UFC 257 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2021

UFC 257 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

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    UFC 257 takes place Saturday at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

    The main event features lightweight contender Dustin "The Diamond" Poirier welcoming UFC superstar Conor McGregor back to action for the first time in over a year. It's a rematch of a featherweight bout from 2014, and both fighters believe they're primed to win the second encounter.

    The co-main event features the always dangerous Dan Hooker as the first UFC test for three-time Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler after the American signed with the company last year.

    There are plenty of other important fights, too.

    The main card will air live on pay-per-view following all the preliminary action on ESPN and ESPN+. But before UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 happens this weekend on Fight Island, read through our crew's predictions for all five of the main card matchups.

Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas

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    Kelsey McCarson: Women's strawweight contender Marina Rodriguez represents an important next step for rising star Amanda Ribas. While the latter Brazilian has already become pretty much universally loved for her bubbly personality, what makes her special is how excellent a fighter she appears to be. Rodriguez will give Ribas the chance to prove that. Rodriguez will try to make it a fistfight, but Ribas will eventually get her to the ground and submit her.

    Ribas, submission, Rd. 2

    Scott Harris: If you don't know Ribas, here's your wake-up call. Ribas is a top-notch grappler, as evidenced by her wins over elite competitors like Mackenzie Dern. This is the same Ribas who laid waste to Paige VanZant in July. That was her formidable debut at flyweight, and she'll keep it rolling Saturday against Rodriguez. At the moment, she's unranked at 120 pounds. After this, she'll be top 10 with a bullet.

    Ribas, submission, Rd. 1

    Tom Taylor: Ribas has looked like a future strawweight title challenger in her last three fights, rattling off wins over solid foes Dern, Randa Markos and VanZant. She'll look to take another step toward the champ when she takes on Rodriguez, who's ranked two spots ahead of her in the division. Ribas is going to pass this test with flying colors, surviving whatever offense Rodriguez offers on the feet, grounding the fight and locking up a limb. It's just a question of when.

    Ribas, submission, Rd. 2

Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar

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    Kelsey McCarson: Rising lightweight Ottman Azaitar has been annihilating the competition since he entered the UFC. With two first-round finishes in as many fights, some people are starting to wonder if a new star has been born in what's probably the deepest division in the company. Matt Frevola hopes to be the person to derail that train. Frevola will test Azaitar early, but the hype train will continue to roll in full force after Azaitar scores another stoppage victory.

    Azaitar, KO, Rd. 2

    Scott Harris: When you see two relative unknowns on a pay-per-view card, especially a McGregor pay-per-view card, you can be pretty sure an action fight is in the offing.

    With that in mind, give it up for The Steamrolla. The Long Island native doesn't know the meaning of the word defense, a strategy as risky for him as it is rewarding for us bloodlusty fight fans. That take-two-to-give-one approach may literally fall flat against Azaitar. In two UFC contests, the Moroccan-German notched two bonus-winning knockouts in a combined time of five minutes and eight seconds.

    Azaitar, TKO, Rd. 1

    Tom Taylor: I want this fight between two guys nicknamed after heavy machinery to be competitive. I really do. But when "Bulldozer" Azaitar trundles into the Octagon with "Steamrolla" Frevola, things are going to end quickly. Azaitar is as nasty a finisher as you'll find in MMA, with nine knockouts and three submissions among his 13 victories. Frevola, as Scott said, is solid but with some definite shortcomings in the defense department. Given those facts, this feels like a one-outcome fight, and it's an outcome Frevola won't enjoy.

    Azaitar, KO, Rd. 1

Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood

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    Kelsey McCarson: This one is a pick 'em fight to me. Jessica Eye and Joanna Calderwood are both aiming to climb back to the top of the rankings so they can challenge UFC women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. But both lost their high perch in the division via sudden losses. Per UFC Stats, Calderwood is better in the striking department, but Eye remains a crafty veteran who can't be overlooked. I'll flip a coin here and say Eye wins in Abu Dhabi.

    Eye via unanimous decision

    Scott Harris: Two well-known but inconsistent women's flyweights will do battle here for continued relevance within the division. Both women are coming off losses. Eye is said to be a new fighter after gallbladder surgery last year, solving an issue that may have contributed to her protracted battle with the scale. Calderwood, the popular Scotswoman, is 3-4 in her last seven and never quite developed a rhythm at the top levels. The question has never been her sharp Muay Thai, but rather her wider complement of skills. Give me the fighter who looks to be making forward progress.

    Eye via unanimous decision

    Tom Taylor: As my esteemed peers have said, this looks like a very close fight on paper. Neither woman seems to have any major advantages, but Eye is probably a slightly better grappler, and Calderwood is probably slightly sharper on the feet.

    Eye usually seems pretty willing to strike—even against lethal strikers like Shevchenko—and I think that bodes well for Calderwood. Give me the Scotswoman in a close fight that unfurls mostly on the feet.

    Calderwood via unanimous decision

Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler

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    Kelsey McCarson: Dare I say that Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler is another 50-50 fight? Hooker is probably underrated at this point. He's a heck of a kickboxer, and his close decision loss to Dustin Poirier last year was one of the best action fights of 2020. Hooker has the length and the style to give Chandler serious problems. But Chandler has more ways to win. He's a hard striker but he's also adept at getting into grappling range and mixing violent strikes into his work. Moreover, Chandler will also be riding the high of being a former Bellator champion making his first appearance in the UFC. The American has something to prove, and he'll do it in a thrilling three-round war.

    Chandler via unanimous decision

    Scott Harris: If you're looking past Chandler because he made his bones away from the UFC, then with respect you haven't been paying attention. This guy is really good in all phases, falling back on an All-American wrestling career at the University of Missouri. But his striking and submissions also are plenty dangerous. Hooker is a dynamic striker who will come prepared with a crafty game plan courtesy of Eugene Bareman, who also trains some guy named Israel Adesanya. Chandler has seen his share of wars, but he'll play this one safe and rely on his wrestling to control the action.

    Chandler via unanimous decision

    Tom Taylor: Chandler is one of the most accomplished fighters in Bellator history and certainly has the chops to become a contender in the UFC lightweight division—if not the champ outright. Whenever I think about this fight, though, I think of Chandler's TKO loss to fellow Bellator legend Patricio Freire. Most people agree that fight was stopped prematurely, but Chandler still got rocked. I think Hooker can rock him too, perhaps by countering a takedown with a knee or an uppercut. And when he does, he won't let up.

    Hooker, KO, Rd. 1

Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor

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    Kelsey McCarson: Conor McGregor stopped Dustin Poirier in less than two minutes back in 2014 in a featherweight contest that preceded both fighters capturing UFC gold. McGregor is one of only four UFC "champ champ" fighters and one of only seven to capture UFC gold across different divisions in a career. Meanwhile, Poirier is a former interim champ who has been hoping for this rematch to come around for a long time.

    McGregor is more talented and has a serious power advantage, but Poirier is one of the toughest and most complete UFC fighters in the sport today. Comparing the last three years reveals the American has been way more active against much more elite competition. McGregor still has enough to beat Poirier, but it won't be near as fast and easy as many people seem to expect.

    McGregor wins a five-round war that will be one of the best fights of the year. He'll get the nod from the judges, but more people will begin to wonder whether McGregor will ever be the dynamic force he was half a decade ago.

    McGregor via unanimous decision

    Scott Harris: There are so many possible directions here. What's obvious is that 2021 Poirier is far superior to the Poirier whom McGregor handled back in 2014. It's a virtual lock Poirier won't get tired—something you can't say about McGregor—and his pressure, wrestling and jiu-jitsu all could hasten the Irishman's gassing.

    That said, Poirier loves to bang. He has the almost preternatural ability to wade into the pocket and win exchange after exchange. But that's not going to work against McGregor, whose power and movement give him an edge just about everywhere in the standup game.

    McGregor could absolutely catch the Louisianan, and very well might. But Poirier's recent activity and success in MMA demonstrate why he may have a bigger toolbox than McGregor, in addition to a deeper gas tank. Expect a Poirier win that strips some luster off the McGregor brand.

    Poirier, submission, Rd. 5

    Tom Taylor: Poirier is one of the best lightweights in MMA history, and I will die on that hill. Unfortunately for Poirier, and all of the people who adore him for his entertaining fighting style and his philanthropy outside the cage, this is a bad style matchup for him. McGregor is the far more effective striker, so much so that I don't think Poirier's advantages will matter much.

    Yes, the American has the better grappling and gas tank, but all fights start on the feet, and that's also where this one will end. It might not happen as fast as it did in the first fight, but it will happen.

    McGregor, TKO, Rd. 2

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