After a week off for Fourth of July weekend, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back at it again with one of its biggest events of the year. UFC 264 is scheduled to go down later tonight (Sat., July 10, 2021) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, featuring a trilogy fight between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier. In the pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event, Gilbert Burns will face off against Stephen Thompson in a pivotal Welterweight affair. This will also be the first UFC event held in “Sin City” with a house full of fans in more than one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is a new Sheriff in town at Lightweight thanks to Charles Oliveira’s impressive win over Michael Chandler at UFC 262 earlier this year to claim the vacant 155-pound title. Justin Gaethje is still lurking and could potentially get first crack at “Do Bronx,” but the stakes are very high for McGregor and Poirier going into their trilogy fight. Tied at one a piece, whoever comes out on top after the smoke clears in Las Vegas could make a case to face Oliveira, especially if it’s a finish, which has a good chance of happening since “Notorious” stopped “Diamond” via strikes at UFC 178 before he returned the favor at UFC 257.
McGregor is still the sports biggest star even though he has only competed three times in MMA since becoming the promotion’s first-ever “champ-champ” in 2016, going 1-2 and failing to recapture the 155-pound title in the process against Khabib Nurmagomedov. His lone win during that span has come against Donald Cerrone who, let’s be real, has been a shell of his former self for the past two years, losing five of his last six bouts. McGregor needs a win here to remind everyone the reason he became the sport’s biggest star (other than for his mouth) and to justify the promotion paying him millions upon millions of dollars. Sure, “Notorious” can still sell the hell out of a fight, but if he can’t win on a consistent basis how long until fight fans — and perhaps the promotion — stop losing interest?
In the rematch it was all love between Poirier and McGregor. But after some confusion regarding a $500,000 donation promise from McGregor to Poirier’s charity surfaced, things got tense between the two camps going into the third fight. McGregor has since promised no more Mr. Nice Guy, which helped build the fight a bit more during the pressers, even if he crossed the line at times. While talking is all good for show, he needs to produce in the cage. Poirier hasn’t lost the hunger and his improvement over the years is highly-impressive. Scoring a second win over “Notorious” not only gives him bragging rights for the rest of his career and another big paycheck, but it will give him another chance of winning the 155-pound strap. And he (or McGregor) won’t have to worry about once again running into the the mountain known as Khabib to do it, either.
While the event is billed as a “blockbuster” because “Notorious” is headlining, when you break it all down it’s not that stacked of a card. But this isn’t a surprise, really, because UFC has always done this when it comes to its biggest box office draws. The company banks on the fighter to sell the card on his/her own and when McGregor is headlining, it usually does well. Really, really well. That's why there’s simply no need to add other huge marquee names or a title fight to the event (no diss on Thompson or Burns).
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
Kevin Lee (and his tattoo) was all set to make his much-anticipated return to action after lengthy sit to face off against Sean Brady before an injury further delayed his comeback. The promotion chose not to find a replacement opponent for Brady and ultimately removed him from the event.
Other than Lee’s unfortunate setback, Louis Smolka was forced out of his scheduled Bantamweight bout against Sean O’ Malley with a staph infection, prompting UFC matchmakers to enlist the services of Kris Moutinho to fill the void. And just hours before showtime, Alen Amedovski was removed from the card because of COVID-19 protocols and his fight against Hu Yaozong was scrapped (full details here).
When UFC comes knocking at the door, up-and-coming fighters better be ready to answer, especially when their first fight will be on the PPV main card of a Conor McGregor-led event. That’s the luck Kris Moutinho had when he was asked to step in to face Sean O’Malley after Louis Smolka was forced to bow out of the fight. With a professional record of 9-4 and two straight wins, Moutinho isn’t exactly lighting it up as a rising prospect, but it’s an opportunity he wasn’t about to pass up. That said, tapping him to take on O’ Malley was a bit of a head scratcher because when Smolka bowed out there were several established UFC Bantamweights who were quick to raise their hand to save the day. But, UFC matchmakers looked the other way, adding fuel to the fire of speculation that the promotion still doesn’t want to give “Suga” the competition he should be getting four years and seven fights into his UFC career. Still, Moutinho has a chance to make a name for himself straight away by upsetting UFC’s project.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
Don’t look now, but Carlos Condit has had a nice career resurrection after a rough stretch that saw him lose five straight fights, leading him to consider retiring from the sport. He has back-to-back wins over Court McGee and Matt Brown and will look for the longest win streak of his career (three) in eight years against Max Griffin. “Pain” has also won two straight and stopping “The Natural Born Killer’s” momentum will give him the biggest win of his career, name-wise.
UFC’s wild man Michel Pereira returns to the cage and he will likely bring all of his antics with him when he steps up to face Niko Price, another exciting fighter in the same mold. Price hasn’t had the best of luck over the last two years, going 1-2-1 over his last four. A win over Pereira — winner of two straight — would be a much-needed victory for “Hybrid’s” hopes of ever cracking the Top 15.
Ryan Hall will finally get to make his return to action when he battles Ilia Topuria. While it’s not a Top 15-ranked contender Hall would have preferred to face (everyone is allegedly ducking him), he has a big opportunity in front of him to hand an undefeated (10-0, 2-0 UFC) fighter his first loss.
Omari Akhmedov (No. 13) and Brad Tavares (No. 15) are two talented Middleweights who are looking to take the leap into the Top 10. Both are coming off wins and are looking for back-to-back trips to the winner’s circle for the first time in a long time. Tavares is a striker at heart and while Akhmedov can bang with the best of them, he prefers to grapple his way to a win.
Jerome Rivera has yet to earn a UFC win in three tries, but he will get another (and perhaps final) try to do so when he battles Zhalgas Zhumagulov, who has yet to taste victory inside the Octagon as well in his first two attempts. It’s safe to say that the loser of this fight will no longer have a spot on UFC’s roster once the dust settles.
Also, Dricus Du Plessis is looking to extend his win streak to four and collect his second straight win under the UFC banner when he takes on Trevin Giles — winner of three straight — at 185 pounds, while Alen Amedovski hopes to snap his two-fight skid when he battles Hu Yaozong, who has also dropped two in a row.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Just two short years ago, Jessica Eye was fighting for a UFC world title against Valentina Shevchenko, eventually getting knocked out by “Bullet” thanks to a devastating head kick (see it here). Since then, “Evil” has gone just 1-2 and is currently on a two-fight losing streak. She will look to avoid her third straight loss at the hands of Jennifer Maia, who is coming off a failed attempt to dethrone Shevchenko. A loss will surely take Eye out of the Top 10 and will add even more pressure in her following fight to avoid a possible dreaded pink slip.
Interest Level: 8.5 of 10
This will likely be the last time we see Poirier and McGregor throw down inside the Octagon because once the tie is broken there really is no need for them to fight again unless it’s for a world title (or if this fights turns out to be a draw).
As for the co-main event, Burns and Thompson are trying to scratch and claw their way up the 170-pound championship ladder. Burns hasn’t competed since having his bell rung by Kamaru Usman at UFC 258 earlier this year, coming up short in his first-ever UFC title fight. He is still ranked No. 2 in the crowded weight class, so a win over Thompson could get him back to the big dance sooner, rather than later. As for “Wonderboy,” he is currently enjoying a nice two-fight win streak after racking up consecutive wins over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal. Both he and Burns prefer to stand-and-bang, so we can expect nothing less than an all-out striking battle here.
Greg Hardy will look to bounce back after suffering the third loss of his UFC career at the hands of Marcin Tybura in his last outing. He is 4-3-1 so far inside the Octagon so he needs to pick up a win here over Tai Tuivasa to avoid his second straight loss. Will UFC let him go with another loss? Probably not. But, if the former NFL star wants to get big fights he needs to avoid getting slept by Tuivasa. Speaking of which, “Bam Bam” has really turned it around after a horrid three-fight losing streak to earn back-to-back first round knockout victories over Stefan Struve and Harry Hunsucker. Hardy has proven that he can take a punch, but taking one-too many from Tuivasa won’t end well for “The Prince of War.”
Irena Aldana will finally make her return to action after lengthy layoff due to an injury she suffered during her loss to Holly Holm in Oct. 2020. A win against “The Preacher's Daughter” would have likely earned the Mexican-born fighter a shot at the title, instead she will have to work her way back up to contention. She will face Yana Kunitskaya, who has quietly done well for herself under the UFC banner. Since getting starched by Cris Cyborg in her UFC debut at UFC 222, Kunitskaya has gone on to rack up a 4-1 mark with her other loss coming at the hands of Aspen Ladd. If she can take out Aldana — who came in three pounds overweight — it will give her three straight wins and move her closer to a shot at the strap.
O’ Malley got his wish of sharing a PPV event with McGregor ... even if he didn’t get the co-headlining slot he would’ve preferred. Still, the rainbow-haired scrapper has a tough fight on his hands with a newcomer in Moutinho who doesn’t have much to lose. O’ Malley is still the one being groomed by UFC as a potential superstar, but he needs to start collecting big wins in order to get there. In short, another loss will be devastating for “Suga.”
Enjoy the fights!
UFC 264 PPV Main Event:
155 lbs.: Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor
UFC 264 PPV Main Card:
170 lbs.: Gilbert Burns vs. Stephen Thompson
265 lbs.: Greg Hardy vs. Tai Tuivasa
135 lbs.: Irene Aldana vs. Yana Kunitskaya
135 lbs.: Sean O’Malley vs. Kris Moutinho
Late UFC 264 ‘Prelims’ Under Card (ESPN / ESPN+):
170 lbs.: Carlos Condit vs. Max Griffin
170 lbs.: Michel Pereira vs. Niko Price
185 lbs.: Dricus Du Plessis vs. Trevin Giles
145 lbs.: Ryan Hall vs. Ilia Topuria
Early UFC 264 ‘Prelims’ Under Card (Fight Pass / ESPN+):
125 lbs.: Jessica Eye vs. Jennifer Maia
185 lbs.: Omari Akhmedov vs. Brad Tavares
125 lbs.: Jerome Rivera vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
185 lbs.: Alen Amedovski vs. Hu Yaozong
*Fight card, bout order and number of fights remain subject to change due to COVID-19.*
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 264 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 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 264: “McGregor vs. Poirier 3” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.