UFC 264 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor
With McGregor having TKO’d Poirier back in 2014 and then ‘The Diamond’ avenging that loss via TKO at the start of 2021, there’s a tremendous amount at stake in this trilogy fight, and not just bragging rights as there’s almost certainly a lightweight title shot on the line for the winner.
Poirier’s calf kicks were the catalyst for him to get the better of McGregor on the feet in their second fight, so defending those will surely have been a crucial part of the Irishman’s training camp this time around, but it’ll be interesting to see how much that affects the way he fights since a wide boxing stance is part of his natural style.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Poirier switches things up this time though, as he is a well-rounded mixed martial arts fighter and while McGregor’s distracted with looking out for the leg kicks, he could look to implement his ground game instead.
It’s clearly something McGregor is wary of as he tried to dare Poirier not to take him down in January, and he’s done so ahead of this fight too, perhaps haunted by his submission losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Nate Diaz in the past.
On the feet McGregor still remains a big threat though as he is a special striker who not only delivers power, but does so with precision and an innate sense of timing and shot selection that’s hard to teach.
Poirier certainly felt that power, even in the second fight, but he survived those blows and that will only give him more confidence heading into this grand finale.
Poirier is a talented striker in his own right, but perhaps even more importantly, throughout his career he’s also proven to be the better conditioned fighter, able to push a hard pace throughout his bouts, while McGregor has a tendency to tire after the first two rounds and becomes less potent offensively.
McGregor will be as deadly as ever for that ten-minute spell and given his knack for producing moments of magic in the big occasion, it is tempting to pick him here to silence his critics and light up the sport once again.
However, it’s hard to look past the fact that Poirier’s been diligently working on his skills for years now while McGregor’s been distracted at times by his money, antics out of the cage and boxing aspirations.
As such, Poirier appears to have the upperhand in key areas like cardio and grappling, and can also be very competitive on the feet as the fight goes on, so I like him to show off his complete mixed martial arts game to bring McGregor into deep waters and then finally submit him in the fourth round.
Pick: Dustin Poirier wins by submission in Rd4.
Gilbert Burns vs. Stephen Thompson
Burns is looking to get back to winning ways after coming up short in his 170lb title fight, while ‘Wonderboy’ is coming in off back-to-back victories on the scorecards.
Burns is a world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player, but it’s the fact that he’s actively sought to expand his skills beyond that which has helped him become a major player at welterweight, showcasing a well developed pressure-striking game and good cardio to go with it.
Thompson doesn’t have as well rounded a skill-set, but even at 38-years-old he’s still in excellent condition and remains one of the UFC’s premier strikers from a technical standpoint.
With a dynamic, heavily karate influenced style, Thompson has proven to be a master of distance management and is also able to unleash big kicks as effortlessly as some fighters throw out a jab.
The fact that he’s also 2″ taller and has a 4″ reach advantage here may well be a considerable obstacle for Burns to overcome, though he is somewhat prepared for that with his forward-pressing style.
However, I do think Thompson’s striking from range and slick footwork, provides a lot of insulation to bolster his solid takedown defense, and I think that will enable him to frustrate Burns and outpoint him on the feet to earn a decision victory.
Pick: Stephen Thompson wins by decision.
Tai Tuivasa vs. Greg Hardy
Tuivasa heads into this heavyweight clash off of back-to-back first-round victories via strikes, while Hardy suffered a loss last time out via TKO against Marcin Tybura.
A former NFL player, Hardy hasn’t really worked out the way the UFC might have hoped so far as he’s not proven to be a draw and with 11-fights to his name he’s no longer a novice, but hasn’t really developed into the kind of fighter that’s going to strike fear into the heart of the heavyweight ranks.
Hardy will have a 3″ height and 5″ reach advantage here and he has demonstrated some solid boxing fundamentals, particularly behind the jab, together with having good speed and decent power. He can also wrestle too, but looks very vulnerable off his back and has questionable cardio that leads to him becoming less of a threat in the later rounds.
in Tuivasa he’s facing a heavy-handed slugger who moves well for his size and will also look to chew up his lead leg with kicks, in addition to being very durable.
With two big men like this trading heavy leather in the Octagon anything could happen, but I think it’s more likely that Hardy wilts before Tuivasa as he demonstrates bigger power and finds success with leg kicks, leading to a second round TKO stoppage.
Pick: Tai Tuivasa wins by TKO in Rd2.
Irene Aldana vs. Yana Kunitskaya
Aldana lost to Holly Holm on the scorecards last time out, while Kunitskaya has put together back-to-back wins, leaving them neck-and-neck at 4th and 5th respectively in the bantamweight ranks.
Aldana is a good boxer who will keep up an active work-rate offensively and has shown signs of power at times, such as in her KO victory over Ketlen Vieira, though she also gets hit herself more often than you’d like to see.
Kunitskaya is also capable on the feet, but is a bit more of a grinder and will also look to operate from the clinch and also utilize wrestling, but Aldana has demonstrated stout takedown defense, which could be a key factor here.
This is a close fight, but I think Aldana can keep this one upright and edge out the striking exchanges to secure a win on the scorecards.
Pick: Irene Aldana wins by decision.
Sean O’Malley vs. Kris Moutinho
Originally scheduled to fight Louis Smolka until he dropped out with a staph infection, O’Malley now takes on a short notice bout with the debuting Moutinho, who comes in with a 9-4 career record.
O’Malley has a big size advantage here, being 4″ taller and having 5″ of reach over Moutinho, and that will only aid his already very slick striking game that somewhat echoes Conor McGregor’s style in that he has a knack for landing the right punch at the right time, leading to some big KO finishes.
Moutinho is a capable volume striker in his own right, but I think he’s simply outgunned here and O’Malley will open up the pay-per-view broadcast with a first round TKO win.
Pick: Sean O’Malley wins by TKO in Rd1.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Carlos Condit vs. Max Griffin
Niko Price vs. Michel Pereira
Ryan Hall vs. Ilia Topuria
Trevin Giles vs. Dricus Du Plessis
Jennifer Maia vs. Jessica Eye
Omari Akhmedov vs. Brad Tavares
Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Jerome Rivera
Hu Yaozong vs. Alen Amedovski