This weekend marks the UFC’s first outing of 2021 and it returns to the tropical setting of Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Not only is this a return to the Octagon in 2021, but it also marks the return to network television for the American audience as the entire card will be broadcast on ABC. This is the first time the UFC has broadcast on network television since 2018. To mark this occasion the UFC have laid on some exciting bouts to keep everybody tuned in. With that in mind take a look at my preview and prediction for the main card of UFC on ABC.
At the end of 2018, when Holloway dominated Brian Ortega to defend his Featherweight title, the conversation materialised declaring that Holloway could be the greatest UFC Featherweight of all time. Fast forward to January 2021 and we have a Max Holloway that is 1-3 in his last four and looking for a path back to the title. That is not to say the 29 year old is at a “crossroads” in his career, especially when you look back at those opponents. The first of his three losses came at the hands of Dustin Poirer in the lightweight division. Max took this fight on short notice and he just did not have the power and strength to compete at the weight class without a full camp. The two most recent losses came at the hands of now Featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski. The first fight between the two saw Holloway succumb to a barrage of leg kicks and a high volume of strikes round after round that resulted in a unanimous decision loss. However, the rematch, that came just seven months later (in Abu Dhabi), ended in a highly controversial split decision loss. Many media outlets, officials and even the UFC president Dana White all had Max Holloway as the victor. Nonetheless we are where we are and now Holloway must overcome a durable striker on the rise in Calvin Kattar or he risks been in ranking limbo and questioning his UFC future at 145lbs.
Kattar a fighter who is willing to stand and trade is looking to reach a shot at the title himself. With an impressive win over Dan Ige in his last outing as well as a TKO win over Jeremy Stephens before that (despite losing 4.5lbs to the overweight Stephens at the weigh-ins), Kattar has given a solid account of himself since joining the UFC in 2017. Holloway is without a doubt Kattars toughest obstacle to date, with tricky footwork and undeniable cardio, Kattar will do well to catch him, however if he does he could be moving onto a shot at the Featherweight gold.
Fight fact and prediction: Do not expect this fight to go to the ground with both men boasting a takedown defence record of over 80%. I believe Holloway’s cardio and striking output will prevail and he will take the W with a late round stoppage.
Do not sleep on this fight. If a UFC fan could pick two of the most violent men on the roster to face one another you would be hard pushed to exclude either one of these two. The fight itself will unlikely lead to any sort of title contention. In all honesty it could be the last time we see one of these athletes grace the octagon depending on how the result goes. It is, however, going to be a good ol’ slobber knocker (to quote wrestling’s JR) with both men eager to trade and neither one willing to retreat. Their historical status in the sport and the anticipated excitement that comes from a fight such as this, justifies its presence as the co-main event.
Fight fact and prediction: Both men have a combined record of 65-30 and hold 8 fight of the night bonuses between them, this will be a bite down on your gum shield and press forward fight. It could go either way but I believe Condit will defeat Brown via TKO in the 2nd round.
This weekend continues its trend of returns, accompanying the return to network television and Fight Island is the return of Ponzinibbio. The highly touted Argentine who has not fought since his late 2018 win over Magny. Santiago has been absent due to personal health issues which took much of his time in 2019 and 2020 to battle. Before that you could argue that he was on the track to the title, riding a seven fight win streak he has beaten the likes of Mike Perry, Gunnar Nelson and as previously stated Neil Magny. He now looks to extend that to eight with a win over “The Leech” Jingliang. Li, has amassed 17 wins in his 23 professional fights, with a well balanced record of decision wins and finishes. However, just as Li puts together a string of three or four wins he loses one and has to reset. Interestingly Jingliangs last outing was a decision loss to Magny, a fight that Santiago won previously, styles do make match ups and this will not be an easy return for Ponzinibbio. Furthermore, Li has always come back from a loss with a victory and is yet to amass two consecutive losses.
Fight fact and prediction: Both fighters have an average fight time of over 10 minutes, so I would not expect this to finish early. I predict a UD win for Santiago Ponzinibbio.
In his fourth fight since August 2020 the active Buckley hopes to begin the year with a third W. Since losing by KO to hot prospect Kevin Holland, Buckley has gone on to take the social media world by storm with his KO of the year against Impa Kasanganay and his performance of the night KO win over Jordan Wright. His opponent Di Chirico could very well be fighting for his place in the UFC this weekend after cumulating 3 straight losses. With a record of 12-5 and only two of his wins coming via finish, you can expect Buckley to approach this fight aggressively and look to get an early spectacular finish.
Fight fact and prediction: Buckleys average cumulative fight time (7:38) is almost half that of Di Chirico (12:26). I envisage this fight ending early. Buckley to win by KO in round 1.
The first fight on the main card features two middleweights who are the only two fighters to have not tasted defeat in their professional careers. What’s more they have only entered the octagon three times (collectively, Soriano x 2, Todorovic x 1), so to be placed on the main card this early in their UFC career tells you that they are promising prospects within the division. Statistically they match up well, but stylistically they are worlds apart. Soriano relies heavily on his grappling and has a takedown success rate of 80% whereas Todorovic utilises his polished striking to gain an advantage averaging 67% accuracy and doubles Soriano’s strike output per minute.
Fight fact and prediction: Not only are they at similar stages in their fighting careers but they are also the closest match with the bookmakers, so this fight could truly go either way. It will come down to who can implement their game plan the earliest and set the pace for the bout. I believe this bout will relentlessly be taken to the ground by Soriano and he will come away with a decision victory.