On Saturday, Dec. 11, the UFC will host it’s final pay-per-view event of the year from Las Vegas, Nev. with UFC 269: Oliveira vs. Poirier. In the main event, lightweight champion Charles Oliveira will look to make his first title defense after securing the vacant belt when he knocked out Michael Chandler. Oliveira has been in the UFC for over 11 years, and, at 32 years old, he already holds the record for the most finishes inside the organization with 17 stoppage victories. His opponent, Dustin Poirier, has become a beloved figure in the MMA world over the past several years. Punctuated by his charity work with The Good Fight Foundation, Poirier represents all the good things about mixed martial arts outside the cage. He combines that with some of the best technical boxing in the sport, and he has a will and determination that sets him apart from even the toughest athletes on the planet.
The co-main event is also a title showdown with the women’s bantamweight gold on the line as Amanda Nunes meets challenger Julianna Peña. Nunes hasn’t lost since 2014 and has held both the bantamweight and featherweight titles since 2018. Peña took a hiatus from 2017 to 2019, taking time away from the sport to start a family. A win by Peña would be a massive upset, not quite the level of Holly Holm over Ronda Rousey but almost at that magnitude.
Also on the loaded main card is a flyweight contest between Kai Kara-France and former bantamweight title holder Cody Garbrandt. Garbrandt is making the move down a weight class after losing a lopsided decision to Rob Font in his last outing. Kara-France is 2-2 over his last four outings but is coming off a first-round knockout victory over Rogerio Bontorin.
UFC 269 takes place in front of a capacity crowd inside the T-Mobile Arena. The early prelims air live on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the televised prelims on ESPN2 and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. From there, the action shifts to ESPN+ pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Charles Oliveira has the lightweight belt, but many have been calling Dustin Poirier the uncrowned champion of the division; who emerges victorious when these two men face off?
Sumian: The lightweight division of the UFC still takes the cake for the most competitive and talent-rich division in MMA today. Even with the retirement of former champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the decline of Conor McGregor, new contenders continuously emerge, which has translated into a long line of competitors capable of taking huge leaps towards the top of the division. Oliveira and Poirier have established themselves as two of the top lightweights in the world and continue to improve with every Octagon performance.
Poirier could have likely been champion by now, but he elected to wisely engage in a fierce rivalry with McGregor, further elevating his status as a superstar while collecting a hefty paycheck. On other hand, the patient Oliveira has compiled a nine-fight winning streak, which culminated in a vacant lightweight title bout against the always tough Michael Chandler. The year will come to a close with the clashing of the two toughest and most talented 155-pound fighters. The champion is poised to continue his legacy into 2022 and beyond.
Oliveira, like Poirier, has been fighting for the UFC for over a decade and is still only 32 years old. The Brazilian grappling standout has always been a prominent contender, capable of competing with the best of both the featherweight and lightweight divisions. However, he truly hit his stride between 2018 and 2021, when he compiled an impressive nine-fight winning streak, defeating veterans like Jim Miller, Tony Ferguson, and, most recently, Chandler to capture the vacant UFC lightweight championship. Despite being known for his unquestionable grappling skill, Oliveira has recently been focusing on his striking, which has morphed him into a well-rounded mixed martial artist, who can finish his opponents anywhere.
Poirier’s decision to face McGregor a third time was inarguably the wisest career choice for both his legacy and bank account. Despite being a widely popular and well-known name in combat sports, his second and third fights with McGregor led to superstardom. The Louisiana native has established an 8-1-1 record since Feb. 2017, defeating former champions like Eddie Alvarez, Max Holloway, and McGregor. Despite claiming the interim UFC lightweight championship in 2019, Poirier has never been called the undisputed champion and is one win away from accomplishing everything there is to achieve in the division.
This bout should provide fans with yet another highly competitive and entertaining lightweight clash. Both are extremely well-rounded combatants, capable of holding their own wherever the fight transitions to. Despite this, it is safe to assume that Oliveira holds the edge in grappling, while Poirier holds the edge in striking. Oliveira will likely keep this fight at range in an effort to stay out of Poirier’s crisp boxing range. Leg kicks, front kicks to the body, and long jabs will be the primary weapons of the Brazilian, as he continuously fires off to slow down the crafty footwork of Poirier. On the other hand, Poirier will look to establish his jab and fire off powerful combinations using his hooks and uppercuts to hurt Oliveira and score the knockout.
The difference in this bout will be the superior striking and strength of the challenger. At this point in their careers, Poirier is the better fighter, with the more proven track record in regards to fighting the best talent the lightweight division has to offer. Round one will be a wildly entertaining brawl that will culminate once Poirier lands a powerful hook that wobbles the champ Oliveira and results in a TKO victory for the challenger. Poirier will finally claim the undisputed UFC lightweight championship and begin preparing for the large list of potential challengers that will follow in 2022 and beyond.
Petela: It would be a storybook ending to this year for Poirier to have the belt wrapped around his waist. Unfortunately, the greatest submission artist in UFC history is standing in his way. Oliveira has 19 submission wins in his career, and he has the record for most submissions in UFC history with 14 in the Octagon. That will be where his advantage lies, and what will ultimately earn him his first title defense.
If there is one thing that Poirier loves almost as much as showing off his pinpoint boxing accuracy, it is jumping on a guillotine rather than defending takedowns. He comes from an excellent camp at American Top Team, and there is no doubt Mike Brown and company are trying to coach that out of him. However, when push comes to shove, in the heat of the moment, his instincts will kick in and override everything in his brain telling him to sprawl or stuff the takedown, and he will look to latch onto Oliveira’s neck.
Ultimately, that will be the beginning of the end for Poirier. He is not going to get Oliveira to tap and will burn his arms out in the process. That will leave him exactly where he doesn’t want to be, on his back with Oliveira on top of him. Oliveira will methodically work into position and take Poirier’s back as the former interim champion tries to return to his feet, latching onto the rear-naked choke and forcing Poirier to tap. The belt remains in Brazil at the conclusion of this weekend’s main event.
Juliana Peña is 2-1 since returning from hiatus; does the “Venezuelan Vixen” have a chance at dethroning Amanda Nunes?
Petela: No. There’s no real path to victory for Peña in this showdown. Nunes is more technically savvy on the feet, and she hits harder. She’s also a better grappler in an MMA context. This one is going to be a thrashing from start to finish, a fight that only lasts as long as Nunes wants it to last.
There are no exciting matchups for Nunes in either the bantamweight or featherweight divisions. The only logical next step after this molly-whopping is a trilogy with Valentina Shevchenko. Those two women are head-and-shoulders above their competition at this point, and with Miesha Tate losing her last fight, there are no commercial stars to pit against Nunes either. Hopefully the UFC does the right thing and locks these two women in the cage against each other one more time.
Sumian: This fight is taking place due to lack of options rather than competition. Peña is 2-2 in her last four UFC bouts, which should tell you everything you need to know about the current state of the women’s bantamweight division. This bout will only serve one purpose: to keep the “Lioness” busy and fresh. Nunes will overwhelm Peña with her power and land early and often. The challenger will end up against the cage, struggling to stay on her feet as the champion batters her with thunderous shots, before the referee will have seen enough and call the end of a bout that should have never happened in the first place. As my colleague mentioned, the trilogy with Shevchenko is the only bout left to make for either women as they continue their unmatched dominance in their respective divisions.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 269?
Sumian: Besides Dustin Poirier, the biggest winner has to be Josh Emmett. Emmett is one of the best featherweights in the world, who has been plagued with unlucky injuries resulting in lengthy layoffs and substantial recovery. Emmett will convincingly defeat Dan Ige, by putting on a masterful striking performance, and immediately re-insert himself into the conversation of featherweight contenders for the new year.
Petela: Valentina Shevchenko. When Amanda Nunes dismantles Julianna Peña, it practically forces the UFC’s hand to give Shevchenko a third crack at Nunes, despite falling short in the pair’s first two meetings. The timing couldn’t be better for Shevchenko, who somehow continues to improve, as Nunes remains at the same level. Their third encounter would be a showdown between the two best female fighters on the planet, and the outcome could likely shift the conversation around who is the GOAT of women’s MMA.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 269?
Petela: Cody Garbrandt. With a loss to Kai Kara-France in his flyweight debut, there’s no real path back to a title for him. That loss will drop his record to 1-5 since defeating Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title five years ago. Should he move back up to 135 pounds, he will find himself at the back of a long line of contenders. He’s not a big enough name at this point in his career to skip the line just because he used to hold the title. The drastic weight cut down to 125 will prove to be too much, and the 30-year-old “No Love” will find himself in a precarious situation as he tries to get his career back on track.
Sumian: Augusto Sakai. He will suffer a third consecutive loss to fellow heavyweight Tai Tuivasa and effectively fall out of the top-15 heavyweight rankings. Sakai is a talented striker, but the power and confidence of Tuivasa will prove to be too much for the Brazilian come Saturday night.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: Eryk Anders needs to have an impressive performance in effort to keep his roster spot going into 2022. The former football standout has turned in a 3-4-1 record in his past eight UFC appearances and has failed to live up the hype that got him to the UFC in the first place. Despite coming off a unanimous decision victory over Darren Stewart at UFC 263, Anders feels like the type of fighter the UFC would be targeting when it comes to roster cuts.
Petela: Dominick Cruz. He might be the most cerebral mixed martial artists in history, but it feels like the next time he loses, it will be his last fight as he transitions into a full-time broadcasting role. He is coming off a win over Casey Kenney, and he will undoubtedly have a master game plan against Pedro Munhoz, but the 36-year-old Cruz will struggle in this contest. He will likely hang up the gloves after realizing that he no longer can compete at the most elite level.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: There’s no shortage of fights that are being overshadowed by the high-profile fights atop the main card. One of the early prelims jumps out at me, and that is Miranda Maverick versus Erin Blanchfield. Maverick came up short on the judges’ scorecards in her last fight, despite an overwhelming number of fans and pundits thinking that she deserved the nod over Maycee Barber. Blanchfield won her UFC debut by unanimous decision over Sarah Alpar. Both of these women are closer to 20 than 30. Maverick is 24 years old, and Blanchfield is just 22. These two prospects are the future of the flyweight division, and a showcase on one of the year’s biggest fight cards will raise the profile of both of these young standouts.
Sumian: It is a shame that Josh Emmett and Dan Ige do not get to square off on the main card. However, the pair are headlining the prelims for good reason. Expect an all-out striking war when these two get locked into the Octagon together, both focused on throwing heavy and often. This bout has “Fight of the Night” written all over it and should result in one of the most memorable matchups in 2021 for the featherweight division.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Poirier as the new lightweight champion. After an incredible few years of remaining at the top of the division, the number-one ranked lightweight in the world will finally be crowned champion after defeating Oliveira via TKO.
Petela: Tai Tuivasa. He is one of the most fun fighters to watch, regardless of the weight class. His fights almost always end in dramatic fashion and this one will be no different. The crowd will erupt when he flattens Augusto Sakai, and Tuivasa does at least one Australian shoey on the way out of the cage. His performance this weekend will be good enough for a post-fight bonus on a night full of high-level showdowns.
Pair this card with…
Petela: This fight card is incredible, and, boy, is it strong from start to finish. Pair it with a scotch that matches the quality and strength of this card by going with Glenlivet Enigma. Not only does it have an almost refreshing finish, it packs a punch at 60.6% ABV. Pace yourself, and maybe don’t crack the bottle until the main card starts, but enjoy these two impressive products together.
Sumian: Boudin and gumbo. Enjoy some of Lafayette, Louisiana’s famous dishes in honor of the new champion Dustin Poirier who will finally have the bestowment of undisputed champion. This fight card is fantastic from start to finish with numerous stars present in both the prelims and the main card. Stars and fan favorites including Sean O’Malley, Tai Tuivasa, Pedro Munhoz, Cody Garbrandt and Dominick Cruz will help deliver a card that closes out 2021 on the highest note possible, capped off with two title fights sure to deliver in excitement.
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
LW Championship: Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier
Women’s BW Championship: Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Peña
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