IT’S TIIIIIIME (imagine Bruce Buffer doing that) for UFC 257 and the return of Irish megastar Conor McGregor. Although the promos and pre-fight hype will undoubtedly focus on The Notorious One, Dustin “The Diamond” Porier is far from a walk for McGregor.
Fighting in a highly anticipated rematch, neither fighter is the same as they were in their previous encounter. In my humble opinion, one has taken a leap forward, and the other a step back. However, before we see how the main event shakes out, we have a fight card consisting of 12 bouts to discuss. Let’s do this.
LEAD CINCH LOCKS
Movsar Evloev – Evloev is 13-0 overall, and is riding a three fight win streak in the UFC. Calling him a wrestler does not do him justice; he mauls people. The undefeated Russian grappler takes on American takedown artist Nik Lentz. Lentz has legit wrestling chops, but Emloev is younger, faster, stronger and hungrier.
Amanda Ribas – Ribas is off to a scorching start to her UFC career by going 4-0 and grabbing wins from such divisional mainstays as Emily Whitmire, Mackenzie Dern, Randa Markos and Paige Van Zant. Her opponent, Maina Rodriguez, holds an advantage in the standup department, but that is all for naught when you’re on your back eating elbows.
Khalil Rountree Jr. – Although Rountree has alternated wins and losses in his last four UFC fights, we’re starting to see glimpses of what Rountree can do at his best. Take his recent KO of K-1 kickboxing star Gokhan Saki for example. When he has to step up to the level of his competition, he rises to the occasion. This Saturday he’ll take on Marvin Prachino, who has lost three straight UFC bouts by knockout. One way or another, Prachino should be asleep within two rounds courtesy of a Rountree submission or right hand.
SOLID BUT UNSPECTACULAR WINS
Brad Tavares – You can take the boy out of Harraoo, but you can’t take the Hawaii out of the boy. Tavares is a Hawaiian scrapper who uses his wrestling offensively and works behind a solid boxing game. Although he’s gone 4-3 in his last seven UFC appearances, there is certainly no shame in losing to former middleweight champ in Robert Whitaker, current titleholder Israel Adesanya and and most recently to uber prospect Edman Shahbazyan. His opponent Antonio Carlos Jr. (aka Cara de Sapato, “Shoeface”” to us Americans) is a one time Vitor Belfort protégé and an amazing BJJ player. However, he usually lets his ego take over during fights and starts to brawl. That plays right into Tavares’ hands.
Makhmud Muradov – Although “El Dirte” Sanchez has been one of my favorite fighters since he won the 23rd season of The Ultimate Fighter, but I think he’s bitten off more than he can chew here. Sanchez has solid power in his hands backed up by a strong wrestling game, but he hasn’t gained any traction in the IFC because his gas tank is comparable to say, Louie Anderson. Conversely, Muradov is a killer who has finished 16 of his 24 wins by KO, and he rides a 13-fight win streak into this bout. He’s only a small favorite, which means his salary will be palatable.
UNDERDOGS AND CONTRARIAN UPSIDE
Amir Albazi – Flyweights collide here as boxer/wrestler Albazi takes on Dagestani grappler Zhalgas Zhumagulov. In his UFC debut, “The Prince” Albazi housed Malcolm Gordon. He showed great poise on the feet and used timely takedowns when needed. Zhumagulov lost his first UFC fight, albeit via controversial decision. I just do not see him being able to outlast Albazi, which is usually the key in flyweight fights, despite the odds being in his favor.
Dustin Porier – OK, I know I’m probably going to get unrelenting amounts of shit for this pick. Although the fight opened with McGregor as a -185 favorite, the line has since shifted to -325, likely because of all the money coming in on the Irishman. But that’s what I can’t figure out: what has Conor shown us in his last 5 MMA fights that suggests he should be such a big favorite over a fighter like Porier? Conor is best when keeping opponents on the end of his punches and finishing quick. Dragging the fight into deep waters and making it ugly causes McGregor to wilt. Porier will get hit early, but I think he’s slick enough to take Conor to the deep end of the pool and drown him.