirier is going to likely have trouble on entering against Conor if he does get in the pocket and press Conor against the cage there are two major issues for Conor at this point. In the two Diaz fights he showed that if you push Conor back and exchange at close quarters Conor gets really uncomfortable and struggles under pressure. At the same time Dustin Poirer has very good takedowns against the cage which he has previously used when in difficult moments. The reason I want to focus on these ways Dustin can win is because he is being vastly overlooked in this fight which is very ignorant as he is an elite fighter and one of the best ever at 155. If anything, Dustin Poirier actually has more ways to win this fight and eventually late in the fight will be very difficult for Conor to beat.
The issue for Dustin is that in the striking range Conor has so many counters and natural power that spell a lot of trouble for him. Dustin, despite what some may think, actually has a rock-solid chin and great recovery. Justin Gaethje and Dan Hooker hit very hard and they couldn’t put him away. Conor does hit harder than both these fighters but what makes it truly difficult for Poirier is that if Conor has him rocked his striking is extremely accurate and he has more of a chance to find that shot to finish Dustin. So essentially you have a fight that at a certain point Poirier can very cleanly win, the fact is Dustin has shown himself to be a gutsier fighter and has shown the ability to win in tough fights whereas with Conor its proven that when the fight gets tough he tends to fail due to the stamina difficulties.
Conor is going to be an absolute nightmare for Poirier in the outside striking and Poirier is going to have to be incredibly patient and defensively responsible which when fighting a striker as accurate as Conor is a difficult task. While I can see how Poirier wins this fight and believe he is a very live underdog I still think the style of Conor in the first two rounds may be slightly too troublesome for Poirier which ultimately means I cannot help but stick with my prediction of a Conor win. But do not make the mistake of thinking this a result set in stone.
Prediction: Conor McGregor 2nd Round TKO