The UFC’s golden boy, Conor McGregor returns this weekend in the UFC 257 main event, in a rematch with Dustin Poirier. The Etihad Arena on Fight Island plays host to what is an intriguing card which also contains the highly touted Michael Chandler making his UFC debut in the co-main against Dan Hooker. Let’s dive straight into it below.
The two met all the way back in UFC 178 where both were prospects with ambitions of being UFC champions. McGregor came away with a first round KO and from there had an astronomical rise to become the star he is today. That loss saw Poirier move up a division and since then his career has really improved, finishing the likes of Gathje, Alvarez, Pettis and Hooker since. Unfortunately for Poirier he is not the only one who has improved as McGregor has continued to evolve his striking and improve upon his wrestling.
Both men were dominated on the mat by Khabib Nurmagomedov in their Lightweight title bouts but that is nothing to be ashamed of. Although McGregor is either loved or hated he is almost becoming underrated as outlandish as that seems. He was flat against Khabib and looked to have lost some of the motivation ever since his move to boxing. However, the Conor that turned up against Cerrone last year showcased his skills and he looked focused and stronger than ever. When McGregor is on his game there are very few that can compete with him. With the money he has, he could only continue to fight due to his love for the sport and for the competition.
McGregor will likely rock and drop Poirier early and Poirier’s chances hinge on whether or not he is put away when it happens. McGregor has the edge in striking but will fade through the rounds. This is largely down to his inefficient breathing which shocks me to this day how he hasn’t addressed it. His breathing causes him to fade badly and make irrational tired decisions (such as taking down Nate Diaz). Luckily for McGregor I believe he has the power and skill to put away Poirier before it becomes a problem in either the first or second round.
This is the most interesting fight on the card and one that should be absolute fireworks from the outset. Hooker is a rangy striker who likes to use his knees and dirty boxing. While he is incredibly tough, he is susceptible to body shots and doesn’t always throw enough volume to get the win. His opponent Michael Chandler makes his Octagon debut after fighting exclusively under the Bellator banner, where he was the Lightweight champion. He is a typical wrestle-boxer, much like Colby Covington, who uses his wrestling and pressure fighting to wear on his opponents. He has an outstanding right hook and real power in his punches. Interestingly Chandler is the underdog, and this is the first time in 10 years that he will be. The danger for Chandler will be avoiding Hooker’s knees as he pressures forward but he carries enough power in his hands to make a dirty boxing fight risky for Hooker. Also Chandler’s wrestling is a real X Factor and Hooker has shown he isn’t the best off his back, where he could spend some time in this fight. I am backing Chandler to get this one done.
Albazi is an exciting prospect with some slicks skills on the ground but must improve his stand up if he is to become any sort of a top 15 fighter in the UFC. He impressively won his UFC debut against Malcolm Gordon via triangle choke and looks to make it two on the bounce in the UFC here. Zhalgas Zhumagulov made his debut against Raulian Paiva in which he lost by decision. I was so excited for his debut and was a little disappointed by his performance which I am going to put down to some debut jitters. He is an awkward fighter who throws looping punches and mixes in some takedowns. Albazi is a more favourable match up for him as I don’t believe he will be able to submit Zhumagulov and Albazi’s striking is very basic. Backing Zhalgas to bounce back and get the win here.
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