The UFC’s first pay-per-view event of the year takes place Saturday night with UFC 257 at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The headliner features the return of Conor McGregor, yes the “Notorious” is back, as he meets Dustin Poirier in a lightweight rematch. In the co-main event, former Bellator champ Michael Chandler makes his promotional debut against lightweight contender Dan Hooker. With plenty of other great fights on the card, MMA Viking take a closer look at all of the action taking place this weekend.
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UFC 257 Prelim Card Betting Tips
Middleweights are in action as Andrew Sanchez faces Makhmud Muradov. Muradov is stepping in on short notice for his third UFC fight and the Floyd Mayweather-backed fighter is a slight betting favorite over Sanchez who has won three of his last four.
Khalil Rountree Jr. also makes a return for the first time in over a year as he faces Marcin Prachnio in light heavyweight action. Despite not competing for 16 months, Rountree is heavily favored against Prachnio who has lost all three of his UFC appearances.
More fighters returning from long layoffs include Brad Tavares and Antonio Carlos Junior who will compete in an exciting middleweight encounter. Both fighters are on two-fight losing streaks but Tavares is the slight favorite despite suffering a knockout defeat in his last outing.
Amir Albazi loks to continue his rise when he faces Zhalgas Zhumagulov in a bantamweight tilt. Albazi enjoyed a successful UFC debut in July when he submitted Malcolm Gordon. However, oddsmakers are giving the slightest of edges to Zhumagulov despite the Russian suffering a unanimous decision defeat to Raulian Paiva in his own UFC debut.
Julianna Pena will look to return to the win column against Sara McMann in women's bantamweight action. Pena last suffered a submission defeat to Germaine de Randamie. McMann, on the other hand, snapped a two-fight losing streak with a unanimous decision win over Lina Lansberg last January. Oddsmakers the Olympic wrestler her making it two in a row.
Matt Frevola returns to action for the first time in over a year when he faces Ottman Azaitar in a lightweight bout. Although Frevola is unbeaten in three, he faces a tough task against the 13-0 Azaitar who is coming off a TKO win over Khama Worthy in October.
A guaranteed barnburner of a lightweight contest is also on the cards as Arman Tsarukyan meets the hard-hitting Nasrat Haqparast. Tsarukyan is on a two-fight winning streak, having most recently outpointed Davi Ramos in impressive fashion back in July. Haqparast, meanwhile, returned to the win column with a decision victory over Alex Munoz after suffering a knockout defeat to Drew Dober one year ago. Both fighters are young and extremely talented, however, Tsarukyan is probably the more well-rounded of the pair and should make it three wins in a row.
UFC 257 Main Card Betting Tips
Marina Rodriguez (12-1-2) v Amanda Ribas (10-1)
An intriguing women’s strawweight clash between Marina Rodriguez and Amanda Ribas opens up the main card. Rodriguez is coming off her first professional loss following a split decision defeat to former champion Carla Esparza in July. Before that, she went 2-0-2 in the UFC and will look to return to the win column again.
The Brazilian faces a tough task in her fellow country woman in surging Ribas who hasn’t suffered defeat since November 2015. The 27-year-old is 4-0 in the UFC and boasts wins over the likes of Mackenzie Dern, Randa Markos and most recently, Paige VanZant in July.
It’s no surprise that Ribas is a heavy betting favorite as she should get the win and further climb up the ranks toward a title shot. A high profile event to feature a future star in a win.
Jessica Eye (15-8, 1NC) v Joanne Calderwood (14-5)
There is also women’s flyweight action in store as former title challenger Jessica Eye battles Joanne Calderwood. Eye is coming off a unanimous decision defeat to Cynthia Calvillo in June and has lost two of her last three overall, including a knockout defeat to Valentina Shevchenko in their 2019 title fight.
Calderwood is in an identical situation as she has also lost two of her last three, including a recent submission defeat to Jennifer Maia. However, Calderwood was in position for a title shot and chose to risk it against Maia at the time. Because of that, the Scot is only just a slight favorite. I like JoJo to use kicks to her advantage, and even get the fight to the ground to her advantage for a decision win.
Dan Hooker (20-9) v Michael Chandler (16-4)
The co-main event features the highly-anticipated debut of Michael Chandler as he is welcomed to the promotion by the always-tough Dan Hooker. Chandler has built up a reputation from his time as three-time Bellator lightweight world champ.
The star signing for the UFC last competed at Bellator when he knocked out former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. However, “Smooth” has been well past his prime for many years and in Hooker, Chandler will be facing arguably his toughest test yet.
Hooker is coming off a unanimous decision defeat to Dustin Poirier in June after their five-round war. The “Hangman” had his moments in the back-and-forth fight and once again showed how dangerous and durable he can be.
Chandler will likely rely on his wrestling, but if he is unable to keep Hooker down, he could be in trouble given the stylistic problems the lengthier and taller New Zealander presents with his striking. Overall, this is a fight that can go either way, but Hooker has all the advantages if he can keep the fight standing. Should be fireworks here.
Dustin Poirier (26-6, 1NC) v Conor McGregor (22-4)
The main fight everyone wants to see is the rematch between Dustin Poirier and the returning Conor McGregor. Both fighters, of course, faced each other in a featherweight bout back in 2014 that saw McGregor earn a comfortable first-round knockout.
However, this will be at lightweight with both fighters improving exponentially since. Poirier has notably become one of the best 155ers in the world with his crisp boxing and impressive durability and cardio. “The Diamond” most recently bounced back from his defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov with a unanimous verdict over Dan Hooker last summer.
However, McGregor -- who bounced back from his own loss to Nurmagomedov with a 40-second TKO win over Donald Cerrone last year -- still boasts arguably the best striking in the division and when put in a striking battle with just about anyone, a motivated will more than likely come out on top.
Poirier has a chance if he can take McGregor down or drag the Notorious to the championship rounds, but given how he can be caught with fast and precise shots, it’s hard to see him lasting that long with the Irishman in front of him.
Poirier can land something of his own too, but McGregor’s solid chin, sniper-style striking, and take-down defense give many advantages to the Irishman.
In the end, this should be another win for McGregor who is a comfortable betting favorite over Poirier. I would go with a finish for the Notorious one as he looks for one last run to the top of the division. Enjoy McGregor fights while you can, as you never know when will be his last.
About Ryan O’Leary
Ryan O’Leary is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist and commentator. The Swedish-based writer is the founder and editor at MMAViking.com, which is the premier source for Nordic mixed martial arts news since 2008.