The UFC is finally back after a month away and kicks off on Fight Island with an absolute belter headlined by Max Holloway taking on Calvin Kattar in the featherweight division.
Both men are looking to make a case for the next title shot with a win, and are accompanied on the card by two legends in Carlos Condit and Matt Brown in the co-main event. Knockout of the year winner Joaquin Buckley also returns to action on the main card, taking on Alessio Di Chirico.
Last time out we had a great ending to the year, correctly predicting 9/11 fights with FIVE perfect picks. Those results mean that since starting our predictions in June 2020, we are 194/303 (63.36%) with 85 perfect picks (43.81%).
We’ll look to improve that record and having already predicted the six prelim fights, we move to the main card here.
Punahele Soriano (7-0) vs Dusko Todorovic (10-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Two unbeaten studs go head to head in the middleweight division in the main card opener. Soriano won his UFC debut in December 2019 with a big knockout win, while Todorovic stopped Dequan Townsend in October in his own debut.
Soriano is a decent wrestler, who uses those skills to throw big shots with his hands and take people’s heads off. Todorovic is very similar, but better when it comes to the striking game. If his opponent looks to defend the strikes, he takes the opportunity to land a takedown and control from the top with ground and pound.
It’s a really well matched up fight and while neither have got huge wins in the UFC on their resumé, Todorovic seems to have a slight edge in the striking and a bigger edge in the overall grappling so I expect he’ll take the decision win.
PICK – Dusko Todorovic via Decision
Joaquin Buckley (12-3) vs Alessio Di Chirico (12-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Arguably the fighter who made the biggest impression among MMA fans from the unknown in 2020, Joaquin Buckley returns to the octagon to take on a fighter on a three-fight losing streak at middleweight.
Buckley went 2-1 in the UFC last year, and showed a fantastic striking game that saw him walk opponents down and fire off heavy shots. His chin was tested and failed against Kevin Holland, but stood well against Impa Kasanganay and Jordan Wright. Di Chirico is well rounded and enjoys the clinch aspect of the fight, but he’s out-gunned everywhere for me here.
‘New Mansa’ wants to start the year with a bang and I think he does it early in this one.
PICK – Joaquin Buckley via Knockout, Round 1
Santiago Ponzinibbio (27-3) vs Jingliang Li (17-6) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A return to the octagon for one of the highest rated welterweights in the company, as he steps into the cage for the first time since November 2018 to take on Jingliang Li.
Ponzinibbio is on a seven fight win streak, beating Neil Magny most recently, while Li lost his last fight in March 2020 to none other than Neil Magny. Ponzinibbio is a stunning striker who’s had so many injuries to his hands that we don’t know how this fight goes anymore. Li is a striker himself and has eight knockout wins in his career, but he is not on the level of a 100% Ponzinibbio.
Overhand strikes and powerful calf kicks, partnered up with super fast combinations is a devastating spell for Li. He’s never been knocked out, but he was dropped twice by Jake Matthews and if Ponzinibbio lands flush it could be night night.
PICK – Santiago Ponzinibbio via Decision
Carlos Condit (31-13) vs Matt Brown (22-17) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Co-main event time between two legendary welterweights. Carlos Condit was at one point considered the uncrowned champion, but had lost five in a row prior to his most recent fight – a win over Court McGee back in October. Brown has lost three of his last five, including his most recent fight when he got knocked out by Miguel Baeza.
Condit prefers to strike but is more than confident when it comes to grappling, while Brown leans more the opposite way. Stylistically the fight etches towards Condit, who has double digit wins in both knockouts and submissions throughout his career.
Both men are at the end of their careers in reality and the fight could go either way, but considering Brown’s last four defeats have all come via stoppage I think Condit gets it done with a submission following a knockdown.
PICK – Carlos Condit via Submission, Round 2
Max Holloway (21-6) vs Calvin Kattar (22-4) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Two of the best featherweights on the planet clash in what could very easily have been a title fight. Holloway is coming off two consecutive losses to champ Alex Volkanovski, although the most recent was very controversial, while Kattar was able to defeat Dan Ige on Fight Island in July in his first main event.
Both men are exceptional boxers and this fight will almost certainly take place exclusively on the feet, with Holloway using his footwork, jab and speed while Kattar looks to use his excellent jab and powerful hooks. Kattar is without doubt the more powerful fighter, but ‘Blessed’ has never been knocked down in his UFC career. He has out-struck every opponent he’s fought in recent memory barring Dustin Poirier during his brief stint at lightweight.
This is my pick for fight of the night and I think Holloway will be able to get it done. Kattar has never fought anyone as good as Holloway and won, while ‘Blessed’ has dispatched of fighters better than Kattar in the past with relative ease. Holloway will pick Kattar off as we go through five rounds and ease to a decision win.
PICK – Max Holloway via Decision