DUSTIN POIRIER VS. CONOR MCGREGOR
A fight so nice they’re doing it thrice!
After Dustin Poirier drew level with Conor McGregor in January at UFC 257, stopping the Irish superstar midway through the second round to avenge his prior loss to the former two-weight world champion from their shared days as featherweight hopefuls, you just knew a rubber match would materialize, and now here we are.
Poirier actually looked a little hesitant to start the rematch, but once he settled in, “The Diamond” delivered a resplendent effort, attacking McGregor’s lead leg, limiting his mobility before putting him away with punches along the fence two ticks beyond the halfway point of the second stanza. Now boasting six victories in seven fights since his no contest verdict with Eddie Alvarez a little more than four years ago, the 32-year-old Poirier enters Saturday’s main event looking every bit the part of the best lightweight in the world.
This is the first time since 2016 that McGregor has logged two appearances in a year, and after admitting how difficult it is to face an elite competitor like Poirier after logging just 40 seconds in the Octagon in the nearly 40 months prior to their rematch on UFC Fight Island, it will be interesting to see what a re-focused, re-engaged McGregor looks like on Saturday night. Following his incredible march to the featherweight throne, “The Notorious” standout is just 3-3 over his last six fights and 1-2 since claiming the lightweight strap at Madison Square Garden.
Great volumes could be written about the many different angles worth inspecting heading into this contest but, at the end of the day, the two biggest are these: who will emerge as the victor in this contentious rivalry and will that man be able to unseat Charles Oliveira to claim the UFC lightweight title?
GILBERT BURNS VS. STEPHEN THOMPSON
Welterweight contenders looking to make a case for another championship opportunity meet in the co-main event as Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson share the Octagon on Saturday night.
Initially slated to challenge for the welterweight strap last summer, Burns finally had his first bite at the apple in February, coming out hot and putting champion Kamaru Usman in a vulnerable position out of the chute before “The Nigerian Nightmare” was able to steady himself and secure a third-round stoppage victory. Burns had won six straight ahead of that contest and sees this weekend’s pairing as the chance to make an expedited return to a championship matchup by solving the difficult riddle that is “Wonderboy.”
Thompson had two chances to wrest the welterweight title away from Tyron Woodley a few years back and came away empty handed, and then followed his impressive win over Jorge Masvidal with a decision loss to Darren Till and a knockout defeat at the hands of Anthony Pettis that dropped him into contender purgatory in the 170-pound weight class. Since then, however, the 38-year-old has earned consecutive victories over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal to re-establish himself as a viable contender, with a win over Burns carrying the potential to move him closer to the front of the line as the back half of 2021 gets underway in earnest this weekend.
Things at the top of the division are unsettled and opportunities are never guaranteed, but there is no denying that a win on Saturday is huge for each man as they look to secure another chance to make their championship aspirations come true.
TAI TUIVASA VS. GREG HARDY
Heavy hitters man the middle of the pay-per-view main card as resurgent Australia Tai Tuivasa tangles with Greg Hardy on Saturday night.
West Sydney’s Tuivasa got his hand raised in each of his first three UFC starts to earn him a step up in competition. The former rugby man hit a rough patch, losing three straight before ultimately spending more than a year on the sidelines. Since returning, the charismatic fan favorite has collected a pair of first-round finishes to become an intriguing dark horse stationed just outside the Top 15 in the heavyweight division.
Hardy logged eight appearances in his first two years on the UFC roster, amassing a 4-3 record with one no contest, and heads into this one looking to rebound from the first stoppage loss of his career. The former NFL defensive lineman remains a work-in-progress and just recently passed the three-year anniversary of his professional debut, but when you’re plying your trade on the biggest stage in the sport, the competition is steep and there are very few days spent in the shallow end of the talent pool.
Tuivasa looked poised to be a perennial contender before his three-fight skid and still has some questions to answer before reclaiming that status, while Hardy could expedite his climb up the rankings by taking out the man who introduced the MMA community to “The Shooey” this weekend in Las Vegas.
IRENE ALDANA VS. YANA KUNITSKAYA
Top 5 bantamweights angling to improve their position in the divisional hierarchy and move closer to potentially challenging for the title lock horns in this one as Irene Aldana squares off with Yana Kunitskaya.
Aldana arrives at T-Mobile Arena looking to bounce back after dropping a unanimous decision to Holly Holm last fall on UFC Fight Island in her first main event assignment. The Mexican veteran had won five of six heading into the contest, but couldn’t get inside the former champion’s range consistently, resulting in her tidy two-fight winning streak coming to an end and her needing to regroup here.
The 31-year-old Kunitskaya comes in trending in the opposite direction as she has earned consecutive decision wins over Julija Stoliarenko and Ketlen Vieira to push her record to 4-1 since her promotional debut in a featherweight title fight at UFC 222. She has found a home at American Top Team alongside her partner, light heavyweight stalwart Thiago Santos, and will look to extend her winning streak to three here.
Champion Amanda Nunes is slated to defend her title in August against Julianna Pena and has already dispatched the two top-ranked contenders in the division, leaving Aldana and Kunitskaya in a position where the winner of this weekend’s clash could have pole position when it comes to the race to claim the next title shot.
SEAN O’MALLEY VS. KRIS MOUTINHO
Sean O'Malley At Home In Arizona
Sean O'Malley At Home In Arizona
Hyped bantamweight Sean O’Malley returns for his second appearance of 2021, looking to earn another highlight reel victory as he shares the Octagon with short-notice newcomer Kris Moutinho, who stepped in last week for the injured Louis Smolka.
“Sugar” rebounded from his first career loss with an impressive showing against Thomas Almeida in March, walking off too early following a first-round knockdown before regrouping to secure a stinging third-round finish. The talented 26-year-old has walked away with a bonus in each of his last four wins and has spoken openly about chasing memorable moments inside the Octagon, and this weekend should be no different.
The 28-year-old Moutinho is 9-4 in his career and coming off back-to-back stoppage victories, the first under the CES banner and the second at the end of May at CFFC 96. Fighting out of Milford, Massachusetts, the UFC newcomer is an action fighter with a “finish or be finished” style and has fought tough competition on the East Coast regional circuit throughout his career, including Da’Mon Blackshear and current UFC competitor Tony Gravely.
Will we get another episode of “The Sugar Show” or will Moutinho be able to replicate the short-notice effort turned in by Jeremiah Wells two weeks ago against Warlley Alves and pull off the shocking upset? Tune in Saturday to find out.
CARLOS CONDIT VS. MAX GRIFFIN
Veteran welterweightse that know no other way than to bring excitement clash in the final preliminary card pairing of the weekend as Carlos Condit and Max Griffin collide inside T-Mobile Arena.
“The Natural Born Killer” ended a near-two-year absence with a gritty win over Court McGee last October, then hustled right back into the cage to sweep the scorecards against Matt Brown in January, the first time he’s earned back-to-back victories since UFC 132 and UFC 143. As experienced and respected as they come, Condit is an all-action fighter and a perfect veteran presence in the middle of the welterweight division, and with another win or two, he could become an intriguing dark horse to pay close attention to going forward.
Griffin has earned that distinction over his last two fights, emerging from his place as a tough out and entertaining fixture in the thick of the welterweight pack by earning consecutive stoppage wins over Ramiz Brahimaj and Song Kenan. The 35-year-old NorCal staple has designs on breaking into the Top 15 before the year is out, and a standout performance against Condit on Saturday night would certainly bring him one step closer to achieving that goal.
NIKO PRICE VS. MICHEL PEREIRA
Sound the klaxon — we’ve got ourselves a certified banger alert as all-action wild men Niko Price and Michel Pereira square off in a welterweight pairing that has Fight of the Night potential written all over it.
In a sport filled with consistently entertaining competitors, the 31-year-old Price might be the most bankable action fighter on the roster today — an inventive, aggressive, attacking competitor who has only been to the scorecards twice in his 20-fight career and owns some of the most “Holy $#*&!” finishes of the last five years. He’s earned a Performance of the Night bonus in four of his last five wins and even when Price lands on the wrong side of the results, it’s usually in memorable fashion.
Throughout his career, Pereira has been a gymnast operating in the world of mixed martial arts, infusing his bouts with cartwheels, somersaults, and random jumps designed to throw opponents off rhythm and create opportunities for him to strike. Last time out, however, the 27-year-old dialed back on his eccentricities and delivered a more tactical, fundamentally sound performance against Khaos Williams, earning a unanimous decision win.
Price tends to bring the fight to his opponents and forces them to engage on his terms, so it will be interesting to see if he can draw Pereira into a chaotic battle or whether the Brazilian will again look to keep things more technical in the face of Price’s frenetic approach.
TREVIN GILES VS. DRICUS DU PLESSIS
Initially slated to fight in March, middleweight hopefuls Trevin Giles and Dricus du Plessis will finally share the Octagon with one another this weekend.
After losing his first two fights upon returning from the police academy, Giles enters Saturday’s contest on a three-fight winning streak, most recently having edged out Roman Dolidze on the night he was first scheduled to clash with his South African adversary this weekend. The 28-year-old is a bundle of athletic potential and raw skills, which keep getting a little better with each training camp and appearance, and as he continues to hone his weapons and learns how to best deploy them, Giles could be a problem in the middleweight division.
Du Plessis made his UFC debut last October, catching Markus Perez with a short left hand in the midst of an exchange, sending the Brazilian crashing to the canvas in a heap. “Stillknocks” has won three straight and 11 of his last 12 overall, and he’s yet to go the distance in his career, which is something to watch as each of Giles’ last six fights and eight of his last nine outings have ventured into the third round.
Big3 Returns July 10
Big3 Returns July 10
RYAN HALL VS. ILIA TOPURIA
Former Ultimate Fighter winner and grappling ace Ryan Hall returns for the first time in a tick under two years, putting his eight-fight winning streak on the line against one of the breakthrough performers of 2020, Ilia Topuria.
A hardcore darling because of his laconic approach and “doesn’t look like a fighter at all” esthetic, Hall has gone 4-0 inside the Octagon, most recently registering a unanimous decision win over featherweight stalwart Darren Elkins. But that fight took place on July 13, 2019, and extended absences have been the hallmark of Hall’s UFC tenure, making it difficult for the dangerous grappler to move forward in the division and maintain momentum.
In less than two months last year, Topuria went from being a short-notice replacement to an intriguing rising star in the 145-pound weight class, following up his debut win over Youssef Zalal in October with a first-round knockout win over Damon Jackson in December, pushing his record to 10-0 in the process. The Alicante, Spain-based featherweight has a complete arsenal of skills and as the 24-year-old continues to gain experience, he could very well climb the ranks and emerge as a contender in the talent-rich 145-pound weight class.
In a month filled with high profile pairings and big stakes bouts, this one is in the running for the low-key scrap diehards are looking forward to the most, as the winner should find himself with a number next to his name and the opportunity to face a ranked opponent awaiting them next time out.
JENNIFER MAIA VS. JESSICA EYE
Former flyweight title challengers looking to get things moving in the right direction again clash in this preliminary card pairing as Jennifer Maia takes on Jessica Eye.
When Maia snatched up a first-round armbar win over Joanne Calderwood last summer, she also claimed the title shot Calderwood had been hanging onto, and though she landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision loss to champion Valentina Shevchenko, the Brazilian veteran did win a round against “Bullet,” which is more than most of her championship foes can say. Maia has been a little uneven since arriving in the UFC on a six-fight winning streak, but she’s remained a constant presence in the Top 10 and looks to solidify that standing with a victory here.
Now two years removed from her title fight with Shevchenko, Eye is still trying to get things back on track. She initially rebounded with a good win over Viviane Araujo, but consecutive unanimous decision losses to Cynthia Calvillo and the aforementioned Calderwood have her on rocky footing when it comes to her place in the rankings. The gritty Ohio native and current Las Vegas resident has been working to get her health dialed in over the last year and is sure to come out guns blazing in this one.
This is a matchup between two Top 10 fighters in a division where a crop of fresh, emerging talent is starting to push forward, so while it doesn’t carry championship ramifications, it does have serious divisional significance in a weight class that is primed to get ultra-competitive.
OMARI AKHMEDOV VS. BRAD TAVARES
Veteran middleweights coming off victories earlier in the year clash here as Omari Akhmedov squares off with TUF 11 alum Brad Tavares on Saturday.
Akhmedov quietly worked his way to the cusp of contention heading into last summer, amassing a six-fight unbeaten streak that included three straight wins and a draw with eventual middleweight title challenger Marvin Vettori. A loss to Chris Weidman knocked him back a step, but the 33-year-old Russian rebounded with a quality effort against Tom Breese in January, submitting the Brit in the second round.
Tavares had the unenviable task of being the veteran litmus test for Israel Adesanya as the reigning champ was working his way up the divisional ladder with haste, and he then landed opposite surging finisher Edmen Shahbazyan at UFC 244 in New York City. After more than a year on the sidelines recovering from an ACL injury, the tough Hawaiian veteran returned at UFC 257, posting a unanimous decision win over Antonio Carlos Junior to get back in the win column.
These two have been fixtures in the division for the last half-dozen years, constantly lingering in the lower third of the rankings, taking out hopefuls that aren’t quite ready and serving as the “quality control inspectors” emerging prospects have to beat in order to move ahead. Now they’re slated to face each other in what should be an entertaining clash between two underappreciated stalwarts in the middleweight division.
ZHALGAS ZHUMAGULOV VS. JEROME RIVERA
Flyweights looking to finally secure their first UFC triumph collide in this preliminary card affair as Zhalgas Zhumagulov squares off with Contender Series alum Jerome “The Renegade” Rivera.
A four-fight winning streak including victories over Tyson Nam, Tagir Ulanbekov, and Ali Bagautinov earned Zhumagulov a call to the Octagon, but the 32-year-old from Kazakhstan has gone 0-2 since, dropping decisions to Raulian Paiva and Amir Albazi. Each fight was close and Zhumagulov is a tireless worker with an unrelenting approach, which makes it feel like only a matter of time before he will get his hand raised triumphantly inside the Octagon.
Rivera earned a decision win, but not a contract, on the Contender Series last August, only to get called up to the big leagues six-weeks later for a short-notice assignment opposite Nam. That bout didn’t go his way and after dropping a unanimous decision to Francisco Figueiredo in January, he quickly hustled back into the Octagon two weeks later and got clipped by Ode Osbourne, sending him into this one on a three-fight slide.
Something has got to give with these two talented, but winless flyweights, and chances are, the process of figuring that out will be all kinds of entertaining to watch.