Publishing this week has been a pleasure because I have been able to submit and discuss on air facets of each fight after the most important event leading to the fights — the weigh-ins. Viewing weigh-ins is as foundational for success in betting the UFC as obtaining opening-line value. The information gathered during fighter weigh-ins is not only revealing for the immediate set of fights but proves valuable for future reference.
UFC 257 weigh-ins were held at 3 a.m. Pacific Time on Friday. Based on the information gathered, let’s break it down.
Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier needs little introduction thanks to McGregor’s popularity and reputation. This card has 11 scheduled bouts, each with compelling storylines featuring fighters who finish bouts. Whether it’s via destructive striking or stranglehold, these fighters are here to finish the opponent.
Here are the bouts I have selected as my top releases. Fight breakdowns will be brief yet direct. Last cuts will be listed for readers’ consideration too.
Note: This slate lost two fights Friday morning, and both involved official releases. Here are my remaining best bets. All lives via Circa Sports.
CONOR MCGREGOR (-305) VS. DUSTIN POIRIER (+ 255)
Lightweight (155 pounds), Main Event
This is a rematch of a 2014 featherweight bout in which both men were physical and mental shells of the fighters they are today.
McGregor needs little introduction. He possesses an innate fluidity of offensive and defensive movement, precision placement of vicious leg and arm strikes coupled with natural athleticism and, let’s not forget, an abundance of confidence. McGregor is a master at goading opponents into rage and irrational octagon behavior as Poirier himself experienced in that first bout.
It’s believed that McGregor is at his best early but has issues with conditioning after a round or two, as we saw in both losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Nate Diaz. The Poirier plan absolutely revolves around taking McGregor deep to make him battle fatigue in addition to Poirier.
McGregor has fought twice since his beatdown by Floyd Mayweather in 2016, while Poirier has competed six times against absolute top-seven talent within the division.
Will rust be a factor for McGregor? Some may be concerned about this, but I’m not.
Poirier is a legitimate top-four athlete in the lightweight division. However, McGregor is the most dynamic talent in the division, with a significant drop to the next level of lightweight fighters. That next level includes seven or eight fighters, and Poirier is one of them.
In this bout, Poirier must maintain his composure, follow his team’s plan and take this fight into the third round or later. He has proved he can go a full five with elite lightweights, so taxing McGregor, forcing him to use energy, is mandatory to give him a chance against McGregor.
Poirier can’t get into a firefight early. Rather he must use patience and take a measured approach in order to set the firefight up for the later rounds. The Poirier camp wants him to unleash his heat in the later rounds after McGregor’s speed, quickness and movement have waned.
My question is can Poirier get this fight past the second round to test McGregor?
McGregor, on the other hand, wants to force the pace immediately and is chiding Poirier to stand toe to toe for a firefight as he said in Thursday’s staredown with Poirier.
"Yeah, it's on,” McGregor said. “You know what it is in there. Throw down."
Defense means as much in mixed martial arts as it does in the NFL playoffs or any other sporting event. McGregor’s strike defense is Matrix-like, relying on natural instinct and fluid movement driven by legwork few fighters come equipped.
Poirier’s strike defense may be his most glaring shortcoming as he gets hit in all of his fights. He took abuse in his most recent bout with Dan Hooker, and was marked up significantly in his bout with Max Holloway.
That Poirier has absorbed hits facing the absolute best lightweights in the world the last several years has me concerned on one hand, while on the other I know his engine is warm and ready to fire.
With McGregor, potential ring rust would be my only hesitation, but it’s overcome by the fact that he has been fighting his behind off in camp with the focus of a champion, so I expect him to be on top of his game Saturday.
Poirier already was giving away speed, quickness and agility, and if past bouts have eroded anything from his skill set, it’s going to be in the form of those traits. He must take a steady, patient approach, and by all means he must force McGregor into the hell of the later rounds if he is to earn a victory.
McGregor’s athleticism, movement, footwork, precision striking and innate fighting acumen all combine to make him the legitimate favorite in this bout.
McGregor via KO/TKO/DQ -175
Total in this fight: 2.5 Under -185
DAN HOOKER (-120) VS. MICHAEL CHANDLER (+ 100)
Lightweight Co-Main Event
Michael Chandler moves up from Bellator, the UFC’s hated rival, and though Dana White likes Chandler, his matchmakers did not do Chandler any favors putting him in with Dan “The Hangman” Hooker. Bellator fighters arriving at the UFC do hold a winning record in headline fights!
Chandler, an 11-year pro, gets his shot to shine in the UFC at 34. His fight game is power wrestling-based, he’s explosive and strikes with power. In this bout, however, he’ll be four years older and four inches shorter than his opponent, along with a five-inch arm reach disadvantage.
Hooker is the taller, longer, younger fighter. Training in New Zealand at the world’s hottest MMA gym, City Kickboxing, allows Hooker to strike with striking savant Israel Adesanya and wrestle with stalwart Alexander Volkanovski, both current UFC world champions.
Hooker has faced a higher level of competition on top of the physical advantages he owns over Chandler, and it's my judgment that the bookmakers had this line correct when they opened Hooker -160.
Total for this fight: 2.5 Over -125
AMANDA RIBAS (-310) VS. MARINA RODRIGUEZ (+ 260)
Women’s Strawweight (115 pounds)
This fight is Exhibit A as to why we wait until weigh-ins to move. Ribas was the third fighter on the scale this morning and was her usual bubbly self. Rodriguez weighed in late and looked drawn in the process. It was clearly a rough cut for Rodriguez, and it makes a bout with a younger more complete fighter all the more challenging. These small fighters often go to decision in their bouts, but the play here is that this fight will not.
Ribas/Rodriguez Does NOT go to decision + 160
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -210
BRAD TAVARES (-125) VS. ANTONIO CARLOS JR. (+ 105)
Middleweight (185 pounds)
My last cut moves up in the rotation based on a couple of lost fights this morning. One fighter got caught trying to sneak “vitamins” into the complex. That’s true!
As far as this fight is concerned, Carlos, nicknamed “Shoe Face” is the younger, taller, longer larger man in the octagon. Tavares really wants to slug, and I believe his striking will be muted by the smothering style of ‘Shoe Face.”
Carlos Jr. + 105