MMA is a sport known for putting viewers in awe. The art of being locked in a cage and competing like lives are on the line, are some things that make people love this shit.
Calling the year 2020 a success for the UFC is an understatement. The company flourished in the hardest possible times. The year also brought plenty of new names to the spotlight, like Kevin Holland, but also forced us to accept the departure of legends, like Yoel Romero and Anderson Silva.
Overall, every year is hard to top in a sport like MMA and in 2021 expect no different. As we are set to have three UFC cards in just seven days, starting on January 16th, it’s no shock Uncle Dana wanted to start us off with some bangers after a few fightless weeks. It was hard to pick just 5 out of the 39 scheduled bouts this month, but I’ll add a few honorable mentions.
5. Phil Hawes -160 vs. Nassourdine Imavov +130 (UFC on ABC 1: Jan. 16th)
Both of these Welterweights have identical records at 9-2, as well a UFC record of 1-0. This fight is a very tricky one for each of the two involved. Phil Hawes had been on the UFC’s radar for years prior to finally being called up after his DWCS 1st round KO in September. Hawes was so eager to make his UFC debut, he took his first UFC fight just a month later. In his debut he sent Jacob Malkoun into another dimension with a left hand earning himself an 18 second KO. For Imavov, his debut went way different. The Frenchman actually got clipped and stunned in the first by Jordan Williams which forced him to shoot for a takedown. Fortunately, that was the best thing that happened to him, as he dominated the grappling exchanges after that earning a decision win.
This fight is a very close one. Hawes has had trouble with great grapplers and wrestlers early in his career. Imavov will most likely have a grappling advantage here, but Hawes will have an extreme advantage in power and will like to keep this one on the feet. Imavov is riding a six fight win streak and hasn’t lost since 2017, Hawes is on a 5 fight win streak and his last loss was in 2017 as well. This is going to be a technical war, don’t miss it.
4. Shane Burgos -200 vs. Hakeem Dawodu +160 (UFC 257: Jan. 23rd)
This is matchmaking at its finest. I’m convinced this fight was made for the fans. Burgos is 13-2 (6-2 UFC) and calling him a fan favorite is accurate. Dawodu is 12-1-1 (5-1 UFC) and is an absolute warrior. Without a doubt these guys are going to put on a show and I expect nothing less. The public seems to believe that Burgos is the higher level fighter, which résumé wise is accurate, but never rule Hakeem Dawodu out of a fight. Dawodu started his UFC stint with his first career loss however, he has won five straight since that day in 2018. Burgos seemingly needs this win. He is 3-2 in his last five and is coming off a loss.
Burgos at -200 is just a bit too high here. I obviously won’t give a for sure play now, but if Burgos continues to shoot up so will Dawodu’s value. Either way, this is an awesome fight and these two will step in the cage aiming to finish the fight.
3. Dan Hooker -170 vs. Michael Chandler +140 (UFC 257: Jan. 23rd)
I’ve been waiting for this fight since Chandler singed with the UFC last year. Hooker, 20-9 (10-5 UFC), is a standup Phenom and will knock you unconscious with any part of any limb he has. Chandler is 21-5 and will be making his UFC debut on January 23rd. If you don’t know Michael Chandler, he is the former Bellator Lightweight champ and he trains out of Sanford MMA in South Florida. Chandler is an unreal wrestler and is known for finishing fights. He also has some serious KO power. The wrestler vs. kickboxer duel is always a chess match and I expect this to live up to the expectations.
The odds in this fight really surprised me to be honest. Hooker is coming off a loss and a very controversial win, against Paul Felder. The public is leaning heavy on Hooker at the moment, but Chandler’s line should go down. Michael Chandler has a real chance to win this fight as he will be the better grappler by a wide margin, it’s just a matter of not getting caught. Hooker will have to do one thing to keep himself in the fight, which is stay off his back. That is easier said than done though, especially against Michael Chandler.
2. Max Holloway -165 vs. Calvin Kattar +135 (UFC on ABC 1: Jan. 16th)
You want to see a stand up war, well this is the fight for you. This is the main event on January 16th and it has every right to be. Former Featherweight champ and future UFC Hall-of-Famer, Max Holloway, is 21-6 (17-6 UFC) is coming off two controversial losses to the current champ, Alexander Volkanovski. Holloway is known to be a fan favorite for his insane volume punching and exciting style. Kattar, 22-4 (6-2 UFC), is more of a heavy hitter, but is one of the most entertaining featherweights on earth. This might as well be a boxing or kickboxing match, but its MMA for a reason so maybe we will see some grappling, doubtful though.
Holloway coming off two losses, gets no cake walk here with Kattar, but I do feel like he is significantly better than anyone Kattar has fought prior. Stylistically, I can’t explain how much I love this matchup. When it plays out in my brain I just see Holloway’s output being too much for Kattar and I believe the Blessed Express will get back to rolling come January 16th.
1. Conor McGregor -275 vs Dustin Poirier +220 2 (UFC 257: Jan. 23rd)
If you’re not excited to see Conor cutting promos, flexing his fits and verbally and physically abusing his opponents, you might not be human. This is the biggest star MMA has ever had and even, arguably, the biggest in combat sports history. The 22-4 (10-2 UFC) Irishman makes his return to the cage in a rematch with one of the most globally liked fighters on in Dustin Poirier. Poirier, 26-6 (18-5 1 NC in UFC), is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world and proves his warrior status in every fight he is in.
Neither of these guys need an intro, due to the verbal warfare in their first fight and their status' on the MMA heiarchy. Poirier is going to try and be the aggressor here. His best chance is grappling, as everyone knows that’s not McGregor’s strong suit, but this might not be as easy as expected. Conor’s game is evolving and as we saw in the second Diaz fight, with time he can adapt to any opponent.
I think the line is a bit juicy on Conor’s end. That’s a pretty unreal number for a guy like Dustin Poirier to have next to his name, maybe even a bit overlooked. I think Conor wins this fight, but this is extremely closer than what the line says.
Honorable Mentions: Nasrat Haqparast vs. Arman Tsarukyan: UFC 257 Jan. 23rd
Ottman Aziatar vs. Matt Frevola: UFC 257 Jan. 23rd
Mounir Lazzez vs. Christian Aguilera: UFC on ESPN 20 Jan. 20th