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UFC 257 Fight By Fight Preview

We Run Down Saturday's Epic PPV Card Featuring The Rematch Of Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor

DUSTIN POIRIER VS. CONOR MCGREGOR

For the second year in a row, Conor McGregor headlines the first pay-per-view card of the year, but this time around, the former “Champ-Champ” will be operating out of the blue corner, with Dustin Poirier making the walk last and taking up residence in the red corner.

Poirier got back into the win column in 2020, partnering with Dan Hooker to author one of the best fights of the year, which saw “The Diamond” use his superior conditioning and experience to edge out the game New Zealand native in the tightly contested five-round affair. Now 10-2 with one no contest since returning to the lightweight ranks, Poirier has been one of the absolute best fighters on the planet over the last three years, and would cement his standing as such with a victory on Saturday.

McGregor had plans on fighting multiple times last year, but after a quick, clean performance against Donald Cerrone at UFC 246, the Irishman remained on the sidelines for the remainder of the year.

This will be his first lightweight appearance since claiming the title at UFC 205, and just his fifth Octagon appearance since the start of 2016, so it will be interesting to see if the first fighter to hold championship gold in two weight classes simultaneously will waltz right back into the cage and reclaim a place in the title mix on Saturday night.

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In addition to the obvious championship implications that come along with this contest, Saturday night’s main event is also a rematch, as Poirier and McGregor squared off at UFC 178 in September 2014, with “The Notorious” one earning a first-round stoppage win. A great deal has changed since then for both men, and it will be interesting to see how things will shake out in the second meeting between these two proud combatants.

Get your popcorn ready and buckle up because this one is going to be outstanding.

DAN HOOKER VS. MICHAEL CHANDLER

Before Poirier and McGregor battle for position in the championship chase, Dan Hooker welcomes Michael Chandler to the Octagon for the first time in a clash that will determine where each man stands in the lightweight pecking order.

Hooker made the move back to lightweight midway through 2017 and has gone 7-2 since, cementing his standing as a Top 10 fixture in the talent-rich 155-pound weight class with wins over the likes of Gilbert Burns, Al Iaquinta, and Paul Felder before going 25 hard minutes against Poirier in June. The City Kickboxing representative is a technical, punishing striker with toughness for days, and deserving of a seat at the table when the future of the division is being mapped out.

After more than a decade competing inside the Bellator cage, Chandler finally makes the move to the UFC and gets an immediate opportunity to establish himself as a contender in this matchup with Hooker.

RELATED: Michael Chandler Fight Island Photo Gallery

The 34-year-old is a powerful wrestler-boxer who enjoyed three lightweight title reigns while amassing a 21-5 record overall. He’s been considered one of the best fighters competing outside the UFC for years, and now the Sanford MMA representative gets a chance to prove why on pay-per-view.

There is a great deal at stake here for both men, which should bring the best out of each of them and make for a dynamic co-main event encounter. A win solidifies Hooker’s place on the fringes of title contention, while a victory for the newcomer Chandler makes it clear that another contender has arrived.

Just like the main event, this one should be electric from the outset, so make sure you’ve refilled your beverages and replenished your snacks before the introductions begin.

UFC 257: Joanne Calderwood Focused On Staying Busy
UFC 257: Joanne Calderwood Focused On Staying Busy
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After a loss knocked her out of the flyweight title picture, Joanne Calderwood is hopeful a busy schedule combined with success is the formula for finding her way back to a title shot.


JESSICA EYE VS. JOANNE CALDERWOOD

Jessica Eye and Joanne Calderwood clash in this battle of flyweight division staples looking to get back to title contention in the 125-pound weight class.

Eye fought for the title in the summer of 2019, suffering a second-round knockout loss at the hands (well, shin) of champion Valentina Shevchenko. She rebounded with a victory over Viviane Araujo that December but dropped a unanimous decision to divisional newcomer Cynthia Calvillo last June to fall a step behind the top contenders.

Calderwood was slated to face “Bullet” last summer, but when the champion needed to reschedule following a minor knee injury, the Scottish veteran opted to roll the dice and return to action and paid a heavy price. The former Ultimate Fighter contestant was submitted in the first round by Jennifer Maia, who usurped her title shot and left the 35-year-old Syndicate MMA representative searching for answers.

RELATED: Jessica Eye Photo Gallery

Shevchenko keeps turning back challengers in dominant fashion, so the opportunity is there for either of these two women to string together a couple quality victories and get right back in the running for a title shot. At the same time, they’ve each dropped two of their last three, making Saturday’s main card matchup a must-win if either hopes to remain in the championship chase in 2021.

MATT FREVOLA VS. OTTMAN AZAITAR

This week’s reminder of how deep and talented the lightweight division is comes in the form of this clash between Matt Frevola and Ottman Azaitar, who both step into the Octagon in search of their third straight victory this weekend.

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“The SteamRolla” lost his promotional debut, but is unbeaten since, following up his entertaining draw with Lando Vannata with consecutive decision wins over Jalin Turner and Luis Pena before having multiple assignments fall through in 2020. Now 8-1-1 overall, the Florida-based New Yorker looks to extend his unbeaten streak to four by halting Azaitar’s quiet climb up the lightweight ladder.

The 30-year-old Azaitar arrived in the UFC with an 11-0 record including seven first-round finishes, and hasn’t missed a beat since, posting back-to-back wins over Teemu Packalen and Khama Worthy without making it to the end of the opening frame. The compact powerhouse is brimming with confidence and could establish himself as someone to watch in the 155-pound weight class with a third straight finish on Saturday.

MARINA RODRIGUEZ VS. AMANDA RIBAS

It’s a battle of Top 10 Brazilian strawweights to kick off the main card as Marina Rodriguez and Amanda Ribas go head-to-head in what should be a highly competitive affair.

After registering two wins and two draws in her first four UFC appearances, Rodriguez suffered the first defeat of her career in her lone outing in 2020, landing on the wrong side of a split decision verdict against former divisional champ Carla Esparza. The Muay Thai stylist already owns a win over Tecia Torres and battled Cynthia Calvillo to a stalemate, which helps cement her standing as a Top 10 talent, but if she wants to move closer to contention, she’ll have to turn back the hard-charging Ribas.

Ribas earned a pair of victories in her 2019 rookie season in the UFC, including a unanimous decision win over Mackenzie Dern, and followed it up with two more triumphs during her sophomore campaign to push her record to 10-1 overall. The 27-year-old is considered one of the brightest rising stars on the UFC roster, and a victory over the talented and battle-tested Rodriguez will propel her into an even bigger matchup next time out.

The competition for a title shot is fierce in the strawweight division at the moment, with several athletes all a win or two away from contention, which makes this contest critical for both women’s chances over the next 12-18 months.

Will Rodriguez get back into the win column or can Ribas keep rolling and earn her fifth straight UFC triumph?

ARMAN TSARUKYAN VS. NASRAT HAQPARAST

Young lightweights with a ton of promise meet here as Arman Tsarukyan faces off with Nasrat Haqparast.

The 24-year-old Tsarukyan impressed in his promotional debut against Islam Makhachev, making the emerging contender work harder than most anticipated he would have to in order to secure the victory. Since then, he’s posted consecutive victories over Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Davi Ramos to establish himself as one of the top up-and-coming talents in the 155-pound weight class.

Hasparast entered last year with the same designation but had his rise through the ranks put on pause by Drew Dober, who handed him the third loss of his career at UFC 246. Roughly seven months later, the 25-year-old returned to the Octagon and registered a unanimous decision win over Alex Munoz, pushing his record to 12-3 and getting him back on track heading into 2021.

Lightweight is always brimming with talent, making each fight crucial, and that’s doubly true for young competitors like Tsarukyan and Haqparast who are still in the nascent stages of their UFC careers. The winner of this one could be in line for a solid step up in competition next time out, so expect both to come out firing on all cylinders.

BRAD TAVARES VS. ANTONIO CARLOS JUNIOR

Veteran middleweights looking to get things moving in a positive direction again square off on “Fight Island” as Brad Tavares and Antonio Carlos Junior face off in this holdover booking from last March.

One of two fighters from Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter still on the active roster, Tavares enters 2021 on a two-fight slide after dropping consecutive bouts to Israel Adesanya and Edmen Shahbazyan. The Hawaiian veteran didn’t compete in 2020 due to injury and arrives in Abu Dhabi searching for his first win since beating Krzysztof Jotko in April 2018.

UFC 257 Free Fight: Poirier vs Gaethje

Similarly, Carlos Junior also arrives on a two-fight skid after losing back-to-back assignments against Ian Heinisch and Uriah Hall in 2019. After Tavares was forced out of their matchup in March, “Cara de Sapato” was slated to face streaking middleweight Makhmud Muradov instead, but then he too was sent to the sidelines with an injury, which ended up wiping out his 2020 campaign as well.

Both men are valuable members of the middleweight ecosystem and capable of holding down a place in the rankings, but only one of them will take a step towards reclaiming that position on Saturday. Who will it be?

UFC 257: Inside The Octagon
UFC 257: Inside The Octagon
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JULIANNA PENA VS. SARA MCMANN

Talented bantamweights eyeing a return to title contention lock horns as Julianna Pena faces off with Sara McMann.

Pena made her return to action following the birth of her daughter in the summer of 2019, registering a unanimous decision win over Nicco Montano. Last October, she faced off against Germaine de Randamie on Fight Island, succumbing to a third-round guillotine choke after splitting the first two rounds with the former champion. Now she’s back in Abu Dhabi looking to get back in the win column and began another ascent towards the top of the division.

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McMann also pressed pause on her career to welcome a child, returning from a near two-year hiatus last January to collect a unanimous decision victory over Lina Lansberg. The former title challenger and Olympic silver medalist felt like she was finally putting it all together heading into that bout with Lansberg, so it will be interesting to see where she’s at following nearly a year on the sidelines.

While each woman holds down a place in the Top 10, neither is currently in a position to challenge for championship gold, which ups the ante on Saturday’s matchup. If Pena can rebound with a strong performance or McMann can start a winning streak with another quality effort this weekend, they will head into 2021 with some positive momentum and a chance to string together the requisite victories needed to get in range of a title shot by the end of the year.

KHALIL ROUNTREE JR. VS. MARCIN PRACHNIO

Light heavyweight sluggers looking to start fresh collide in this preliminary card matchup as Khalil Rountree Jr. returns to action opposite Marcin Prachnio.

Rountree showed off the fruits of his Muay Thai labors in his UFC 236 win over Eryk Anders but landed on the wrong side of a first-round stoppage loss five months later against Ion Cutelaba and has been out of action since. The introspective and intense competitor has shown flashes of elite potential but has failed to find consistency inside the Octagon thus far.

A 13-2 record carried Prachnio to the UFC’s 205-pound weight class, but the Polish veteran has struggled mightily since arriving, suffering three consecutive first-round stoppage losses. He’ll look to right the ship and claim his first UFC victory as he squares off with Rountree this weekend.

ANDREW SANCHEZ VS. MAKHMUD MURADOV

Middleweights aiming to continue their current winning ways square off as former TUF winner Andrew Sanchez takes on Makhmud Muradov in preliminary card action.

The 32-year-old Sanchez enters Saturday’s contest off the best performance of his UFC career — a first-round stoppage victory over Wellington Turman in August. Now 3-1 over his last four fights, “El Dirte” seems to finally have found his footing inside the Octagon and be showcasing the skills that made him a highly regarded addition to the roster back in 2016.

Muradov is 2-0 in the UFC and carries a 13-fight winning streak into his clash with Sanchez this weekend on Fight Island. He earned six victories in 2019, including two under the Oktagon banner against UFC alums, and each of his first two starts inside the Octagon before four different opportunities went by the boards in 2020.

This is a perfect matchup for both men at this stage of their respective careers. Sanchez needs to show he’s found a rhythm and can maintain his success against an emerging talent, while Muradov would benefit greatly from turning back an established, experienced foe like the former TUF winner.

No matter how it shakes out, someone is taking a step forward in the middleweight division.

NIK LENTZ VS. MOVSAR EVLOEV

Veteran Nik Lentz resumes his role as the veteran litmus test for aspiring featherweights in his 2021 debut as he takes on undefeated Russian prospect Movsar Evloev.

Lentz had a similar booking out of the gate in 2020, facing off with British upstart Arnold Allen, landing on the wrong side of the cards. “The Carny” is one of the more seasoned competitors in the featherweight division and an outstanding grappler, which makes him a tough out for anyone hoping to climb the ranks and a perennial live underdog every time he steps into the Octagon.

TOP FINISHES: Dustin Poirier | Conor McGregor

The 26-year-old Evloev pushed his record to 13-0 with a unanimous decision victory over Mike Grundy in July before a scheduled assignment opposite Nate Landwehr in early December was scuttled. Now ready to step back in, the undefeated former M-1 Challenge champion looks to secure the biggest victory of his career and move one step closer to a place in the Top 15 with an early kickoff to his 2021 campaign.

This is the kind of test every hopeful has to pass in order to start landing assignments against established contenders and Lentz is the prototypical veteran every division needs to fill this exact role. Fights like this are crucial to the development of fighters like Evloev, so it will be very interesting to see how this one plays out, as the featherweight division should be one of the more active and competitive weight classes in the UFC this coming year.

UFC 257: Poirier vs McGregor 2 – Ready For War
UFC 257: Poirier vs McGregor 2 – Ready For War
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AMIR ALBAZI VS. ZHALGAS ZHUMAGULOV

Flyweight sophomores get the opening assignment of the night as Amir Albazi and Zhalgas Zhumagulov square off as each man looks to secure the 14th win of their careers.

Albazi impressed in his promotional debut last July, submitting Canadian veteran Malcolm Gordon with a slick triangle choke in the closing moments of the opening round. The 27-year-old Swede, who trains with the London Shootfighters team, has only lost once in his career and has earned eight of his last nine wins by stoppage.

Zhumagulov made his first trip into the Octagon last summer as well, losing a close decision to Raulian Paiva at UFC 251. Prior to that setback, the 32-year-old from Kazakhstan had won four straight and seven of his previous eight, including victories over current UFC competitors Tyson Nam and Tagir Ulanbekov, as well as former title challenger Ali Bagautinov.

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Things are pretty wide open beyond the upper echelon in the flyweight division, so this is a tremendous opportunity for both Albazi and Zhumagulov to kick off the year with a quality win and start working their way up the divisional ladder.

 

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