My best bets for UFC 264: Poirier-McGregor 3

By Reed Kuhn  (VSiN.com) 

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(To view the charts accompanying this report, subscribe to Point Spread Weekly)

It’s another McGregor mega-card in Las Vegas, and Saturday night will feel like a true pre-pandemic UFC weekend. And despite no titles being on the line, three main card matchups at UFC 264 will have clear title implications.

Lightweights: Dustin Poirier -120 vs Conor McGregor + 100

Simply put, has McGregor done enough since their last fight to beat Poirier at his apparent career peak? We have two of the most accurate power strikers in the game, with a combined 25 knockdowns scored between them. There’s tons of offensive potential in one cage, and not much difference in defensive statistics.

However, Poirier proved that taking the fight directly to McGregor can stifle some of the Irishman’s aggression and fight control. It also seemed Poirier’s striking had evolved better than McGregor’s, with a finish between the two an inevitability the way they last fought. Yet we didn’t see much of a ground game, where Poirier should have an even more pronounced advantage.

Ignoring out-of-cage storylines, the math is close to a coin flip, with just a slight edge to Poirier. Moneyline lean on Dustin Poirier, as long as his price is above -140. Given the support McGregor usually sees at the books, look for any temporary price bumps for Poirier near even money.

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Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson has hovered near the top of the division for years but got overlooked as the next challenger for the title. That could really cost him because Gilbert Burns presents a serious stylistic threat that could derail Thompson’s hopes of another title shot.

On paper, Thompson is one of the best long-range strikers in the division, and Burns will have to be at his most aggressive to close the distance without taking too much damage on the way in. But Burns does carry that potential, and should he initiate a ground attack, the asymmetry on the mat will be pronounced. Thompson has decent takedown defense, but if the fight is on the mat, defense will be his only hope just to survive the round.

Before earning a title shot, Burns had superior striking and wrestling against once-dominant former champion (and decorated wrestler) Tyron Woodley. However, if Burns chooses to stand and trade with Wonderboy, it could be a long and frustrating three rounds. Fight IQ and coaching will matter here, as Burns has a clear path to victory only if he can capitalize on takedowns early and often. With the return on Burns as high as + 145 in some places, we’ll take a moneyline play on Gilbert Burns.

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When heavyweights Tai Tuivasa and Greg Hardy face off, don’t expect any takedowns. In their combined UFC careers, they’ve landed just a single takedown. That doesn’t mean Tuivasa won’t close distance, though, as he logs a fair bit of time controlling opponents against the cage. But this will primarily be two head hunters swinging for the fences, and it’s the experience of Tuivasa that deserves the edge.

Tuivasa is accustomed to being the shorter-range fighter, but he still has faced down larger and more experienced opponents. Not having to worry about a ground threat from Hardy will also help his cause and justifies laying a bit of juice. Moneyline play on Tai Tuivasa. Small prop play on Tuivasa by TKO at plus money.

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Top 5 women’s bantamweights Irene Aldana and Yana Kunitskaya are perhaps the closest thing to a coin flip on the main card. They’re striking stats are nearly identical, but Aldana likely gets the edge on the feet. However, Kunitskaya has been busier on the mat. That could create a small edge in a close decision. With the underdog’s price just even or slightly better, it’s a dog-or-pass spot. Slight moneyline lean on Yunitskaya, Over 2.5 or Fight Goes the Distance for parlays. 

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