Matches to Make After UFC 257

By Brian Knapp Jan 25, 2021

Dustin Poirier closed the gap—and then some—that once existed between he and Conor McGregor.

The American Top Team mainstay avenged a 2014 defeat and evened his head-to-head series with the Irishman, as he put away McGregor with punches in the second round of their UFC 257 headliner on Saturday at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. McGregor, who had never before been stopped on strikes, succumbed to blows 2:32 into Round 2.

Poirier walked through significant fire but made real headway with a series of kicks the SBG Ireland cornerstone’s lower lead leg. McGregor initially withstood the assault and backed up his counterpart with power punches, but it became increasingly clear that the Louisianan’s efforts were paying dividends. Midway through the second round, Poirier popped the former two-division champion’s calf with another kick, pressed him to the fence and cut loose with punches. A right hook sent the compromised McGregor to the canvas, where he was either unwilling or unable to defend himself. More punches followed, leaving referee Herb Dean no choice but to intervene.

In the aftermath of UFC 257 “Poirier vs. McGregor 2,” here are five matches that ought to be made:

Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira: With Khabib Nurmagomedov looking more and more like a man who plans to follow through on his announced retirement, the undisputed UFC lightweight championship could soon become vacant; and there is no shortage of worthy candidates in line to fill the vacancy. Poirier has rattled off back-to-back wins since his submission loss to Nurmagomedov in September 2019 and continues to carry all the traits of an ascending fighter. He now finds himself one victory shy of joining the 20-win club—a plateau only six competitors in UFC history have reached. Oliveira, meanwhile, finds himself on an eight fight-winning streak, punctuated by his eye-opening rout of Tony Ferguson at UFC 256 in December. A Poirier-Oliveira title fight seems like a prudent move, unless Nurmagomedov changes course.

Michael Chandler vs. Justin Gaethje: Chandler in his first appearance inside the Octagon planted his flag in the lightweight division and did so in electrifying fashion, as the three-time Bellator MMA champion wiped out Dan Hooker with punches in the first round of their co-main event. Hooker bowed out 2:30 into Round 1. Chandler leveled the City Kickboxing star with a clean left hook to the head, pounced in a kneeling position and blasted away with rapid-fire right hands until referee Marc Goddard had seen enough. On a run of three consecutive first-round finishes, the Sanford MMA rep moves into immediate title contention at 155 pounds. Gaethje has not fought since being choked unconscious by a Nurmagomedov triangle at UFC 254 in October.

Joanne Calderwood vs. Viviane Araujo: The soft-spoken Calderwood showed off her vast array of offensive weaponry under the main-card spotlight, taking a unanimous decision from Jessica Eye in a three-round flyweight showcase. Scores were 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. Calderwood chewed up the Xtreme Couture export at close range, where she employed a devastating clinch game that featured short punches, sharp elbows and jarring knee strikes to the body. She also excelled in space, as she uncorked front kicks to the legs, body and head. By the time it was over, Calderwood had connected on 61% of her significant strikes and outlanded her counterpart by a 148-77 margin. Araujo won for the seventh time in eight outings at UFC on ESPN 20, where she was awarded a unanimous decision over Roxanne Modafferi on Jan. 20.

Makhmud Muradov vs. Omari Akhmedov: Though he has thrived in relative obscurity, Muradov may not be afforded the opportunity to fly under the radar much longer. The Uzbekistani middleweight extended his current winning streak to 14 fights—he has not tasted defeat since Dec. 18, 2016—and added to his personal highlight reel when he laid waste to “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 23 winner Andrew Sanchez with a flying knee and follow-up punches in the third round of their featured attraction at 185 pounds. Sanchez met his end 2:59 into Round 3. Since joining the UFC roster in 2019, the 30-year-old Muradov has carved through Sanchez, Trevor Smith and Alessio Di Chirico. He seems primed for a run at the Top 15. Akhmedov on Jan. 20 rebounded from a decision loss to former champion Chris Weidman, as he submitted Tom Breese with a second-round arm-triangle choke at UFC on ESPN 20.

Marina Rodriguez vs. Michelle Waterson: Rodriguez affirmed her place as a Top 10 strawweight with a stunning burst of violence, as she disposed of Amanda Ribas with an elbow strike and follow-up punches in the second round of their high-stakes showdown at 115 pounds. The stoppage was called 54 seconds into Round 2. Rodriguez, 33, owns a 3-1-2 record through six UFC appearances, her wins over Ribas, Tecia Torres and Jessica Aguilar, offset by her loss to Carla Esparza and draws with Cynthia Calvillo and Randa Markos. Waterson—Ribas’ original opponent in Abu Dhabi—last competed at UFC Fight Night 177, where the former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder eked out a split decision over Angela Hill on Sept. 12.

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