The UFC’S first PPV (pay per view) card of the year is almost upon us, and if 2020 is anything to go by it could be the biggest PPV of the year in terms of revenue and viewing figures. Fight Island PPV is back, crowds are back but more importantly Conor Mcgregor is back. With a card full of depth from top to bottom, I take a look at the upcoming UFC 257 main card and make my predictions.
Poirier v Mcgregor
That narrative for the main event has been well publicised on all platforms of social media, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor is back and he has his sights firmly aligned on UFC gold. However, one of the division’s elite, Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier is in his way and looking to avenge the loss that occurred in their first bout back in 2014 (at featherweight). Looking back to that fight at UFC 178, Poirier primarily succumbed to McGregors mental warfare, before ultimately been finished in 90 seconds with a left hook and a barrage of strikes. However, much has changed since 2014, both men have evolved in terms of skill set and mind set, both men have gone onto have success both inside and outside the Octagon and both men now have young families which comes with additional responsibility. Nevertheless McGregor believes that the fight will play out in much the same way, if not more efficiently, predicting to end the bout within sixty seconds. Obviously Poirier opposes that notion and having proven his durability at lightweight in bouts with Gaethje and Hooker, it comes as little surprise. Both men have robustly prepared for this bout as they appear to be in peak physical condition, but just as importantly, they have both navigated the pre fight interview process and press conferences with a sense of profoundness and mental astuteness.
Fight fact and prediction: Both fighters in this bout are traditionally southpaws, and with both competitors boasting a 60% (Poirier) and 70% (McGregor) takedown defence, this is likely to remain in the stand up. With that been said, McGregor enters the contest as the favourite, and while Poirier has evolved, matured and shown his durability, I still believe McGregor ends the night victorious. Although I believe a TKO finish will come in the 2nd round rather than inside the first 60 seconds of round one. If like me though, you simply cannot discount Poirier from this contest, he currently sits as a +280 underdog, if you like a gamble I would consider that your calculated risk of the evening.
Chandler v Hooker
If it wasn’t for the main event on this PPV, this bout would be receiving much more recognition as the UFC welcomes MMA veteran Michael Chandler. After having much success in Bellator as their lightweight champion, he decided to test the waters in free agency. As a result he signed with the UFC and the news has been very well received. His personality during fight week has displayed a humbleness aligned with a self belief, two attributes that are rarely paired by the combatants within this sport. His versatility and robust record which features an equal array of decision wins, submissions and knockouts will make him a tough fight for anybody. If you were to think of anybody in the lightweight division seeking a challenge and reap the rewards of a risk, it would be Dan ‘the Hangman’ Hooker. The Kiwi brawler does not back down from a fight and relishes in the grit and determination required to win a gruelling battle. His long, sleek frame lends itself well to his takedown defence which currently sits at 79%; this attribute will go a long way as he aims to upset the welcome party for the American wrestler Chandler.
Fight fact and prediction: The average fight time for both men exceeds the seven minute mark so I would not expect this fight to end early, particularly when the opening few minutes could be Chandlers feeling out process. However Chandler is explosive and knows only one gear, I expect him to push the pace, which Hooker will welcome. While Hooker does hold an impressive takedown defence, I do not believe he has faced the calibre of wrestling that Chandler possesses. To that end I see Chandler eventually imposing his will and winning via unanimous decision.
Eye v Calderwood
If 2020 had panned out how Joanne ‘Jojo’ Calderwood would have hoped, she would have had her flyweight title shot at current queen Valentina Shevchenko. In an effort to remain active during the turbulent times of the pandemic, ‘Jojo’ sacrificed her guaranteed title shot to take on Jennifer Maia. However the gamble did not pay off and she found herself on the wrong side of a first round submission. Now ranked seventh and looking to bounce back with a win she takes on the former title challenger Jessica Eye. Not only does this fight make sense given where they stand in the rankings (Eye, 6th and Calderwood, 7th) but the intrigue goes a little deeper as there is a bubbling feud between the two. Following Eye’s second consecutive fight to make weight (of 125lbs), Calderwood publicly accused Eye of trying to cheat by holding onto a draped curtain in order to tip the scales in her favour. In response to the accusation Eye retorted with threats and insults. Now we find them both facing off at UFC 257 in what is expected to be a very technical fight and ‘Jojo’ is very excited to get to punch Eye in the face.
Fight facts and predictions: Joanne Calderwood is a very busy fighter and enters the contest with an average of 6.17 shots landed per minute. However, Eye has a respectable strike defence, blocking an average 58% of strikes over her career. Calderwood rarely displays a distaste for her opponent and I believe that this added motivation and controlled emotion will see a high volume of calculated strikes pick off an over aggressive Jessica Eye. For me Calderwood wins by decision.
Frevola v Azaitar
As with many fighters on the roster, COVID-19 had a significant event on Frevola’s 2020, firstly scheduled to face Roosevelt Roberts in April 2020 saw the event cancelled, and then when a new bout was confirmed for June to face Frank Camacho, one of Frevola’s corner men tested positive for the virus. Just to add insult to injury (literally), Frevola was forced to withdraw from his bout against Roberts in September due to an ankle issue which required surgery. He now steps back inside the Octagon for the first time since 2019. After accumulating some respectable wins, the most recent of which was a decision victory over Luis Pena, Frevola faces knockout artist Ottman Azaitar who has amassed 13 wins, 10 of which are knockouts. Azaitar starts explosively, not only does he hold 10 knockouts to his name, 10 of his 13 bouts have all ended in the first round. Azaitar will be looking to make another statement at UFC 257, however Frevola promises to take him into deep waters and derail the hype that surrounds the German (by way of Morocco).
Fight facts and predictions: This is a true grappler v striker contest. Frevola will undoubtedly rely on his grappling skills as he has done in his previous bouts, with an average fight time of 10:54 he will be looking to grind this bout through controlled and dominant grappling. However, Azaitar is the chalk to Frevolas cheese, with 10 first round finishes and an average fight time of 2:33 he will look to explode at the referee’s command of “fight”. Given his kickboxing and Muay Thai background I believe Azaitar’s striking will prevail and like many of his previous bouts it will end in the first round.
Rodriguez v Ribas
Amanda Ribas is on a tear at the minute; she is riding a five fight win streak and is undefeated in her UFC career. After dismantling two of the UFCs poster girls in Mackenzie Dern and Paige Van Zant (where she fought at Flyweight), Ribas has reverted her sights onto to the strawweight division. Ribas is a diverse and does not neglect any aspect of the game, of her 10 wins she holds four submissions and three knockout victories. Looking to climb the rankings she takes on 8th ranked Marina Rodriguez. Following a closely contested loss to Carla Esparza, Rodriguez looks to return to winning ways and defeat the rising star that is Amanda Ribas. Rarely one to wrestle, Rodriguez believes she see’s holes in the perceived well roundedness of Ribas and hopes to exploit them on fight night.
Fight fact and predictions: Both fighters like to be active in the striking and that is how I see this match up playing out, particularly when Ribas has stuffed 85% of the takedowns attempted on her. Equally Rodriguez is no slouch in defending takedowns herself. As both women like to be active on the feet I see this fight remaining in the stand up and an exciting fight to open up proceedings on the UFC 257 main card. Rodriguez is not an easy fight but I believe Ribas is a force to be reckoned with in the strawweight division and will claim a hard earned decision win.