This weekend is sure to be full of unbelievably intense and high-stakes battles, and we are not just referring to the Senate Vote-A-Rama.
This weekend, the UFC will be hosting UFC 259 from the APEX in Las Vegas. This will likely be the UFC’s last empty arena pay-per-view, with many states around the country opening up venues and arenas to limited or even full capacity (UFC 260 is technically already scheduled for Las Vegas, although that will change because the desire for ticket sales or if Nevada opens up arenas like many other states). Dana has already said he plans on selling arenas out by the summer, so it should not surprise anyone when he jump-starts that plan in the spring.
So this event is destined to be historic one way or another.
For only the sixth time in UFC history, and second, in less than twelve months, the main card of UFC 259 boasts three title fights. Each fight is destined to be great, and barring an unforeseeable snooze fest, this could be an early contender for the UFC event of the year.
We want to break down each fight and give fans and newcomers alike an idea of what to expect.
Odds provided by Draft Kings
Thiago Santos vs. Aleksander Rakic – Light Heavyweight
Number two versus number four on the light heavyweight rankings, this fight could determine the next challenger for the light heavyweight strap.
Thiago Santos lost his shot at the number one contender spot back in November when he tapped out to the now number one light heavyweight fighter, Glover Teixeira. A win in this match probably does not guarantee him a title shot shortly, but it could put him on track to rematch Teixeira before the end of the year. He has knocked out the current light heavyweight champion, Jan Blachowicz, in the past, so all it takes is a turning of the tide to put him in a spot to potentially become champion.
Then there is Aleksander Rakic, the young Serbian currently tearing through the division. He ended 2020 with a massive decision victory over Anthony Smith, where he out-struck “Lionheart” 141 to 40 (Rakic landed 3.5 strikes to every 1 of Smith’s). He is looking to take over the division at the extremely young age of 28, and with a great showing against Santos, he could get that chance before the end of the year.
As tense and high as the stakes in this fight are, it is sad that it probably will not be a close fight. Thiago Santos struggles against speed, which is a great strength of Rakic (5.17 significant strikes per minute). Rakic also holds a two inch reach advantage and nearly four inch kick advantage (low calf kicks have taken the UFC over, and four inches guarantees Rakic the ability to hit them whenever he wants with not repercussions). The only major thing that Santos has going for himself here is his ability to absorb punches fairly well.
Final Prediction: Aleksander Rakic (-160) by decision (+240)
Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober – Lightweight
You could not put two more different fighters in the octagon then these two right here.
Drew Dober is a striker whose goal in the octagon is simple: throw punches, put people to sleep. Dober has ended five of his sixteen UFC fights in the first round, four by KO, with two of his last three fights fitting that category. All three of his last three fights have also been KOs. Dober is good at giving opponents early bedtimes, and why fix what is not broken?
Makhachev on the other hand? A grappler from the Khabib Nurmagomedov school of taking you to the ground and smothering you like a boa constrictor. Makhachev attempts 3.4 takedowns per fight with a 68% accuracy. Then, when on the ground, he attempts about one submission per fight, because that is all it takes.
Dober has to hit Islam to beat him, and that is not something that Mikhachev lets happen all that often. He takes less than one significant strike per minute, often using his ridiculously long legs to keep opponents back or step out of the way. From there, Dober has to stay upright to win this fight, which he is not good at doing (only 58% defense) and Mikhachev is great at preventing (68% accuracy).
Final Prediction: Islam Mikhachev (-360) by Submission (+310)
Petr Yan (C) vs. Aljamain Sterling – Bantamweight Title
Now, the title fights, new bantamweight champion. As is tradition; contenders first, champions last.
Aljamain Sterling is a monster in the octagon, using his unbelievable 71-inch reach to rattle the walls and flicker the lights of his opponents. He is not known for his knockout potential, but his ability to box opponents from across the octagon makes it near impossible to beat him on the judge’s scorecards. If his boxing does not scare you, then his wrestling should, because that is where he does the rest of his damage. He lands 1.89 takedowns per fight and goes for submissions with more regularity than even Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Then, there is the new, but yet an unproven champion, Petr Yan. Yan won the vacant title back in July of 2020 in a fight against Jose Aldo, a fight many will remember as the fight where a ref let Petr Yan tee off on the back of Aldo’s head for two minutes and eleven seconds, despite Aldo’s lack of defense or consciousness. Petr Yan is strong, with an incredible seven knockouts, three of which came in his last five fights. He knocks down opponents an average of 1.52 times per fight, which allows him to use his nasty ground and pound to finish fights.
This fight is going to drag, and that is exactly what Sterling needs. Aljamain holds a four-inch reach advantage on Petr Yan, giving him the ability to stay away from the power striker as much as he wants to, eliminating a ton of Yan’s game plan right out. From there, Aljamain can choose to keep the fight upright, punching the sides of the head and snapping Yan’s head in all directions, or he can wait until Yan starts getting desperate and take him to the ground and get the submission. Yan has a chance to win this fight, but he needs to do it early, getting up into Sterling’s face early and sending his chin to the sky.
Final Decision: Aljamain Sterling (+102) by decision (+325)
Amanda Nunes (C) vs. Megan Anderson – Women’s Featherweight Title
A trip to the lioness’ den in the co-main event is what every UFC pay-per-view needs.
Starting with the challenger, Megan Anderson is a relative newcomer in the UFC. This weekend will feature the sixth fight of her UFC campaign, in which she has won three fights and lost two. She is the tallest woman in the UFC at 6’0″, which of course translates to a 72-inch reach and 43-inch kick range. She mauls any woman across from her, using literally everything in the toolbox: fists, kicks, knees, elbows, submissions, takedowns.
Then, Amanda Nunes, the women’s featherweight and bantamweight champion, and pound for pound best women in the UFC. She has knocked out 13 women, largely thanks to her 4.43 significant strikes per minute. Do not want to box with her? Cool, she lands 2.61 takedowns per fight, and if you try to do the same thing right back, she defends 84% of takedowns. Amanda Nunes is maybe the most dominant fighter to enter the Octagon since Rousey, and it shows every single fight.
Amanda Nunes is a beast, and no one is going to touch her until she decides she wants them to. Does Anderson have a chance? Sure, she has a three-inch reach advantage, four-inch height advantage, and ten-pound weight advantage. She is maybe able to use her size to back Nunes up and keep the fight at distance. However, Nunes is too smart for that and is going to know to get low for single leg or double leg takedowns, which will give her a great advantage.
Final Decision: Amanda Nunes (-1000) by knockout (+100)
Jan Blachowicz (C) vs. Israel Adesanya (C) – Light Heavyweight Title
Champion vs. Champion, Undefeated record on the line in a weight class change. This is a pretty exciting fight on paper.
The challenger, “The Last Stylebender”, the frantic, the charismatic, the undefeated middleweight champion of the UFC, Israel Adesanya. Boasting a ridiculous 75% knockout percentage, Israel loves to put to end his opponent’s nights a little earlier than normal. He is putting on weight for this fight but remains a Vegas favorite to become a dual champion.
Then there is the powerful, experienced, middleweight champion, Jan Blachowicz. Blachowicz took the title in September in a bout with Dominick Reyes, who had taken the title off of Jon Jones in February. He is good for 1.16 takedowns per fight, where he controls the fight and takes rounds on the judges’ card. He is looking to have the first successful middleweight title defense since Jon Jones.
This is not going to be a popular section.
Israel Adesanya weighed in yesterday at 205 pounds, which is 11 pounds lighter than Blachowicz. In the middleweight division, that is going to get Israel absolutely dominated. Blachowicz is going to put his body weight on Adesanya, put his back on the cage, and just lean for 25 minutes. If this becomes a boxing match, Adesanya takes advantage with speed, power, and on the feet intelligence, but Blachowicz should never let this fight get off the cage.
Final Decision: Jan Blachowicz (+187) via decision (+800)