Lightweight all-action men, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje, look to once again put on a show this Saturday (July 29, 2023) when they headline the promotion’s return to Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. UFC 291’s pay-per-view (PPV) show will also see Jan Blachowicz welcome Alex Pereira to the Light Heavyweight division and Michael Chiesa look to snap a two-fight losing streak at Kevin Holland’s expense.
170 lbs.: Gabriel Bonfim vs. Trevin Giles
Six months after choking out Eduardo Garvon to win a Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) title, Gabriel Bonfim (14-0) tapped Trey Waters on Contender Series. The win earned him a UFC contract, which he kicked off by submitting Mounir Lazzez in 49 seconds (watch it).
All of his wins have come inside the distance, 11 of them via submission.
Trevin Giles (16-4) clawed his way out of an 0-2 hole by winning three straight, among them a noteworthy decision over Roman Dolidze. Another two-fight skid followed, though he’s since bounced back with wins over Louis Cosce and Preston Parsons.
He’ll enjoy a two-inch reach advantage despite standing one inch shorter than “Marretinha.”
Bonfim still has his share of flaws that a patient, dialed-in veteran could exploit to great effect. I’m just not convinced Giles qualifies because he’s far less dynamic than he used to be and he’s long been prone to questionable decision-making. And Bonfim’s hands and submissions skills are too sharp to allow those sorts of missteps.
I’d hesitate more on this pick if Giles still showed his former punching power, but as-is, he’s doomed to being overwhelmed by a more violent striker and opportunistic submission artist. Bonfim clips him early and finds his neck for another quick finish.
Prediction: Bonfim via first round submission
265 lbs.: Derrick Lewis vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Four consecutive victories earned Derrick Lewis (26-11) an interim title shot against undefeated Ciryl Gane, who dismantled “The Black Beast” en route to a third round finish. Lewis rebounded by knocking out Chris Daukaus, but has since dropped three straight, including a submission loss to Serghei Spivac his last time out.
He’s ended 21 professional fights via knockout.
After starting his UFC career 2-0, Marcos Rogerio de Lima (21-8-1) spent the next five years alternating losses and wins. He’s since found some consistency with four victories in his last five bouts, among them first-round finishes of Ben Rothwell and Andrei Arlovski.
“Pezao” gives up two inches of height and four inches of reach to Lewis.
On paper, Rogerio de Lima is custom-built to produce a classic Lewis comeback. “Pezao” is one of the most self-destructive fighters you’ll ever see thanks to poor cardio and an insistence on grappling even when he’s established a clear edge on the feet. Heck, we just saw him lose the third round to a one-legged Waldo Cortes-Acosta.
Even acknowledging that his recent defeats came to top-notch Heavyweights, though, his ability to execute is a big question mark. His classic “just get up” approach failed against Serghei Spivac and his punch resistance failed against Tai Tuivasa. In other words, it’s hard to trust him against a murderous puncher with strong takedowns. Whether it’s Rogerio de Lima’s classic swarming assault, the quick takedown he employed against Andrei Arlovski, or the patient approach that beat Cortes-Acosta, I like Rogerio to break Lewis down before “The Black Beast” can turn things around.
Prediction: Rogerio de Lima via first round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Roman Kopylov vs. Claudio Ribeiro
Roman Kopylov (10-2) initially struggled to find his footing in the Octagon, losing his first two bouts amid five fight cancelations. He appeared to find his groove in 2022 with a beatdown of Alessio Di Chirico, then followed that up by stopping Punahele Soriano four months later.
He is the shorter man by one inch and faces a two-inch reach disadvantage.
Claudio Ribeiro (11-3) scored one of the wildest one-punch knockouts on Contender Series to score a UFC contract, only to fall to Abdul Razak Alhassan in his UFC debut. He was quite a bit more successful against Joseph Holmes, pounding out “Ugly Man Joe” for his seventh win in eight fights.
All 11 of his wins have come by knockout.
For fear of jinxing Kopylov, this seems like his most winnable UFC matchup to date. He’s by far the more technical boxer of the two, showed off great durability against heavy hitters like Albert Duraev and the aforementioned Soriano, and remains dangerous in the third round. If Ribeiro can’t blitz him early, which seems beyond his abilities, Kopylov will take him apart.
That’s the long and short of it because Kopylov isn’t going to fold and Ribeiro lacks the technique or the gas tank to keep the momentum once the initial assault fails. In the end, a stout chin and sharp boxing should carry Kopylov to his third straight win.
Prediction: Kopylov via third round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Jake Matthews vs. Darrius Flowers
The move from 155 to 170 pounds for Jake Matthews (18-6) produced a 6-1 run that notably saw him defeat Li Jingliang. He’s 1-2 since, a knockout of Andre Fialho sandwiched between losses to Sean Brady and Matthew Semelsberger.
“The Celtic Kid” will enjoy a two-inch height advantage and a one-inch reach advantage.
Darrius Flowers (12-5-1) turned his professional career around with knockout wins in his first two LFA appearances, setting up a Contender Series opportunity against Amiran Gogoladze.
Despite entering as a sizable underdog, “Beast Mode” emerged victorious by injuring Gogoladze with a slam.
He steps in for Miguel Baeza on less than two weeks’ notice, having originally planned to debut in Feb. 2023.
I’m quite a bit more torn on this than I thought I’d be coming in. Flowers is unquestionably limited — he’s lethal from point-blank range, but otherwise much less impressive on the feet than you’d expect from a former professional boxer. At the same time, Matthews outright refused to wrestle one of the division’s weakest defensive grapplers in Semelsberger and took a ton of damage in the process.
Flowers has weirdly good takedown defense and sufficiently heavy hands to send Matthews to the mat. This is a gut feeling more than anything and I acknowledge that Matthews holds a ton of cards in this matchup, but I like Flowers to Hulk Smash his way to a shock finish in the opening minutes.
Prediction: Flowers via first round technical knockout
Even if I’d rather not see Tony Ferguson take the cage again, UFC 291 is a pretty darn solid PPV lineup. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current Prediction Record for 2023: 103-65-1 (2 NC)
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 291 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 on ESPN/ESPN+/ABC at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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