Now that he’s ranked, O’Malley can start to fight ranked opponents on a more regular basis and that sets him up perfectly to fight one of the best young prospects in the UFC at any weight class – Song Yadong.
O’Malley started 2021 with a big knockout win against Thomas Almeida at UFC 260, before a dominant performance and knockout win against Kris Moutinho at UFC 264 and then ending the year by starching Raulian Paiva at UFC 269.
Yadong went 2-1 in 2021, suffering a defeat to Kyler Phillips at UFC 259 before earning a split decision win over Casey Kenney at UFC 265 and then knocking out Julio Arce at UFC Vegas 42.
Many would like to see ‘Suga’ shoot up the rankings quickly and start fighting elite guys, but there is no need to rush him. The UFC seem to be happy with a slow build too, and a win against an elite prospect would be big for him.
In the same way that it would help him, it would also help Yadong’s star to rise hugely if he was able to secure a victory against O’Malley.
Both fighters are primarily strikers but they have well-rounded ground games too and it would certainly set up an exciting fight between two excellent prospects that fans adore.
A win for either would set up a big future fight against someone ranked inside the top ten, with all eyes on them to potentially make a run towards the title for the end of the year.
Muhammad has the perfect nickname heading into 2022 after the 2021 he had.
‘Remember the Name’ isn’t new to the UFC, but in 2021 he finally became a household name with some impressive victories and memorable moments in the octagon.
He opened the year with a win over Dhiego Lima at UFC 258 before stepping in on very short-notice to fight top contender Leon Edwards at UFC Vegas 21. When that fight ended in a no-contest due to an accidental eye poke, Muhammad took the momentum from the buzz of the fight and ran with it.
He called Edwards out all year and with dominant wins over Demian Maia at UFC 263 and then Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson at UFC Vegas 45 he may get his wish early in 2022 after breaking into the top five of the 170-pound rankings. What a year.
2. Erin Blanchfield (2-0 in 2021)
Blanchfield earned herself a big reputation outside of the UFC before finally making her debut with the organisation in September of this year, but she wasted no time making sure she made an impression.
A dominant decision win over Sarah Alpar set her up for a fight against Maycee Barber, who was forced to withdraw injured and was replaced by the equally highly rated Miranda Maverick at UFC 269.
Her performance in that fight was near flawless though as she showed her power, wrestling, composure and technique to waltz to a dominant decision win.
2022 could be a big year for ‘Cold Blooded’ if she continues winning in a division that is always desperate for new contenders with Valentina Shevchenko as dominant as ever.
1. Sean O’Malley (3-0 in 2021)
He’s not a new name and he’s without doubt one of the most popular fighters on the roster, but 2021 will be remembered as the real breakout year for Sean O’Malley in the UFC.
‘Suga’ opened the year with a brilliant knockout win over Thomas Almeida at UFC 260, as he dominated the Brazilian for three rounds before getting the highlight reel finish in the third-round.
He then fought short-notice opponent Kris Moutinho at UFC 264 and absolutely dominated for three rounds in that too. The UFC newcomer refused to go away, taking serious amounts of damage in the fight but O’Malley kept teeing off until the referee said enough was enough with seconds remaining.
He ended the year with a ranking though thanks to arguably the most impressive win of his year at UFC 269, when he stopped talented grappler Raulian Paiva in the first-round with a vicious combination.
Three wins, three knockouts and entering the new year as a ranked fighter – Sean O’Malley is the breakthrough fighter of the year.
The ‘Suga’ show once again delivered a spectacular performance in front of a sell-out crowd at UFC 269 as Sean O’Malley earned yet another highlight-reel victory against Raulian Paiva.
The two bantamweights went head-to-head in the main card opener at the T-Mobile arena, with O’Malley securing a third straight knockout victory when he launched a stunning combination at Paiva in the first round.
With 2022 just around the corner and ‘Suga’ almost certain to move into the rankings following this win, who should the UFC be looking at matching him up with going forward? Lets take a look at some options.
If the UFC fancy giving him a real push in 2022 as expected, then the veteran that is Pedro Munhoz would be a great option.
Both fought at UFC 269 and Munhoz found himself on the losing end of a decision against Dominick Cruz. He has never been finished in his professional MMA career and has excellent power in his hands and jiu-jitsu skills that would give O’Malley something to think about.
He currently sits in the top ten so it may be one too soon, but it’s surely a fight that would interest both guys.
These two have been going back and forth on social media and are two of the very best prospects the UFC have to offer. The fact they compete in the same division makes it even more exciting.
Both of these two have made a real name for themselves by knocking their foes out in the UFC and both are looking to move into the ranked conversations next year and make a push to be a contender.
But with Yanez unranked, it would seem a backward step to pair them together now despite the fact they both want it. Maybe that’s one for 2023 if they keep winning..
The veteran has found himself on a bad run over his last five fights. He was beaten handily by Max Holloway and Korean Zombie in 2019 before moving to bantamweight in 2020, earning a solitary yet controversial decision win over Munhoz.
Since then though he was KO’d violently by both Cory Sandhagen and Marlon Vera and has found himself on the edge of the rankings. A fight between himself and O’Malley would see if he can really still cut it, while also giving O’Malley a big name and a test against a ranked fighter.
This may be the most logical fight the UFC could make, although it’s probably not quite as exciting as some of the others mentioned.
A super young prospect with plenty of experience, this fight would undoubtedly produce fireworks.
Both guys love to stand and strike, have genuine knockout power and have a super bright future if you ask anyone that knows the sport. The UFC could look to keep these two apart because of how popular they are, saving it for a future date instead with higher stakes.
If that isn’t part of their thinking though, this could be the best fight for the fans and for O’Malley too.
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
Without a doubt one of the most popular athletes on the entire UFC roster, Sean O’Malley makes his return to the octagon on pay-per-view to close out 2021.
O’Malley is currently 2-0 in 2021, bouncing back from the first and only defeat of his career so far by adding Thomas Almeida and Kris Moutinho respectively to his highlight reel at UFC 260 and UFC 264 respectively.
Now he steps into the octagon to take on Raulian Paiva, another unranked but dangerous opponent that is part of the UFC’s stacked 135lbs roster.
O’Malley recently referred to himself as the ‘unranked champion’, pointing to the fact that ranked stars Pedro Munhoz and Dominick Cruz will be fighting on the prelims of the same card in the same division, such is the popularity of ‘The Suga Show’.
But at what point does O’Malley step up in competition and start really making a name for himself in the octagon rather than outside of it?
O’Malley first came onto fan’s radars back in 2017 with a KO win on Dana White’s Contender Series. Issues with injuries and USADA since have seen him compete just seven times since then and never against a ranked opponent.
This is a fighter that the company are keen to push to the moon, with the similarities to the rise of Conor McGregor way back when hard to ignore. But part of McGregor’s rise was the fact he moved up the rankings with relative ease before eventually winning the title in a stacked weight class.
O’Malley has mentioned previously that the fact he’s on an old contract means he wants to hold out fighting big names until he earns more money for it, but if legacy is his main aim he needs to make that move now.
A win over Paiva at UFC 269 will almost certainly see him enter the rankings finally, which means 2022 will see some big fights lined up for him.
Those big fights will only lead to bigger fights with victories, and O’Malley is someone who tends to try and compete fairly regularly which could see a bit of a surge up the rankings.
Add to that his popularity and the fact the UFC loves a needle-mover more than anything else, don’t be surprised to see a win at UFC 269 for O’Malley kickstart the rest of his career for 2022 and beyond.
Edwards is on a ten-fight unbeaten streak (9 wins, 1 no contest) and most recently dominated against Nate Diaz at UFC 263. Masvidal is coming off consecutive title fight defeats to Kamaru Usman, including a brutal knockout loss at UFC 261.
The two have had a heated rivalry for several years now after a backstage altercation at UFC London led to Masvidal punching Edwards in the face and causing a cut under his eye.
Cody Garbrandt will also be on the main card making his flyweight debut when he takes on Kai Kara-France. Garbrandt snapped a three-fight with a brilliant knockout win over Raphael Assuncao at UFC 250, but then got dominated by Rob Font last time out in May.
Rounding off the main card, Sean O’Malley returns to take on the supremely talented Raulian Paiva in the bantamweight division. The fight is a chance for ‘Suga’ to enter the rankings before 2022, with Paiva currently the number 15 bantamweight in the UFC.
On the prelims, you’ll be able to Dominick Cruz vs Pedro Munhoz, Geoff Neal vs Santiago Ponzinibbio, Andre Muniz vs Dricus Du Plessis, Maycee Barber vs Erin Blanchfield as well as Gillian Robertson, Alex Perez and Ryan Hall too!
FULL UFC 269 CARD
Charles Oliveira (c) vs Dustin Poirier – Lightweight Amanda Nunes (c) vs Julianna Pena – Bantamweight Leon Edwards vs Jorge Masvidal – Welterweight Kai Kara-France vs Cody Garbrandt – Flyweight Raulian Paiva vs Sean O’Malley – Bantamweight
Geoff Neal vs Santiago Ponzinibbio – Welterweight Pedro Munhoz vs Dominick Cruz – Bantamweight Andre Muniz vs Dricus Du Plessis – Middleweight Maycee Barber vs Erin Blanchfield – Flyweight Alex Perez vs Matt Schnell – Flyweight Ryan Hall vs Darrick Minner – Featherweight Gillian Robertson vs Priscilla Cachoeira – Flyweight Randy Costa vs Tony Kelley – Bantamweight
Good start to the fight from Rivera as he uses that long reach advantage to stab some kicks into the gut. Zhumagulov starts throwing some nice overhand right hands and is moving well but Rivera is putting the pace on him. Zhumagulov lands a nice left hook that drops Rivera and then synches up a nasty looking standing guillotine and forces the tap! Huge win!
Great start to the fight from Tavares as he uses his boxing well to light Akhmedov up nice and early. A nice exchange in the pocket and Tavares comes out on top of it. Nice low kick from Akhmedov but Tavares counters with a nice right hand. Akhmedov shoots in for a takedown and after a bounce on the cage gets it, but Tavares bounces straight back up. A few more takedown attempts but Tavares denies them all and lands some nice strikes in the exchanges to end the round. 10-9 Tavares.
Akhmedov steps into the second round with a nice jab and then a takedown attempt and while he gets him down he can’t hold him there and Tavares gets back up early. Tavares starts landing some heavy leg kicks and Akhmedov is feeling it. Nice jabs from Tavares but now Akhmedov is landing some heavy leg kicks of his own. Tavares steps in for a clinch and lands a big knee to the face, followed by a heavy low kick again. Akhmedov goes for another takedown but Tavares defends it well and should claim that round too. 20-18 Tavares.
Fast start to the final round from Tavares but staying patient with the volume of strikes, just pressing forward and forcing Akhmedov backwards. Tavares throws a heavy leg kick that drops Akhmedov, then lands another big one as he gets back to his feet. Great movement from Tavares and his jab is landing clean too. Akhmedov goes for a takedown but Tavares stuffs it brilliantly. Final minute and Tavares has rocked him! Big strikes just miss but Akhmedov is stumbling. Tavares lands a nice kick to end the round, great fight. 30-27 Tavares.
Jennifer Maia def Jessica Eye via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Interesting start as both women stay standing and Eye is landing really well. Nice kicks and some good hooks but Maia fires back too with a big knee up the middle. Eye lands some more short strikes and is just too fast so far. Some nice shots from Eye land and send Maia stumbling backwards and then Eye goes for a takedown and ends the round on top. 10-9 Eye.
Another good start from Eye as she continues to walk forward and lands short shots and apply pressure to Maia, who is being forced to fight on the back foot. Eye throwing some nice leg kicks but Maia is responding with a nice one-two up the middle that is landing well and often. Maia is pushing the pace now and landing big strikes. An accidental clash of heads opens up a massive cut on the head of Eye as the round ends. 19-19.
Final round and Maia is staying patient and not going straight for the cut. Lots of short strikes again but Eye is coming forward and landing some decent hooks and leg kicks of her own. Maia is doing really well to land the right hand and counter Eye’s pressure on the back foot. Big strikes from Maia as she applies heavy pressure herself with Eye bleeding heavily now. Great scrap, 29-28 Maia for me
Dricus Du Plessis def Trevin Giles via Knockout, Round 2 (1:41)
A very tense start to the fight for both guys as they both show lots of feints and bouncing on their feet. Du Plessis throwing some leg kicks to get some score with the judges and just misses with a flying knee. Du Plessis goes for the takedown against the cage and gets it, then passes into mount immediately. He starts targeting submissions but Giles defending fairly well and scrambling to safety. Du Plessis ends up back on top and looks for a big elbow but ends the round on top. 10-9 Du Plessis.
Good start to the round from Giles as he steps forward looking to land big heavy strikes early on. Du Plessis staying patient and avoids a big flying knee but backs up to the cage after landing a nice left hand. He throws a left jab that misses then throws a big right hand that lands flush and puts Giles out! He lands some follow up punches but this one is all over! What a knockout!
Ilia Topuria def Ryan Hall via Knockout, Round 1 (4:27)
Very tense start to the fight with Hall backing up against the cage and Topuria pressuring him. Hall throws a big spinning back kick that lands well. He starts rolling for emenari rolls but Topuria is avoiding them all and doing really well to skip out. Several minutes pass of Hall rolling for legs but missing, and then Hall goes for another spin kick. Topuria catches it and forces Hall to the ground, then lands some heavy shots that put Hall out! Huge win for Topuria!
Michel Pereira def Niko Price via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Slow start to the fight as Pereira lands a nice jab and Price starts to go for some takedowns against the cage. Pereira defends well against the cage and starts firing off some big shots and his speed is troubling Price. Some superman punch attempts just miss but Pereira is doing well to keep attacking with volume. Rolling thunder attempt to finish the round and it’s 10-9 to the Brazilian.
Second round and Pereira is coming out strong, throwing a nice body kick that hurts Price. He goes on the attack and starts throwing some heavy strikes and gets Price down to the ground. Pereira starts looking for an americana submission but Price defends it, so Pereira starts raining down strikes instead. Price is just about surviving and Pereira moves to his back looking for a choke, but Price is able to roll out and get back to his feet before the round ends. 20-18 Pereira.
Final round and Price is pouring on the pressure nice and early as he sees Pereira is tiring. Price landing some big shots and Pereira just doesn’t have the same pop to his counters or movement in his legs anymore. Price pouring it on and landing some big strikes but Pereira is surviving. Nice left hand from Pereira but Price keeps coming forward. He goes all out before the end of the round but it’s likely not enough. 29-28 Pereira for me.
Max Griffin def Carlos Condit via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Hugely impressive start to the fight from Griffin as he lands some heavy leg kicks early that are getting big reactions from Condit. Griffin keeping a big pace and is doing lots of work on Condit who just can’t get going at all. Griffin landing some big strikes and Condit is in trouble! Griffin goes for the finish but Condit survives and the round ends. 10-9 Griffin, potentially even a 10-8.
Second round and Condit has come out and is walking forward and Griffin has slowed down considerably. Condit more willing to take the strikes as he comes forward and Griffin has so far completely stopped with the leg kicks. Condit continuing to step forward and landing some nice strikes but Griffin not getting hurt too much and is trying to counter. Condit lands a few more as the round ends, 19-19.
Griffin coming out much more aggressive in the final round and landing some nice jabs. Few big haymakers from Griffin are getting through, and Condit is being forced to back up now as he starts to tire. Condit starts firing back with some heavy body shots and a right hand, but Griffin throws a couple of leg kicks to snap the momentum immediately. Nice right hand again from Griffin and Condit backs up, so Griffin goes for the takedown and keeps the fight there until the round ends. 29-28 Griffin for me. Great fight.
Sean O’Malley def Kris Moutinho via Knockout, Round 3 (4:33)
Solid start to the fight from O’Malley. Suga is pushing the pace and landing some really nice jabs. Lots of heavy strikes landing but Moutinho stepping forward and looking for a right hook. O’Malley continues with the jabs and hooks through the guard and he is beating Moutinho up badly. Big right hook lands and drops Moutinho and then he goes for a spin kick that just misses. Lots of strikes and Moutinho is getting pieced up. O’Malley throws a pull right cross counter and drops Moutinho! He goes for the guillotine submission but time runs out. 10-8 O’Malley.
Second round and O’Malley is doing more of the same, just landing heavy strikes and really beating Moutinho up. Moutinho keeps storming forward though and is just missing with his right hooks. O’Malley smashing hooks and jabs through the guard but starting to tire. Moutinho keeps going forward and is talking to O’Malley and surviving the beating somehow. 20-17.
O’Malley comes out in the third round firing once again but Moutinho is just a zombie coming forward. O’Malley throwing knees, kicks, strikes and uppercuts but Moutinho is talking to him and smiling. O’Malley is fading but still throwing beautiful jabs and combinations. As the round comes into the final 30 seconds O’Malley lands a huge combination and Moutinho is hurt! He’s still standing but the referee waves it off after an accumulation.
Irene Aldana def Yana Kunitskaya via Knockout, Round 1 (4:35)
Good start to the fight from Kunitskaya with some kicks to counter the boxing attack of Aldana early on. Kunitskaya goes for a spinning wheel kick and then clinches up looking for a takedown, but Aldana defends it really well. Aldana slips a charge and lands a big right cross to the nose and then a jab, then lands a beautiful left hook to the body that hurts Kunitskaya. Some good jabs and slips and then she lands a big left hand again that drops Kunitskaya. Aldana rains down ground and pound but Kunitskaya tries to survive it by holding her hands for control. Aldana gets on top of her, slams big strikes into her face and the referee steps in to end it! Huge performance from Aldana!
Tai Tuivasa def Greg Hardy via Knockout, Round 1 (1:07)
Tuivasa comes out and lands some heavy leg kicks to start that Hardy immediately feels and struggles with. They start going wild with strikes and Hardy tags Tuivasa bad! He rushes in for the finish but Tuivasa counters with a crazy left-hook that puts Hardy out!!! Wow! What a knockout!!
Gilbert Burns def Stephen Thompson via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Very cagey start to the fight from both guys as they look to feel each other out. Burns steps forward with some looping hooks but Thompson avoids and moves out of range once again. Burns shoots in for a takedown against the cage and after a stalemate gets the fight down. He holds top position for the remainder of the round without landing too much damage. 10-9 Burns.
Thompson comes out more on his toes and lands some good side kicks and lots of body shots to keep Burns at distance. Some nice right hands and Burns bites down on his mouthpiece to fire back but Thompson is out of the way swiftly. More kicks from Thompson and as the round comes to an end Burns gets Thompson down once again and lands some decent strikes but that’s a Thompson round. 19-19.
Final round and Burns comes out hot and heavy ready to go. Nice right hand lands and then Burns shoots for the takedown and gets it around halfway through the round. Burns sits on top of Thompson and applies pressure, with good ground and pound and just staying heavy to take what should be a decision win for him. 29-28 Burns.
Dustin Poirier def Conor McGregor via Doctor Stoppage (Broken Ankle), Round 1 (5:00)
McGregor comes out and lands two sharp spinning kicks to the body followed by his teet kick. Poirier coming forward but McGregor slams some hard leg kicks into him to slow him down. Poirier responds with a couple of his own but McGregor going for the kicks. McGregor lands a nice left hand but Poirier responds with a combination that seems to buzz McGregor. McGregor clinches and Poirier goes for the takedown, but McGregor looks to sink in a guillotine choke. Poirier avoids and starts slamming in some heavy ground and pound shots, big elbows to McGregor who’s hurt! Poirier piling on the pressure and looking for a finish but McGregor is surviving for now. Poirier lets McGregor back up and he throws a punch that misses but as he plants his back foot his leg gives way and snaps! Poirier lands some shots on McGregor while he’s down as the round ends.
McGregor tells the referee and doctor his leg is broken and the doctor waves the fight off immediately! What an anti-climax to a crazy fight and trilogy!
In the co-main event we have a huge welterweight contender fight too as former title challengers Gilbert Burns and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson go head-to-head with each other to try and climb towards another shot against Kamaru Usman in the near future.
Also on the card is the return of ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley as he opens up the main card, while the prelims are full of exciting bouts too.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 30, we went 12/6 with two perfect picks for our selection for a not so good outing. That took us to 352/554 (63.54%) with 160 perfect picks (45.45%) since starting up.
O’Malley is a phenomenal striker, with quick kicks and bricks for hands as well as his excellent jiu-jitsu skills too. Moutinho is a good striker too, with good front kicks and a nice right cross to go with it. His issue in this fight is going to be the speed difference, where O’Malley absolutely blows him out of the water.
He’s too fast, too strong and too precise and this is more of a showcase fight for O’Malley than anything else. PICK – Sean O’Malley via Knockout, Round 1
Irene Aldana (12-6) vs Yana Kunitskaya (14-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Aldana is a very good boxer, with a good reach and a great left hook that knocked out Vieira in the past. She’s quite one dimensional though and Kunitskaya is very good at battling against her opponents strengths since she is so well rounded herself. She has good punches and kicks and some good takedown abilities, much better than Holm at least who dominated Aldana on the ground.
That leads me to believe that Kunitskaya will be able to do the same and if she can avoid getting hit clean and hard early on, but I’m not sure she will. PICK – Irene Aldana via Decision
Tai Tuivasa (12-3) vs Greg Hardy (7-3) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Tuivasa is a juggernaut who has legitimate one-punch knockout power but he also has a great calf kick to set up his big right hand and okay cardio for a heavyweight. Hardy is ever improving and has good power in his hands too, but is still struggling with pacing himself in fights and often blows his load in the cage. Both guys have the power to put the other away but I trust Tuivasa’s chin more than Hardy’s and he paces himself better too.
Overall it won’t be the highest quality but there will be bombs thrown and I expect Tuivasa to land one on Hardy’s chin that sends him to a new realm of consciousness. PICK – Tai Tuivasa via Knockout, Round 2
Gilbert Burns (19-4) vs Stephen Thompson (16-4-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
An absolute banger of a bout at welterweight in a real contender bout at 170lbs between Burns and Wonderboy. Burns went on a six-fight win streak to earn himself a title shot against Kamaru Usman at UFC 258 but he was knocked out in the third round by his former teammate. Thompson on the other hand has overcome a bad run to win his last two, including a dominant win over Geoff Neal at UFC Vegas 17.
Burns is a jiu-jitsu fighter predominantly but he has recently fallen in love with his hands and has terrific power in both his fists for a knockout, while Thompson is a karate-style fighter who uses excellent footwork to move and his long range to score points on his opponent. Burns is at a disadvantage in height and reach and that means he has to come forward to close the distance, which is where Thompson is at his best.
He hasn’t been taken down in over four years and his striking looks crisper than ever before, so I think this could end up being quite a one-sided decision win for ‘Wonderboy’. PICK – Stephen Thompson via Decision
Dustin Poirier (27-6) vs Conor McGregor (22-5) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The biggest fight of the year so far for the UFC and there isn’t a title in sight as Poirier and McGregor look to end their stalemate once and for all. Poirier is currently on a run of seven wins in nine (one no contest) with the only defeat coming to Khabib Nurmagomedov, and his most recent wins coming over Dan Hooker at UFC Vegas 4 and McGregor himself in January. ‘Notorious’ has actually lost three of his last six stretching all the way back to 2016.
Poirier is a boxer with good grappling skills and some solid kicks too as seen in the most recent bout between the two. McGregor on the other hand is a sensational kickboxer who took a more boxing heavy approach last time out to his detriment. It’s the same fight as six months ago in reality, with the difference going to be who makes the better adjustments from that bout.
The crowd being back will be a boost for McGregor but Poirier is legitimately one of the all-time great lightweights ever and he seemed to be able to take Conor’s left-hand in the first round last time. If he can do that again, the longer the fight goes the better it is for Poirier and I see him taking a unanimous decision win in a scrap that will send fans home happy. PICK – Dustin Poirier via Decision