UFC 269 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIDecember 9, 2021

UFC 269 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks

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    UFC 269 goes down Saturday in Las Vegas, Nevada. It's the final UFC pay-per-view on the 2021 calendar, and it looks like it could be one of the promotion's best shows of the year.

    The card will be topped by a hugely anticipated lightweight title fight between champion Charles Oliveira and challenger Dustin Poirier—two of the longest-serving fighters in the division. In the co-main event, meanwhile, two-division queen Amanda Nunes will attempt yet another bantamweight title defense opposite the unheralded Julianna Pena, one of just a few contenders she's yet to beat.

    And that's not all the main card has to offer. The pay-per-view will get going with a bantamweight bout between Sean O'Malley and Raulian Paiva, a welterweight scrap between Santiago Ponzinibbio and Geoff Neal and, perhaps most interestingly of all, the flyweight debut of former bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt. He takes on New Zealand's Kai Kara-France in a bout that could produce the next flyweight title challenger.

    From the early vantage point, it looks like the kind of card that could be full of surprises, but the B/R combat sports crew has you covered for pre-fight predictions.

    Keep scrolling to see who we're picking to win on the main card.

Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier

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    Lyle Fitzsimmons: I've said it before and I'll say it again, Oliveira is my favorite fighter on the UFC roster. I liked him to whip Ferguson, which he did. I liked him to beat Chandler, which he did. And while I admit it's a tougher case to make to suggest he'll handle Poirier, I've got to keep riding the horse until it drops. They'll tie up early, Oliveira will get him into a compromising position and go for and get the submission, which is his specialty.

    Oliveira by submission, Rd. 2.

    Tom Taylor: I hate to pick against my man Lyle's favorite fighter, but unfortunately I've got to. I'll concede that Oliveira, a BJJ black belt with crackling knockout power, probably has more ways to win than Poirier on paper, but I believe he'll be outmatched when it comes to power, durability and overall toughness—and those things are going to matter in this fight. I see Poirier staying patient and slowly breaking Oliveira down with kicks across a range of altitudes. The champ might limp into the championship rounds—rounds he's never experienced before—but by then it'll only be a matter of time. Once he's sufficiently compromised, Poirier will go in for the kill. History says his left hand gets it started.

    Poirier by TKO, Rd. 4.

    Scott Harris: Let me focus on a different component of this fight: experience. Oliveira has a whopping 40 pro fights but has never seen a fourth round. Poirier, on the other hand, is accustomed to the deep waters and the bright spotlights. Oliveira is on an unbelievable streak, but one of the knocks against him over the years has been mental preparation. You can bet Poirier, who desperately wants a championship, will put that to the test. With this in mind, I agree with Tom that Poirier will play the long game and outlast the champ. I also think Poirier will respect Oliveira's ground game but won't fear it. Watch for Poirier to strategically close the distance for high-impact exchanges. Oliveira will wear that damage come the end of the fifth round. And new. 

    Poirier by unanimous decision.

Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena

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    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Pena essentially trash-talked herself into a title shot against Nunes, which sounds like a wonderful idea right up until the moment they lock the door and you realize the woman standing across from you is, well...Nunes. Given the comprehensive skill set possessed by the GOAT, I simply don't see a way that Pena gets this done successfully without the sort of outside interference you used to see on old-school wrestling. 

    Nunes by KO, Rd. 1. 

    Tom Taylor: Lyle hit the nail on the head on this one. Pena is really only getting this fight because she asked for it, and she's probably going to regret piping up.

    Nunes should have Pena completely outmatched on the feet, and most likely on the mat too, where the challenger is supposed to be at her best. It's really just a question of how long Pena can survive. It's a fly vs. flyswatter kind of fight. I'm not picking against the flyswatter. 

    Nunes by TKO, Rd. 2. 

    Scott Harris: If everyone has 15 minutes of fame, this is Pena's. Good on her for having the moxie to pick a fight with the best women's fighter in MMA history, but Nunes' pressure and power will have the final word. Pena will score a moral victory of sorts by surviving the first round, but that's about all she'll be able to muster. 

    Nunes by TKO, Rd. 2.

Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Geoff Neal

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    Lyle Fitzsimmons: It's tough to split hairs and pick a winner here. Neal was streaking before losing two straight, and Ponzinibbio had a streak of his own before a loss and a rebound win. The Argentine defeated the likes of Neil Magny, who beat Neal, so we'll call that enough to make the call and pick him. 

    Ponzinibbio by unanimous decision.

    Tom Taylor: Neal has the power to make any fight interesting, but it's hard to pick him in this one. The 31-year-old, who still moonlights as a waiter, has previously fallen to the likes of Neil Magny and Stephen Thompson. In 2021, Ponzinibbio is as good or better than both of those men, so he should be able to replicate their success.

    Ponzinibbio by unanimous decision.

    Scott Harris: Both these guys have shown flashes throughout their careers, and this bout will help separate the wheat from the chaff. Neal has struggled against opponents who won't come forward and engage his power. Ponzinibbio, being the berserker that he is, will likely give Neal more opportunities than the Neil Magnys of the world, even if it doesn't end in a stoppage. Sound the upset alarms. 

    Neal by unanimous decision.

Cody Garbrandt vs. Kai Kara-France

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    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Kudos to Garbrandt for trying to reinvent himself five years after his greatest professional success. And kudos to his training and nutrition team for helping him get to 125 pounds after a career at 135. But skeletons aren't often all that fearsome when it's not Halloween, and it seems that he might have bitten off (or not, I suppose) more than he can chew. Kara-France cracks him, and it doesn't go well from there.

    Kara-France by TKO, Rd. 2.

    Tom Taylor: Any confidence I had in Garbrandt's move to flyweight disappeared when I saw the photos of him that recently circulated on social media. Ahead of UFC 269, the former bantamweight champion looks like he's been subsisting on twigs and berries in the wilderness for at least a year. 

    Garbrandt has never been the most durable fighter. A brutal cut down to 126 pounds isn't going to make him any sturdier. He might have his moments early in this fight, but eventually Kara-France will start to land, and he shouldn't have to land much. A few good punches should reduce the depleted former bantamweight to dust. 

    Kara-France by TKO, Rd. 2

    Scott Harris: If Garbrandt's power follows him down to flyweight, Kara-France is in trouble. Both men will want to make a statement here, with the flamboyant and talented Kara-France facing the biggest fight of his career. With Garbrandt completely untested at 125 pounds, give me the New Zealander and sound the (mild) upset alarms. If Garbrandt can stop his losing streak (four of his last five) I'm right back on the former bantamweight champ's bandwagon.

    Kara-France by TKO, Rd. 2.

Sean O'Malley vs. Raulian Paiva

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    Lyle Fitzsimmons: The old-timer purist in me desperately wants to hate O'Malley and his "Suga Show" nonsense, but the kid entertains me. And, unless he's fooled these prescription-enhanced eyes, he can fight, too. Paiva is no walkover, but he's also no top-10 opponent. And I think O'Malley will be fine as he continues to work the periphery of the 135-pound ranks.

    O'Malley by TKO, Rd. 2. 

    Tom Taylor: If you know me, you know I'm suspicious of UFC hype jobs. I usually don't board the hype train until it's rolling into a championship fight—and even then, my skepticism often persists. O'Malley is no exception. He's definitely looked good in the UFC, but thus far I haven't seen anything from him that suggests he can beat anyone inside the top 10. That's because all he's been doing is knocking out veterans and prospects.

    I think he's going to run into trouble against Paiva. The Brazilian looked great in his recent win over O'Malley's training partner Kyler Phillips, and I think we're in for a similar showing here. Paiva, who has never been knocked out, flaunts his experience and versatility and sends the O'Malley hype train sputtering into the rail yard for repairs.

    Paiva by unanimous decision.

    Scott Harris: Hold the phone, Mr. Taylor. O'Malley is flashy and has a ton of hype behind him, but there's plenty of evidence to suggest he's the real deal. According to UFC Stats, O'Malley leads all active UFC fighters with 8.37 strikes landed per minute. He packs a lot of power into his whip-like limbs and brings a lot of diversity to the standup game. That's a lot to deal with. It's true that he hasn't faced a huge level of competition in his UFC tenure to date, but to be brutally frank, Paiva doesn't represent a major break from that trend. Suga Sean rolls on.

    O'Malley by TKO, Rd. 1.