UFC 264 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IJuly 8, 2021

UFC 264 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

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    Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Image

    UFC 264 goes down Saturday in Las Vegas, and the pre-fight buzz couldn't be louder.

    In the card's main event, lightweight contenders Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor will look to settle their 1-1 tie—and potentially earn a crack at lightweight champ Charles Oliveira in the process. McGregor, a former two-division champ, won the pair's first encounter back in 2014 by first-round knockout. Poirier, a staple of B/R's pound-for-pound rankings, won the rematch with a second-round knockout back in January.

    The UFC 264 co-main event will pit top-five welterweight contenders Gilbert Burns and Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson against each other in a fight that, like the main event, could produce an upcoming title challenger.

    As if those two fights weren't enough to get fans salivating, the UFC 264 main card is rounded out by a heavyweight fight between Tai Tuivasa and Greg Hardy, a women's bantamweight scrap between Irene Aldana and Yana Kunitskaya and a men's bantamweight showdown pitting Sean O'Malley against late replacement Kris Moutinho.

    There's no way to know who wins these fights till the night, but as always, the B/R combat sports team is ready and willing to put their reputations on the line with pre-fight predictions.

    Keep scrolling to see who we've got coming out on top on the UFC 264 main card.

Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor 3

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Tom Taylor: Conor McGregor will probably be remembered as a better fighter than Dustin Poirier—and fairly so—yet ahead of UFC 254, I can't shake the feeling that he's woefully outmatched against the 2021 version of "The Diamond." McGregor may be the better striker technically speaking, but Poirier's durability, power, versatility and trademark bursts of aggression should give him the edge on the feet. And of course, we all know which man has the edge on the ground.

    I see McGregor and Poirier having some big moments, but Poirier having the bigger ones overall in a fight that earns both guys points for toughness.

    Poirier by unanimous decision.

           

    Scott Harris: There's just something about a Conor McGregor fight week, but this may be the end of the road, at least for a while, if he can't deliver in this rubber match. McGregor has to know that. While I think Poirier will still be the better grappler, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Irishman better defend takedowns and reduce control time (Poirier had 35 more seconds of such time in the first round of their last bout, per UFC Stats). He'll also be better at checking leg kicks this time, and he'll throw fewer flashy but higher-risk strikes. In other words, I'm banking on McGregor knuckling down and properly applying his learning computer. Look for something dramatic and sound the (mild) upset alarms.

    McGregor by TKO, Rd. 2.

              

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Few believed Poirier could win the rematch after he was blown away in the first fight. Many, it seems, are down on McGregor after he was stopped in the second go-round. Either man could follow his previous script in the trilogy fight, but I'm expecting it go a little differently. It says here that Conor is creative and effective with strikes and elusive enough to avoid and survive his rival's replies. Dial up a replay of McGregor-Diaz 2 as a blueprint. He wins.

    McGregor by unanimous decision.

Gilbert Burns vs. Stephen Thompson

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    Tom Taylor: I've never been as mystified by Stephen Thompson's striking as the rest of the world seems to be. He's a solid fighter and a great guy, no doubt, but his highlight reel doesn't leave my jaw on the floor. After UFC 264, maybe a few other people will agree with me on that. At some point, Burns will close the distance, send the 38-year-old karate specialist careening to the mat and lock up a choke.

    Burns by submission, Rd. 3.

              

    Scott Harris: This will come down to takedowns. Thompson is nigh impossible to pin down. Burns, who is outstanding on the ground, only has a 35 percent takedown success rate, according to official stats. Burns hits like a truck, but he'll need to catch Wonderboy first. Here's guessing he won't. This one may end up a relative stalemate, with Thompson tallying enough points to take it on the scorecards.

    Thompson by unanimous decision.

              

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: It's simple to make a case for either guy. Burns could get in close and make Thompson uncomfortable both in clinches and on the mat. Or Thompson could keep him at range and piece him up with punches and kicks. Both have shown they're superior to the flotsam and jetsam of the division, but Burns was convincingly beaten in a title shot. That's a tough image to shake. Look for Thompson's precision to be the difference and get him the late stoppage.

    Thompson by TKO, Rd. 3.

Tai Tuivasa vs. Greg Hardy

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    Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Image

    Tom Taylor: When I first heard about this matchup, I thought the UFC might finally be tiring of the non-stop battle to promote Greg Hardy amid a deafening chorus of Greg Hardy hate. I thought it would be an easy win for everyone's favorite shoey-drinker, Tai Tuivasa.

    Having had some time to think about it, though, I've changed my mind. I think Hardy can do everything Junior dos Santos did to Tuivasa back in 2018—and maybe worse. Another one for the former NFL player's highlight reel.

    Hardy by KO, Rd. 1.

                

    Scott Harris: Can I just say that shoeys are disgusting? I don't care that "that's the point." They're gross! You're filling a shoe with beer and then spitting in it and then drinking it. What's the matter with people? Still, his gimmick is better than Hardy's, and while Tom's point is well taken, Hardy has never been hit by someone like Tuivasa. Look for a lot of lumbering around, followed by a knockout.

    Tuivasa by KO, Rd. 2.

                 

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'm with Scott on the shoeys. Hard pass. I agree as well on the idea that Hardy's not been hit like he may get hit here. But Tuivasa isn't exactly Stipe Miocic or Francis Ngannou either. Both men will land their shots and have their moments before this one turns into a gasping, open-mouthed clinch fest. The first five minutes might be a candidate for Round of the Year. The final 10 minutes will be far less titillating. Give it to the ex-Dallas Cowboy in a scorecard tossup.

    Hardy by split decision.

Irene Aldana vs. Yana Kunitskaya

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    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Tom Taylor: Mexican bantamweight Irene Aldana is hovering in a strange dimension where she can beat just about everybody until she fights somebody as good as or better than the 2020 version of Holly Holm. I don't think Yana Kunitskaya hits that benchmark—even if she is a Holm training partner. Aldana fights an all-around better fight and makes the judges' lives easy.

    Aldana by unanimous decision.

               

    Scott Harris: Lots of close matchups on this main card, and I'm digging it. Kunitskaya is largely known for getting ground into hamburger meat by Cris Cyborg, but since then she's put together a 4-1 run down at bantamweight to rise to No. 5 on the official divisional rankings. Aldana is No. 4, so this has the makings of a title eliminator. Aldana is the favorite here and is the more dangerous finisher, but "Foxy" will outfox Aldana with movement, cardio, and range control in a nip-and-tuck affair that sees Kunitskaya take substantial damage but still do enough to win.

    Kunitskaya by split decision.

                 

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Thanks to the high-profile commodities both before and after this one on the card, it's not getting the attention it might have had it been a headliner on a Fight Night show. Regardless, it's a nice fight between a pair of hopefuls at bantamweight. Kunitskaya has been trying to return to the title-fight stage she found herself on when she arrived in the UFC, and a win here gets her a step closer. Call it a clinic and move her up a spot or two at 135 pounds.

    Kunitskaya by unanimous decision.

Sean O'Malley vs. Kris Moutinho

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Tom Taylor: When Louis Smolka withdrew from his planned UFC 264 fight with Sean O'Malley, throngs of noteworthy fighters across multiple weight classes offered to step in and replace him—and this is the guy who got the opportunity?

    With full respect for Moutinho, we're talking about a fighter with a 9-4 record—and all four of those losses were stoppages! Why he got the call to fight one of the hottest prospects in MMA at present, I don't understand, but let's call this what it is: a freebie for O'Malley.

    O'Malley by KO, Rd. 1.

             

    Scott Harris: I may have the answer to Tom's question: instead of finding a short-notice fighter of consequence to step in against O'Malley, they decided to protect one of their marketing golden geese with an eminently beatable opponent that Suga Sean could simply roll over. It's a showcase fight through and through, and that's all it is.

    O'Malley by TKO, Rd. 1.

                

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: So, the UFC searched high and low for a worthwhile late-notice opponent and came up with a guy who's been finished four times in 13 fights? Wonderful. Perhaps a 30-second finish here will allow them to put O'Malley on the next pay-per-view show, too. In fact, the only mystery is whether the interloper will manage to survive into the second round and provide bettors wagering on a second-round stoppage with a 3-1 payout on DraftKings. Cha-ching.

    O'Malley by TKO, Rd. 2.

                           

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