UFC 269: Previewing Poirier-Oliveira and the Rest of the Card

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2021

UFC 269: Previewing Poirier-Oliveira and the Rest of the Card

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    Anyone doubt that 2021 will go out with a bang?

    The UFC will produce its 13th and final numbered pay-per-view show of the calendar year on Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where lightweight champion Charles Oliveira will risk his gold belt for the first time against top contender and spotlight stalwart Dustin Poirier.

    In fact, UFC 269 will be Poirier's third PPV main event of the year after he registered a pair of wins over mixed martial arts bad boy Conor McGregor at UFC 257 in January and UFC 264 in July.

    Oliveira, on the other hand, is fighting for the first time since stopping Michael Chandler to claim the vacant 155-pound title at UFC 262 in May.

    Their meeting will top a 15-bout card that also includes a women's bantamweight title match between two-division champ Amanda Nunes and third-ranked challenger Juliana Pena.

    Nunes is making her second big-show appearance of the year after stopping Megan Anderson at UFC 259.

    The show's other 13 bouts include myriad up-and-comers, familiar veterans and others simply hoping to boost their profiles for the next time around.

    The B/R combat sports team perused the remaining menu and identified a few of the tastier highlights.

                    

    UFC 269 Main Card (ESPN+. 10 p.m.)

    Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier

    Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena

    Geoff Neal vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio

    Kai Kara-France vs. Cody Garbrandt

    Raulian Paiva vs. Sean O'Malley

                 

    UFC 269 Preliminary Card (ESPNEWS/ESPN+, 8 p.m.)

    Josh Emmett vs. Dan Ige

    Pedro Munhoz vs. Dominick Cruz

    Augusto Sakai vs. Tai Tuivasa

    Jordan Wright vs. Bruno Silva

                 

    UFC 269 Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+, 6:15 p.m.)

    Andre Muniz vs. Eryk Anders

    Miranda Maverick vs. Erin Blanchfield

    Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell

    Ryan Hall vs. Darrick Minner

    Randy Costa vs. Tony Kelley

    Gillian Robertson vs. Priscila Cachoeira

Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier

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    If you saw this coming in January, take a bow.

    As 2021 began, Dustin Poirier had won just one fight in 20 months and was on the verge of a rematch with a man, Conor McGregor, who'd stopped him in a single round when they'd first met in 2014.

    Meanwhile, though Charles Oliveira had won eight straight fights since 2017 and had just beaten longtime lightweight boogeyman Tony Ferguson, he wasn't a popular choice to defeat uber-hyped former Bellator champion Michael Chandler when they faced off for the vacant 155-pound strap.

    But here we are in December.

    Oliveira stopped Chandler in two dramatic rounds to become a UFC champion in May, 11 years and 28 fights after he'd arrived to the promotion as an unbeaten 20-year-old in 2010.

    As for Poirier, he stopped McGregor with a fusillade of second-round punches in their January encore and then pulled ahead in the trilogy with a first-round TKO after the Irishman suffered a broken leg in their July fight.

    Now 32, Oliveira's stay in the Octagon has been nothing if not statistically successful as he's racked up 11 Performance of the Night bonuses (most in UFC history), 14 submissions (most in UFC history) and 17 finishes (most in UFC history) while running his 40-fight pro record to 31-8 with a no-contest.

    Poirier, also 32, arrived just months after Oliveira in 2011 and won four straight before going just 4-3 in his next seven with losses to Chan Sung Jung (submission), Cub Swanson (decision) and McGregor (TKO).

    Still, he soldiered on and recorded wins over the likes of Max Holloway (twice), Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez before a third-round submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in his first title try in 2019.

    His on-the-record strategy for this one? Testing Oliveira's championship-rounds mettle.

    "That's a goal of mine—to get this fight into deep waters and see who really wants it more, who is willing to bleed more, and leave it all out there," he told MMA Junkie. "Because I know I will. No question about it."

Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena

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    Eventually, someone's got to give the GOAT a push, right?

    Amanda Nunes has reached consensus status as the preeminent female mixed martial artist of all time, establishing a win streak that comprises 12 fights, stretches across seven years and includes simultaneous reigns as the UFC's queen of both the bantamweight and featherweight divisions.

    She's gone the distance just four times in that run and is coming off a March win over Megan Anderson in defense of the 135-pound belt at UFC 259 that lasted just 123 seconds from start to finish.

    Think you've got a shot at derailing that Hall of Fame express? 

    Julianna Pena does.

    In fact, she's suggesting it'll be anything but the romp the champ has become accustomed to.

    "I’m not guaranteeing anything other than she is not gonna be in some fight where it’s gonna go a minute and it’s gonna be this gigantic blowout. Absolutely not," Pena told the Jim Varsallone of the Miami Herald.

    "It's going to be a very long night for both of us, and I'm expecting a long, tough, grueling fight. And that's what I'm preparing for. I'm preparing for war."

    A 32-year-old native of Spokane, Washington, Pena competed for multiple promotions before arriving to the UFC as part of The Ultimate Fighter competition in 2013. She won the tournament and was unbeaten in four straight bouts through 2016 before a submission loss to Valentina Shevchenko in a 2017 match.

    Subsequent wins over Nicco Montano and Sara McMann have sandwiched another submission loss, this time to Germaine de Randamie, since the start of 2019.

    Nunes, incidentally, is 4-0 against Shevchenko and de Randamie, and if you think Pena's aggressive talk has gotten under her skin, think again.

    "Those kind of girls bring the best of me in the cage. I love what she did. She got it. I'm happy for her, and we're going to see each other soon," she told Mike Bohn of MMA Junkie. "I know she don't have nothing to lose, so I'm still ready. Nobody is going to take this from me. I'm going to become a lion inside the cage, and no one is going to take that belt from me."

Raulian Paiva vs. Sean O'Malley

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    No, it's not the last bout on the card prior to the title matches.

    But the PPV card opener between bantamweights Raulian Paiva and Sean O'Malley does include one of the promotion's most charismatic and camera-friendly properties in O'Malley.

    The lanky 27-year-old known as "Suga" is a television and social media phenom, having arrived to the UFC as part of Dana White's Contender Series in 2017 and subsequently won five straight bouts.

    He was stopped by veteran Marlon Vera on the UFC 252 card in Las Vegas in 2020, but he has returned for a pair of stoppage wins—both in the third round—over Thomas Almeida and Kris Moutinho in 2021.

    Overall, he's 14-1 as a pro since 2015, with 10 KOs and another win by submission.

    Though he's not yet ranked at 135 pounds, O'Malley has taken to calling himself the uncrowned champion of the bantamweight division, a claim that drew the notice of fighter-turned-commentator Michael Bisping on his Believe You Me podcast.

    "He does have a natural star quality, a watchability to him," Bisping said (h/t Sportskeeda).

    "On top of it, inside the Octagon, the guy can f--king fight. Yes, of course, he's yet to fight somebody that's ranked or one of the higher rankings, but still, he's fighting the people that the UFC are giving him.

    "He's putting on great performances, he's entertaining people in a big way, but yeah. It's good for his brand to talk a little s--t."

    In Paiva, he faces a 26-year-old Brazilian who's 4-2 since becoming a UFC commodity when he appeared on his country's version of Dana White's Contender Series in 2018.

    He's won three straight since the start of 2020, stringing together a KO of Mark De La Rosa and consecutive decisions over Zhalgas Zhumagulov and Kyler Phillips.

    And when it comes to bold proclamations, he can hold his own with O'Malley.

    "After three straight wins, I thought UFC would give me a ranked guy," Paiva told Marcelo Alonso of Sherdog. "But after all the hype over O'Malley, I think a clear win over him will take me to the rankings anyway.

    "...The only experienced guy O'Malley faced, Marlon Vera, he quit. He will not stand three rounds with me. I'll finish him (in) the second (round), no matter by knockout or submission."

Other Attractions: Cody Garbrandt Debuts at Flyweight

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    It's been a long five years for Cody Garbrandt.

    Back then, the popular Ohio native who now fights out of California was at the top of the UFC mountain, winning the bantamweight title from Dominick Cruz in his 11th pro fight at UFC 207 in Las Vegas.

    These days, he's looking to regain something resembling that title-level form.

    Garbrandt was bounced from the championship penthouse in his initial defense, falling in two rounds to T.J. Dillashaw in 2017 before a one-round exit in their rematch the following year. 

    Another KO loss, this time to Pedro Munhoz, followed in Garbrandt's next fight, and he's actually won just once in five fights—stopping Raphael Assuncao at UFC 250before another loss, by unanimous decision, to Rob Font atop a Fight Night show in May.

    The remedy to cure the losing streak? A move to flyweight.

    The 30-year-old will shrink to 125 pounds for a scheduled three-rounder with Kai Kara-France in the second fight of the show's PPV portion.

    "This is a huge fight for me, (a) huge opportunity for my career," he said on his Rollin with the Homies podcast. "I'm as scared of this as any fight because I've never made 125. I've never fought here.

    "There's a lot of unanswered questions. Just like going into the Dominick Cruz fightyeah, I could go in there and knock him out. But could I go five rounds? Could I do this? Could I do that?

    "There's so many unanswered questions that it scares me and motivates me in the sense of doing the extra."

    As for his opponent, the 28-year-old Kara-France is a product of the successful City Kickboxing gym in New Zealand and has split his last four fights after beginning his UFC run with three straight victories.

    He went three rounds in a losing cause with now-champ Brandon Moreno at UFC 245 and most recently appeared for a first-round stoppage of Rogerio Bontorin in March.

    And he's got a lot of questions for the experimenting Garbrandt.

    "He's trying to reinvent himself at this new weight class and there's a lot of questions to be answered," Kara-France told Farah Hannoun and MMA Junkie. "How is he gonna recover from the weight cut? How is his chin going to hold up? How's his cardio gonna weigh up?"

Best of the Rest

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    Pedro Munhoz vs. Dominick Cruz

    Yes, you've read both their names already.

    Both Cruz and Munhoz are past opponents of the aforementioned Garbrandt, but they'll come together here in the penultimate bout of the preliminary card.

    A two-time champion at bantamweight, the oft-injured Cruz has fought just twice in five years since losing his belt to Garbrandt, losing in two rounds of a title try against subsequent champ Henry Cejudo and defeating Casey Kenney by split decision in a three-rounder at UFC 259 in March.

    Munhoz, 35, has been a UFC mainstay since 2014 and has racked up six performance bonuses in 12 fights since the start of 2016. He most recently appeared at UFC 265 in August and lost a unanimous three-round decision to Jose Aldo.

                 

    Augusto Sakai vs. Tai Tuivasa

    Want to watch a 260-pound man drink a beer from a borrowed shoe?

    Root for Tai Tuivasa on Saturday night.

    The mammoth Australian heavyweight has become a fan favorite thanks to the invention of the "shoey," the name attached to his practice of celebrating a victory by chugging a beverage from a fan's shoe.

    He most recently did it at UFC 264 in July following a first-round stoppage of Greg Hardy that earned him a Performance of the Night bonus. The win was his third in a row and 12th overall in a career that began in 2012.

    As for Sakai, he'd won five straight UFC-affiliated bouts before a fifth-round TKO loss to former heavyweight title challenger Alistair Overeem in a Fight Night main event in 2020 and a follow-up TKO loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik, this time in the first round, atop another Fight Night show in 2021.

                

    Josh Emmett vs. Dan Ige

    Need a last-minute push to go ahead and buy the PPV show? Josh Emmett and Dan Ige might be just the ticket.

    The combative featherweights will meet in the final bout of the preliminary card in a bout that's important for both of them when it comes to keeping/regaining momentum.

    Ige was a winner of six straight bouts from 2018 to 2020 before decision losses to Calvin Kattar and Chan Sung Jung in a pair of Fight Night main events over his last three bouts.

    Emmett, meanwhile, turned 36 in March and hasn't actually appeared in the Octagon in 18 months since a unanimous decision over Shane Burgos on a Fight Night card. That victory was the third of a three-fight win streak that also included defeats of Michael Johnson and Mirsad Bektic by stoppages.

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