Updated January 22, 2021 - 6:59 pm
A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 257 on Saturday at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Dustin Poirier (26-6, 1 No Contest) vs. Conor McGregor (22-4)
Line: McGregor -305
Storyline: McGregor returns for the first time since a 40-second knockout of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in January 2020 and insists this is the beginning of an active 2021. He also vows to make this the start of a long run at lightweight, where he has only fought twice in the UFC despite being the former champion in the weight class. Those claims must be taken with a grain of salt considering all the bouncing around of weight classes and pseudo-retirements that have marked the past five years of his career. McGregor has not fought more than once in a calendar year since 2016, but those around him insist he is as motivated as he has ever been. He knocked out Poirier in the first round at featherweight in 2014, but Poirier has evolved into one of the world’s best fighters, with wins over Max Holloway, Justin Gaethje and Anthony Pettis. Value is always going to be on McGregor’s opponents because bookmakers put a tax on the ultrapopular McGregor. That doesn’t mean McGregor won’t win, but he is rendered nearly unbettable.
Hill’s pick: McGregor by fourth-round knockout.
Fang’s pick: Poirier by decision.
Dan Hooker (20-9) vs. Michael Chandler (21-5)
Line: Hooker -140
Storyline: Chandler will make his long-awaited UFC debut after fighting exclusively in Bellator since 2010. The 34-year-old former All-America wrestler at Missouri held the Bellator belt three times and has victories over former UFC champions Eddie Alvarez and Benson Henderson, but admits he will take a step up in competition. Hooker had won seven of eight fights, most of them thrillers, before dropping a unanimous decision to Poirier in June at the UFC Apex. With champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s future in limbo as he leans toward retirement, Chandler and Hooker will have a legitimate claim to challenge either McGregor or Poirier this year with an impressive performance.
Hill’s pick: Hooker by decision.
Fang’s pick: Hooker by third-round knockout.
Jessica Eye (15-8) vs. Joanne Calderwood (14-4)
Class: Women’s flyweight
Line: Calderwood -120
Storyline: Two of the top 125-pound female fighters live and train just miles apart in southwest Las Vegas, but will go halfway around the world to fight each other. Both insist they would go anywhere to punch the other. An already tumultuous relationship took an ugly turn when Calderwood accused Eye of trying to cheat on the scale despite missing weight in June. Eye responded and triggered a social media beef that ended with Eye saying she would come over to Calderwood’s gym to fight. Instead, they will meet in a sanctioned bout with a potential title shot on the line.
Hill’s pick: Calderwood by decision.
Fang’s pick: Eye by decision.
Marina Rodriguez (12-1-2) vs. Amanda Ribas (10-1)
Class: Women’s strawweight
Line: Ribas -320
Storyline: Ribas has been fast-tracked to stardom by the UFC and has another opportunity to knock off a higher-ranked opponent and continue her ascent. After a spectacular submission of Paige VanZant in July, Ribas did a full media tour and was hyped by UFC president Dana White in countless interviews. Now the pressure is on her to live up to the praise. Rodriguez is tough but doesn’t have a standout trait. She is 2-1-2 in her five UFC bouts, with all five going the distance.
Hill’s pick: Ribas by second-round submission.
Fang’s pick: Ribas by decision.
Andrew Sanchez (12-5) vs. Makhmud Muradov (24-6)
Line: Muradov -150
Storyline: This fight was supposed to be on the preliminary card but was moved Friday to the pay-per-view card. A bout between Ottman Azaitar and Matt Frevola was postponed, and Azaitar was released by the UFC after violating COVID-19 protocols by attempting to sneak unauthorized people into the bubble on Yas Island. Frevola got a replacement opponent when another fight fell apart, but that bout will be on the preliminary card. Muradov won his first two UFC bouts in 2019 to extend his winning streak to 13, but had four scheduled fights canceled in 2020. Sanchez has won three of his past four UFC fights.
Hill’s pick: Muradov by third-round knockout.
Fang’s pick: Sanchez by second-round knockout.