Published on May 17 at 9:11 a.m. Eastern.
Updated on June 16 at 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
Just hours after his former heavyweight champion Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou announced that he’s signed with PFL in one of the most lucrative contracts in mixed martial arts history, UFC President Dana White went live on ESPN to make sure Ngannou wasn’t alone in the spotlight during Tuesday’s MMA news cycle.
And man, did White ever deliver. In releasing the main card and two outstanding prelim scraps for UFC 291 in Salt Lake City, Utah, on July 29, the promotion displayed matchmaking at its finest with a lineup that appears to be one of the best we’ve seen in years.
In the main event, White has pulled the ‘BMF belt’ back into existence with Jorge Masvidal retired and Nate Diaz exploring his career opportunities elsewhere. This time around, the competitors vying to become the roster’s new Baddest Mother Fucker are Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje and Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier, who will rematch in a five-round main event.
Like we reported in early April (linkage in previous sentence), Caesars had Gaethje (24-4 MMA, 7-4 UFC) installed as a -125 favorite vs. Poirier (+105) since March 30.
That number remained the same until Wednesday (5/17) when it moved to Poirier -120 with Gaethje at +100. As of June 16, Caesars still hadPoirier as a -120 favorite.
FanDuel opened Poirier as a -136 favorite on May 17. That number was down to -130 in mid-June with Gaethje at +102 on the comeback. BetRivers had Dustin at -130 with Gaethje as a +106 ‘dog.
In the 2018 Fight of the Year, Poirier (29-7-0-1 MMA, 21-6-0-1 UFC) defeated Gaethje by fourth-round knockout in an Instant Classic. Both men are former UFC interim lightweight champions who have both lost in two different opportunities to become the undisputed 155-pound kingpin.
Assuming they don’t kill each other in late July, the survivor will be in contention with Charles Oliveira for the next crack at Islam Makhachev, who successfully defended his lightweight belt for the first time by edging current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 284 in February.
Now, if Volkanovski can get out of his UFC 290 title fight vs. interim 145-pound champ Yair Rodriguez relatively unscathed (he’s a -425 ‘chalk’), ‘The Great’ might get a rematch with Makhachev before the winner of Poirier-Gaethje or Oliveira does later this year.
Oliveira earned a first-round KO victory over Beneil Dariush as a short underdog this past Saturday at UFC 289. It certainly seems as if Oliveira is at the front of the line to face Makhachev next, but the ladder did put a one-side beating on Oliveira last year. Poirier and Gaethje haven’t faced Makhachev yet. Whatever the case, the UFC 291 main-event winner will be in a great spot moving forward (and will probably need a good bit of time to recover from this guaranteed firefight).
As for the loser of Poirier-Gaethje 2? Well, that’s what makes this matchup all the more enticing. The loser moves further back in the line at lightweight and with both men approaching 35 years of age, you have to wonder if that climb back into contention will be too daunting?
Poirier is in a first-place tie with Drew Dober for most KO/TKO wins in lightweight history with eight, while Gaethje is eighth with five. ‘The Highlight’ is tied for fifth (with Diaz) in bonuses with 11, but he’s only made 11 Octagon appearances. Poirier is tied for seventh in bonuses with 10, but we’re strictly talking about his work done at 155 pounds.
When discussing career accomplishments in any weight class, Poirier is in a fifth-place tie in UFC history with 21 wins (tied with Jon Jones, Oliveira and Rafael dos Anjos), trailing the all-time leader, Jim Miller, by just three victories. The Lafayette, LA., product is also in a fifth-place tie (with Anderson Silva) for career finishes (14) and a sixth-place tie for career KO/TKO wins (10). Poirier’s 13 career bonuses are tied for sixth with Miller.
In the UFC 291 co-main event, former light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz will welcome former middleweight kingpin Alex Pereira to the 205-pound loop. On June 13, BetMGM opened Blachowicz as a -165 favorite. That number has been slightly reduced to -160, leaving Pereira as a +130 underdog.
The three other bouts on the main card for UFC 291 are Paulo Costa vs. Ikram Aliskerov (middleweight), Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Holland (welterweight) and Tony Ferguson vs. Bobby Green (lightweight).
Chiesa will be looking to avoid a three-fight losing streak, while Ferguson is hoping to snap a five-fight slide that was preceded by a 12-fight winning streak and started with a loss to Gaethje in 2020.
With Costa booked to tangle with Aliskerov, it appears the rumors of a Khamzat Chimaev vs. Kamaru Usman showdown could come to fruition. If Chimaev isn’t fighting Costa, it seems as if Usman and Chimaev might be in the works for UFC 294 on Oct. 21 in Abu Dhabi.
BetOnline had Chimaev installed as a -170 favorite vs. Usman, who was a +145 underdog back in mid-May. Usman won his first 15 UFC contests, but he has lost back-to-back fights to Leon Edwards.
On June 13, Aliskerov opened as a -120 favorite vs. Costa (+100) and there had been no line movement as of June 16. Holland opened as a -185 favorite, but that number was down to -175. Chiesa was a +145 underdog in mid-June.
DraftKings has Green installed as a -330 favorite vs. Ferguson, who is +275 on the comeback.
On the UFC 291 prelims, we’ve got two additional fights that could be headliners of a Fight Night card. In the 170-pound division, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson will face Michel Pereira, who is on a five-fight winning streak.
FanDuel had Thompson listed as a -225 favorite with Pereira at +172 back in mid-May. As of June 16, Wonderboy was a -230 ‘chalk’ at with Pereira at +176 odds.
In the heavyweight division, Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis will try to snap a three-fight slide when he takes on Marcos Rogerio de Lima, who has won back-to-back scraps and four of his last five.
BetMGM opened Lewis as a -135 ‘chalk’ and that number hasn’t moved. Rogerio de Lima is a +110 ‘dog. However, DraftKings has this scrap at pick ’em (-110 either way).