UFC is back with one of their biggest cards of the year that features easily the biggest trilogy this sport has ever seen. The Notorious Conor McGregor returns to realign his career against The Diamond, Dustin Poirier, who also has aspirations of his own to win his first UFC gold. But this card is stacked outside of the main event. An intriguing co-main event between Wonderboy Thompson and Gilbert Burns. But the prelims features some very notable names such as Jennifer Maia, Ryan Hall, Brad Taraves, Max Griffin, Carlos Condit, Niko Price, and Michel Pereira. Before it all goes down in Las Vegas, Ethan Hartley and Frank Bartunek are here to give their main card predictions.
Ethan Hartley: 7-3
Frank Bartunek: 6-4
Sean O’Malley vs. Kris Moutinho
This is a little unfortunate, as the always exciting O’Malley had a fight scheduled against Louis Smolka, who just recently had to pull out due to an infection. Because of this, O’Malley will take on Kris Moutinho. Moutinho is 9-4 in his MMA career, but this will be his first fight in the UFC. That, of course, is always a challenge to make the competition jump, and facing a guy like Sean O’Malley does not make it any easier. O’Malley tried to hype up this fight, saying that Moutinho is not a scrub, but this will be too much of an uphill battle for the newcomer.
Official Prediction: Sean O’Malley wins
Frank’s Best Bet: Sean O’Malley to win by KO/TKO
With the opponent change for Sean O’Malley, I don’t blame him for the new opponent. It’s just the dice that have been rolled for him but he is putting much more on the line than people think. But O’Malley is right that it is a lose-lose situation for him against Kris Moutinho because there is very little known about Moutinho, who gains attention regardless, with him being featured on the main card of a major event. To fight fans, not much is known about Moutinho. However, with the little information known, it’s clear O’Malley will again have another massive height and reach advantage. O’Malley already brings his insane knockout power to this fight and I think that’s how it will finish. O’Malley should be in line for a ranked opponent after what will likely be another quick knockout.
Official Prediction: O’Malley by KO/TKO
Irene Aldana vs. Yana Kunitskaya
The last fight Irene Aldana was in back in October, she suffered a defeat at the hands of Holly Holm. This fight will end up determining a lot in the division, as Aldana sits at number 4 in the rankings, while Kunitskaya sits at number 5. This fight will be won on the ground. It may go to decision, or end in submission if one of the two can get some good positioning. The only way I see this fight ending via KO is if Kunitskaya can wear down Aldana. Kunitskaya is the overall better technical fighter when it comes to takedowns, and takedown defense, and that gives her the edge here.
Official Prediction: Yana Kunitskaya wins
Frank’s Best Bet: Yana Kunitskaya moneyline
Irene Aldana vs. Yana Kunitskaya might be the closest fight outside of the main event, and the odds would agree, giving Aldana only a -120 lead. There are also not a lot of advantages to going to their fighter. Both have the same reach, finish rate, and other underlying stats. However, Aldana is coming off a loss to Holly Holm back in October. Compared to Kunitskaya who has won two in a row by unanimous decision. I do think that Aldana is the more experienced fighter in this scenario. She’s already beaten Ketlen Vieira, who was Kunitskaya’s last win, back in 2019. But I think Kunitskaya’s ability to attack both standing and in the wrestling department will be a big problem for Aldana. Kunitskaya will come away with a close win and enter herself in the title contender picture in Women’s Bantamweight.
Official Prediction: Kunitskaya by Split Decision
Tai Tuivasa vs. Greg Hardy
As a big football fan, my eyes always widen when I see Greg Hardy’s name on the card. As a human being, I always cringe when I see his name on the card. Hardy has shown that he can hold his own in the octagon, as he is a true freak of nature. We last saw him 8 months ago in a losing effort to Marcin Tybura. To be honest, there’s not much to get excited about with this fight. Two big heavyweights always provide for some knockout potential, but these two guys are not even near the top of this division. Hurts as a human to do this, but I have to strive for the best record possible in these predictions. Greg Hardy has the reach advantage.
Official Prediction: Greg Hardy Wins
Frank’s Best Bet: Greg Hardy moneyline
The matchup between Tai Tuivasa and Greg Hardy might not hold a lot for the division for its placement on the card, but this is still a hell of a fight to put together. These are two of the more well-known fighters part of the promotion. Hardy, a former NFL player, and Tuivasa, best known for drinking beers out of worn shoes after wins, are easily fan favorites. On paper, Hardy has a major height and reach advantage that could prove big in what will likely be a stand-up battle. But Tuivasa has had a career revitalization, now on a two-fight winning streak. This fight will no doubt end in a finish. But I think it is Tai Tuivasa who continues his ascension in the heavyweight division and will be chugging another beer at the end of the night.
Official Prediction: Tuivasa by KO/TKO
Gilbert Burns vs. Stephen Thompson
Burns is coming off a championship bout loss to Kmaru Usman, while Wonderboy fights in his 252nd UFC fight. Ok, maybe it’s only his 21st, but he’s been around forever. Gilbert Burns is a great fighter, and extremely well rounded. He can work very effectively on the ground, and he can hold his own on his feet. His best offense is working for takedowns. Unfortunately for him, Thompson is known for avoiding takedowns. Thompson’s fighting style makes it very difficult to get a grasp on him to actually takedown, combined with his nice boxing skills. It is strange to see a fighter like Burns lose two in a row, but that is something that could very well happen here if he cannot get in close range to Thompson for his takedown offense.
Official Prediction: Stephen Thompson wins
Frank’s Best Bet: Stephen Thompson to win by decision
Kickboxing legend Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson faces off Gilbert Burns in what is a sneaky underrated co-main event. Burns, coming off the loss to Kamaru Usman in February, is looking to quickly turn around his loss but it comes at a tall task, literally. Wonderboy comes into this fight with a two-inch height advantage that translates to a four-inch reach advantage. But none of that helps if Wonderboy can’t stop the submission and takedown pressure coming from Burns, who has eight career submission wins. This is likely Wonderboy’s last run for a title run because of his age. If he is able to maintain the distant pressure and keep the fight standing, Wonderboy has a great chance at winning this fight. But I think without being able to keep the fight on his feet, he doesn’t stand a chance and I don’t think Wonderboy has shown us enough that he can do that. I think Burns earns another submission win on Saturday and could very likely face Leon Edwards for the number one contender after Colby Covington.
Official Prediction: Burns by Submission
Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier
“IIIIIIIIIITTTTSSSSSS TIMMMMMMMEEEEEE!!!” It REALLY is time with two of the absolute very best in this fight game today. These two titans of the lightweight division are tied up at one a piece, and this fight is as important as a non-title fight could be. Not only is it between two giants of the game, but it has developed into a real rivalry. Why could McGregor not donate to Poirier’s charity? What is Julie DMing Conor about?? McGregor has really ramped up the trash talk, back to his old ways, as he talks about dribbling heads for money. Poirier, meanwhile has even jumped in, saying Conor is being so unfriendly “because he got knocked the fu** out.” There is no possible scenario in which this fight can go to decision. It’s too big, too important, too much hatred, and too much fun. McGregor we already know will be hunting for Poirier’s head the second that fight starts, and Dustin HAS to know this. This, in my opinion, works in Poiriers advantage. He already knows Conor’s first move is to attack from the very beginning. Look out for an Irishman loss here.
Official Prediction: Dustin Poirier wins
Frank’s Best Bets: Dustin Poirier moneyline
Total rounds under 2.5
Despite no title being on the line, this is easily the biggest fight of 2021, and the hardest to predict. Every advantage Dustin had going into this fight that he was the more active and productive fighter is out the window. Neither of these men have fought since the rematch in February. McGregor’s questions about his commitment are also now out of the window as he seems to be back in his old days during his rise. However, I don’t think one can ever return to that true form in his sports, especially for him, who will always have concerns with all the money he has earned. But there are some other questions that still stick, especially for Conor. Commitment and team issues will always come at a risk even if he continues to say he is the old Conor. How much is Conor staying grounded in order to keep himself humble? He has all the money one could ever want so how does that all of a sudden change now? But he’s proven to be lethal after losses with Nick Diaz being the fight that immediately comes to mind. On the other hand, you have Dustin Poirier, who seems to be in the prime of his fighting career even after an interim title win against Max Holloway, which seemed to be the peak before this incredible run. Considering these factors, I believe that Conor is unable to return to that peak form he had during his title run and Dustin Poirier is in his true prime already. I think this fight will end quickly with some form of a knockout. But the bottom line is that this is a toss-up fight, and these factors should be taken lightly as either of these men have the ability for these to disappear once the cage door locks, for better or for worse.
Official Prediction: Poirier by TKO