Written by Kieran Green (@kierlfc12)
The first major event of 2021 takes place tonight, as the third and final January instalment of Fight Island brings you UFC 257 from the brand new Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.
The UFC have provided MMA fans with an explosive card tonight, with the main event in the early hours seeing Conor McGregor face off in an exciting second bout against Dustin Poirier.
So what fights should we be looking out for tonight, and what can we expect to happen in them?
As always, I will be running you through the most exciting fights on the card, and making my picks ahead of what will certainly be an action-packed night of mixed-martial-arts.
Marina Rodriguez (12-1-2) vs Amanda Ribas (10-1)
The first of my picks sees Marina Rodriguez face off against Amanda Ribas, in an all-Brazilian strawweight clash to kick off the main PPV card. The number six ranked Rodriguez is fighting off the back of a loss to Carla Esparza on Fight Island back in July, whilst the number ten Ribas will be out to cement her status as a new contender within the division.
Ribas is currently generating a lot of hype from UFC fans following a breakthrough in 2020, and is someone I have personally been very excited by having watched her ruthlessly submit Paige Van-Zant at UFC 251. Ribas has displayed outstanding jiu-jitsu and wrestling skills so far in her time in the octagon, and enters the bout knowing that she carries a clear grappling advantage over her opponent.
However, she also has a well-rounded arsenal of fighting skills, and handles herself nicely in striking engagements. These will serve her well in what is surely one of the biggest nights of her career to date.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez will be looking to regain her confidence with a return to winning ways, having recently suffered the first loss of her MMA career. The 33-year-old Muy-Thai specialist boasts an array of creative striking techniques, and will be looking to fire herself back into contention end of what is a packed out strawweight division.
Despite Ribas earning her last victory within the first round, her opponent tonight boasts a great chin and has gone the distance in her past five outings, meaning another quick finish will be unlikely. We can expect Ribas to avoid staying on the feet with Rodriguez and instead looking to work on the canvas, scoring takedown points and trying to attain as much control time in the dominant positions as possible. Rodriguez has been known to defend takedowns well and will be out to land heavy shots tonight, and when considering the counter-striking skills of Ribas, it is clear that we could be provided with some great exchanges on the feet.
Both fighters are great across the board, so you can expect to see a strong variety across all three rounds between these two tonight.
My Prediction: Ribas via decision
Dan Hooker (20-9) vs Michael Chandler (21-5)
Number six ranked lightweight contender Dan Hooker, welcomes former Bellator champion Michael Chandler to the UFC, in what is a mouth-watering co-main event tonight. Hooker enters the cage off the back of a five round war with Dustin Poirier last June, with the New Zealand native having lost his winning streak in what was a certain ‘fight of the year’ contender. Fans are itching to see Chandler finally make his UFC debut tonight, after the all-American wrestler was deployed as a backup fighter for Khabib vs Gaethje in October.
Despite knowing the risks of taking on an unranked debutant, Hooker steps up to the plate knowing that he is best equipped to handle wrestlers. The ‘Hangman’ goes into tonight’s co-main event boasting a four inch height and reach advantage, and a seasoned CV that contains fights against a multitude of talented grapplers. Hooker has an impressive 79% takedown defence record, and is out to stake his claim to a spot in a ‘tournament’ for the vacant lightweight title in the event of a Khabib retirement. The key for Hooker tonight is countering the takedowns, which will surely come in abundance. Whilst he is certainly comfortable enough to grapple, Hooker will likely deploy a variety of kicks and straight punches down the middle in order to stay on his feet for as long as possible. As long as he can keep on the move and do that successfully, he is incredibly dangerous, and there is every chance that he could knock his opponent out within the three rounds.
Chandler is out to prove a point that he can tango with the best of them, and he has scored himself a huge matchup for his UFC debut. The former Bellator lightweight champion boasts an array of records such as the most stoppages and title fights in the history of the promotion, and now looks to put any skill debates to bed by making the big step up.
My main concern is that Chandler has fought nobody anywhere near the level of Dan Hooker, and will have to dig deep to earn a win if he is to cement his position amongst the sharks in the UFC’s lightweight division. Chandler’s game is thoroughly based around his exceptional wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills, and he will step in tonight looking to make his opponent suffer by tallying up as much control time as possible. Whilst a submission is always possible for him, he also boasts an absolute sledgehammer of a right hand, and could very well land this throughout the fight if Hooker shows any of his takedowns too much respect. Whilst it will not be pretty, Chandler will have to grit his teeth and do anything to avoid getting knocked out, and earn the respect of the new fanbase with a debut win.
My prediction: Hooker via decision
Dustin Poirier (26-6-1nc) vs Conor McGregor (22-4)
The eyes of the world will be on the UFC 257 main event, as Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier squares off against ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor.
I recently gave my thoughts to Nerve Sport about this fight, and cannot explain my excitement now that it has finally arrived. Both fighters have matured incredibly since their first clash in 2014, and will inevitably provide us with an absolute spectacle in the Middle East tonight as they both look to stake a claim to a title shot.
McGregor has seemed calm and motivated in the pre-fight coverage all week, and is giving off an aura that we have never seen from him before. Since the loss to Khabib in 2018, the fan-favourite has gone away and evolved as a fighter and person, with his new mentality showing to all of us how much he still loves this sport.
McGregor has promised to put on a show for us tonight, and made stunning vows to knock out Poirier within as little as sixty seconds – although I highly doubt that will be the case. It is inevitable that McGregor will look to land big shots with his infamous left hand early on, seeking gaps in his opponent’s defence and setting up striking opportunities with deadly leg kicks.
However, ‘Mystic Mac’ is very short of activity inside the cage, having fought less than a round since 2018, in which he made quick work of Donald Cerrone. He comes up against a monster tonight in Poirier, who is much more active within the UFC ranks than he is, and is very familiar with fourth and fifth rounds. I don’t think it is necessarily a case of McGregor’s conditioning being a question because the Irishman is looking to be in the shape of his life, but I would not be surprised to see Conor seem the lesser animal in the main-event rounds purely due to his lack of activity.
It is inevitable that his best opportunities will come in the opening stages when he is at his best, but rounds in the tank is what he is after – and Dustin Poirier is certainly the man to give them to him.
Poirier himself will be out to settle a score as he steps in with McGregor once again, and knows that a win here will earn him an opportunity to fight for UFC gold. The ever-present UFC contender has recently earned victories over the likes of Justin Gaethje and Max Holloway, losing a championship bout to Khabib in 2019 before his most recent success to Dan Hooker. As we all know, Poirier has a stacked resume, and will now look to add the name of Conor McGregor to his long hit-list.
Again, it is clear to see that Poirier is nothing like the version of himself that we saw in the first fight, as the Louisiana-born fighter accepted that he did not have a featherweight frame, and began an immense transformation of his own.
Many still argue that his previous defeat to McGregor was the catalyst to his transformation, and now he has a valuable chance to get his revenge. Poirier always brings superb boxing to the table, with the prospect of some of the striking on display between these two proving to be very exciting.
‘The Diamond’ definitely knows what he is doing in the grappling department too, and I thoroughly expect his fight blueprint to revolve around wearing McGregor down with his wrestling in order to seek a finish by any means necessary.
My issue is, I would be lying if I said that I had no worries for Poirier tonight. Whilst he is personally my favourite of the two fighters, he seemed nervous and reportedly drained from the cut at the weigh-ins. I also hope that he does not let his emotions get the better of him as he did last time. Despite the fact that he shows more heart than anybody during fights, he has been known to try and instigate all-out brawls as seen during stages of his battle with Dan Hooker, which leaves him vulnerable.
Poirier often takes damage during the opening stages as he tries to feel his opponent out, so he has to weather that early McGregor storm before he starts to get him up against the fence and land his bombs of his own. We must all hope that Poirier has not let the constant pre-fight reminders of UFC 178 affect him in any way, and that he tries to confidently make his own mark on the fight.
My Prediction: McGregor via TK