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UFC 259 predictions, preview, and analysis

UFC 253 Adesanya v Costa Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) brings the heat this Sat. evening (Mar. 6, 2021) with three title fights and a bevy of pivotal contender clashes.

In the five-round main event, Light Heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz looks to continue his upset streak against heretofore unstoppable Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, who moves up 20 pounds in a bid to become the promotion’s latest double champ. The co-feature sees Amanda Nunes return to Featherweight to defend her belt against former Invicta champ Megan Anderson, while Bantamweight emperor Petr Yan takes on ultra-dangerous challenger Aljamain Sterling one fight prior.

The pay-per-view (PPV) card also features a clash of fast-rising Lightweight standouts in Islam Makhachev and Drew Dober and opens with what could be fireworks between Light Heavyweight finishers Thiago Santos and Aleksandar Rakic.

We’re still trying to thaw our usual main card guy after that polar vortex the other week, so this sacred duty once again falls to me. As always, you can find our “Prelims” predictions here and here, our UFC 259 odds breakdown here, and all the pre-fight staredowns here.

Shall we?

205 lbs.: Jan Blachowicz (27-8) vs. Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya (20-0)

I sometimes have to sit back and ask myself whether I’m properly considering a fighter’s current abilities or clinging to whatever an earlier mental model for convenience’s sake. I keep underestimating Jan Blachowicz and he keeps on winning, so I clearly haven’t properly appreciated his dramatic career turnaround.

That said, he’s losing badly on Saturday night.

While Blachowicz continues to improve, his profile as a striker has largely remained the same: power kicks and linear punch rushes. That’s just not going to cut it against a kickboxer as savvy as Adesanya, who punishes under-polished aggression as decisively as anyone in the sport. If Blachowicz commits to a striking battle, his size advantage isn’t going to save him from getting picked apart.

If Blachowicz wants to score another improbable upset and retain his title, he has to mix things up. He mentioned earlier this week that he’s willing to take Adesanya down if he opportunity arises, and though he last hit a takedown in 2018, his wrestling is a legitimate piece of his arsenal. The only people to have success against Adesanya were those who forced him to actively worry about keeping it standing, like Marvin Vettori and Kelvin Gastelum; Izzy’s insurmountable technical striking advantage can disintegrate quickly under that kind of pressure, which Blachowicz might just have the tools to unleash.

But Blachowicz isn’t the only one who’s been improving, and he won’t have the speed that Gastelum used to such great effect. The “Polish Power” is real, but Adesanya’s only ever been stopped once in over 100 combined bouts, and that was by one of the scariest kickboxers alive in Alex Pereira. Plus, Adesanya still has the edge in height and reach despite moving up in weight.

If Thiago Santos was savvy enough to time Blachowicz’s blitzes, so is Adesanya. He potshots Blachowicz at long range until he successfully provokes a rush and answers accordingly.

Prediction: Adesanya def. Blachowicz via second-round technical knockout

145 lbs.: Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes (20-4) vs. Megan Anderson (10-4)

At the time of writing, Nunes is more than a 10-to-1 favorite over Anderson. We’ve seen bigger numerical upsets before, namely Holly Holm’s head kick knockout of Ronda Rousey and Shana Dobson’s comeback beatdown of Mariya Agapova last year, but where those were situations where massive hype blinded us to the stylistic threats posed by the underdogs, I can’t say I disagree with these lines. Nunes basically has to hand the fight to Anderson on a silver platter for the challenger to have any sort of chance.

That’s not to say that Anderson isn’t skilled or that she isn’t capable of stopping Nunes under perfect circumstances; she’s a legitimately dangerous striker and boasts some real power. Thing is, Nunes appears to be her technical superior on the feet and can take the fight to the ground anytime she likes. Holly Holm of all people managed to wrestle Anderson into the dirt, and Norma Dumont’s successful takedown in Anderson’s last bout suggests that she’s yet to fix that issue.

Were this 2016, Anderson could have potentially used the Cat Zingano strategy of letting Nunes burn herself out on the ground and then turning the tables late. Unfortunately for the Aussie, Nunes proved that she could pace herself on the mat in her rematch with Germaine de Randamie. Plus, Anderson would still have to survive Nunes’ ground-and-pound onslaught in the first place, which her incompetence on the mat would make a mighty difficult task.

Nunes essentially has her pick of how to go about things. She can win a striking match, grind out an easy decision from the top, or push the issue on the ground to secure a submission or ground-and-pound finish. I say she goes the face-smashing route.

Prediction: Nunes def. Anderson via first-round technical knockout

135 lbs.: Petr “No Mercy” Yan (15-1) vs. Aljamain “Funk Master” Sterling (19-3)

Here’s my big, bold prediction for the week: Aljamain Sterling’s grappling, the thing I’d imagine most would tab as his ideal weapon against the destructive “No Mercy”, won’t play a factor at all. Ever since his first and only professional loss, a highly questionable decision against one of Russia’s best prospects in Magomed Magomedov, Yan has developed into one of the most potent counter-wrestlers in the sport This is going to be a striking battle, and it’s a testament to Sterling’s enormous improvement that it’s still a 50/50 fight.

When Sterling first entered the UFC, it’s not an exaggeration to say that he could barely throw a proper punch, and now he’s so good on the feet that he dominated Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz without landing a takedown on either of them. The wonky long-range attack that once served as mere window dressing for his wrestling has become a cohesive offense that makes perfect use of his height and length. I can easily see him giving Yan, who’s largely focused on close-quarters bruising and had real issues with the aforementioned Rivera, a massive headache.

The problem? He has to do that for five rounds against the most efficient and versatile pressure fighter he’s ever faced. Yan’s a fair bit craftier and far more destructive in his advance than the likes of Rivera or Munhoz; Sterling can only keep him out of the pocket for so long, and even with his newfound skills, he doesn’t want any part of an infight.

If this were three rounds, I’d pick Sterling to topple the throne. 25 minutes is just too long to play keep-away.

Yan is far from invincible, and I fully expect Sterling to at least win the first round. I just don’t see “Funk Master” successfully stopping Yan’s snowball or staying out of the way once it’s built up a head of steam. Yan steadily pressures the life out of Sterling, picking away at his legs and body until the opportunity arises to drop the hammer.

Prediction: Yan def. Sterling via fourth-round technical knockout

155 lbs.: Islam Makhachev (18-1) vs. Drew Dober (23-9)

There are a lot of fighters who’ve made impressive technical turnarounds, including headliner Jan Blachowicz, but I feel like Dober doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the work he’s done. The man got boxed up by Nick Hein during a 1-3 (1 NC) UFC start and didn’t score a single knockout from November 2011 to September 2016, when he finally managed to put Jason Gonzalez to sleep. He’s now 6-1 with four brutal knockouts in his last seven fights, and one of those victims was the incredibly lethal Nasrat Haqparast. Between his durability, technical savvy, and newfound power, it’s a rare few Lightweights who can match him on the feet at this stage.

Luckily for Makhachev, he doesn’t have to.

Though Dober’s takedown defense is far less of a liability than it used to be, it remains a serious Achilles’ heel, and his improved ability to get off his back isn’t going to do him much good against a wrestler as pathologically aggressive as Makhachev. Getting out from underneath the Dagestani is exponentially more difficult than out-scrambling the likes of Alexander Hernandez, and even if he does, Makhachev is more than happy to shoot back in and start the cycle all over again.

I’m not as sold as Khabib Nurmagomedov is on Makhachev being the division’s heir apparent, but it’s going to take a special fighter to beat him, someone who can both consistently stop his takedowns and punish each attempt violently enough to dissuade future ones. Dober’s wrestling isn’t stout enough for him to unleash his full arsenal; he can either really commit to his punches and get wrestled to death or hold back and get outworked. Either way, Makhachev cruises to victory.

Prediction: Makhachev def. Dober via unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Thiago “Marreta” Santos (21-8) vs. Aleksandar “Rocket” Rakic (13-2)

Thiago Santos is a man who just loves violence. Sometimes that works out for him, as it did against Jimi Manuwa, and sometimes it doesn’t; he had Glover Teixeira dead to rights on multiple occasions in their November 2020 slugfest, only to let the crafty veteran back into the fight by going wild and leaving himself open to takedowns.

He simply can’t afford to give someone like Rakic those sorts of opportunities. The Austrian can get overeager and wind up hurt by the likes of Devin Clark, but he’s also shown off a highly potent top game that could easily shave minutes off of each round. If Santos stays patient and avoids the calf kicks, his edge in firepower should be sufficient to win the day. If he doesn’t, Rakic is more than capable of capitalizing.

The question, then, is whether Santos can keep his cool and pick his shots against a technically superior kickboxer with some wrestling in his pocket. Considering the Brazilian’s passion for raw, unchecked lunacy, that doesn’t seem like a particularly safe bet.

Unfortunately for the viewers, Santos’ success and the fight’s entertainment value are likely to be directly proportional, as Rakic has no qualms about taking the path of least resistance. A slugfest would be nice, but it’s likelier we see Rakic pick away at Santos’ calf until “Marreta” goes for broke and then bust out the wrestling for a comfortable victory.

Prediction: Rakic def. Santos via unanimous decision

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 259 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 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.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 259: “Blachowicz vs. Adesanya” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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