As we get ready put a wrap on 2021, we have the last pay per view of the year this Saturday. Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier look to enter 2022 as the UFC’s lightweight king, while the co-main features women’s “goat” Amanda Nunes dropping to bantamweight to defend her 135-pound strap against a very game Julianna Peña.
The main card also features fan favorite “Suga” Sean O’Malley battling Rulian Paiva, and former champ Cody Garbrandt making the move down a weight class, where Kai Kara-France welcomes him to flyweight.
This is a huge card top to bottom, with the prelims getting things rolling at 6:15 p.m. ET and the main card starting at 10 p.m. ET.
You know the drill, let’s dive in.
DATE: Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021
BROADCAST: Pay Per View – PRELIMS: ESPN
VENUE: T-Mobile Arena
LOCATION: Las Vegas, Nev.
THE MAIN CARD
The much-anticipated fight to wrap the year is finally here, as Oliveira makes his first lightweight title defense against No. 1 ranked Poirier.
Poirier, the former interim champ, has won three straight since losing his match against Khabib Nurmogomedov, including two straight finishes via TKO against Conor McGregor. Poirier is looking to establish himself as the true lightweight champion after previously passing on the opportunity, instead fulfilling the rubber match with McGregor to put him up 2-1 in their fights.
Oliveira has now won nine straight on his way to the belt, and a win over Poirier will leave no doubt that he’s the rightful champ of the division. Oliveira, for some reason, continues to be underappreciated. He holds several UFC records at just 32 years of age, including most submission wins, most finishes and bonuses in the history of the organization. Oliveira has looked better than ever over his last handful of fights, and most recently stopped Michael Chandler via punches very early in round two to win the vacant lightweight championship following the undefeated Khabib's retirement.
In this fight, we have two very dangerous fighters with clear paths to the gold.
For Poirier, it's clearly to stay off the mat and to pepper Oliveira with his technical standup and constant pressure, while he looks to get off first and avoid takedowns. Poirier has a proven gas tank, and typically utilizes his ability to go deeper while his opponent breaks down the longer the fight goes.
Oliveira's path is that very fast start as he is known for, but he must avoid the big power shots heading his way while Poirier keeps him guessing with the leg kicks. Oliveira had historically been a fighter that would get hurt and fold easily, putting him in compromising positions where he’d be finished. We haven’t seen that Oliveira in some time. In fact, he was hurt against Chandler in his last fight and weathered the storm and quickly turned the fight in his favor before finishing him. Prior to that, he fought Tony Ferguson and dominated him in a fight many thought he would lose.
While Oliveira has fended off a run of fighters with a mix of skills as their bases, Poirier has typically been matched up against opponents who favor the standup, making for wars on the feet. While Oliveira welcomes the mat to the fight, Poirier tends to avoid, Having been taken down 11 times in his fights against Khabib and Hooker, Poirier found himself typically in guard, playing it safe by running out the clock or looking to work his way up to the feet where his wheel house is -- while against the cage.
The outcome of this fight will ultimately be determined by one thing: Can Poirier shift from his volume to more of a power approach before Oliveira moves in for a submission? Either way, we are in store for a fantastic fight with one of these two fan favorites getting the finish before the final bell.
I believe both fighters will look to get this one done as early as possible, avoiding that extra time where the fight takes a toll and mistakes are made.
Prediction: Charles Oliveira
Bet: Oliveira/Poirier UNDER 2.5 rounds -140
Nunes looks to further her legacy here, as she drops back down to 135 to face a proven fighter in Peña. Folks aren’t so quick to count Nunes’ opponent out here, as there are questions around Nunes’ preference in continuing to bounce back and forth between bantamweight and her preferred class at featherweight.
Nunes, having won 12 straight fights, defends the 135-pound strap for the first time since 2019 and just the sixth time overall. Although Peña is game, there is a ton of pressure here in this spot against arguably the best woman of all time. The build up of fight week will take its toll, although Peña has been calling for this fight for some time.
Historically, Peña tends to fight at her opponent’s pace while looking to get to her grappling base along. In this matchup, she’ll be facing a fighter whom undoubtably has more power on the feet but also will follow her opponent down to the mat with open arms. Nunes’ motivation to continue fighting in both weight classes continued to be questioned this week, but I just don’t see it. Nunes’ has shown a ton of dominance regardless of the weight, and in her last bantamweight fight she secured eight takedowns and doubled the strikes landed against her opponent Germaine de Randamie, who happens to be the fighter that handed Peña her last defeat.
I don’t Nunes slowing down in this matchup, and with chatter of Kayla Harrison possibly entering the mix, I don’t see any dip in motivation for Nunes to make another statement. Three of Peña’s last four defeats have been via finish, and those don’t even consider the championship rounds added for this fight. This fight will eventually get to the mat and I can see Nunes hurting Peña to the point where she opens up a submission opportunity via choke for Nunes to lock in. Peña has only been stopped via KO/TKO once, and the doctor stopped that fight. She’s tough and willing to take some damage, but what comes with that is the added submission predicaments like we saw in her last two losses to de Randamie and Andriy Shevchenko.
Prediction: Amanda Nunes
Bet: Nunes (look via SUB +400)
We have a striker’s delight as Geoff Neal takes on fellow striker Santiago Ponzinibbio. Oddsmakers believe this fight is highly likely to end inside the distance, putting odds at -200 that we don’t hear the final bell. Both fighters went to the decision in their last fights, but the higher percentage of their UFC bouts result in a TKO finish.
For me, it's about controlling the distance and really the volume. I could see a feeling-out fight out of the shoots, but Ponzinibbio will kick it into gear once they engage. He typically has a clear margin of victory as it relates to volume while on the feet against his opponents, while Neal is very selective, yet accurate to the punch.
We saw Neal really turn it on against StephenThompson late in their fight, but it was too late by that point to secure a decision. I could see something similar here, and if Neal doesn’t adjust from his typical gameplan then Ponzinibbio should again have a clear path via his distance control with punches on top of punches. Neal’s troubles during Thanksgiving where he was arrested for DUI and unlawfully carrying a weapon wont help with the fight week distractions either.
Prediction: Santiago Ponzinnibio
Bet: Ponzinnibio -130
Loser of four of his last five fights, former champ Cody Garbrandt drops a weight class to make a run at flyweight while also somewhat putting a reset to his latest run.
Garbrandt’s commitment to this move can be visibly seen during this camp and it will be interesting to see if he makes a successful transition here. Kai Kara-France will be a game opponent in this spot and will truly solidify if this is the right move or not for Garbrandt in this weight class drop. Kara-France will have the volume advantage in this fight and although Garbrandt is known for his fight ending power, Kara-France hasn’t been stopped via strikes in almost 10 years, to the tune of 30 fights.
While we know what we will see from Kara-France with his movement and volume, this fight will show us if Garbrandt can be successful with the drain and weight cut coming in. I’d suggest passing from a betting perspective until we see how this transition goes for the former bantamweight champ.
Prediction: Kai Kara-France
While fan favorite Sean O’Malley has been very selective in the opponents he faces, you got to give it to him here as Raulian Paiva is no easy out.
Paiva will be a significant step-up in competition in comparison to Kris Moutinho, whom O’Malley faced in his last matchup. We should see how this fight goes early on, and if Paiva ends up looking to stand and trade with O’Malley then it could make for a long night for him. Paiva has been finished just twice in his career, yet one of those was due to doctor stoppage due to damage taken.
Although durable, the edge for O’Malley here will be the fact that the leg strikes or takedowns that we’ve seen cause issues for O’Malley in the past most likely won’t be present with Paiva’s fighting style. The matchup fits right into O’Malley’s wheelhouse, and we should see him snag at least two of the three scheduled rounds.
Prediction: Sean O’Malley
JOSH EMMETT defeats DAN IGE
DOMINICK CRUZ defeats PEDRO MUNHOZ
AUGUSTO SAKAI defeats TAI TUIVASA
BRUNO SILVA defeats JORDAN WRIGHT
ANDRE MUNIZ defeats ERYK ANDERS
ERIN BLANCHFIELD defeats MIRANDA MAVERICK
ALEX PEREZ defeats MATT SCHNELL
RYAN HALL defeats DARRICK MINNER
RANDY COSTA defeats TONY KELLEY
GILLIAN ROBERTON defeats PRISCILA CACHOEIRA
Oliveira/Poirier UNDER 2.5 rounds -140
Nunes (look via SUB +400)
Silva (look via KO -175)
Blanchfield +125 (look via DEC +200)
Hall/Minner UNDER 2.5 rounds -154
2021 predictions: 277-172-8 (62%)
2021 wagers: 151-126-1 (55%)
Overall record on SI:
Predictions: 658-370-19 (64%)
Wagers: 361-213-9 (63%)
Good luck everyone and I hope to see some of you cashing after Saturday night! Follow me on Twitter at @Y2Casey.
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