The UFC will see it’s first two title fights of 2022 this weekend at UFC 270 and while the women won’t be involved, it’s a huge year for them too.
Last year we saw two of the four belts change hands, with Rose Namajunas claiming the strawweight belt for a second time with a head-kick KO win over Weili Zhang at UFC 261, while Julianna Pena shocked the world at UFC 269 when she submitted Amanda Nunes.
During our picks for 2021 we predicted no changes, so obviously only got a 50% hit rate. Can we do better for 2022?
Strawweight (115lbs) – Rose Namajunas
‘Thug’ Rose made waves in 2021, returning to champion status with a win over Zhang and then winning their rematch at UFC 268 a few months later too.
With two wins over Zhang and already holding two wins over Joana Jedrzejczyzk from her previous title reign, that’s the other elite talents in the division dealt with.
Carla Esparza, who beat Namajunas in the TUF finale to win the inaugral belt for this division, is confirmed as her next challenger and if she can navigate that fight as expected then she is set for a long and successful reign as champion.
I think that carries over into 2023 and she claims G.O.A.T status among the strawweights.
Flyweight (125lbs) – Valentina Shevchenko
The pound-for-pound best female fighter on the planet, Valentina Shevchenko first won the belt in 2018 and she hasn’t looked back since.
She went 2-0 in 2021 with stoppage wins over Jessica Andrade at UFC 261 before another KO win over Lauren Murphy at UFC 266 to continue her dominant run as the queen of 125lbs.
There’s nobody close to her level at her weight class, so barring a crazy shock she will hold that belt until she retires probably.
Bantamweight (135lbs) – Amanda Nunes
The greatest female fighter of all-time saw her 12-fight winning streak snapped at UFC 269 at the end of the year by Julianna Pena but the world is ready for a rematch.
While Pena will likely be taken far more seriously by the fans in the build-up to that bout, it also means that she will likely be taken more seriously by the ‘Lioness’ and that screams ‘and new!’.
Nunes gets her win back at some point in the summer, then sees out the year as the champion yet again. Normality is restored in the women’s MMA world.
Featherweight (145lbs) – Discontinued
A interesting one, but I can’t see how the featherweight division survives another calendar year.
Nunes has been the champion since knocking out Cris ‘Cyborg’ back in 2018 and has defended the belt successfully twice since then. But there are no contenders and the division barely exists.
Felicia Spencer was the obvious choice to challenge, but she had already lost to Nunes and has now retired from the sport. Kayla Harrison could come into the UFC for a mega fight, but the division would have the same problems and I think it gets shut down by the end of 2022.
After the absolutely incredible fight year that was 2021, 2022 is promising to be bigger, better and badder than ever before in the UFC.
There will be title fights, shocking upsets, incredible wars and new rivalries created throughout the year, but there are some that already spilling over from this year.
With that, we’re going to name you ten fights that the UFC should make in 2022 at some point to give the fans the ultimate fight experience.
The biggest upset of 2021, and potentially in the history of the sport, came just last month at UFC 269 when Amanda Nunes was submitted by Julianna Pena in the second round of their bantamweight title bout.
After 12 straight wins prior to that fight, including several stoppage wins against former champions, Nunes is considered the greatest female combat sports athlete of all-time.
That didn’t deter Pena from coming forward, applying pressure, breaking Nunes’ will and choking her out to take the title from her on the night.
As soon as the fight ended there was talk of a rematch, and it’s quite easily the biggest women’s fight the UFC could make right now heading into the new year.
A hungry ‘Lioness’ who wants her title and her status back, or a ‘Venezuelan Vixen’ who proves that she had the G.O.A.T’s number the whole time just like she said she did?
This fight will generate an incredible amount of hype and publicity and will surely have fans taking far more of an interest after seeing how the original played out when everyone wrote it off as feeding time for Nunes.
If Pena can defeat Nunes again, it opens up a whole new realm of opportunity for the women’s bantamweight division in the UFC. There are so many fresh match ups available for the UFC to make and Pena will be the undisputed top dog.
If Nunes reclaims her crown, it likely sets up a huge trilogy bout at some point down the line where the winner takes all the bragging rights.
It would likely be one of the most anticipated fights of the year, and that’s exactly why we have to see it made in 2022.
The UFC closed out an unbelievable year of fights with arguably the biggest upset in the history of the sport at UFC 269 as Julianna Pena became the bantamweight champion.
In an absolutely stacked card that saw nine finishes from 14 fights, we saw the incredible reign of Amanda Nunes as champion come to an end when Pena took her back in the second round and secured a submission.
It was by far the biggest upset of the year and potentially ever, as Pena overcame all the odds to fulfil her dream of being world champion with the win.
The fight didn’t start too well for Pena, who was dropped by the first leg kick Nunes threw and then dropped by the first right hand that connected too.
She kept coming forward though, just as she said she would, and turned the fight into an all-out brawl in the second round after Nunes controlled the first round on the ground following the second knockdown.
Pena stood toe-to-toe with Nunes and started landing her jab and clearly hurt Nunes, who looked out of sorts on the night compared to her usually efficient and lethal self. When Pena saw that Nunes was suddenly exhausted, she landed some big shots, got a takedown and immediately choked her for the tap.
It snapped a 12-fight win streak for Nunes and means that for the first time since UFC 200 she isn’t the title holder in the women’s 135-pound division.
A rematch will almost certainly happen, with Dana White confirming that the fight is there for her if she wants it and the ‘Lioness’ claiming in her post-fight interview that she will “go back to the gym and come back better”.
In the main event it saw the culmination of two amazing journeys to the top of the UFC lightweight division go head-to-head, and it was Charles Oliveira who came out on top after once again coming from behind.
Oliveira started with a tremendous pace but saw himself get knocked down twice in the opening round by the power and combinations of Poirier on the feet. He switched it up in the second round, using his takedowns to dominate on the ground and earn the round back with tremendous control and vicious elbows.
The third round ultimately saw Oliveira go for the kill, jumping on a standing rear-naked choke after changing levels for a clinch again and forcing a submission.
It means he has now won an insane ten fights in a row and extended his record of having the most finishes in UFC history and most submission wins in UFC history during his career.
For Poirier now, it seems as though his title chase is over once again but the era of ‘Du Bronx’ can now truly begin.
We also saw the ‘Suga’ show live and direct once again as Sean O’Malley earned a brilliant first-round knockout win over Raulian Paiva in the main card opener.
It was a mature performance from O’Malley, who showed great composure and intelligence in his shot selection once he had Paiva hurt with a big right hand. He threw plenty of strikes but all were accurate and mixing up targets, before a huge body blow and right hook ended things.
While star continued to rise, Cody Garbrandt’s has fallen to an all-time low after he was knocked out in the first-round of his flyweight debut by Kai Kara-France.
The former bantamweight champion was knocked down three times in the fight en route to a fifth defeat in six fights and his future in the company looks bleak now following the recent run of results.
It was a brilliant card all in all, but it was forever be remembered as the night that the ‘Venezuelan Vixen’ tamed the ‘Lioness’.
Fast paced start to this fight as Robertson looks to take the centre and attempts a couple of takedowns early. Cachoeira defends them well and is starting to land some decent strikes on the feet, landing good jabs and starting to do damage. Robertson suddenly changes levels in the centre though and scores a nice takedown before looking to secure a kimura lock. She transitions into side control and then full mount and starts raining down huge elbows! Cachoeira is in danger and Robertson switches to the back and gets a choke in under the neck. Cachoeira tries to defend it by sticking her thumb in Robertson’s eye but she refuses to let it go and then gets the tap with one second left! What a performance!
Tony Kelley def Randy Costa via Knockout, Round 2 (2:15)
Very fast start from Kelley who steps forward immediately and starts chasing Costa across the cage looking to land big shots. Costa trying to weather the storm and countering with his jab, but Kelley continuing to come forward aggressively. Clinch against the cage and Kelley is trying to wear on Costa early, landing some nice knees but Costa seemingly the stronger fighter physically. Kelley switching stances as he throws his combinations and Costa is struggling to make reads, before they clinch up against the cage once again and tangle until the end of the round. 10-9 Kelley.
Another fast start from Kelley as he comes forward quickly again and starts the clinch battles again once again. Costa looks a little fatigued but he’s defending himself well and and staying in it. Costa starting to land his jabs well but Kelley closing the distance and making this fight ugly. Costa lands a nice kick and follows it up with a short right hand that hurts Kelley, but he clinches up quickly and starts defending. Kelley gets him in a Thai clinch and lands some big knees to the body and Costa drops to his knees! Kelley battering the body and thrashing elbows onto Costa who’s just trying to defend himself now. Kelley going for the finish and the referee steps in! What a performance from Kelley.
Ryan Hall def Darrick Minner via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-27)
Tactical start to the fight from both guys here as Minner lands a couple of leg kicks and misses wildly with some big strikes. Hall very patient and lands a nice body kick and then Hall shoots for the legs. Lots of transitions and rolling for submissions but Minner defending against the kneebars and heel hook attempts well. Minner gets back to the feet and lands a big right hand that cracks Hall who starts to retreat. Hall starts to go for a takedown again and ends up in top position landing some decent ground and pound to end the round. 10-9 either way, but I lean to Hall just.
Hall coming out more aggressive now as he starts swinging kicks, before Minner lands a nice right hand and gets a takedown as Hall goes for a leg. Minner in Hall’s full guard and looking for ground and pound, but Hall is looking to throw up an armbar or triangle submission. Minner stands up and slams Hall down to escape it and goes back for ground and pound. Hall throws up another triangle and it’s tight and he starts throwing big elbows from his back but Minner surviving. Hall looks to advance to a straight armbar but Minner denies it and then he rolls to an omoplata attempt and ends the round with ground and pound. 20-18 Hall.
Final round and Hall rolls under a punch and secures a triangle attempt immediately from his back. Minner defends it well but Hall then switches and is able to get on top. He advances to full mount and is in complete control here, looking for an arm triangle.
Erin Blanchfield def Miranda Maverick via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Good start to the bout for Maverick as she steps forward aggressively and throws a few strong strikes. Maverick looks to step in with a right hand but Blanchfield ducks under and immediately has a body lock from the back. She maintains the lock and continuously forces Maverick to the ground with excellent wrestling. She moves to full guard and maintains position again, dragging Maverick to the mat every time she tries to get back to the feet. 10-9 Blanchfield.
Maverick starts up well with a little blitz but immediately Blanchfield is able to hip throw her and end up on top. Blanchfield quickly transitions to a crucifix position and starts blasting elbows down on Maverick, but she manages to just about escape as Blanchfield switches to an armbar attempt. Maverick just about defends but Blanchfield then goes for a kimura, but Maverick defends it well. Blanchfield switches to another armbar attempt but Maverick defends it by scissoring the head of her and the buzzer goes. 20-18.
Final round and Maverick is trying to go for a finish because she knows she needs it, but Blanchfield is landing well too. Clinch up against the cage and then Blanchfield catches a leg and moves straight into a takedown. She moves into top control and looks to dominate again and starts landing some big shots from mount. She controls the rest of the round from the top and claims a dominant decision win.
Andre Muniz def Eryk Anders via Submission (Armbar), Round 1 (3:13)
Good start to the fight for Anders as he takes the centre and starts to throw powerful strikes early. Muniz does well and throws a nice calf kick before throwing a short left hook. Anders goes for a right hand again and Muniz ducks under and changes levels with a big takedown. Muniz looks to pass from side control straight into mount but Anders defends it well. Anders gets to his feet but Muniz has a body lock and drags him back down after a bit of back and forth and takes the back. He threatens with a choke and then switches to an armbar attempt and forces the tap from Anders. What a performance.
Bruno Silva def Jordan Wright via Knockout, Round 1 (1:28)
Crazy start to this fight as Wright charges forward and looks to engage quickly with hard strikes. Wright continues to come forward and attack and he hurts Silva! They clinch up and Wright lands some big knees but Silva lands some big strikes too. They separate and Silva lands two huge blows and Wright is wobbled! Silva goes for the finish and drops him! Some huge shots and the referee steps in! What a KO by Silva!
Tai Tuivasa def Augusto Sakai via Knockout, Round 2 (0:26)
Slow and steady start so far with Tuivasa in the centre stalking Sakai, who’s throwing leg kicks and circling on the outside. Tuivasa goes for a nice combination and Sakai retreats, before they clinch up and Sakai lands a nice knee to the body. More knees to the body from Sakai as he holds Tuivasa close to him, before they separate and Tuivasa just misses with a big uppercut. Sakai landing heavy knees and hurting Tuivasa, but he then retaliates with a big right hand and forces Sakai to cover up before they clinch again to end the round. 10-9 Sakai, but Tuivasa looking dangerous too.
Second round and Tuivasa lands a huge left hook early and Sakai is rocked! Tuivasa steps forward and goes for the kill, landing huge hooks as Sakai tries to cover up. Another huge strike and Sakai is out coldddd! What a KO!
Dominick Cruz def Pedro Munhoz via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Good start to this fight as both guys look to take the centre and trade leg kicks and movement. Munhoz throwing hard low kicks but Cruz making him miss big. Munhoz throwing bombs but only just missing and Cruz is doing well to land blitzes and flurries of strikes. Cruz goes for a big right hand and Munhoz lands first with a big left hand that drops him! Munhoz lands a huge left hook and goes for the finish but Cruz grabs a leg and somehow survives. He gets up and continues the pattern of the earlier fight. 10-9 Munhoz.
Second round and Munhoz coming forward again and looking for his big bombs. Cruz using his excellent footwork well again though and is using his speed brilliantly. Cruz throwing great combinations on the feet and Munhoz is eating shots, but there isn’t enough power in them to hurt him. Cruz throws a hard low kick that hurts Munhoz and continues to throw his strikes brilliantly. 19-19.
Final round and Cruz has definitely taken over now with his speed and footwork. Cruz has made his reads now and is landing his combinations well, but Munhoz is throwing powerful strikes back and just barely missing. Cruz lands a big one-two clean down the pipe and Munhoz is starting to back up a little. Munhoz lands some nice jabs but Cruz is too slick and is moving so well, throwing leg kicks and left hands. Cruz lands a big combo in the centre as the round comes to an end and that should be the comeback victory for him. 29-28 Cruz.
Josh Emmett def Dan Ige via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Nothing happens between these two in the opening minute and them Emmett explodes with a massive overhand right that drops Ige! Emmett goes down for a finish but Ige recovers quickly and starts to wrestle. Both guys scramble well and end up back to their feet where they separate. Ige taking the centre now and using his jab well and sees out the round relatively comfortably. 10-9 Emmett most likely for the knockdown, but could go either way in honesty.
Emmett comes out with a big right hand early once again but Ige takes it and continues to come forward. Good exchanges on the feet and Ige landing his jab well with movement and power. Emmett looking for one big shot but he keeps missing it. Ige replies with a big strikes and wobbles Emmett with a big left hook. He stays patient and Emmett eventually recovers. Ige staying so calm though and using that jab well again, circling on the outside and threatening then ending the round with a big right straight. 19-19, Ige round.
Final round and Ige takes the centre once again, looking to use that jab and counter with his left hook. Emmett still looking for the power right hand but Ige seems to have him scouted now. Emmett steps forward and throws a straight right down the middle and wobbles Ige but he recovers very quickly and circles out. Ige lands his jab over and over, but Emmett is being more aggressive and coming forward. Both guys are missing with big shots as we enter the final minute. Emmett ducks under a big head kick but then eats a big uppercut. Both guys throw a final flurry, but that’s a super tough fight to call. Great fight.
Sean O’Malley def Raulian Paiva via Knockout, Round 1 (4:42)
Composed start to this fight from both guys as Paiva looks for an early takedown attempt but O’Malley sidesteps him into the cage. Body kick grazes the cup of Paiva and causes a short pause in the action. Paiva throws a hard low kick that gets a reaction, before O’Malley steps in with a hard straight left hand. Paiva trying to apply pressure but O’Malley moving well and avoids a leg kick then lands two left jabs and a big right hand behind it. O’Malley steps well to his right and lands a huge right hand that wobbles Paiva! He stays composed and lands a beautiful combination that hurts him badly! Huge body shot and hook combo drops Paiva and the referee steps in, huge win for O’Malley! Amazing!
Kai Kara-France def Cody Garbrandt via Knockout, Round 1 (3:21)
Lots of range finding in the opening minute of this fight as Garbrandt finds himself with his back against the cage circling, throwing some loose kicks. Kara-France just misses with a big overhand right and then just avoids a big right-hook from Garbrandt. Kara-France lands a big right hand that flattens Garbrandt! A big follow up shot drops him again but Garbrandt retreats and eggs him on, but he’s clearly hurt! Kara-France staying patient and then he lands a stunning combination that ends with a massive uppercut and Garbrandt is out! Kara-France lands a couple of strikes before Herb Dean steps in, but that’s that! What a KO!
Geoff Neal def Santiago Ponzinibbio via Split Decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)
Steady start to the fight for Neal with plenty of bouncing on his toes and throwing his jab and some leg kicks, forcing Ponzinibbio backwards. Both guys trade leg kicks and are starting to try and hold their ground in the centre. Neal lands a nice high kick and the referee warns both fighters about having their fingers out. A few short strikes each but not much damage so far. Neal using his jab well and both guys exchange before an accidental low kick from Neal causes a pause. They get back to it and Ponzinibbio lands a huge one-two right on the buzzer to end the round. 10-9 Neal for me.
More active start to the round as Ponzinibbio comes forward with a hard low kick and some straight right hands. Big one-two from Ponzinibbio down the middle to counter Neal’s leg kick and then a short right hand from Neal lands too. Ponzinibbio changes levels and blasts a takedown before Neal sweeps him to get back to his feet nearly immediately. Hard left hand lands from Neal, but Ponzinibbio lands a nice left jab-right hand. Neal lands a hard right hand but then eats a big leg kick in return, before a one-two of his own down the middle into the final minute of the round. Neal lands a big shot and Ponzinibbio claims it was a finger but the referee says no. They stare at each other and then trade a couple of strikes before the round ends. 19-19.
Final round and Ponzinibbio lands a right hand before Neal lands a left. More exchanges in the centre and Neal lands a hard right hook that wobbles Ponzinibbio but he recovers quickly and lands a hard low kick. Neal starting to come forward and throws his left hand before a left high kick that just misses. Right hand gets a reaction from Ponzinibbio again, but then he lands a hard low kick to get Neal to back up. Hard left hand from Neal lands but Ponzinibbio replies with a solid right hook himself. Hard low kick and Neal steps backwards, but then he counters another attempt with a right hand. Neal coming on strong with jabs but Ponzinibbio continues to come forward too. Neal lands a big three-punch combo with the left hand and Ponzinibbio is wobbled! Final 30 seconds and Ponzinibbio just misses with a right hand to end the fight. Good fight. 29-28 Neal for me.
Nunes opens up with a hard low kick that drops Pena immediately. Nunes lets her up and kicks the leg again, before Pena tries to throw a small flurry. Nunes throws a right hand that drops Pena and then she eventually drops on top of her looking to control on the ground. Nunes looks to transition to the back for a rear-naked choke but Pena just about defends it, before Nunes gets back to top position. Pena threatens with a kimura from the bottom but Nunes stays patient, defends it and sees the round out on top. 10-9 champ.
Nunes takes the centre and she starts looking for huge strikes early doors but Pena isn’t going anywhere. Pena is landing her jab at will and Nunes is getting hurt! Nunes trying to slug it out but she’s slow and looks exhausted already. Pena keeps coming and is smashing Nunes up! Big strikes from Pena and Nunes is rocked! Pena goes for a takedown and immediately goes to the back and locks up a choke! NUNES TAPS! NUNES TAPS! AND NEWWWW!!!
Charles Oliveira def Dustin Poirier via Submission (Rear-naked choke), Round 3 (1:02)
Fast paced start to the fight as Oliveira looks to take the centre and land body shots and his jab, but Poirier lands a right hand that knocks Oliveira off balance. Oliveira lands a big strike of his own and backs Poirier up and then he clinches looking for knees. Poirier getting kicked in the body and firing back with big combinations and drops Oliveira again. He lands a huge shot on the ground but Oliveira ties him up and then Poirier stands them up again immediately. Body work from Oliveira again is affecting Poirier and the rounds ends. Wow. 10-9 Poirier.
Huge start to the second round again as the frantic pace starts again and Oliveira immediately goes in for a takedown against the cage. He drags Poirier to the ground but as he tries to escape Oliveira takes the back. Poirier tries to escape but Oliveira holds his arm in place and illegally holds the glove before rolling into full guard. He lands some huge, thudding elbows as Poirier looks to defend off his back. Oliveira absolutely dominant with pressure and elbows but Poirier survives. 19-19.
Oliveira comes out fast once again and shoots in for a takedown and immediately transitions to a body lock from behind. He drags Poirier down and then jumps on to his back, sinking in hooks and looking for a standing rear-naked choke. Poirier defending the hands but Oliveira continues to switch the grips, sinks in the choke and forces the tap! Amazing!! What a fight!
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
At this point the conversation surrounding the women’s GOAT in mixed martial arts is a bit redundant.
Amanda Nunes is currently on a 12-fight win streak in the UFC having beaten every single former bantamweight or featherweight champion in the organisation’s history throughout her career.
Add to that two victories over Valentina Shevchenko too (regardless of how controversial you think they are), there isn’t really much of a debate to be had.
After a remarkable five bantamweight title defences since winning the belt from Miesha Tate at UFC 200, Nunes has cleared the division out.
Wins come easily now, and her domination of the featherweight division haven’t given her much of a tougher test either. Yet somehow, she has found motivation to continue in recent years despite the relative ease at which victories have come.
This weekend at UFC 269 however, Nunes has something to prove once again when she takes on Julianna Pena in the co-main event in her sixth 135lbs title defence.
Pena has been calling her out for years, to the point that a single fight win streak and two wins since 2017 have earned her that illustrious position of number one contender.
‘The Venezuelan Vixen’ has long been of the opinion that she has the tools to beat Nunes and shock the world, but she has never had the opportunity. That isn’t for any reason other than the last time Pena was on a win streak was the very same event Nunes won the belt.
That hasn’t stopped her from constantly calling for a fight with Nunes, and it was finally set to happen earlier this year at UFC 265. ‘The Lioness’ however tested positive for COVID-19 a little over a week before the bout and it was postponed.
Since then, Pena has been doing a press tour claiming that Nunes isn’t taking her seriously and that she faked the illness to get out of the fight. Pena is so sure that Nunes is ducking her, that she’s even convinced some fans that it’s the case.
So now, this title fight has got that little bit more personal than a standard fist fight would be.
Nunes must win or it makes Pena’s claims for all this time look more valid than ever. Should she win, it doesn’t do much for her legacy. At this point, it’s expected that she’s going to win every fight ever.But what it does do is mean that she can retire with zero question marks over her head.
There’ll be no debates over anyone she didn’t fight that she should have, no debates over any results and more importantly, no debates over who the greatest of all time is.
The UFC will close out 2021’s pay-per-view calendar with an absolute banger of a card after it was revealed three title fights will headline UFC 269 in December.
After what has been a blockbuster year of fights the UFC have announced that there will be three huge title fights in the final pay-per-view event of the year, headlined by Charles Oliveira’s first defence of the lightweight title against Dustin Poirier.
That will be supplemented by the women’s MMA G.O.A.T Amanda Nunes making her return to the bantamweight division to defend her crown against long-time rival Julianna Pena in their rescheduled fight from earlier in the year.
As if that wasn’t enough, a third title fight will be on the card as new flyweight champion Brandon Moreno will fight former champion Deiveson Figueiredo for the third fight in a row as they round off their trilogy.
Oliveira was crowned the undisputed lightweight champion back in May, defeating Michael Chandler via second-round knockout at UFC 262. That fight could have included Poirier, but he turned down the title opportunity in favour of a trilogy bout with Conor McGregor at UFC 264, which he won via doctor’s stoppage after the first round when ‘Notorious’ broke his leg.
Poirier and Oliveira have been on a collision course, with the Brazilian on a nine-fight win streak to become champion while Poirier is 8-1 with 1 no contest in his last ten fights. The only defeat came in his only previous shot at the undisputed title, being submitted by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242.
The fight is one that many fans will see as the real crowning of the new king of the division after the bout between Oliveira and Chandler came under criticism. Oliveira had just one win against a fighter ranked in the top five before that, while Chandler had only had one fight in the organisation – beating Dan Hooker via first-round knockout at UFC 257.
Amanda Nunes’ return to the bantamweight division comes after two straight title defences at featherweight, beating Felicia Spencer at UFC 250 and then destroying Megan Anderson at UFC 259 to retain her double champ status.
Pena has gone 2-2 in her last four fights, winning last time out against Sara McMann via submission. She has been calling Nunes out for a long time but after struggling to get a real run of wins going recently the title shots have instead gone elsewhere.
But with a lack of contenders for Nunes to face, Dana White has granted her wish and the champions has finally agreed to fight her despite her lack of win-streak and relatively low ranking.
Finally, we’ll get to run back one of the best flyweight rivalries in history one more time as Moreno and Figueiredo complete their trilogy.
The two fought in December 2020 at UFC 256 in one of the fights of the year, with the end result being a draw after Figueiredo had a point deducted for low blows in the third round. The rematch took place in June at UFC 263, with Moreno becoming the first ever Mexican born champion via a third-round submission win in a fight he largely dominated.
Figueiredo has been campaigning for a rematch since his defeat, after he granted Moreno one despite health problems. The UFC attempted to match Moreno with Alexandre Pantoja but he was suffering from a knee injury and was unavailable for December, with the champion wanting to remain active and keep the division moving.
UFC 269 will take place on December 11th 2021 at a location still to be announced.
Holly Holm takes on Irene Aldana in the main event on a card with plenty of room to make new stars as lots of relatively unknown names make the cut for this one. With 11 fights in total on the card, I’ll look to have a much better weekend of picks this time around. I’ll go through the card in it’s entirety and break down each fight and offer up my predictions.
Last weekend at UFC 253, I managed to get just 5/11 in total with only two perfect picks. It was comfortably the worst showing I’ve had while doing these picks.
Dequan Townsend (21-11) vs Dusko Todorovic (9-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A fight for the younger man to make a name for himself in this fight as Dequan Townsend looks to earn his first UFC win at the fourth attempt against young Serbian Dusko Todorovic. After picking up a win on Dana White’s Contender Series, Todorovic makes his UFC debut in this one and will look to overwhelm his opponent with a fast pace and good striking skills. He has finished all but one of his wins inside the distance with five knockout victories. While Townsend has knockout power and good counter striking, his lack of ability to control a fight often sees him struggle against the higher output type fighters. This bout looks tailor-made for Todorovic to come into the UFC and impress. PICK – Dusko Todorovic via Unanimous Decision
Kyler Phillips (7-1) vs Cameron Else (10-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
This is one of those fights where the records and streaks are a little bit off. Cameron Else has come up training under Donald Cerrone and is currently on a six-fight win streak but it’s a very padded record. He beat Cage Warriors star Paddy Pimblett back in 2013 but other than that he’s fought nobody of substance and only one of the six in his current streak had a winning record. Phillips is a super striker and won his UFC debut back in February with a decision win over Gabriel Silva. He will arguably be the best striker that Else has come up against in his career and the way he dealt with the previous two really good strikers he fought doesn’t stand him in good stead. Phillips showed in that Silva fight that he is more than capable of defending takedowns too, so Else will need to look to land a big one-punch knockout before Phillips ends his night early. PICK – Kyler Phillips via Knockout, Round 1
Germaine De Randamie (9-4) vs Julianna Pena (10-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The former featherweight champion and bantamweight championship contender Germaine de Randamie makes her return to the octagon for the first time this year against Julianna Pena. A former kickboxing world champion, de Randamie is an excellent striker with fantastic power as she showed in her knockout win over Aspen Ladd. Pena is as pure a grappler as they come in the women’s division and she can take a punch too but the way this fight goes really is dependant on if she can get the takedown. When de Randamie came up against Pennington, she managed to stuff the takedowns and deliver big shots for the full duration of the fight. If she can do something similar she should win this fight but with Pena’s skill it will be tough. Pena will take encouragement from Nunes’ ability to take de Randamie down and hope she can do the same to lock up a submission. With just one fight in three years though, I think ‘The Iron Lady’ will be able to keep it standing for the most part to be able to take a decision win. PICK – Germaine de Randamie via Unanimous Decision
Yorgan De Castro (6-1) vs Carlos Felipe (8-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
The weirdest co-main event fight of the year comfortably. Two unranked heavyweight fighters square off coming off losses in their last bouts. De Castro is a short heavyweight but he packs good power in his hands and has a really nice low kick that he showed off in his fight with Greg Hardy before injuring his foot. Felipe is your standard unranked heavyweight. Big, powerful and one-punch power but he lacks athleticism and any sort of plan B. He has a height and reach advantage in this fight but I am not expecting this to be a fight that many people remember going past the night. It’ll either be an early knockout or a slow, tiresome decision win for De Castro. PICK – Yorgan De Castro via Knockout, Round 1
Holly Hom (13-5) vs Irene Aldana (12-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A former world champion kickboxer, Holly Holm made her name with a world-shaking knockout win over Ronda Rousey way back when. Since then, Holm has gone 3-5 though while Aldana has gone 5-1 in her last 6 since 2018. Holm is the more experienced fighter but she’s also fought the better calibre of fighters in the UFC too. She’s physically stronger and despite a one inch height disparity, she also has the slight reach advantage. That will suit her kickboxing style but Aldana isn’t a woman to be messed with either. She has 6 knockouts and 3 submission wins in 12 career victories but 6 of her last 8 fights have gone the distance. She’s yet to do five rounds in the UFC and I think that will be a big advantage for Holm. The experience will be enough to see her through the fight and land enough big shots to get the nod from the judges. PICK – Holly Holm via Unanimous Decision
After going all of 2020 without a womens bantamweight title defence, the UFC are finally setting up the division to move forward.
Amanda Nunes’ victory over Germaine de Randamie in December 2019 was the last time we saw the 135lbs belt defended, with the Brazilian earning a decision win by using her ground game to grind out a big win. Despite being dominated on the ground, the Dutch fighter showed that Nunes is human by rocking her with an upkick in the second round although she couldn’t get the job done.
Holly Holm will take on Irene Aldana in the main event of UFC Fight Island 4 on Saturday night, knowing that a win could earn her a rematch against Nunes who defeated her via head-kick in July 2019. Since then she has defeated Raquel Pennington via a unanimous decision in January, while Aldana is looking to make it three wins in a row to earn herself a first title shot in the UFC.
But as Germaine de Randamie is still ranked officially as the #1 contender, she believes a win for her against Julianna Pena should set up a rematch of her own against Nunes. Pena is ranked as #6 officially but has just 1 win since 2017 after taking almost 30 months off following defeat to Valentina Shevchenko. A win for Pena would likely see her move into contention for a shot, although an immediate bout for the title is unlikely.
Holm and de Randamie have fought once before, with the ‘Iron Lady’ controversially getting the win despite some strikes after the horn on several occasions and many scoring the fight in favour of Holm too. A rematch between the two, should they both win as expected, would be welcomed by fans and experts but would also provide the chance for the UFC to determine a true number 1 contender on a winning run and give time for Nunes to recover from her December bout too.
Should Aldana pick up a win against Holm, to keep her active she could then fight the winner of the de Randamie vs Pena bout too to add some legitimacy to her title challenge too. The likelihood though is that she’d wait it out and look to immediately take on the GOAT of women’s MMA.
The division is finally moving though and while Nunes has cleared the division out there are some nice back-stories that can be made of any potential future match ups.