The final pay-per-view card of 2021 is finally upon us and it is absolutely stacked, with the lightweight championship bout between Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier headlining the card.
The co-main event features women’s G.O.A.T Amanda Nunes as she looks to silence all doubters when she takes on Julianna Pena in a bantamweight title fight.
Also on the main card will see the flyweight debut of Cody Garbrandt, who is looking to prove it’s the perfect weight class for him while Sean O’Malley hopes to kickstart a huge 2022 for himself when he takes on Raulian Paiva.
Last time at UFC Vegas 44 we had a pretty good night with our picks, as we went 9/13 with five perfect picks to move to 491/765 (64.18%) with 207 perfect picks (42.16%).
Raulian Paiva (21-3) vs Sean O’Malley (14-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An absolute banger in the bantamweight division to open the main card. Paiva is on a three-fight win streak in the UFC thanks to victories over Mark De la Rosa, Zhalgas Zhumagulov and most recently Kyler Phillips at UFC Vega 32. O’Malley bounced back from his only career defeat against Marlon Vera after a leg injury to earn back-to-back highlight reel KO’s against Thomas Almeida at UFC 260 and Kris Moutinho at UFC 264.
Paiva is a well-rounded fighter with good striking technique and decent takedowns to earn top control. O’Malley on the other hand is a specialist striker with legitimate one-punch power. He’s also a very skilled jiu-jitsu grappler, it’s just not something he needs to use much because of how good his striking is. ‘Suga’ is excellent and changing angles and mixing up his attacks with kicks and punches and to the head and body.
O’Malley has a big height and reach advantage, has a clear power advantage in the striking battle, is the better grappler of the two and is on an upwards trajectory. Paiva has a chance if he checks kicks and can get top position, but realistically I expect O’Malley to put his lights out after putting on a show yet again.
PICK – Sean O’Malley via Knockout, Round 2
Kai Kara-France (22-9) vs Cody Garbrandt (12-4) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A former champion debuts in a new weight class in this one. Kai Kara-France welcomes Garbrandt to the division on a 2-2 run. He was submitted by Brandon Royval at UFC 253 but bounced back with a KO win over Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 259. Garbrandt has lost four of his last five at bantamweight, with a KO win over Raphael Assuncao at UFC 250 sandwiched between two losses to TJ Dillashaw, Pedro Munhoz and most recently Rob Font.
Kara-France is a well skilled all-rounder, with good boxing combinations and power mixed in with decent wrestling and good kicks. He’ll have a reach advantage over Garbrandt, who is a great boxer with tremendous one-punch power and good wrestling too. This is a really even match up because Kara-France’s abilities are similar to that of Font, who beat Garbrandt last time out.
If Garbrandt is to win he needs to use his power strikes and wrestling, much like he tried to do against Font too. He has the speed to match up with Kara-France and the power to end the fight in one shot, but with the reach advantage on ‘Dont Blink’s side he could land first in any exchanges. Ultimately, the big experience factor and power edge leans me towards picking ‘No Love’, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go the other way.
PICK – Cody Garbrandt via Knockout, Round 2
Geoff Neal (13-4) vs Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Banger at welterweight up next between two guys who are desperate to get a win and get back up the rankings. Neal has lost his last two, getting taken the distance by Stephen Thompson at UFC Vegas 17 and then Neil Magny at UFC Vegas 26. Ponzinibbio on the other hand returned from a long lay-off to get KO’d by Li Jingliang at UFC Fight Island 7 before earning a big decision win over Miguel Baeza at UFC Vegas 28.
Neal is a solid southpaw striker with genuine knockout power and some good wrestling skills in his back pocket too. Ponzinibbio is a top level boxer with good power, but injuries have taken their toll on his career to date. Neal’s best attacks are his straight left hand and left kick, which will be wide open against the orthodox Ponzinibbio.
Ponzinibbio will need to establish range and use pressure to force longer striking exchanges, where his superior boxing skills and combinations can land and cause damage. Neal is likely to stall the fight in those instances with clinches to stop any momentum, and land that body kick and left hand. I don’t think this one ends early and it’ll be razor close throughout 15 minutes, but with Neal looking gun shy in his last two bouts I think Ponzinibbio will be able to be busier to claim a win.
PICK – Santiago Ponzinibbio via Decision
Amanda Nunes (21-4) vs Julianna Pena (11-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The women’s G.O.A.T makes her return to the bantamweight division for the first time in two years. Nunes is on a UFC-high 12-fight win streak, with her last two wins coming at featherweight against Felicia Spencer and Megan Anderson at UFC 259. Pena on the other hand has just two wins since 2017, beating Sara McMann at UFC 257 to claim this title shot against her long-time rival.
Nunes is the best ever for a reason. She has abnormal punching power on the feet, is a tremendous boxer with great combinations and has the ability to wrestle and submit opponents with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to her name too. Pena on the other hand is a jiu-jitsu fighter with good wrestling herself and she looks to secure top position and work from there.
This fight is only happening because Nunes needs to defend her belt and Pena just keeps saying her name out loud. ‘Lioness’ has the advantage in every single aspect of this fight and it’s really up to her how she wants to finish this one. I think Nunes blitzes her early to make a statement and claims a vicious KO victory early doors.
PICK – Amanda Nunes via Knockout, Round 1
Charles Oliveira (31-8) vs Dustin Poirier (28-6) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Without a doubt my favourite fight of the year, and it’s for the lightweight championship of the world. Oliveira is on an amazing nine-fight win streak which includes a dominant win over Tony Ferguson at UFC 256 before winning the belt by knocking out Michael Chandler at UFC 262. Poirier on the other hand bounced back from defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov in his first undisputed title shot back at UFC 242 to defeat Dan Hooker in a war at UFC Vegas 4 before back-to-back stoppage wins over Conor McGregor at UFC 257 and UFC 264.
Oliveira is a scarily good all-rounder, with the most submission wins in UFC history to add to some new-found striking credentials that have seen him generate fight-ending power. Poirier is one of the best boxers in the UFC with brilliant cardio, great power in both hands and a good wrestling game too. This is such a good fight, because both fighters excel everywhere but are at their most comfortable in different places.
If Oliveira is to be successful, he needs to make this a grappling match. Much like against Ferguson, he can take the fight down and use his amazing jiu-jitsu to secure a submission win or control for long periods. While the fight is on the feet though, Poirier is the man in the driving seat. His takedown defence is good and his ability to mix up his attacks stand him in good stead, because Oliveira won’t hide from the striking exchanges. Because of that I think Poirier keeps the fight standing for long periods, does damage with his combinations before eventually earning a stoppage at some point in the championship rounds to finally become champion.
PICK – Dustin Poirier via Knockout, Round 4