The UFC’s first pay-per-view of 2021 features the return of “The Notorious” Conor McGregor. On January 23rd from “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, the former two-division champion headlines UFC 257 opposite former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier. McGregor defeated Poirier by first-round KO in a non-title featherweight bout in 2014, and now these two will rematch at lightweight. As for the co-main event, ex-Bellator lightweight king Michael Chandler makes his long awaited Bellator debut versus New Zealand star Dan Hooker.
With the future of champion Khabib Nurmagomedov uncertain, the top two fights on this card will provide some major clarity for the lightweight division. Other upcoming UFC pay-per-views have more title fights and overall card depth, but this one has the sport’s biggest star. Before fight night arrives at the Etihad Arena, let’s look at some of the names on this card who can get 2021 off to a bright start with high scores for your DraftKings teams.
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Dustin Poirier ($7,100) vs. Conor McGregor ($9,100) - Lightweights
“The Diamond” has improved leaps and bounds since the first McGregor fight. As a UFC lightweight, he’s experienced defeat just twice over the span of 13 fights. Poirier’s peak achievement to date was winning the interim title in a thrilling decision over Max Holloway. He also boasts knockout wins over Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, and is coming off a five-round classic versus Dan Hooker. Meanwhile, the last time we saw McGregor in the Octagon, he dispatched Donald Cerrone in just 40 seconds at UFC 246. With title wins over the likes of Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, and Eddie Alvarez — not to mention an epic two-fight series with Nate Diaz has made him both a must-watch and one of the greats of the modern era. However, his last lightweight appearance was a submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, so he’ll be looking for his first official win in the division since toppling Alvarez in 2016.
McGregor’s accuracy and timing with his strikes (especially his left hand) has felled many opponents over the years, but he’s also someone whose best work is done early. Poirier, on the other hand, has a reputation for starting slowly before gaining serious steam with his volume striking and diverse mix of attacks — his submission game is also criminally underrated. There’s no doubt Poirier’s cardio is better than McGregor’s, so the longer this fight goes the better chance he has of pulling off the victory. It may be ill-advised for Poirier to slug it out with McGregor early, or else he might end up knocked out quickly once again. McGregor by first- or second-round KO is the logical pick here when analyzing this matchup, but Poirier at $7,100 is irresistible knowing the mayhem he can create if he survives the initial onslaught. I’m going for the upset and for Poirier to submit a fading McGregor in the later rounds.
Number of Note: 39. McGregor (19 KO/TKOs, 1 SUB) and Poirier (12 KO/TKOs, 7 SUBs) have combined for 39 finishes out of 48 wins. It should be noted that all of McGregor’s have occurred in the first- or second-round.
Dan Hooker ($8,500) vs. Michael Chandler ($7,700) - Lightweights
Hooker engaged in two of the best fights in 2020 — first edging out Paul Felder by split decision in New Zealand before dropping a unanimous decision to Dustin Poirier in Las Vegas. Since moving back up to 155 lbs in 2017, Hooker has racked up a 7-2 record and notably beat Al Iaquinta, Gilbert Burns and Jim Miller along the way. Chandler is one of Bellator’s most decorated champions ever. The Missouri native rose to prominence when he upset Eddie Alvarez in 2011 to first capture Bellator gold. He went on to lose and regain the belt multiple times before losing it for good by KO to featherweight champ Patricio Freire. The 34-year-old signed with the UFC in free agency after an impressive knockout victory over former WEC and UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Chandler has heavy hands and he comes from a strong wrestling background. Hooker’s takedown defense has been exemplary at lightweight and he has a sturdy chin. One concern for him is the fact he has faded in his last two five-rounder fights. This being a three-rounder benefits Hooker, who will have a considerable height and reach advantage in this one. Hooker has to watch out for Chandler’s right hand. Otherwise, I think Chandler will have a hard time getting past Hooker’s reach and won’t have much success with his wrestling. I can even see Hooker getting a KO. At a minimum, he’ll get the win.
Number of Note: 375. Hooker has landed a combined 375 significant strikes over his last three fights for an average of 125. He currently ranks 4th among active UFC lightweights in sig. Strikes landed per minute.
Amanda Ribas ($9,200) vs. Marina Rodriguez ($7,000) - Women’s Strawweights
Ribas has serious potential to contend at strawweight. At 4-0 in the UFC, the Brazilian notably handed Mackenzie Dern her first professional loss and she easily armbarred Paige VanZant in a flyweight matchup last year at UFC 251. Rodriguez is looking to snap a two-fight winless run — albeit close bouts that saw her lose a split decision to Carla Esparza and go to a draw with Cynthia Calvillo. The best win of her UFC career came in a dominant decision vs. contender Tecia Torres back in 2019.
Rodriguez fights at a high pace and has superior kickboxing (although Ribas is no slouch with her striking). However, her takedown defense is a considerable weakness and has cost her wins before. I believe Ribas will exploit that and be far too much for her on the ground. Expect Ribas to continue her ascension towards title contention.
Number of Note: 10. Rodriguez has been taken down a total of 10 times (on 26 attempts) in the UFC. She is 0-1-2 when taken down at least once. Ribas has secured takedowns versus all four of her previous UFC opponents.
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Khalil Rountree Jr. ($9,300) vs. Marcin Prachnio ($6,900) - Light Heavyweights
Rountree figured to be an intriguing and exciting light heavyweight prospect after finishing as a runner-up on season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter. Instead, it’s been a roller coaster ride with spectacular knockouts against Paul Craig and Gokhan Saki and brutal losses to the likes of Johnny Walker and Ion Cutelaba. As for Prachnio, his back is really against the wall thanks to three straight first-round knockout losses to Sam Alvey, Magomed Ankalaev, and most recently Mike Rodriguez. He’s yet to have a win inside the Octagon.
I think it’s pretty conclusive that Prachnio’s defense and chin are serious liabilities. Granted, neither is Rountree’s, but there is no denying he is the more offensively potent fighter and the better athlete. Rountree will get the KO and likely send Prachnio out of the UFC.
Number of Note: 5. All five of Rountree’s stoppage wins have come via first-round knockout. Bad news for Prachnio given his recent slew of early nights.
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