After starting the year with such strong cards and great showings, the UFC’s 2021 has taken its foot off the gas. Through the end of May, a UFC event could not miss. Fight Nights were full of dangerous fighters at all levels looking to earn their title shot. Pay-per-views kept getting more electric, especially as fans returned to the stands.
Then June happened
The UFC’s summer schedule is always notoriously slower, but you would think that after the events of last year and the situations that those events forced us into that Dana White would be dying to get as many events in front of fans as possible. Despite that, the Fight Nights are no longer headlined by fighters ranked towards the top of the pound-for-pound rankings. UFC 263, despite being built on the return of Nate Diaz and headlined by Israel Adesanya, was extremely underwhelming.
However, now in the hottest point of the summer, the UFC has an opportunity to get back on track.
UFC 264 is of course is built on the biggest name that MMA has ever seen in Conor Mcgregor. The casual audience is going to flock to buy the PPV to root for a billionaire fighter. Meanwhile, the MMA fans will be watching that match to see if the karate stance returns, or if Dustin Poirier continues his redemption arc. It will be an extremely explosive and exciting bout and definitely deserves the attention it’s getting.
The rest of the event, however, is what really has the potential to go above and beyond. From one of the best knockout artists in the MMA today to one of the most charismatic fighters in the game today, and another glimpse into the unbelievably great women’s roster. This pay-per-view has that event of the year potential.
So, to help casual fans and hardcore fans alike, I am breaking down the main roster. I am giving my predictions and including the results of some polls, we ran on our Twitter. If you want more coverage of the event on the night off, make sure to follow me on Twitter as well.
“Sugar” Sean O’Malley vs. Kris Moutinho
I could give you a ton of stats and breakdown this fight, but I do not have to.
Sean O’Malley is one of the most dangerous fighters in the UFC right now. If it were not for a broken foot, he would still be undefeated and would likely have a claim to an interim bantamweight championship fight. He had two walk-off knockouts in his most recent fight and looked bored in the process.
Kris Moutinho is making his UFC debut with a shortened camp. That is it, that is his breakdown.
O’Malley is going to destroy this poor guy, but at least he is getting a payday.
Prediction: O’Malley – Knockout
Irene Aldana vs. Yana Kunitskaya
Irene Aldana has been on the outside looking into the top ranks of the women’s bantamweight division for years. Whether it is a nerve problem or a lack of confidence or lack of talent does not matter. What does matter is she finally is in a position to break fully into the top contenders.
Yana Kunitskaya is a wrestler training down with the American Top Team gym. She has the ability to end fights on the ground, but can just as easily hold her opponents on the ground for fifteen minutes. Her stock is rising quickly, and a big win could put her in line for a shot at Amanda Nunes.
This is actually a really great stylistic matchup. Aldana likes to stand and bang and has an impressive 93% takedown defense rate. Kunitskaya likes to take the fight to the ground, which she successfully does 1.62 times a fight, and suffocates her opponent’s chance to win the fight.
If Aldana is to win this fight, it has to be on her feet and in the first five minutes. Kunitskaya’s chances of winning increase exponentially the longer the fight goes on. The question is whether or not Aldana can hurt Yana before she gets her hooks in, and that seems unlikely.
Prediction: Kunitskaya – Decision
“Bam Bam” Tai Tuivasa vs. “The Prince of War” Greg Hardy
The UFC’s heavyweight division is starting to get really hot, thanks to some very good strikers making their way through the ranks. Francis Ngannou, of course, is the apex of that group, but the rest of that group is just as exciting.
Tai Tuivasa and Greg Hardy are some big boys who like to throw hands. They do not wrestle, they do not grapple, they square up and knock out teeth. Either fighter is one blow away from walking away with a win.
Greg Hardy comes into the fight with a bit of a reach advantage and fights advantage. However, Tuivasa comes in with experience and statistical advantage. This is one of those fights that is very hard to predict, but it makes sense why it is on the main card.
Prediction: Tai Tuivasa – Knockout
Gilbert “Durinho” Burns vs. “Wonderboy” Stephen Thompson
Gilbert Burns was a few strikes away from being Kamaru Usman and becoming welterweight champion at UFC 258. Within the first minute of the first round, Burns had Usman on stilts, and had he pushed the issue and pursued Usman to the cage, he could likely be the champion right now. His boneheaded decision to stay on his back for two and a half minutes and let Usman recover and circle him and lay into his thighs with kicks killed all of his momenta and likely cost him the championship.
Stephen Thompson is a fighter desperately in need of that statement win that puts him in a position to fight Usman. He has grabbed an impressive record in the UFC, but he probably should not think too much about some rough losses. His low hands, counter punching, karate style is a favorite of the judges but keeps him from landing blows and offense that results in knockouts.
This fight is a very complex matchup that comes down to a ton of different, but connected factors. Thompson wins fights at the judge’s table, which means he needs to stand with Burns for fifteen minutes. Burns can make sure that does not happen, thanks to his striking power. However, Burns is very inaccurate when throwing strikes, thanks to short arms, which will open up opportunities for Thompson to counter-strike and run.
Burns is a BJJ fighter, which means he definitely should not even stand and bang, but take it to the floor. However, Thompson has a 78% takedown defense and will likely be able to use those level changes to kick Burns’ teeth in. Burns can avoid that by wearing Thompson down for a round or two and using his deep oxygen tank to outlast him. However, Thompson’s point striking style will give him the win in almost any round that stays on the feet.
I have changed my mind about the winner of this fight at least a dozen times. Ultimately, I had to go with my gut.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson – Decision
“The Notorious” Conor Mcgregor vs. “The Diamond” Dustin Poirier
Do you want the boring run down or the exciting one? That is what I thought.
Conor Mcgregor brought back the trash-talking, swagger-walking, absolute nuisance that made him the name that he is today. His press conference game was a little weak to be fair, but his social media game is where he came alive. Revealing Instagram message requests from Dustin Poirier’s wife? Ruthless!
The Diamond is putting up a good poker face, acting like he is not at all bothered. Watching back his interviews with ESPN on Friday, however, show the cracks in that mask.
Poirier is angry, and he has the right to be. Dustin took this fight because it would pay out almost ten times more than any title fight could potentially do. He watched Mcgregor at their last fight give him respect and act like this new, gentleman version of The Notorious. Poirier took the fight because he knew he could handle that and he had proven to himself and everyone else that he could knock out Mcgregor.
However, now he is getting a completely different Conor. A Conor that ducked him on a promised charity donation. The Conor that has gone unhinged in interviews. Conor throws kicks to end press conferences. Who is coming after very personal and very sacred things on social media?
Poirier should be angry
A ton has been said over the last six months about Conor’s hunger or desire to fight. Maybe there is a point there. Mcgregor projects he is going to be a billionaire in three years, which is a long way from the humble beginnings he started this journey with. Win or lose, he is going home to a multi-billion dollar home, a beautiful wife, some little Mcgregors, and the ability to fight anyone in the world and make millions doing it. That is the Conor you saw against Donald Cerrone, and that is the Conor you saw against Poirier earlier this year.
The Conor you have seen this week? That is an insanely competitive Conor Mcgregor who could not give less care to the payout of this fight. This is a Mcgregor who got embarrassed last time by a Poirier who was noticeably hungrier and outright better than him. He saw the memes made of his unconscious body, he saw the pundits saying he was washed, he saw his rival, Khabib, decide he did not want to fight anymore if that is what was left of him. This time, he is going into the octagon to try and undo how that felt.
Mcgregor will hurt Poirier, and he will not stop hurting Poirier until it makes him feel better.
Technically speaking, this is… a matchup
Mcgregor is the southpaw karate fighter who mixes in boxing and jiu-jitsu striking. Poirier is a jiu-jitsu fighter who is willing to shoot for a takedown if he does not want to stand and bang. Mcgregor may come out in a karate stance, he may come out in a boxing stance. For Pete’s sake, he even showed off a little orthodox stance this week when meeting with fans in Vegas. Poirier may likely maintain his orthodox stance, and try to keep Mcgregor away so he can not build momentum.
The emotional effect of all of the talk and back and forth will play a small role and only favors Mcgregor. If Poirier lets the talk get to his head and starts seeing red when he needs to focus, Mcgregor is going to catch him with one of his left-hand uppercuts and end the fight in a matter of seconds. Even if Poirier can see through the red, Mcgregor will not, and will continue to be aggressive and attack, even if the gas tank is almost empty.
I have had my winner picked since the trilogy match was announced and this week has only solidified that pick for me.
Prediction: Conor Mcgregor – Knockout
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