The UFC returns this Saturday from a Thanksgiving hiatus with a top-10 showcase at bantamweight where former featherweight champion José Aldo (30-7) will welcome Rob Font (19-4) to the UFC Apex Octagon.
Font and Aldo outline an overall anticipatable Saturday card best characterized by young fighters all just one win away from cracking the rankings of their individual divisions. In the co-main, lightweight prospects Rafael Fiziev (10-1) and Brad Riddell (10-1) will do battle. Also on this card are the likes of Jimmy Crute (12-2), Jamahal Hill (8-1), Brendan Allen (17-4), William Knight (10-2) and Manel Kape (16-6).
Although this Saturday holds some good scraps in Vegas, it is the pay-per-view card the week after that I will focus on. UFC 269 on Dec. 11 is the promotion’s final PPV card of the calendar year, and it is certainly going to end 2021 with a bang.
Former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier (28-6) will face current LW champion Charles Oliveira (31-8) for the belt to headline the card. In the co-main, another title fight will transpire, as women’s bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes (21-4) welcomes Julianna Peña (11-4). Also featured is Cody Garbrandt’s (12-4) debut at flyweight and Raulian Paiva’s (21-3) bantamweight bout against fan-favorite Sean O’Malley (14-1).
Oliveira enters his first title defense as lightweight royalty against a stiff challenge in Poirier. “Do Bronx” holds the UFC record for submission victories in the Octagon with 14, has the most UFC “Performance of the Night” bonuses at 11 and has an active win streak of nine.
Last time he fought, Oliveira defeated Michael Chandler (22-7) for the vacant title at UFC 262 in May. During that match, Oliveira did not notch another promotion-leading tap-out — instead, Oliveira dropped Chandler early into round two, and finished him with punches.
It is worth noting that Justin Gaethje (23-3), who just fought Chandler at UFC 268 in November, couldn’t even manage to put Chandler away before it went to the judges’ scorecards.
Oliveira is scary on his feet and on the ground. However, there is one huge challenge still on his docket. Poirier is believed to be the best lightweight in the division by many. He could have pursued the title fight much sooner, but instead, he pursued a trilogy with Conor McGregor (22-6), and likely made much more money as a result. He also dominated McGregor to two knockout victories inside of the second and first rounds, respectively.
Poirier is about as well-rounded as they come. He has slick striking, and wrestling to boot. With the exception of a loss to currently retired and formally undefeated LW champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0), Poirier hasn’t lost since 2016 and has wins over Anthony Pettis (24-12), Gaethje, Eddie Alverez (30-8), Max Holloway (23-6) and the aforementioned McGregor, twice.
How Oliveira can win
Oliveira’s striking is criminally underrated. He knocked out Chandler, but it is easy to forget that “do Bronx” got dropped in the first round and was almost finished himself. I think that he absolutely must stick to pursuing a submission if the fight is close, or he’s down on the cards. Poirier is a tough out everywhere, including on the mat, but this is where the champion has a succinct advantage. Khabib submitted “The Diamond,” Oliveira can too.
How Poirier can win
I think Dustin is the more complete fighter. He is at a rare experience disadvantage, but he still has had 34 professional fights before age 33 and can absolutely beat Oliveira on the feet and along the cage. I like Dustin to keep his striking technical and create scrambles when Oliveira inevitably gets behind and begins shooting for takedowns. Dustin could take this to the judges, but I don’t love him chasing a finish unless Oliveira becomes ripe for the taking.
Charlie’s Prediction: And New: Poirier via Decision
Peter’s Prediction: And Still: Oliveira via R3 Submission
Although I am siding with Dustin, I caution everyone not to underestimate Oliveira. He seems to have built his career, and this recent championship run, on proving folks wrong. I could see him taking Poirier’s back — or an arm — and keeping the UFC gold around his waist.
The Nunes fight is, as per usual, not worth breaking down. Peña simply has no chance and should be happy to have shared the Octagon with the greatest women’s mixed martial artist we’ve ever seen.
The “Sugar” show is back once more, and once again, O’Malley is fighting an underwhelming opponent. Paiva is a pretty good flyweight — he’s coming off his debut at 135 and it seems obvious that the UFC doesn’t have the strongest faith in O’Malley.
Sean continues to fight sub-average opponents, just look at his Tapology page: Moutinho, Almeida, Wineland, Quiñonez. Where are the quality wins? His one legitimate opponent, Marlon Vera (20-7-1), beat him. If this guy is such a star, let’s see him fight a ranked bantamweight — no more scrubs.
As always, follow @TheRedCornerDFP for the latest!