Conor McGregor returns to the octagon this weekend and our UFC experts have selections for the main card and the preliminaries.
By Kieran Cobley
Conor McGregor is back in a rematch almost six years in the making as he takes on top lightweight contender and former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 257.
The last time these two met was in 2014, when McGregor finished Poirier by TKO in under two minutes, but since then a lot has changed and fans can expect a fun fight.
On the undercard, we have some incredible fights as well, including the debut of Michael Chandler, a former Bellator lightweight champion with wins over former UFC champion Benson Henderson, as he takes on the always-game Dan Hooker.
Joanne Calderwood will be representing Great Britain as the Scottish flyweight takes on former title contender Jessica Eye.
CONOR MCGREGOR's return to the UFC is merely hours away and this is a fight I am very excited to see, as will be so many worldwide.
When 'Mystic Mac' last met Poirier, he finished him in under two minutes at 145lbs, but in the space between so much has changed.
Poirier has now moved to lightweight where he has shown himself to be much more mature and durable, while McGregor has won fights across three different divisions, capturing both the featherweight and lightweight titles while also having multiple excursions to the welterweight division and a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather thrown in for good measure.
This fight comes down to mental warfare. Poirer may believe he can beat McGregor, but McGregor knows he can beat 'The Diamond'. If McGregor can throw in some trash talk in the weigh-ins and in the cage, he could get under Poirier’s skin enough to draw him into a brawl, opening him up for the big power shot, and he looks to have a lot in his favour.
Fight-wise, McGregor’s style is mystery that a lot of opponents have failed to crack. The best way I can describe it is like a snooker player building a break, always looking further ahead - rare in a hell-for-leather sport. He throws one strike to set up another, with a pause in between in order to plan out the next three or four strikes that will follow that, which sums up why he only averages 5.43 significant strikes per minute.
Combine this with the fact he possesses notoriously powerful strikes and a vastly underrated ground game, and you have a very dangerous opponent.
Here, in as much as we can predict how he'll go about it, fans should probably expect McGregor to come out aggressively and to try to tempt Poirier into a brawl. Once Poirier starts swinging, McGregor will slip and counter, putting Poirier down, and he's a strong fancy to finish his opponent.
I also like McGregor to win by KO/TKO in rounds 1 or 2, Poirier to land 0 takedowns and under 120 combined significant strikes landed, a 4/1 request-a-bet with Sky Bet.
MICHAEL CHANDLER is a lightweight contender who is going to create waves in the lightweight rankings, doing so with a win over Dan Hooker.
Chandler is a fighter with an elite-level wrestling pedigree and ever-evolving striking skills, training under the tutelage of Henri Hooft, a kickboxing legend who is now the head coach at Sandford MMA.
Hooker meanwhile is known for his striking and has put on some absolute classic fights recently with Paul Felder and Dustin Poirier. These fights in particular showed the New Zealander’s durability but also his penchant for brawls, which Chandler will not engage with.
Expect Chandler to come out aggressively and grab a takedown at the earliest opportunity before dominating the fight from top position.
A win for JOANNE CALDERWOOD puts her in contention for a flyweight title shot, while a win for Jessica Eye will snap her recent losing streak and show her to still be a contender in the division.
I am giving the edge to Calderwood though. Since moving to Las Vegas, her wrestling has improved immensely, and she will need these wrestling skills to stop Eye from beating her.
Eye has some fantastic offensive wrestling but has shown she can be caught when coming in, and the fact she has missed weight in her last two fights, and was aggravated when asked about the weight-cutting issues, suggests that her mind has been focusing more on the scales and less on Calderwood.
I fancy Calderwood to piece up Eye on the feet, forcing 'Evil' to go for a takedown that Calderwood will be able to stuff or counter. For that reason she's worth backing and the double with Chandler makes plenty of appeal.
By Will Dean
Originally scheduled to fight in March 2020, BRAD TAVARES and Antonio Carlos Jr will finally stand face to face with one another on Saturday night. Both combatants will have opposing gameplans, so it is intriguing to see which style is going to prevail in a clash of striker vs grappler.
For me, Tavares is one of the most under-appreciated fighters in the Middleweight division. With a UFC career of 18 fights spanning over a decade, he has 12 wins inside the Octagon. What is even more impressive though, is the calibre of opponents he has lost to; with Israel Adesanya, Edmen Shahbazyan, Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero amongst the list.
Tavares is clearly a high-level fighter, and I think he has the perfect skillset to win this one handily. His strongest asset in this matchup is his takedown defence, which is regarded as one of the best in the division. To have an average of 77% takedowns defended across almost 20 bouts, against the likes of former Olympic Wrestling medallists, is impressive.
Even if Carlos Jr does get this fight to the mat, Tavares has also never been submitted. While there is a first time for everything, the Brazilian averages just one submission attempt per fight, having never attempted more than two. I think Tavares is a good enough scrambler to find a way back to his feet if he gets taken down, so Carlos Junior will have to be incredibly efficient in locking up a submission if that is how he hopes to win.
When this fight does take place on the feet, it should be one-way traffic. Carlos Jr may have the reach advantage, but Tavares is the much more fluent and functional striker of the two. Across a 15-minute bout, the Hawaiian also has the much better cardio. The longer he can stay upright, the more he depletes his opponent’s gas tank and the more likely he is to win.
For added value, I think TAVARES TO WIN BY DECISION is a relatively safe choice. In his UFC career he has only managed to finish two opponents by (T)KO, with both coming late in the third round. Couple the lack of punching power with some impressive durability from Carlos Jr, and it is likely we see Tavares triumph via the judges’ decision.
I firmly believe that MOVSAR EVLOEV has the talent to be a top 10 fighter in the UFC’s Featherweight division, he just needs to announce himself in a big way. The Russian is now an impressive 13-0 and. at just 26 years old, appears to improve every time we see him in the Octagon.
Nik Lentz is the perfect litmus test for an aspiring prospect, as The Carnie is an experienced, durable and well-rounded veteran in the UFC. Evloev may be heavily favoured as the younger, fresher fighter, but if he takes Lentz lightly then he may regret it.
That being said, Evloev has appeared the consummate professional in the cage so far, winning all three of his bouts by unanimous decision. The Russian is one of the best grapplers at 145lbs and has recently begun to develop his striking, as seen in his victory over Mike Grundy.
Essentially, if Evloev performs as well as I expect him to, I really cannot see him losing this fight. He is simply the better striker, wrestler and grappler compared to Lentz and I fully expect him to have his arm raised on Saturday night.
To Lentz’s credit, he is ridiculously durable. With 24 bouts inside the UFC, he has only been stopped on three occasions; twice by Charles Oliveira and once by an unfortunate doctor’s stoppage. Given his ability to survive, along with Evloev’s current streak of decision wins, I think we will see another decision victory, with the Russian picking up a 30-27 on all three judges’ scorecards.
Posted at 1200 GMT on 22/02/21
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