Best value bets for UFC 264: Poirier-McGregor 3


The fight capital of the world, Las Vegas, hosts UFC 264 this week. For decades I have been attending world-class championship bouts in Las Vegas and this fight card with the Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor headliner ranks right up there with them all. A full house of ravenous fans will be on hand to watch 13 fights featuring fighters from 11 countries each possessing varying body types and fighting styles.

Handicapping the UFC is a magnificent challenge and one in which I learn each and every day.

The Insight the Octagon bankroll took a one-unit hit a couple of weeks ago with the Danilo Marques + 100 loss. To date, profitability stands: 18-11 + 9.68 units.

Here’s an early look at UFC 264. I’ll be on hand for interviews and weigh-ins this week. My final releases will be published late Friday and ready for VSiN publication early Saturday morning.


Lightweight (155 pounds), Main Event

This is a trilogy fight.

In the first, McGregor earned victory via knockout when each man was a shell of the fighter he is today. In fact, they competed in the featherweight division (145 pounds) in that 2014 fight. The second fight was in January. In that lightweight bout, Poirier weathered frantic early pressure from McGregor before he was able to bludgeon the front leg of the Irishman, who entered with a stoic boxing stance and a stale fight plan. Poirier eventually chopped McGregor’s lead leg to a pulp, enabling him to KO the brazen brawler halfway through the second round.

It’s safe to say McGregor will return to a more karate stance/approach for this bout and with it a more focused attempt to control space and distance. He once possessed an innate fluidity of offensive and defensive movement, precision placement of vicious leg and arm strikes coupled with quickness and natural athleticism. McGregor must return to using those assets as the basis for his fight plan if he is to have any chance.  

McGregor, usually the athlete teeming with confidence, must now compete with an opponent who enters the cage with at least as much belief and momentum as he. A master at goading opponents into rage and irrational octagon behavior, McGregor’s attempt at mental aggression will not work against Poirier, based on the result of their January bout.

McGregor, who is 1-2 as a lightweight is most effective early in bouts then is challenged with conditioning after a round or two especially when competing against larger men. We witnessed this in his losses to Poirier in January and against Khabib Nurmagomedov and Diaz earlier. McGregor must commit to damaging then finishing Poirier early in this fight if he is to get his hand raised.

Poirier, the substantially larger, more durable competitor, must be able to weather McGregor’s speed, athleticism and complex striking attack early in order to batter the will out of him late. His plan will again revolve around taking McGregor deep into this fight while forcing the Irishman to defend a vicious leg attack, fatigue and Poirier’s forward-pressure striking.

McGregor has fought three times since his loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2016, while Poirier has competed seven times against elite talent within a top division in the UFC.

Poirier is a legitimate top-three lightweight contender while McGregor places a level below the top four or five lightweights. That can change Saturday when McGregor must display that he still has the grit, drive and hunger required to compete at this level in the octagon. This is something many question, myself included.

Poirier must maintain composure and by any means possible follow his team’s plan and take this fight into the third round or later. He’s proven to be able to go a full five with elite lightweights, so taxing McGregor and forcing him to use his energy is mandatory in order for Poirier to have the advantage in the later rounds.

Poirier can’t get into a firefight early, rather he must use patience and a measured approach in order to set up his forward-pressing power striking. The Poirier camp believes the way to conquer McGregor involves Poirier unleashing his heat in the latter rounds after McGregor’s speed, quickness and movement have waned.

McGregor’s athleticism, movement, footwork, precision striking and innate fighting acumen must all be present for more than two rounds Saturday in order for him to win this bout.

For Poirier, he must control his mental state and force McGregor to extend himself into the late second round and later, where Poirier’s conditioning, size, experience and aggression will give him the advantage.

We’ll wait until late in the week to consider the Poirier side as the Irish droves betting late should change the look of this price substantially.

Total in this fight: 1.5 rounds Over -190

I’ll look to scour prop wagers to obtain more favorable pricing on the Over.

Fight starts Round 3 -110 is a target available only at a few resources at this early time.


Welterweight (170 pounds), Co-Main Event

Thompson is ranked fourth and perhaps the most overlooked and underrated fighter in the welterweight division. At 37, Thompson holds previous championship-level five-round experience and he has faced the best of the division without absorbing a lot of damage. Thompson’s karate base, fluid movement and his length and height allow him to effectively evade incoming strikes and kicks while simultaneously positioning himself to counter any attacker with refined precision fists, elbows, feet, shins and knee strikes.

Thomson’s experience, athleticism, precision striking, innately evasive defensive skill and unorthodox kicking game are fueled by his diverse combination of fighting specialties. He is a fifth-degree black belt in Tetsushin-ryu Kempo, a first-degree black belt in Jujutsu, a black belt in American Kickboxing and finally he sports a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Carlos Machado.

Thompson is the most competitive threat to champion Kamaru Usman, and with a decisive victory against No. 2-ranked Burns there will be few who can argue against Thompson being next in line for a crack at the belt.

Burns is as gifted a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artist as there is in the UFC. Though his reach is unusually short, he packs fight-ending power with his fists. He is explosive on the feet and as comfortable and dangerous rolling on the floor as any man alive. His TKO loss to Usman and his drive to get another title shot immediately is what has driven Burns to this most competitive and dangerous battle. This quick return to the cage may or may not be such a great idea. 

How Burns is able to penetrate his opponent’s dynamic range and mobility will be key to his success in this fight. Just as Thompson must control distance and keep Burns at the end of his strikes, Burns must play the bob-and-weave in order to penetrate Thompson’s defenses. Once inside the pocket, Burns’ plan will be to soften Thompson with strikes then ASAP clasp onto then drag the longer, stand-up-based combatant to the mat, where Burns’ prowess is unmatched.

Burns seems a favorable stylistic opponent for Thompson in that he must manage his way inside Thomson’s striking range in order to be effective. This is an approach Thompson has seen and defended throughout his career. Thomson’s ability to move and evade the pressing Burns while countering him in precision fashion will be his plan, and it’s my judgment that he’ll carry it out effectively over three rounds.

Thompson -150 leg 1 of two-fighter parlay

Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -145


Heavyweight (265 pounds) 

The winner of this fight propels himself into the top 15 of a division thin on talent. Tuivasa is a former rugby player who now fights in between drinking cold beers out of his or other people's footwear.

He’s relatively deliberate in his striking and has little cardio. Though he’s been working on developing his fight game, improvement seems to be coming to him at an evolutionary rate and his last couple of wins were over competitors of dubious stature.

Hardy is the much more athletic man, though many believe he has hit the ceiling for his fighting ability. This idea is a strange one and I’m not certain I agree with it. Hardy will have a three-inch height advantage, five-inch arm and leg length advantages while holding superior athleticism and power.

Tuivasa may struggle trying to haul the physically more structured and athletic Hardy to the floor, where his advantage lies in gaining top control in order to both negate Hardy’s striking and rain ground and pound on the former NFL defensive end.

Hardy needs to make this a stand-up fight and press the smaller, less physically impressive Tuivasa backward and keep him at the end of his strikes, knees and elbows.

Lean Hardy

Total for this fight: 1.5 rounds Over -185


Welterweight (170 pounds)

Wild men in the octagon.

Price is usually taller and longer than his opponents, but his Brazilian opponent will hold height and size advantages in this bout. Price will have a slight reach advantage. He is primarily a kickboxer with a BJJ blue belt. While he is comfortable on the floor, he prefers to stand and force the fight with forward pressure that can sometimes take a reckless, risky form.

Pereira is a wild man by nature and morphs into a killer upon hearing the chime of an opening bell. He’s huge for the division and will clearly be the larger of the two fighters. Pereira, when mentally channeled and focused, is an absolute killer in the cage. If his trainers and cornermen can train him to calm down and adhere to a plan of attack, this kid can be a top-three talent in the division. Perreira’s youth, athleticism, footwork and innate power will dictate this fight provided that he remains focused and on task.

Pereira -145 pending weigh-ins

Total for this fight: 1.5 rounds Over -170


Welterweight (170 pounds)

Condit is 36 year old, but in fight years, he is much older and on the edge of octagon effectiveness as far as top-20 talent is concerned. He’s been in the cage with and competed against decorated elite talent, but the punishment he has endured over the course of his career forces me to regard him as less a fighter now than he was just a few years ago.

Griffin is only a year younger, but his career trajectory is on a steep incline. Splitting time between Team Alpha Male and MMA Gold has been good for Griffin, who will be the shorter man in the octagon but the thicker, more powerful and well-rounded fighter.

Condit has always struggled when he is unable to keep a fight on the feet, and it’s simply a matter of time before Griffin sets up his ground attack via striking. These are two fighters moving in different directions.

Lean Griffin pending weigh-ins

Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -190


Middleweight (185 pounds)

Two men of similar height, reach and age will compete to see which may project himself into the top 10 of the division with an impressive win.

Tavares, who trains at Las Vegas’ Xtreme Couture, is the more experienced, powerful fighter, but he’s absorbed damage in his career, plus he’s been a bit inactive while recovering from injuries. Tavares is aggressive and he’ll want to engage Akhmedov in the middle of the octagon and throw down.

Akhmedov seems like the fresher fighter now that he competes at 185 pounds and is experiencing career momentum. He should hold a cardio advantage over Tavares, so his focus will be on forcing the Hawaiian to work diligently from the opening bell in order to drain him of his energy. I believe this sets up to be a tightly contested bout but one where Akhmedov has a great chance to earn a decision.

Monitoring until later this week

Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -210


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