On Saturday, the UFC will launch its penultimate show and final pay-per-view of the year when UFC 269 takes over the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Two title fights and a slew of other important contender matchups make this card one of the most stacked of the entire year and some would argue that it is the most stacked. It’s a fine way to begin the promotion’s yearly wind-down, and I am anxious to see how it unfolds.
A whopping 15 contests fill out the event, also known as a ‘UFC dozen’, with certified bangers from top to bottom, with some bouts lining up Top 10 or Top 5 contention, while others set up entry into the outer parameters of the Top 15 and 20. Fights showcasing the hottest prospects like Miranda Maverick and Randy Costa dot the early prelims while Hall of Fame level veterans like Dominick Cruz bring up the top of the undercard. The undercard! That’s how stacked this event is.
Heading into the outstanding main card, we get the likes of Cody Garbrandt making his flyweight debut, ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley taking on ultra-tough Raulian Paiva, and Santiago Ponzinibbio will clash with Geoff Neal before the pair of title fights round out the event. Amanda Nunes will attempt to defend her bantamweight title for the sixth time against Julianna Peña while Charles Oliveira will be making his very first title defense against Dustin Poirier.
There are plenty of other fights that will no doubt appeal to all sorts of combat appetites, but we’re going to take a look at the four that we feel are the most optimal bets to make on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier
What an amazing fight we are being treated to with the main event! After the somewhat toxic environment that the lightweight division has endured over the last few years, it’s so nice to have a battle for the crown among two of the nicest guys on the roster. Make no mistake, though, both men are lethal and have the rare distinction of having all three outcomes happen in this fight on either side (KO, submission, decision).
Oliveira has come a long way since his hit or miss days from 2015-2017. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t lost a fight since 2017, instead going on a nine-fight win streak. Somewhere along the way, he discovered a cache of TNT in his hands and began starching the collars of the likes of Nik Lentz, Jared Gordon and most recently, Michael Chandler. His submission game is legendary, and he has 19 wins via that route to show for it.
Where the sweater starts to unravel is upon a closer inspection of the opponents in that win streak. A faded Tony Ferguson, an aging Jim Miller and Clay Guida, Kevin Lee (who was just released from the promotion) and the aforementioned Michael Chandler are the best of the bunch. We must also examine his very offensive-minded grappling. Much like Michael Chiesa, Oliveira is a risk-taker and has often left himself wide open for counter attacks that have resulted in getting subbed himself. He also has a button on his chin and has been dropped and/or (T)KO’d five times.
Dustin Poirier has also come a long way, not because he had any significant stretches with losses, just that he continued his forward progression, steadily taking on better and better competition, sniping the top of the division, one by one, until he ran into Khabib Nurmagomedov, and there is no shame in that loss, considering the former champion is constantly in the conversation for Greatest of All Time and retired undefeated. He has taken the odd loss along the way, but most were when he was competing at featherweight. In the course of his current run, he’s dispatched Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez, Max Holloway, Dan Hooker and Conor McGregor twice.
Dustin is a high output fighter (averages 5.62 significant strikes per minute) with excellent, powerful boxing and an underrated grappling game. He has a deep well of cardio and is incredibly durable. The question is, how long will his famous durability hold out and what will happen if one of Oliveira’s newfound heaters lands just right. McGregor was able to pop him with a few good shots and Poirier ended the Irishman’s night early both times. The wars with Holloway and Hooker can be micro-analyzed but the difference in those fights are the sheer volume both bring to the table, but volume isn’t really what Chucky Olives is known for (averages 3.26 significant strikes per minute).
This is an incredibly competitive pairing, but I think Poirier’s consistent pace and heavy hands will end up making this a long night for Oliveira. Even if the fight goes to the ground, Dustin has the tools to defend and even threaten the champ. Look for it to go all five rounds with the Louisiana native taking the gold.
Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Peña
Amanda Nunes has been kicking butt and taking names for quite some time, mowing down every soul they put in front of her since she’s been the champion, and that’s across two divisions. Granted, the featherweight division is incredibly sparse, but it is still a distinction worth noting, considering that she’s dismantled or finished everyone. She’s a heavy hitter with a straight right that can erase childhood memories and excellent grappling that can snatch conscious thought in an instant. She has great cardio and can push a hard pace. There’s really very little she does wrong. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to pinpoint anything outside a stray haymaker landing just right, but even there, I don’t think that will be the case for a long time, if ever before she decides to call it a career.
Julianna Peña is a good wrestler, also has solid cardio and fairly good standup. She’s not a power bomb like Nunes and can get flustered and abandon game plans when under pressure. Both Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie capitalized on this, and both women snared her in submissions (Yes, de Randamie got the rare submission win). She is aggressive and confident, though, and sometimes that, in and of itself, can be a gamechanger; I just don’t see it happening with someone as composed as the champ.
Look for Amanda to pressure from Jump Street with lots of hard shots down the middle and punishing combos to follow up. Peña will undoubtedly try to get the fight to the ground where Nunes will likely seal her fate with a submission.
Geoff Neal vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
This is an intriguing matchup for a few reasons, mainly though, for the way Neal looked against Neil Magny. In that fight, Geoff Neal was soundly handled and fired off just 73 strikes in total, landing just 35, compared to Magny’s 174 with 55 landed. By comparison, Ponzinibbio destroyed Magny in the fourth round after going toe-to-toe with him, defending his takedowns with ease. Taking a loss to Li Jingliang at the beginning of the year, Ponzinibbio’s long stretch of wins dating back to 2015 was broken, but there’s no shame in that loss, especially when you stack up the notable names he’s defeated, including Gunnar Nelson, Miguel Baeza, Zak Cummings and Nordine Taleb. He even holds a win over Sean Strickland.
Another thing to consider with Neal is his recent arrest (just last week) for DUI and concealed weapons charges. That’s the kind of distraction that can wreak havoc on a fight camp. When you add in the difficulties he’s had with fighters he can’t walk down, his low output and willingness to wait for a counter, you end up with a recipe that could see another loss on his resume. I think this one goes the distance with Ponzinibbio taking a comfortable unanimous decision.
Kai Kara-France vs. Cody Garbrandt
Cody Garbrandt looked like he was going to rule the 135-pound roost for years and years but a softish chin and very questionable decision-making has put him squarely in the position he currently resides. He is making a move down to 125, where he jeopardizes the speed and power he is known for, in lieu of the size advantage he will surely carry against the much smaller Kara-France. Beating a very shopworn Rafael Assuncao doesn’t necessarily bode for the second coming of title aspirations, especially when that’s his lone win in five fights. Of those four losses, three were by big knockout.
He did show a measure of composure and willingness to be more cautious in the fight with Assuncao, with all the speed and power for which he is notably still visible, but how much of that will remain after a super hard cut to 125? Photos circulating over the last few weeks show an extremely shredded body with not an ounce of water to spare for weigh-ins. I could be wrong, and I certainly was when I voiced concerns about Jose Aldo’s move down to bantamweight, but Garbrandt is an inch taller than Aldo and making a further 10-pound drop. Needless to say, it is a very concerning thought, one that makes me question the practicality of it when measured with the health risk it almost certainly poses.
Kai Kara-France has become a staple in the 125 rankings and is an excellent welcoming party for Garbrandt. He’s just 5’4, but will carry the reach advantage, by four inches. His octagon losses have come at the hands of only two men—current champion Brandon Moreno and the other Brandon in the division, grappling specialist Brandon Royaval. Both those defeats hold up very well. Kai pushes a pretty relentless pace and has the range to pick Garbrandt apart if he plays his cards right. He recently discovered a well of power, absolutely obliterating Rogerio Bontorin.
I think this fight comes down to the likely loss of speed that Cody will be afflicted with, combined with his propensity to leave his chin undefended for long stretches. KKF might not be the knockout machine that ‘No Love’ is, but he can certainly get the job done if the opportunity presents itself. It’s a bold pick, but I just don’t have much faith in this move down to 125 for Garbrandt. Look for Kai to get the finish and the W.
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All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
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