Three years after defusing the Cameroonian destroyer in his third title defense, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic will once again take on top contender Francis Ngannou this Sat. night (March 27, 2021) in the main event of UFC 260 at APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Earlier in the evening, former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley looks for his first win since 2018 against all-action Brazilian slugger Vicente Luque, who’s earned four post-fight bonuses in his last six bouts. In addition, Sean O’Malley takes on Thomas Almeida in a clash of lethal bantamweight knockout artists, Gillian Robertson attempts to get back on track against fast-rising Miranda Maverick, and iron-tough Jamie Mullarkey meets fellow lightweight entertainer Khama Worthy.
The card previously also featured a potentially explosive featherweight title match between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega, but that fell through over the weekend when “The Great” tested positive for COVID.
Our usual main card guy is currently subjecting himself to various maladies in an effort to become vaccine-eligible, so I’m on duty once again. If you’re craving more, we broke down the UFC 260 “Prelims” here and here, then took a look at the “Miocic vs. Ngannou 2” odds and betting lines over here.
Now, shall we?
265 lbs.: Stipe Miocic (20-3) vs. Francis “The Predator” Ngannou (15-3)
Here’s a terrifying stat for you: Ngannou’s four fights since that execrable staring contest against Derrick Lewis have lasted a combined 2:42. As fun as that’s been to watch, however, his efficiency makes it nigh-on impossible to determine whether he’s actually made the adjustments necessary to avoid a repeat of his first failed go at at the king.
From what I’ve seen, the answer is “no.” He’s still prone to the wild, straight-armed flurries that failed him against Miocic’s composed, versatile attack, and he can no longer rely on intimidation now that Miocic’s taken his best shots without issue. He’s not going to have any more success trying to draw a brawl out of Miocic than he did last time; unless Ngannou manages to actually hurt him, Miocic has no incentive not to once again lean on his sharper boxing and grueling grappling to sap Ngannou’s gas tank.
There is, of course, always the possibility that Ngannou simply hasn’t had cause to demonstrate his hypothetical improvements. After all, those crazy swings took out four dangerous finishers in less time than it takes to consume a microwave burrito. Those of you fond of logical fallacies could point out that there’s no evidence he doesn’t possess much-improved cardio and the ability to stay patient and composed when the situation calls for it.
The argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but it does make the rematch interesting.
At the end of the day, we can only work with the data we’ve been given, and that data says repeat. Miocic survives a hairy start to steadily wear Ngannou down for another successful defense.
Prediction: Miocic def. Ngannou via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley (19-6-1) vs. Vicente “The Silent Assassin” Luque (19-7-1)
Tyron Woodley is a solved equation at this point: put some pressure on him and he’ll back himself to the fence every single time. While this has always been the case, he’s recently become so gun-shy that there’s no longer any risk in exploiting that seemingly unbreakable habit. He landed a combined 96 significant strikes in 71 minutes against Kamaru Usman, Gilbert Burns, and Colby Covington.
Luque landed 130 in 13:37 against Niko Price.
That said, there’s a key difference between “The Silent Assassin” and the aforementioned trio: Luque won’t be looking to take Woodley down and can theoretically be taken down in return. This should theoretically make Woodley more willing to pull the trigger against the defensively porous Brazilian and will definitely give him a means to burn clock should Luque get careless and leave his hips open.
That vulnerability to Woodley’s best weapons, the overhand right and blast double, make Luque Woodley’s most beatable opponent in years despite his utter lethality on the feet. But while Woodley clearly has the tools to beat Luque, it’s impossible to have faith in his ability to actually use them. The man’s coming off a literal hour of abject failure, all of which failed to produce even the slightest willingness to take risks.
Expect a more tentative start from Luque as he tries to feel out Woodley, but once he realizes that there’s nothing to fear anymore, he’ll turn on his usual heat. Whether via referee or corner, he gets Woodley out of there around the midway point.
Prediction: Luque def. Woodley via second-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: “Sugar” Sean O’Malley (12-1) vs. Thomas “Thominhas” Almeida (22-4)
Contradictory though it sounds, Thomas Almeida’s hyper-aggression actually mitigated his durability issues, as it’s difficult to get a fist in edgewise when you’re busy trying to defend your squishy bits from a Brazilian blender. Now that his confidence seems shattered, Almeida’s reluctance to really knuckle down and throw heat like he used to makes him more vulnerable than ever.
Maybe I’m just putting too much stock into his recent loss to Jonathan Martinez, which he entered in the midst of a nearly three-year layoff, but he definitely looked far worse there than he did against previous conquerors Jimmie Rivera and Rob Font. While the Almeida who fought those two might have a shot at the upset, the one who fell to Martinez is getting pasted.
Beating O’Malley requires an opponent to either smother his kicks or wait for him to destroy his own foot. When Almeida was undefeated and blissfully unaware of his own mortality, he had the tools to keep potentially O’Malley on the back foot and tear up his legs and midsection. The current incarnation lacks the necessary boldness to walk through “Sugar’s” power shots and get his own offense going, leaving him at the mercy of a rangier and fleeter-of-foot striker.
As far as the other option, you have to imagine that O’Malley’s learned his lesson by this point, right?
For the record, I really do hope I’m wrong. Almeida’s still just 29 years old and three of his losses came against Cody Garbrandt, Jimmie Rivera, and Rob Font, all of whom are genuinely elite. We’ve seen fighters dig themselves out of far deeper holes than the ones he’s in. Still, that underwhelming effort against Martinez suggests we may have seen the last of the ferocious finisher that looked for all the world like the future of the division. O’Malley capitalizes on Almeida’s newfound tentativeness to plunk him with an early right hand.
Prediction: O’Malley def. Almeida by first-round knockout
125 lbs.: Gillian Robertson (9-5) vs. Miranda Maverick (8-2)
This “Prelim”bout got bumped to the main card after COVID took a sledgehammer to the line up last week, so here’s what I already had written for it.
A one-and-done The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 run didn’t stop Robertson from winning six of her first eight Octagon bouts and scoring five finishes in the process. Her ninth fight pitted her against Brazil’s Taila Santos, who successfully shut down “The Savage’s” wrestling to claim a unanimous decision in Dec. 2020.
She has tapped six professional foes overall and pounded out one other.
An impressive run in Invicta, which included victory in the Phoenix Series 2 tournament and a decision over UFC veteran Pearl Gonzalez, brought Maverick to UFC last year. She entered her debut against Liana Jojua as a massive favorite and ultimately proved the bookies right with a first-round finish.
Though two inches shorter than Robertson, she’ll enjoy a two-inch reach advantage.
This is something of a reckoning for both women. Robertson has some of the best top control in the entire division, but has demonstrated an inability to get much done when the takedowns aren’t there. Maverick, on the other hand, is a strong wrestler and capable striker who’s historically left herself open to takedowns in return. Both are equipped to exploit the other’s weaknesses; the difference is that Maverick’s seemingly addressed her biggest flaws, while Robertson’s bugbears reared their heads against Santos in her most recent fight.
Robertson can absolutely ruin Maverick’s day if the latter gets lazy with her low kicks, and any prolonged exchanges on the mat will favor “The Savage.” Still, Maverick’s slight technical striking edge and raw output should carry her to a comfortable decision victory.
Prediction: Maverick def. Robertson via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Jamie Mullarkey (12-4) vs. Khama “The Deathstar” Worthy (16-7)
Just for the record, these guys have five combined UFC fights and I’ve picked four of them incorrectly, so temper your expectations here.
Neither Mullarkey nor Worthy have been what I thought they’d be in the Octagon. Mullarkey entered the UFC as a well-rounded striking specialist, but has relied almost entirely on his wrestling in the Octagon. Worthy, meanwhile, went from free-swinging glass cannon to adept counter-puncher seemingly in the span of one fight. In a clash of Lightweights whom I seemingly oscillate between overestimating and underestimating, I favor Mullarkey by a hair.
While Worthy’s striking and takedown defense have clearly improved, his fight with Luis Pena showed that he’s still not much of a factor off of his back outside of his guillotine. Mullarkey’s combination of persistence and sheer indestructibility should allow him to wade through Worthy’s fire and keep the pressure on with constant level changes, and even if the wrestling isn’t there for him, he can take Worthy’s shots a lot better than vice-versa.
Again, I am seemingly unable to get any sort of bead on these two, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Worthy crack Mullarkey’s concrete chin with a counter or lock up a guillotine like he did against Pena. Still, the most plausible outcome to me is Mullarkey racking up enough top control to eke out a narrow decision
Prediction: Mullarkey def. Worthy via split decision
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 260 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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