UFC 259 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks
UFC 259, easily the promotion's most stacked card of 2021 thus far, goes down this Saturday in Las Vegas.
The card will be headlined by a blockbuster champion-versus-champion fight, as middleweight titleholder Israel Adesanya climbs up to light heavyweight to challenge divisional ruler Jan Blachowicz.
In addition to this blockbuster main event, the card will feature two other title fights, as pound-for-pound queen Amanda Nunes seeks to defend her featherweight title against a huge underdog in Megan Anderson, and new bantamweight champion Petr Yan looks for the first defense of his reign opposite No. 1 contender Aljamain Sterling.
Outside of this trio of title fights, the UFC 259 bill also features appearances from a host of ranked contenders, former champions and title challengers. Suffice it to say that it's a massive night for the sport.
The action will be spread across ESPN+, ESPN, and pay-per-view. Before you hunker down for this night of high-quality fisticuffs, read through the B/R MMA crew's predictions for the five matchups that comprise the main card.
Aleksandar Rakic vs. Thiago Santos
Tom Taylor: Attempting to make a prediction for this fight feels like a bit of a fool's errand. Santos and Rakic are both tremendous strikers with lethal power. Either guy could conceivably win this fight with the first strike they throw. Of course, I have to make a prediction, so I'll go with Rakic on the basis that he's a slightly more measured, risk-averse striker and is therefore less likely to chow down on a fight-ending knuckle sandwich than Santos is.
Rakic, KO, Rd. 1
Scott Harris: The Rakic hype restarts with this fight. Tom's right about Santos and his inconsistent defense. Rakic does something spectacular and sends the hard-hitting Santos to his third straight defeat.
Rakic, TKO, Rd. 1
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Santos has lost two in a row. Santos, like my colleagues have said, is inconsistent and has leaky defense. But he's got some good things going for him, too. And let's not forget he's won a couple fights along the way as well, including against Blachowicz and 2020 phenom Kevin Holland before the brief skid. I'll hang with him for one more until I jump ship.
Santos, TKO, Rd. 1
Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober
Tom Taylor: The narrative heading into this fight is that Islam Makhachev is the Second Coming of Khabib Nurmagomedov. Maybe he'll live up to those lofty expectations eventually, but Dober is going to make him look human in this fight. Makhachev will get the takedowns he needs to win, but he's not going to look like the massive betting favorite he is heading into the matchup.
Makhachev via unanimous decision
Scott Harris: Makhachev just keeps moving the chains on his way up the lightweight ladder. If this momentum people see in him is real, he shouldn't have a problem with Dober. Dober can make it fun, but I'll take the latest Dagestani fighter to turn heads.
Makhachev via unanimous decision
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Dober is the perfect opponent at this stage. He's got enough name value for people to take the fight seriously, and a defeat of him will look good on a competitive resume—even if the fight winds up one-sided. That'll be the case. Makhachev looks good and wins impressively.
Makhachev, submission, Rd. 2
Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling
Tom Taylor: Both of these men are very well-rounded, but the striking edge has to go to the champion, Yan, while the grappling edge is clearly Sterling's. Based on that, we can expect Sterling to look for takedowns early on, but I don't think he'll have much luck. Yan has an 88 percent takedown defense rate—despite fighting a number of solid grapplers. Sterling may succeed in grounding the fight once or twice, but he'll spend most of this fight on the feet with Yan, which is about the same as jumping into a blender.
Yan, TKO, Rd. 4
Scott Harris: Sterling is such a high-level wrestler. And as Tom noted, Yan has excellent takedown defense; his entire game is predicated on it. It's tempting to take the champion and his unparalleled knockout game, but he hasn't faced a wrestler the caliber of Sterling. Takedowns versus takedown defense. Something's gotta give, and here's guessing it won't be Sterling's. And new.
Sterling, technical submission, Rd. 2
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'm a Sterling fan. Though I concede Yan is probably everything they claim he is, and I've been impressed with everything he's done, I think Sterling can handle the pressure and ultimately get the fight to the ground where he can capitalize on his superior wrestling skills. It may go all 25 minutes, and if it does, Sterling will have had more good moments.
Sterling via split decision
Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson
Tom Taylor: I have nothing against Megan Anderson, but I can't in good conscience pretend to believe she has any chance in this fight. Nunes has her beat by a wide margin in every facet of the game.
Come fight night, the UFC broadcast team will undoubtedly remind us that the six-foot-tall Anderson is a "true" featherweight—that she is longer and taller than Nunes—but that won't actually matter. In fact, Anderson's height is only going to make her an easier target for Nunes' takedowns.
Nunes will close the distance, land some bombs, and if Anderson doesn't drop, she'll drag her to the mat and submit her.
Nunes, submission, Rd. 2
Scott Harris: I have two separate visions of this fight. The first is Anderson landing a long-range, Holm-style head kick and shocking the world. I can actually see that happening. But you know what I can see even more clearly? Nunes bouncing her head off the canvas.
Nunes, TKO, Rd. 2
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Anderson is taller and longer and may have equal or superior one-shot power, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where she lands anything that'll alter the course of things. Instead, Nunes is more likely to punish her lankier but less defensively adept foe and ultimately get her to the ground, where she'll end things relatively quickly.
Nunes, TKO, Rd. 1
Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya
Tom Taylor: I believe Adesanya will win this fight, but I don't think it will be easy for him.
If Blachowicz has studied any tape whatsoever, he will know he's going to be the slower man in the cage. I expect the light heavyweight champ to mitigate that obvious disadvantage by closing the distance, trapping Adesanya against the cage and battering him in a suffocating, close-quarters fight.
While that strategy might work well for the first round or two, it won't work forever. Adesanya has some of the best footwork in the game and has shown himself to be extremely adaptive in past fights. Sooner or later, he'll become the matador of the matchup and let fly his banderillas: sapping shots to the body and jarring impacts to the head that will ultimately prove more than the bull-rushing Blachowicz can withstand.
Adesanya, TKO, Rd. 4
Scott Harris: Tom, I'm going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you on this main event. Because I do think it will be easy for Adesanya.
Blachowicz appears to lack the athleticism it would take to get Adesanya in a metaphorical corner. He might try to get inside, but I see him reaping laser-guided counters and not much more for his efforts. The middleweight champ will nab a second belt and get that much closer to Jon Jones. It's almost too easy to predict.
Adesanya, TKO, Rd. 3
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I see Adesanya as a generational talent. He's the kind of fighter who transcends weight classes and can achieve things regardless of size and strength disadvantages. He's in with a bigger, stronger and more powerful fighter in Blachowicz, but it won't matter. He won't land the bigger shots, but he'll land more of them, and eventually that'll count.
Adesanya, TKO, Rd. 4