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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor - Main card preview

Get the hard hitting scoop on the main card action of UFC 257 out of Abu Dhabi, featuring wrecking machine Dan Hooker welcoming three-time Bellator champion Michael Chandler to the UFC.

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Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It’s been a whirlwind week in Abu Dhabi for the UFC, but it’s topping things off right with the largest MMA star of all time in Conor McGregor headlining UFC 257 with Dustin Poirier. That alone is enough for fans to shell over their hard-earned money, but there’s several other fun fights on the main card, most notably the UFC debut of three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler. While many – myself included – would have enjoyed seeing him debut in a five-round main event of a Fight Night card, but it’s not like we’re being cheated with Dan Hooker welcoming him in the co-main event of a PPV. It’s worth noting Amanda Ribas is also on the card. You may not know her now, but the UFC is betting you will soon enough.

Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler, Lightweight

Ex-Bellator champions crossing over to the UFC have been a mixed bag thus far. Eddie Alvarez managed to capture the lightweight title and Alexander Volkov has been a top heavyweight, but Will Brooks washed out pretty quickly while Hector Lombard and Ben Askren were in the twilight of their careers by the time they made their way over. Chandler has been at or near the top of the Bellator lightweight division for a decade, so it’s plausible he too is making his way over too late for his legacy. We’re about to find out.

Chandler still appears to be a strong athlete. His wrestling has always been the backbone of his attack, something fans tend to forget given the impressive number of KO’s he’s produced with his fists. Many of those KO’s can be attributed to opponents being wary of his takedowns, so his skill set is very complimentary. Though he has improved his ability to put together combinations, he’s still very much a power single striker at heart.

It can be guaranteed Chandler will remind everyone how good of a wrestler he is as Dan Hooker will have several inches both in height and reach and is the more technical striker by a wide margin. Of course, Hooker is also the inferior athlete, so it’s not like Chandler won’t be able to find success on the feet. But Chandler would be foolish to stay on the outside and allow Hooker to use his length. Closing the distance to clinch up is a risky proposition as well as Hooker is a devastating striker with his knees and elbows in close quarters. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of place to see Chandler eating several knees in his attempt to take Hooker down as the Kiwi is very opportunistic in that sense.

Hooker’s opportunism extends to his ability to snatch a guillotine choke, something he’s done on several occasions in his UFC run. That could give Chandler something extra to think about… and he’s already got plenty to think about. Chandler has never faced a lanky striker in the mold of Hooker before and it will be interesting to see how he responds. Of course, Hooker has never faced an athletic wrestler of the caliber of Chandler either, Al Iaquinta being the closest comparison. Chandler’s chin isn’t unbreakable either. Hooker appears likely to win this with a finish or with sheer volume while Chandler’s road to victory appears centered on control. I’ll take my chances with Hooker. Hooker via decision

Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood, Women’s Flyweight

Fair or not, Eye has been the butt of quite of few jokes throughout her MMA career. From a debacle regarding marijuana at the beginning of her UFC career to her occasionally off-beat personality, fans have found something to crap on her about. When Valentina Shevchenko KO’d her with one of the most brutal head kicks in recent memory, it only added fuel to the fire. There’s something those fans just don’t understand: Eye is actually a pretty damned good fighter.

Sure, she had a terrible run at bantamweight, going 1-5, 1 NC. Of course, she was fighting up a division and a quick rundown will reveal all but one of her opponents stayed at 135 even after flyweight opened up. As much as people like to discount it, size does matter. Plus, there wasn’t a more deserving candidate to fight Shevchenko when Eye did. However, the biggest problem with Eye has always been her headspace. When she’s on, she has solid footwork, a steady jab, and puts together good combinations. The drop in weight class also added a new level of effectiveness to her wrestling as she wasn’t the smaller fighter anymore. The problem has frequently been when she eats a clean shot or is taken down and controlled for a long period of time. She has shown more mental resilience in the last few years, but she can still be cracked.

Calderwood isn’t a stranger to questions about mental fragility herself, but at least she has the benefit of the MMA community taking a shine to her. Calderwood came into the division from the opposite direction of Eye, moving up from strawweight. She has looked far more energetic, not having to cut the extra ten pounds. It has allowed the Scot to bounce in and out of the pocket with abandon, flexing her boxing muscles while maintaining the dangerous clinch offense she is known for. She adds even further to her volume with a barrage of low kicks when she’s on the outside. Of course, Calderwood has struggled with larger grapplers – Jennifer Maia did wrest a title shot away from her with a submission – but Eye doesn’t come across as a danger in that sense.

A big part of Eye’s success comes down to her being the quicker and more active fighter. She isn’t going to have that to fall back on as Calderwood has pushed a ridiculous pace since making flyweight her permanent home. Eye is the better wrestler and may even be the more technical boxer, so it isn’t a crazy thought to see her picking up a win. However, I see JoJo accruing more volume, even if a good chunk of it isn’t necessarily meaningful. Plus, Eye is coming off a serious medical issue that could have killed her. It’s hard to say if she’ll be in the right head space. I’m going with Dr. Knevil. Calderwood via decision

Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas, Women’s Strawweight

The UFC thinks they have something special in Ribas. The spunky Brazilian exhibits an infectious enthusiasm both in and out of the cage that makes it hard not to like her. However, in the fight game, more than just a fun personality is needed to make a star. Based on the early returns of Ribas’ four UFC contests, she has the physical tools to become that star. It’s hard to disagree with the UFC that Ribas – with the right push and proper marketing — is on the path to stardom.

Ribas is most definitely a plus athlete, something that was obvious from the moment the UFC signed her. It wasn’t as clear cut what her skill level was at given she was overwhelming lesser competition on the Brazilian circuit. So far, those skills have been manifesting themselves with great abundance. Her jab has proven to be extremely effective and her use of angles belies her youth. Her wrestling was a question, but it’s proven to be effective thus far, albeit against competition with questionable takedown defense.

Regardless of how effective Ribas’ wrestling really is, it’ll be a step down from what Rodriguez has been facing as of late. The Brazilian hasn’t been able to secure a win in her last two contests as Carla Esparza and Cynthia Calvillo were able to take her down with consistency, resulting in her first career loss. It isn’t that Rodriguez has crappy takedown defense; it’s actually solid. It’s that she has been inconsistent in her ability to get back to her feet where she has arguably gotten the better of her opponents in the standup in every one of her contests.

Rodriguez has proven to be one of the most technical strikers in the division, racking up volume at an incredible rate. Unfortunately, her power doesn’t consistently manifest itself, creating a lack of jaw-dropping moments, which is likely what has led to her being unable to sway the judges in her recent razor-thin decisions. As for Ribas, she has an active ground game and has impressed with her power. I anticipate the contest will be razor thin with Ribas edging out the decision thanks to her inclination for flash. Ribas via decision

  • Matt Frevola tends to represent everything Uncle Dana loves in fighters. He’s aggressive, willing to eat a shot – or two – to deliver his own offense, and is always looking for a finish. To be fair, that description better represents the Frevola that entered the UFC a few years ago as he’s grown more nuanced since that time. That’s what tends to happen when you get knocked out a minute into your UFC debut. The nuance has made Frevola much better, effectively working over all areas of the body while maneuvering in and out of the pocket and mixing in a steady diet of takedowns. He’ll have to approach the fight with great concern for defense since Ottman Azaitar has been able to finish both of his UFC contests via KO in less than a round. Of course, that leaves a lot of questions about how well his wrestling translates to this level as that would be his backup plan should he prove unable to spark out his opponent in the early moments. It’s fair to question how deep his gas tank runs as he’s only left the opening round three times. Even though he won those fights – he is undefeated – it’s not like he did so against proven competition. Azaitar is perfectly capable of ending Frevola’s night early, especially if he drags Frevola into his old brawling ways. However, if the contest extends beyond the opening frame, it’s hard to see Frevola dropping this one. Frevola via decision