Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns from its brief hiatus with a bang this Saturday (July 10, 2021), pitting Lightweight sluggers Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor in a pay-per-view (PPV) main event rubber match at UFC 264.
In the co-feature, which will emanate from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Welterweight contender Gilbert Burns looks to rebound from his unsuccessful title shot against long-time divisional standout Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, while Tai Tuivasa brawls it out with Greg Hardy up at Heavyweight.
UFC 264 features eight “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, split between ESPN+ / Fight Pass and ESPN. Let’s get cracking on that first bit:
125 lbs.: Jennifer Maia vs. Jessica Eye
A rebound fight turned into a golden opportunity for Jennifer Maia (18-6-1) when top contender Joanne Calderwood stepped into face her on short notice, and the Brazilian capitalized in a big way by tapping “Dr. Kneevil” to jump the Flyweight queue. This set up a title shot against Valentina Shevchenko, but despite some early success, Maia wound up on the wrong end of a wide decision.
Half of her professional wins have come inside the distance, nine of them via submission.
Jessica Eye (15-9) breathed new life into her UFC career with a 4-1 Flyweight run, the sole loss coming to reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko. The turnaround wasn’t to last, and she now finds herself in an 0-2 hole.
“Evil” will enjoy two inches of height and reach on Maia.
At the end of the day, Eye really isn’t that bad of a fighter — the worst stretch of her UFC run took place above her ideal weight class and it’s not like she’s lost to bad Flyweights. Her boxing’s legit, at least, and she probably has the overall stand up edge against Maia.
That said, she doesn’t seem to have any counter if Maia decides to lean on her wrestling. “Evil’s” last four opponents have dragged her to the mat at least once each, and considering Maia’s jiu-jitsu prowess, the Brazilian probably doesn’t need more than one takedown per round to seal the deal. Maia can start slow, so it’ll likely wind up closer than it needs to be, but her ground game carries her to a narrow victory.
Prediction: Maia via split decision
185 lbs.: Omari Akhmedov vs. Brad Tavares
Reeling from two consecutive knockout losses, Omari Akhmedov (21-5-1) battled his way into contendership with a six-fight unbeaten streak. Though he proved unable to overcome Chris Weidman in Aug. 2020, a second-round tapout of Tom Breese got him back on track and earned him his first stoppage win since 2015.
He has knocked out seven professional foes and tapped another six.
Now more than a decade into his Octagon career, Brad Tavares’ (18-6) only losses since 2015 have come against division standouts Robert Whittaker, Israel Adesanya and Edmen Shahbazyan. Though he spent more than one year on the sidelines after that most recent defeat, he cruised past Antonio Carlos Junior to re-enter the win column in Jan. 2021.
He’ll have one inch of height and reach on “Wolverine.”
On paper, Akhmedov is the exact sort of fighter Tavares thrives against. Indeed, the Hawaiian’s rock-solid takedown defense and strong striking fundamentals should allow him to shut down Akhmedov’s grinding attack and pick him apart on the feet. I’ll admit to regularly underestimating Akhmedov, but his recent run of success has largely come against people he could overwhelm in the clinch and top position ... and Tavares doesn’t seem to fit that bill.
To make matters worse for Akhmedov, Tavares’ cardio far outstrips his, so things will only get more one-sided as the fight progresses. While it wouldn’t be hugely shocking to see Akhmedov floor him with one of those big swings, expect a classic Tavares performance as he chews up the Dagestani with leg kicks and crisp combinations.
Prediction: Tavares via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Jerome Rivera
The 6-1 run for Zhalgas Zhumagulov (13-5) under the Fight Nights Global banner saw him defeat notable figures like Tyson Nam, Tagir Ulanbekov and Ali Bagautinov en route to winning and defending the promotion’s Flyweight title. He’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon, losing a controversial decision to Raulian Paiva and a more clear-cut one to Ali Albazi in two appearances.
He stands six inches shorter than “Renegade” at 5’4.”
Just three fights after suffering a horrific arm injury against Brandon Royval, Jerome Rivera (10-5) made his way to “Contender Series,” where he defeated Luis Rodriguez but failed to earn a contract. He ultimately reached UFC by stepping up on short notice, a decision that’s resulted in an 0-3 skid with two knockout defeats.
He has ended seven professional fights via submission.
I really do feel for Zhumagulov, who’s far more talented than his Octagon record would suggest. He deserved the decision against Paiva and turned in a really solid effort against Albazi, whom I consider one of the better Flyweight prospects in the game. This looks like a much more forgiving matchup, as Rivera lacks the wrestling skills to keep Zhumagulov on his back and is too defensively inept to survive the Kazakh’s blitzes on the feet.
Rivera’s only potential avenue to victory lies in his quality top control, but considering his aforementioned wrestling deficiencies and Zhumagulov’s scrambling skills, that’s a long shot. In the end, Zhumagulov tears him up with combinations for a quick finish.
Prediction: Zhumagulov via first round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Yaozong Hu vs. Alen Amedovski (8-2)
China’s Yaozong Hu (3-2) began his UFC career as a Heavyweight, where he fell to Cyril Asker by second-round submission. “Bad Boy” dropped to 205 for his second effort, which saw him drop a decision to Rashad Coulter in Beijing.
This will be both his Middleweight debut and his first fight in more than 30 months.
Two first-round knockouts under the Bellator banner propelled Alen Amedovski (8-2) to UFC, where he fell short against Krzysztof Jotko in his debut. Then came John Phillips, who smashed the Macedonian just 14 seconds into the first round.
All eight of his professional wins have come by form of knockout.
On one side, we’ve got Yaozong, who got run over by Asker, spent much of his fight with Coulter as a punching bag, and has been out for almost three years. On the other, we’ve got Amedovski, who got grappled to death by Jotko, lasted less than a half-minute against the profoundly underwhelming Phillips, and has been out for almost two years.
What I’m saying is that anything can happen here ... or at least anything that isn’t particularly impressive.
I’m leaning toward Amedovski. That’s because for all his faults, the man can genuinely thump, and Yaozong’s striking defense looked astoundingly poor last time out. Admittedly, Yaozong’s still just 26 and is fighting out of a great camp in Tiger Muay Thai, so he could very well have made some much-needed improvements during his time away. I try not to put too much faith in hypotheticals, though, so expect Amedovski to smash him early.
Prediction: Amedovski via first round knockout
Three more UFC 264 “Prelims” bouts remain to preview and predict, including a pair of intriguing Welterweight slobberknockers. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
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 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.