UFC 264 betting preview: Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier a toss-up

Jan 22, 2021; Abu Dhabi, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES; Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor of Ireland face off during the UFC 257 weigh-in at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 22, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

In the main event of UFC 264, old foes Conor McGregor (22-5 MMA, 10-3 UFC) and Dustin Poirier (27-6 MMA, 19-5 UFC) will face off in a battle of top-ranked lightweight contenders with more than just title contention on the line.

UFC 264 betting preview: Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier a toss-up as of Wednesday

ufc 264 betting preview
Jan 23, 2021; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

The biggest superstar in all of MMA, McGregor will look to come back from a January knockout loss at the hands of Poirier, whom he bested in their first matchup way back in 2014. The 32-year-old former two-weight world champion has lost two of his last three bouts, and this fight could be pivotal to his hopes of reclaiming the UFC lightweight title.

Standing opposite the “Notorious” Irishman will be Louisiana’s Poirier, also 32.

Since the pair’s 2014 matchup, Poirier has also gone on to achieve great success in the Octagon. He captured the UFC interim lightweight title with a thrilling decision win over then-UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway (22-6) in 2019, and ultimately fell short in his bid to dethrone now-retired champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0) five months later.

DraftKings lists (as of 4:00 PM ET on 7/7) McGregor at -101 and Poirier at -125, indicating that oddsmakers believe this trilogy matchup is as close as they come.

Poirier was able to defeat McGregor back in January in part due to his strategic use of low kicks, disrupting McGregor’s stance and footing en route to his second-round TKO win. However, McGregor was still able to land an array of significant punches, as has been his calling card throughout his MMA career.

Stephen Thompson vs. Gilbert Burns

A battle of top-ranked welterweight contenders serves as the co-main event to UFC 264, as former title challengers Gilbert Burns (19-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) and Stephen Thompson (16-4-1 MMA, 11-4-1 UFC) face off in the hopes of securing a coveted chance to dethrone UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (19-1).

Brazil’s Burns, 34, is coming off of a third-round TKO loss to Usman that snapped his previous six-fight winning streak. The streak–including wins over former champion Tyron Woodley (19-7-1) and fellow jiu-jitsu great Demian Maia (28-11)–had seen him emerge as a far more complete fighter than his early MMA days, which saw him rely more heavily on his world-class jiu-jitsu skills. Under the tutelage of Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA, Burns’ striking became a valuable weapon in his arsenal.

However, Burns’ improved striking will be put to the test against the puzzle that is “Wonderboy” Thompson.

Thompson, 38, has stymied foes with his karate-based striking attack, keeping opponents at the ends of his rangy kicks and punches. Since challenging Woodley for the title for the second time, Thompson has gone three for five in his most recent outings, including wins over “BMF” champion Jorge Masvidal (35-15), divisional dark horse Vicente Luque (20-7-1), and prospect Geoff Neal (13-4).

DraftKings lists Thompson as a slight favorite at -157 to Burns’ +126, indicating that oddsmakers believe the striker will be able to defeat Burns come fight night.

Bettors will look to gauge whether Thompson’s usual control of distance on the feet will be enough to keep the aggressive Burns from closing the distance, where he can most threaten Thompson both in striking exchanges and with takedowns. Should the fight go to the ground, the advantage lies decidedly with Burns.

Greg Hardy vs. Tai Tuivasa

Massive heavyweights will collide on the UFC 264 main card when Australia’s Tai Tuivasa (12-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC) meets former NFL star Greg Hardy (7-3 MMA, 4-3, 1 NC UFC) in the Octagon.

Tuivasa, 28, developed a reputation as a brawler early on in his UFC career, scoring two straight highlight-reel knockouts in his first two UFC appearances. After defeating former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (31-20), however, he suffered three straight defeats against some of the division’s more accredited mainstays.

He recently rebounded with back-to-back knockouts, perhaps signaling a return to the form that led many MMA fans to consider him one of the names to watch in the heavyweight division.

Tuivasa will face a fellow power puncher in Hardy, 32.

A football player turned MMA fighter, Hardy jumped into the deep end of the pool early in his MMA career. He joined the UFC roster after just three pro fights–which combined to last just 127 seconds.

His UFC career has seen the former Pro Bowler experience both highs and lows. From his debut ending in disqualification, and later a no-contest, to multiple knockout victories. Notably, two of Hardy’s losses have come to fighters currently ranked inside the division’s top 10, in recent headliner Alexander Volkov (33-9) and Poland’s Marcin Tybura (22-6).

DraftKings sees Hardy as a slight +115 underdog, while they label Tuivasa the favorite at -143. Oddsmakers appear to think that in a clash of heavy-handed heavyweights, it’ll be the thunder from Down Under that will have the biggest impact.

Bettors are likely to consider both men knockout threats, and perhaps consider the deciding factor of the bout to be each fighters’ cardio. However, while Hardy’s conditioning issues have been the subject of much speculation, it is worthwhile to note that Tuivasa has won just one UFC fight that lasted longer than one round.

Irene Aldana vs. Yana Kunitskaya

Two contenders in the women’s bantamweight top five will face off on the main card when Mexico’s Irene Aldana (12-6 MMA, 5-4 UFC) takes on Russia’s Yana Kunitskaya (14-5 MMA, 4-2 UFC).

Aldana, 33, most recently headlined a 2020 UFC Fight Night in a losing effort against former bantamweight champion Holly Holm (14-5). Prior to the loss to Holm, Aldana was riding a two-fight winning streak that included a Knockout of the Year candidate against Ketlen Vieira (11-2).

The dangerous striker will face a former Invicta FC champion in Kunitskaya, 31.

Kunitskaya, who challenged Cris “Cyborg” Justino (24-2) for the UFC featherweight title in just her first Octagon appearance, is in the midst of a two-fight winning streak. Following a loss to prospect Aspen Ladd (9-1) back in 2019, Kunitskaya defeated Julija Stoliarenko (9-5-2) and a common foe in Vieira in successive unanimous decision wins.

DraftKings lists Aldana as a -120 favorite to Kunitskaya’s -105 line. One of the closest lines among sportsbooks.

Bettors likely see Aldana’s path to victory in the standup. If she can keep Kunitskaya at bay, she is likely the more technical striker of the two.

Sean O’Malley vs. Kris Moutinho

The UFC 264 main card will be opened by what oddsmakers consider the most lopsided fight on this portion of the event, as fan-favorite Sean O’Malley (13-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) faces off against promotional newcomer Kris Moutinho (9-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC).

After one of the most viral knockouts on Dana White’s Contender Series, O’Malley joined the UFC roster and kept the excitement going. “Sugar” won four straight, replete with highlight-reel material before suffering his first career loss at the hands of 13-ranked contender Marlon Vera (17-7-1) in August 2020.

O’Malley rebounded nicely, though, stopping one-time top prospect Thomas Almeida (22-5) via third-round TKO back in March. Originally slated to face Louis Smolka (17-7) at UFC 264, Smolka’s withdrawal opened the door for Moutinho to sign with the UFC.

Moutinho, 28, is a longtime staple of the New England regional scene. An exciting finisher with a penchant for colorfully dyed hair in his own right, Moutinho has a fan-friendly style sure to endear himself to UFC fans seeing him compete for the first time.

DraftKings lists O’Malley as a whopping -1000 favorite, while Moutinho checks in as a +600 underdog.

A Moutinho win would be nothing short of an “Upset of the Year” contender, but fans are likely in for an exciting matchup no matter whose hand is raised come fight night.

–Field Level Media

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