What a card to kick off 2021 in the UFC! There are no shortage of action packed fights, plus Canada’s own Sarah Moras taking on Vanessa Melo on the prelims. The predictions from the MMA Empire team, along with our guest picker, can be found below for the five-fight main card.
Our guest picker for this is event is Canadian UFC fighter Tristan Connelly. Back in Sept. 2019, Connelly made a name for himself in a big way as a huge underdog, defeating Michel Pereira at UFC Vancouver. Look for Connelly to be back in the octagon in 2021.
2020 final standings
1. Cooper Riehl (13-7-1)
2. Joel Griffith (12-8-1)
T3. Cody Davis (11-9-1)
T3. Cody Rempel (11-9-1)
5. Guest picker (10-10-1)
Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar
Cooper Riehl – “This fight is going to be a banger. Kattar has some of the nicest hands in the UFC, but he’s pretty heavy on his lead leg. I think Holloway is still a slight level above Kattar when it comes to overall striking, and Holloway will be able to chop ’em down and pick ’em apart over five rounds, and maybe even get a late finish.” Pick: Max Holloway via TKO.
Joel Griffith – “I’ve wanted to see this fight so bad, and I’m so glad it’s finally here. Kattar is finally being recognized for just how good his boxing is, while we all know the greatness that is Holloway. I see this being a five-round war, which I do view as a true coin flip.” Pick: Calvin Kattar via unanimous decision.
Cody Davis – “There’s no shame in losing to Volkanovski. Holloway is still number eight in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, and for good reason. This will be a good fight, but I just don’t see Holloway losing this one.” Pick: Max Holloway via unanimous decision.
Cody Rempel – “The former champ, Holloway, is still in his prime and, despite only having one win in his last four fights, could very easily still be the champ at featherweight. Kattar is on the rise, but has not yet faced anyone the caliber of the Hawaiian. Holloway should be able to get past Kattar and begin his march back towards title contention.” Pick: Max Holloway via unanimous decision.
Joe McDonagh – “It is hard to bet against Holloway. I’m a biased New Englander also, but Kattar may be one of the few stronger pure boxers than Holloway in the UFC.” Pick: Calvin Kattar via unanimous decision.
Dylan Bowker – “Kattar has looked impressive in his last couple of outings, but I see Holloway being too much for him here. I think ‘Blessed’ showcases his championship mettle over five rounds and wins via decision.” Pick: Max Holloway via unanimous decision.
Cole Shelton – “Kattar needs to KO Holloway, but I can’t see that happening. I expect Holloway to out-volume Kattar and win a clear decision.” Pick: Max Holloway via unanimous decision.
Kylan Knowler – “I believe this fight will rest almost solely on how much Holloway can exercise a champion’s restraint. Kattar will welcome a boxing match and has the power and accuracy in said situations to negate Holloway’s volume. Holloway will have to extend Kattar as long as possible, relying both on his superior kickboxing and when possible—say, in the clinch—digging to the body with hooks. The second defeat to Volkanovski is doubtless still fresh in Holloway’s mind, and I expect him to fight with cool calculation, knowing the likelihood of a third attempt rests on the outcome of this matchup.” Pick: Max Holloway via unanimous decision.
Tristan Connelly – “As he’s shown countless times throughout his career, Holloway will put a pace on Kattar for five rounds.” Pick: Max Holloway via unanimous decision.
Carlos Condit vs. Matt Brown
Cooper Riehl – “I don’t know what’s crazier; the fact that Condit and Brown are still slugging it out in 2021, or that they’ve never shared the octagon together before this weekend. Two absolute legends of the fight game, this is guaranteed to be an exciting matchup. As much as I love Brown, I have to give the edge to Condit, only because he’s got more variety on the feet and is a little bit slicker.” Pick: Carlos Condit via unanimous decision.
Joel Griffith – “I wish this fight was happening six or seven years ago, but it’s still going to be fun to see. Condit has never been knocked out in his career, so if Brown is going to win, he will need to do so over three rounds. I see Brown doing just that by getting inside on Condit and landing the more significant shots.” Pick: Matt Brown via unanimous decision.
Cody Davis – “This may be the best matchup of the night. Tough call, but I’ll go with Condit given his versatility as a grappler.” Pick: Carlos Condit via unanimous decision.
Cody Rempel – “It’s a real shame that we didn’t get this fight about eight years ago. These heavy hitters may not have a FOTN in them, but either man is capable of a show-stopping KO. Condit should be able to get the nod on the scorecards.” Pick: Carlos Condit via unanimous decision.
Joe McDonagh – “This comes down to who can deploy their game plan. If Condit keeps the distance, he wins. I don’t think he does though.” Pick: Matt Brown via unanimous decision.
Dylan Bowker – “Brown is a berzerker that can halt anyone in the division, but I think the technical prowess of Condit will shine through.” Pick: Carlos Condit via TKO.
Cole Shelton – “This is a hard fight to call, but I think Brown will land the harder shots in the first two rounds and win a decision.” Pick: Matt Brown via unanimous decision.
Kylan Knowler – “A veteran clash that could and probably should have happened years ago given that they shared the same division, in their primes, and were ranked similarly throughout. Condit found success last time out with footwork, movement, and diverse striking, and will have to do likewise here—but on eggshells. He will have to keep Brown at range with constant leg kicks and teeps, pumping the jab whenever Brown enters the pocket. Although I am not confident he will have the restraint to avoid wild exchanges or be present enough not to succumb to Brown’s pressure game, he has the tools to do so, whereas Brown may be forced to fight as he always has, minus his former athleticism and reaction time.” Pick: Carlos Condit via unanimous decision.
Tristan Connelly – “This will be a fire fight, but I think Brown will end up getting the better shots and finishing.” Pick: Matt Brown via TKO.
Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Li Jingliang
Cooper Riehl – “The big question here is how will Ponzinibbio look after two-plus years off? There’s no doubt if he’s at his best he’s one of the top welterweights in the world. I expect a win from Ponzinibbio, but it might take a round or so to shake the rust off.” Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via unanimous decision.
Joel Griffith – “It’s about time we get to see Ponzinibbio back in action. While Ponzinibbio may be known for his knockout power, Jingliang has a strong chin. I see Ponzinibbio’s striking being way ahead of Jingliang’s, and cruising to a dominant decision win. Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via unanimous decision.
Cody Davis – “Ponzinibbio’s reach advantage will carry the day in this fight.” Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via unanimous decision.
Cody Rempel – “Ponzinibbio returns to action after over two years, and in the midst of a seven-fight win streak. Jingliang is durable, so a finish will be tough to come by, but Ponzinibbio has what it takes to get the win and get himself back into the welterweight rankings.” Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via unanimous decision.
Joe McDonagh – “Ponzinibbio is a forgotten man. He was making strides in the division before sitting out via injury. His first fight since 2018, he will remind us that he belongs in title contention.” Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via unanimous decision.
Dylan Bowker – “Regardless of who gets it done here, I don’t think the judges will be getting involved. Despite the pronounced two-year-plus layoff, I see Ponzinibbio winning via TKO.” Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via TKO.
Cole Shelton – “Ponzinibbio could easily finish this fight, but after a two-year layoff I think it will take awhile for him to get the timing, but will do enough to win a decision.” Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via unanimous decision.
Kylan Knowler – “This will be a fun matchup. Ponzinibbio has heavier hands and will likely be the aggressor (comparatively speaking as they are both aggressive), but Jingliang should have the wherewithal and craftiness to avoid catching any truly devastating power shots from the Argentine. Once either engages in grappling, though, I believe Ponzinibbio will have a clear wrestling advantage, on top of being the much stronger man. There’s no way to know how or if his multi-year layoff heading into this will factor, in part because Jingliang himself has only fought once per year over the last two, but I think Ponzinibbio reminds us in this fight why he was so highly-ranked, and regarded, prior to his sabbatical.” Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via unanimous decision.
Tristan Connelly – “With 15 wins by knockout or TKO, Ponzinibbio has shown just how dangerous he can be.” Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio via knockout.
Joaquin Buckley vs. Alessio Di Chirico
Cooper Riehl – “Di Chirico is a UFC vet, but he’s lost three in a row and he’s definitely being sent to the chopping block with this one. Buckley, of course, skyrocketed to popularity after his highlight reel KO last year, and I think he’s just too quick and athletic for Di Chirico in this one.” Pick: Joaquin Buckley via TKO.
Joel Griffith – “After dropping his UFC debut to Kevin Holland, Buckley made a real name for himself with two savage knockouts back-to-back. Di Chirico has proven to be durable throughout his career so far, so I can’t see another viral knockout coming here. However, I see Buckley, the overall better fighter and athlete, coming out on top in the end.” Pick: Joaquin Buckley via unanimous decision.
Cody Davis – “Buckley is coming off two impressive knockout wins, while Di Chirico is coming off three losses.” Pick: Joaquin Buckley via knockout.
Cody Rempel – “With the 2020 that Buckley had, it’s not hard to see why they’re stacking the deck in his favour to kick off the new year. Buckley is riding high on a pair of highlight reel knockouts and Di Chirico has lost three straight. Buckley is the easy pick here, but can he top his last two finishes?” Pick: Joaquin Buckley via TKO.
Joe McDonagh – “Buckley is on a fire streak. Looking to impress James Krause, I think he does.” Pick: Joaquin Buckley via knockout.
Dylan Bowker – “I think there’s a lot to be said for timing and momentum in this sport. I think that confluence favours Buckley here.” Pick: Joaquin Buckley via TKO.
Cole Shelton – “This is a setup fight for Buckley to win. Di Chirico has never been knocked out before, however, I do think Buckley will get him out in the third round.” Pick: Joaquin Buckley via TKO.
Kylan Knowler – “This one is pretty straightforward in my eyes, at least on paper. Buckley, heading into his last fight, said he felt pressure to score another highlight-reel finish following his viral knockout last summer, and the problem only got worse when he did just that. Now, propelled by this meta-pressure and spotlight, he will face a fighter in Di Chirico who is entering the bout off three consecutive losses. With respect, I am shocked Di Chirico is still on the roster, and here he is not only fighting for his contract, but facing one of the pandemic-bubble-UFC’s spontaneous combustions, whose explosive style would appear tailor-made to overwhelm his own.” Pick: Joaquin Buckley via knockout.
Tristan Connelly – “Di Chirico has been in some tough fights lately, and I think will push through this time.” Pick: Alessio Di Chirico via unanimous decision.
Dusko Todorovic vs. Punahele Soriano
Cooper Riehl – “Todorovic has some sneaky power. Young and undefeated, with a finish over Michel Periera on his resume, he’s one of Europe’s top prospects. Soriano is also undefeated, but I don’t feel he’s faced the level of talent Todorovic has. I think Todorovic is too well-rounded and he should be able to find a way to win this fight.” Pick: Dusko Todorovic via unanimous decision.
Joel Griffith – “Depending on which Todorovic shows up to this fight, we could be in for a barn burner. It’s no secret Soriano loves to stand and trade, and while Todorvic has displayed that tendency in the past, he may also choose to grind out Soriano up against the cage. Regardless, I think Todorovic is the one to remain undefeated in this one.” Pick: Dusko Todorovic via TKO.
Cody Davis – “Soriano hasn’t fought in almost a year, so I think he may be a little rusty in this matchup.” Pick: Dusko Todorovic via unanimous decision.
Cody Rempel – “A pair of unbeaten Contender Series vets clash in this one. The UFC was high on Todorovic coming into DWCS, and gave him a contract even after a lacklustre performance, but he showed what he’s capable of in his official debut. Soriano also finished his first UFC opponent and will be a tough out, but Todorovic should be able to get the win.” Pick: Dusko Todorovic via TKO.
Joe McDonagh – “I think Soriano rides the first round out and starts using his wrestling to dominate rounds two and three. Soriano is my underdog pick of the night.” Pick: Punahele Soriano via unanimous decision.
Dylan Bowker – “I foresee Todorovic putting up a pace and grinding things out over three rounds. I think the rising middleweight improves to 11-0.” Pick: Dusko Todorovic via unanimous decision.
Cole Shelton – “If Soriano can survive the first round, I think he wins the fight, and likely stops Todorovic by ground and pound late in the fight.” Pick: Punahele Soriano via TKO.
Kylan Knowler – “Maybe the most exciting matchup on the entire card. I expect Todorovic’s slight experience edge, along with his (fitting given our main event) Holloway-like ability to create and then steer the chaos of a fight to his own ends, will be too much for Soriano. Todorovic has a very unorthodox, yet disciplined style, with a traditionalist’s control and purpose behind even his smallest actions. The Hawaiian, to win, has to be both tungsten-needle sharp bell-to-bell and, at the same time, willing to capitalize on what could prove to be very few openings.” Pick: Dusko Todorovic via TKO.
Tristan Connelly – “Although known mainly for his elite kickboxing, Todorovic holds an underrated ground game as well, which I think is his path to victory.” Pick: Dusko Todorovic via submission.