After our first couple of cards on Fight Island were a success and quite entertaining to kick off 2021, we now move on to our first pay per view card of the year. UFC 257 features a pair of bouts at the highest levels of the lightweight division. In the co-main event, Michael Chandler will answer how he stacks up against the top of the division when he meets Dan Hooker. The winner between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier will almost certainly be part of the next lightweight title fight, whether Khabib Nurmagomedov comes back for one more fight or not. The remainder of the pay per view card is well made and the prelims bring some interesting matchups as well. Let’s get to the select fights.
Conor McGregor -315 vs Dustin Poirier
Fight is at 155 lbs and is -410 to end inside the distance.
After a year since his last fight, we finally get the return of Conor McGregor. This will be just the third fight in over four years for McGregor, as he has been inactive, and essentially nothing good has happened for him in MMA in that span. It was November 2016 when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez, and his fights since then have been a lopsided loss to Khabib and a lay up welterweight win against Cowboy Cerrone. No disrespect to Cerrone, but his track record is that of just a middling fighter at 170 lbs.
This will be McGregor’s first test against an elite striker in at least four years, and in that span, the oversized underdog Dustin Poirier has done some remarkable things in the lightweight division. Poirier is 5-1-1 in that span, with the only loss coming to Khabib. In that stretch he has beaten Justin Gaethje, Max Holloway, Dan Hooker and Eddie Alvarez. He has embraced wars in those fights as well, and his durability shined through as he absorbed 115 or more significant strikes in three of those fights against elite competition.
Said durability will absolutely be a requirement to continue for Poirier, as no matter the level of rust or inactivity McGregor comes in with, he will keep the ability to sleep anyone with just one clean left hand. The first round will be the full on danger zone for Poirier, as he has been a slow starter at times, and McGregor is a killer in that round, notching five UFC knockouts in the first round, including one against Poirier in 2014.
That first matchup does needs to be addressed, as it was a dominant and decisive win for McGregor, but the matchup now is not nearly the same. The first major difference is that fight was at featherweight while this one is at lightweight. It also featured a version of McGregor that had already come into his prime, while Poirier had not yet arrived, and was additionally not in his correct weight class. The body of work for both fighters should be considered over the fight from six years ago.
So the question is, what to expect in this fight? For Poirier, the early portion of the fight will be as much about survival as much as anything else. He needs to start some offense early, as that will help him defensively, but the major key will be avoiding the fight ending shot that McGregor has ended so many opponents with. He should look to take the fight down at any given opportunity to drain McGregor, but the ability of McGregor to keep fights standing has long been underrated and it would be no surprise at all to see this fight take place on the feet for its entirety. Poirier should want to drag this fight into deep waters, where he can rely on his durability and volume to put his boxing game to work, as I believe he will be the better conditioned fighter. Once this fight hits the third round, regardless of the events of the first two rounds, Poirier should be considered something of a pick’em.
For McGregor, he should look to just be himself. He has an otherworldly ability to put massive shots on the button, and more often than not, that single bomb is enough to end the night of his opponent. Of course he will very much want to keep the fight standing and will need to be aware of any wrestling shots coming his way. The game plan for McGregor could be as simple as “make it a short night.”
While I find it essentially impossible to pick against McGregor in a striking matchup, I do think the line is too wide. The line is too wide to the point that if forced to pick, the Poirier side would be the one to play. Seeing as we are not forced to make a play in this fight, it is one to sit back and enjoy as a fan.
Dan Hooker -125 vs Michael Chandler
Fight is at 155 lbs and is -130 to end inside the distance.
Michael Chandler makes his long awaited debut, after making the move from Bellator to the UFC. He got quite a high starting point on the totem pole, being matched up with Dan Hooker in his debut. The fight does make a lot of sense however, as Chandler is 34 years old and there is no time to bring him along more slowly if he is to be a title challenger. For Hooker, he needs a bounce back after his war with Dustin Poirier, on which Hooker came out on the losing end. That fight cemented Hooker as someone who is certainly a high end UFC lightweight, but one that is just a tick below the elite. Albeit, that is not without room to grow.
Chandler is a high end wrestler, but in MMA, he has been more reliant on a thunderous right hand. His striking does not come in volume, but he certainly throws the right with fight ending intentions, and it would be quite a feat if he can finish the wildly durable Hooker. Hooker certainly has the durability advantage in this fight, as Chandler has been knocked out three times in MMA.
Hooker will carry multiple advantages in the striking department, and the first is volume. He will simply be the busier striker as the natural style for Hooker is faster while the natural style for Chandler is slower. Hooker is also much longer than Chandler, as he will have 4” in both height and reach. I would also deem Hooker to be on par with Chandler from a power perspective, but it is safe to say neither are lacking.
In the wrestling and grappling realm, Chandler is certainly the better wrestler and can control opponents once it hits the mat, but Hooker has shown some tools to counteract wrestlers. He does very well in scrambles, and is quite capable of snatching up what are essentially defensive submissions when an opponent shoots in on him. Just ask Gilbert Burns about that. He also has shown he can fire a knee at a shooting wrestler, and just showing that can discourage those shots.
All in all, I see this fight taking place predominantly in the stand up, and I see Hooker having a large edge there. If the fight makes the judge’s scorecards, Hooker will have locked up the volume edge, while I also see Hooker as the more likely for a finish, given his durability edge. I believe this line is not nearly wide enough, and am happy to attack Hooker at just -125.
Amanda Ribas -320 vs Marina Rodriguez
Fight is at 115 lbs and is +150 to end inside the distance.
This fantastic strawweight bout kicks off the pay per view portion of the card, and I personally find Amanda Ribas to be must-watch tv. Her skill set, particularly her striking continues to grow, and she is already what I consider to be the best grappler in the division, a division that includes Mackenzie Dern. This will be the first time in Ribas UFC tenure that she is matched up with a better striker than her, and it will be interesting to see how she deals with the taller Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a very good striker, but her wrestling and grappling game is a hole for her, and it seems the promotion knows it. They continue to match her up with fighters who are more than willing to exploit that hole, and she has had two draws and a loss to go with her three wins as a result. Even if we said Ribas would be wholly uncompetitive in the standup, she is going to take Rodriguez down and absolutely roll on her. Of course, she will be competitive in the stand-up, but that is not where she wants to fight this fight. We will see just one takedown lead to a submission or ground and pound finish for Ribas. The -320 flat line is not as attractive as I do believe she gets this one done inside the distance, so the +200 for that outcome is easily the best value.