Following an action-packed year filled with tenacious battles and epic showdowns, the UFC is wrapping up 2021 with yet another special main card. Taking place on December 11th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, UFC 269 has everything in the makings of being one of the most thrilling events of the year.
At the forefront of the main card are two championship matchups highlighted by the two best mixed martial artists that train out of American Top Team.
With her legacy and title reign on the line, ATT’s Women’s Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes will take on one of the division’s fiercest in number three ranked Julianna Peña. While in the men’s lightweight division, ATT’s very own number one contender in Dustin Poirier will take on the elite and newly appointed Lightweight Champion in Charles Oliveira.
Prior to these two title clashes, ATT welterweight Jorge Masvidal was supposed to take on number three ranked Leon Edwards in what was going to be a definitive title qualifying matchup. But due to a rib injury Masvidal suffered during training camp, the fight was scrapped off the card, and the welterweight showdown between Geoff Neal and Santiago Ponzinibbio was bumped up from the prelims instead.
Though this fight won’t have championship aspirations connected to it, both welterweights are very much looking to propel themselves into the Top 10 of the division, making for an exciting showdown to add to the main card.
Without further ado, here are the three mixed martial artists that have the best chance to walk away with a victory from UFC 269.
3. Geoff Neal vs Santiago Ponzinibbio
Geoff “Handz Of Steel” Neal:
Ever since he stepped into the octagon, Geoff Neal has proven just how dangerous of a threat he can be towards this welterweight division. Coming off back-to-back wins in 2018 to kick off his UFC career, Neal followed that up with three straight victories in 2019, taking down the likes of Belal Muhammad by unanimous decision as well as Niko Price and Mike Perry by KO/TKO.
Bringing a versatile array of skills to the table, Neal can hold his own against just about anyone in this division, whether the brunt of the fight takes place on the mat or remains standing. With one-punch knockout power and lethal leg kicks at his disposal, Neal can also deal plenty of damage on the ground and in the clinch, often incorporating a slew of biting elbow strikes to get the job done.
Though he’s coming off two straight losses, both were against Top 10 contenders in Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny, with each bout going to unanimous decision. Despite coming up short in his last two matchups, Neal has everything he needs to get the job done on Saturday.
Santiago “Argentine Dagger” Ponzinibbio:
At age 35, Santiago Ponzinibbio is still a force to be reckoned with. Setting foot in the UFC in 2013, Ponzinibbio has made the most of his eight-year tenure and has illustrated all too often just how tenacious he can be.
Since he stepped into the UFC, Ponzinibbio has gone 10-3 and took out some tough welterweights in the process. After his knockout loss to Lorenz Larkin in 2015, Ponzinibbio won his next seven straight fights, a streak that was topped off by his highlight-worthy, fourth-round knockout against Neil Magny back in 2018.
However, following that fight three years ago, Ponzinibbio has been pretty inactive, and his touch for the talent level of this division hasn’t been as sharp as it once was. After a two-year hiatus over 2019 and 2020, Ponzinibbio made his return to the octagon against Li Jingliang earlier this year only to be viciously knocked out in the first round by the Chinese native.
Though he was able to bounce back from that loss with a big unanimous decision victory against Miguel Baeza this summer, Ponzinibbio will need to bring his best performance if he aims to secure a second straight victory against a far more challenging opponent in Geoff Neal.
Winner: Geoff Neal
Entering this exciting clash, Neal is the 12th ranked welterweight in the world while Ponzinibbio is 14th. But despite the difference, this showdown will be a lot closer than it seems. The unique balance in talent, skillsets, and experience from both mixed martial artists debatably grants each a stark, even 50/50 chance to takedown the other in this much-anticipated welterweight fight.
However, since a draw is rather unlikely to occur between these two, the edge is in favor of Neal and for two big reasons. The first comes down to his versatility. Though Ponzinibbio is a great striker and matches up well with Neal on that front, Neal is better on the mat and has a takedown defense of 92% to Ponzinibbio’s 60%.
Secondly, Neal has come off two straight influential learning experiences through his losses against two elite Top 10 welterweights. On the other hand, Ponzinibbio got mauled by the 13th ranked welterweight in his first fight back to the octagon in two years. Though it could come down to a decision ruling, expect Neal to come out on top with a big bounce-back victory on Saturday night.
2. Amanda Nunes vs Julianna Peña
Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes:
If there’s any living definition of what it means to be the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time, it’s embodied within the one and only, Amanda Nunes. Listed as the number one pound-for-pound women’s mixed martial artist in the UFC, Nunes is currently the only women’s champion in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously and has strung together nine straight title victories over the last five years.
With the women’s featherweight division largely inactive at this point in time, Nunes has just two successful featherweight title defenses to her name but has already collected a total of five title defenses at 135.
At age 33, Nunes is still going strong and has evolved into an unstoppable force that has been impossible to crack. On one hand, Nunes brings an unparalleled level of strength and quickness on the mat that is supported by her black belt in jiu-jitsu and brown belt in judo. But on the other hand, Nunes is a deadly striker that has developed a level of power that can put her opponents to sleep with one blow.
There’s simply nothing Nunes can’t do, and she will look to put that on full display once more on Saturday.
Julianna “The Venezuelan Vixen” Peña:
Julianna Peña has ascended into one of the toughest competitors in this women’s bantamweight division. Though her strengths and expertise tend to fall more towards the grappling side of mixed martial arts, Peña’s incredible athleticism has allowed her to really come into her own as a striker as well.
While Peña doesn’t possess one-punch power, her significant striking accuracy stands at an impressive 67.82%, which allows her to pick a part her opponents with lethal precision. Along with that, Peña brings an unrelenting, rapid-firestorm level of volume with her blows that can be very difficult to fend off on the ground or up against the cage.
Entering this matchup, Peña will need to deliver a near-flawless performance if she stands a chance at taking out the champion. But from her endurance to her grit to her versatility, Peña has the means to deliver a major upset and can definitely go the distance with Nunes. And if the window of opportunity presents itself, be prepared for Peña to take full advantage and do everything she possibly can to steal the belt from the champion.
Winner: Amanda Nunes
What makes this championship bout so fascinating is that Nunes and Peña have never faced each other before. However, the greatest question mark for Peña has been her recent track record when tested by top-tier talent.
Following a remarkable three-fight win streak from 2015 to 2016 in which she took out both Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano, Peña came up short in a non-title fight a year later via submission against the future Women’s Flyweight Champion in Valentina Shevchenko. After coming off a two-and-a-half-year break from the octagon in 2019, Peña did manage to come out on top with a win against Nicco Montano. But just a year later, she came up short once again by submission, this time at the hands of Germaine de Randamie.
Though Peña was able to bounce back from her loss against de Randamie with a big win against Sarah McMann earlier this year, Nunes still carries a significant edge coming into this fight.
The reality of the matter is that Nunes has beaten both fighters that Peña has lost to, not just once but twice. To add to it, Nunes not only brings much better striking but is extremely talented on the ground and posts a strong takedown defense of 84%. Meanwhile, Peña is not much of a match for Nunes at the striking level and has a takedown defense of just 23%.
Either way you look at it, expect Nunes to walk out of the octagon with the belt on her shoulder come Saturday night.
1. Charles Oliveira vs Dustin Poirier
Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira:
Charles Oliveira is a marvel. Making his debut well over eleven years ago in 2010, Oliveira has just about seen it all, yet at age 32, has just scratched the surface of the greatness he possesses.
Truly one of the greatest grapplers this sport has ever seen, Oliveira has the most submissions in UFC history (14), and 19 out of his 31 MMA wins have come by submission as well.
When he gets you on the ground, Oliveira’s strength, grip, and fluidity becomes like that of a monstrous python, effortlessly maneuvering his way to secure air-tight choke-holds on his opponents until they tap out. No matter how hard you try to wriggle free or work yourself into a different position, Oliveira finds a way to use your success against you, even when he’s flat on his back.
But an influential component of Oliveira’s grappling success is directly tied to his striking ability. It’s weird to think of it that way. But believe it or not, Oliveira uses his striking hand-in-hand with his grappling, often to stun his opponents before leaping upon them with an inescapable hold around their necks.
Though he cut his title showdown with Michael Chandler awfully close, Oliveira is the lightweight champion for good reason and will look to show the world why that is once again.
Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier:
Entering this championship showdown, Dustin Poirier is actually listed as the favorite, and deservedly so. Over his 11-year tenure in the UFC, Poirier has continued to evolve into a much stronger mixed martial artist and has taken out a handful of the greatest lightweights this division has seen in recent years.
After an 11-fight stint in the featherweight division that ended with a knockout loss to Conor McGregor, Poirier jumped into the lightweight division and never looked back. Since 2017, Poirier took out Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, and Eddie Alvarez before claiming the interim lightweight title in a five-round slugfest with featherweight legend Max Holloway.
Aside from losing to the former undefeated lightweight champion in Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019, Poirier has won seven of his last eight fights, defeating Dan Hooker in 2020 and McGregor twice this year.
To top it off, Poirier is the best striker in the lightweight division right now. And as he’s refined that skill, it’s only grown in effectiveness and power. With 15 knockout victories to his name, Poirier has become a striking specialist and will look to put that on display come Saturday night.
Winner: Dustin Poirier
This championship clash has everything it needs to be one of the greatest UFC lightweight main events we’ve seen over this past decade. With Oliveira and Poirier in their respective primes, this fight could not only go five rounds but could even come down to a close decision ruling between the three judges.
Though Poirier is the favorite, the one area of concern for him remains to be how he can fare on the ground against Oliveira. As we saw with Nurmagomedov, Poirier had little to show for when he found himself pinned on the mat and his endurance burnt out rather quickly as Khabib continuously burdened him with all of his weight and muscle.
But the fact of the matter is that Poirier does have a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has a solid takedown defense of 61% to go along with that. Though he hasn’t won a bout by submission since 2012, Poirier can hold his own on the ground if need be and is very crafty with his counters in the clinch.
In addition, Oliveira is not Khabib and doesn’t possess the same strength as the former undefeated champion. Moreover, Oliveira has never fought four or even five full rounds before, which could really test his resiliency should the showdown push into the championship rounds.
On the other hand, Poirier has fought in two five-round bouts and managed to walk away with unanimous decision wins in each of them. Considering his unique set of experiences, his unmatched striking talent, and the heart and dedication he pours into his craft, expect Poirier to walk out of the octagon on Saturday as the new UFC Lightweight Champion of the world.