UFC 291 touches down in Salt Lake City tonight. And the card promises a ton of action. The main event is a violent dream fight (despite being a sequel) that pits Dustin Poirier against Justin Gaethje for that so-called BMF belt. The co-main has Poatan Alex Pereira meeting Polish Power Jan Blachowicz in the Brazilian’s debut fight at 205 lbs. There’s also Bobby Green vs. Tony Ferguson, Kevin Holland vs. Michael Chiesa and Stephen Thompson vs. Michel Pereira. So folks are getting slept.
But who will fall and who will have their hands raised? Scroll down to see what we think.
As you’ll learn, the BE staff think that Poirier has what it takes to beat Gaethje again and maintain his perfect record in rematches. In the UFC 291 co-main we are mostly siding with Blachowicz, to beat Pereira and get himself back into a title fight.
Check out all our other picks for UFC 291 below. And tell us who you’re picking in the comments (if you dare!).
UFC 291 picks and predictions
Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Anton: At UFC 291 I think Gaethje will try to be patient and play it technical from the outside like his recent fights, but I think that’ll be a mistake. If Poirier can properly deal with the leg kicks early, he should be the cleaner, more polished striker overall. With a slower pace, I think Poirier will be able to capitalise on openings, land good shots and wear him down, making Gaethje less effective by the time he decides to go all out.
If I’m wrong and Gaethje goes crazy from the starting bell, he’ll have more opportunities to win, but I still think Poirier has the better shot at winning that still, as he’s always been patient while under fire.
Chris: I’m currently on vacation with family and realising that my dad and I will be together on Sunday morning when I catch up on the fights, I decided to show him Poirier vs Gaethje 1.
He was on the edge of his seat the whole time and hyped to see the rematch. Upon rewatch, Gaethje’s leg kicks were devastating and I wonder how this new and improved version of The Highlight will approach a rematch with The Diamond. The coin says that Justin will leg kick the shit out of DP while dialling back the approach of using his head as a battering ram / shield.
Dayne: While I don’t really care for the BMF concept, I acknowledge it’s hard to find two fighters more deserving of fighting for such an honor as Poirier and Gaethje. Given the slugfest that was their first contest, I can’t say I’m disappointed to see them collide once more at UFC 291. As for who wins… well, that feels very much like a coin flip.
Gaethje has matured a lot since the first time they fought. Poirier appears to have matured some too, but not to the extent of Gaethje. That said, Poirier is still the more mature fighter. However, it’s important to note that as while Poirier proved to be the victor the first time, many tend to forget how close Gaethje came to securing the win before Poirier managed to survive his near finish in the second round. Would a more mature Gaethje have been able to secure the finish in that fight. Impossible to say definitively.
There’s a few more X-factors that have me ultimately leaning towards Gaethje. Both have been in brutal battles over the years and while many would say Gaethje’s reckless style has led to more wear and tear, I think Poirier’s years of cutting to 145 was more damaging in the long run.
And though far be it from me to judge who has more fire left, but Gaethje seems to have more hunger left in him. Plus, Gaethje trains at elevation. Fighting in SLC could prove detrimental for Poirier while being a slight relief for Gaethje. I’m hardly confident, but give me Gaethje. Justin Gaethje via TKO of RD4
Zane: It should be fascinating to see how this fight plays out the second time around. In their first clash, Gaethje was playing the role of pressure fighter to a fault. It gave him lots of opportunities to damage Poirier’s legs, but it also played perfectly into the ‘Diamond’’s backfoot boxing style. As close as Gaethje could get to turning the tide, he could never actually take Poirier out of his comfort zone and stop him from landing the better, cleaner shots.
The ‘Highlight’ isn’t the same guy now, however. Perhaps in response to those losses to Poirier and Alvarez (and maybe just getting his eyes fixed) Gaethje has become a much more patient out-fighter in recent years, more likely to let opponents come to him before responding with the extreme violence he’s become so well known for. If he forces Poirier to lead, he’ll likely find the ATT fighter at his worst, stepping into the pocket with his head on line.
The thing about that is, even when Poirier is putting himself at risk, he’s still an intensely dangerous fighter on the front foot. And Gaethje’s defense when pressured is not great (as Charles Oliveira showed). Poirier’s pressure is also a tactic that can lead to his back foot striking, something he can do to draw his opponent into chasing him, then disrupting their counter combos with his own counters.
All told it just feels like a fight where Poirier has more chances to get the kind of exchanges he needs to win, and where Gaethje has to take the fight away from him in ways he doesn’t typically do. Dustin Poirier by TKO, round 2.
Victor: Dustin still got the tactical striking and ability to get out of the pocket while also knowing how to target Justin’s head and midsection to split things up. He partially replicated the Eddie Alvarez formula the first time, and with some variation he can do something similar again. Killing the body will be key, but it’s not the only thing Poirier will have up his sleeve. BMF is gonna stand for Bayou’s Most Feared. Dustin Poirier by TKO, round 3.
Bissell: I don’t think enough time has passed for either of these guys to be much different fighters when they were the first time they met (for better or worse). Because of that I don’t see Justin Gaethje coming in with much that can surprise, or defeat, Dustin Poirier at UFC 291. I think we’ll see some wild exchanges, but with Poirier being more precise in attack and more risk averse in defence. I think that leads to Poirier finishing the fight late. Dustin Poirier via TKO.
Staff picking Poirier: Lucas, Kristen, Bissell, Eddie, Stephie, Zane, Victor, Anton, Jack
Staff picking Gaethje: Chris, Dayne
Jan Blachowicz vs. Alex Pereira
Anton: Pereira will be dangerous at any time, and I can see him cracking and stopping him, but if Blachowicz fights smart and doesn’t strike with him for too long, this is his fight to lose. Blachowicz’s striking — especially his defence — is very tight and underrated, and there’ll be a massive gap on the ground. My heart says Poatan — to make the division far more interesting, but my head says Jan Blachowicz by submission.
Chris: I’m in Croatia, surrounded by Polish families on vacation. These are the men of legends, and they are not fools. Jan Blachowicz cannot hang with Alex Periera on the feet and he knows this. He will drag this man down to the depths of hell, and once again become a champion. Also the coin says Jan.
Dayne: If there is a finish, it’s coming from Pereira. It isn’t impossible for Blachowicz’s chin to be cracked – Thiago Santos did so – but it is difficult. But most importantly, Blachowicz has proven to be one of the most wily vets currently at the top of their game.
That sounds silly to say given Blachowicz is 40, but the signs of decline for him are minimal. Pereira is also the type of matchup Blachowicz has feasted on: someone with less MMA experience than him who is prone to the takedown.
Remember, at this point, Blachowicz is the only fighter in MMA to hold an unavenged victory over Israel Adesanya. And while Pereira has proven hard to hold down, that has also been against 185ers. Izzy got Pereira down. Blachowicz is far superior at timing his shots.
There won’t be any surprise is Pereira secures a KO at UFC 291 – especially given he should prove far more energetic not having to cut the extra 20 pounds – but it will be a rude awakening for him facing a larger opponent. Jan Blachowicz via decision
Zane: I can really clearly see how both men can win here. Blachowicz has great tools to diminish Pereira’s range finding tools and momentum building. His disruptive kick checking game, heavy jab, and coiled counter blitzes, and his takedowns, are all great tools against a fighter likely to try and walk him down with patient pressure.
However, the ‘Blacho Blitz’ has never been a really clean, technical display of striking and there’s a huge chance that letting Pereira go first and draw out the explosion just gets ‘Polish Power’ sent to the boneyard. I’ll take Blachowicz by decision, but won’t be surprised by any outcome here other than a sub win for Alex Pereira.
Victor: Winnable fight for both, and yet Jan has the patience and size to work through Alex’s comfort zone and piece him up inside. His takedowns from clinch are still good, his elbows inside are still there. As for his work on the ground? Probably the best ground striking at 205.
Alex is tremendously talented, and I just worry that he’s not gonna have anything up his sleeve that Jan hasn’t seen or won’t be equipped to deal with. Final point: for all his devastating power, I’m not sold on Alex’s power translating quite as well at 205. Kinda hope I’m wrong for the sake of his longevity, but woof. Gonna be a rough night at the office at UFC 291. Jan Blachowicz by TKO, round 3.
Bissell: I really like Blachowicz and I’m digging the Polish Cowboy gimmick he’s bringing into UFC 291. He’s fun and he’s a great fighter. But I’ve also bought into the idea that Alex Pereira without a terrible weight cut is a terrifying opponent.
I think we’ll see the same power punching we saw in the Adesanya fights, but with more mobility and energy. I think that means we’ll see Pereira find a way through to Blachowicz (maybe with a knee or a kick) and we’ll get to talk about Poatan in another title match-up. Alex Pereira via KO.
Staff picking Blachowicz: Lucas, Chris, Dayne, Eddie, Zane, Victor, Anton, Jack
Staff picking Pereira: Kristen, Bissell, Stephie
Tony Ferguson vs. Bobby Green
Anton: Despite his claims otherwise, Tony Ferguson is clearly past his prime. I’m not sure he should even be fighting people this good — or at all — anymore. I hope I’m wrong but I think this ends up with Bobby Green by depressing KO.
Chris: Bobby Green headbutted Jared Gordon out of the way and into a primo spot on one of the best PPV cards of the year. Luck is on this man’s side and the coin says a fighter who still has his reflexes and head movement intact is going to pick Tony Ferguson apart like leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Also the coin said Bobby.
Dayne: Nate Diaz teed off on Ferguson last fall and Diaz looked like he’s far removed from his prime in his fights coming into that event. Green may not be quite as athletic as he was a few years ago, but he’s not far off. Plus, he’s been fighting more intelligently on the whole as of late. I’m bummed to see Ferguson declining like this, but it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Even when Ferguson was at his peak, there was more than a hint of him proving to be delusional. Now that he no longer has it, it shouldn’t be a shock he’s in denial of his decline. Some of the more sane fighters have struggled with that concept. Bobby Green via decision
Zane: There’s not much left of Tony Ferguson’s game that I trust anymore. Not the durability, not the defence, not even the offensive volume and production. Bobby Green by TKO, round 3.
Victor: Ayo, listen… Ferguson is old, shot and not a guy that needs to be fighting at UFC 291. Frankly, this isn’t the worst matchup they could have given him, and I’m somewhat grateful that they’re not putting Tony out to pasture against an up and coming killer striker. That’s the last fucking thing this guy needs. First thing he needs is therapy and treatment, because a guy that had a severe mental break (relatively) not that long ago probably shouldn’t be fighting, performances notwithstanding.
Bissell: Tony has gotten slower and if he’s struggling to see punches coming in, Bobby Green is a terrible match-up for him at UFC 291. I think we’ll see El Cucuy out cold again, and have to talk about when enough is enough, again. Bobby Green by TKO
Staff picking Ferguson:
Staff picking Green: Lucas, Chris, Kristen, Dayne, Bissell, Eddie, Stephie, Zane, Victor, Anton, Jack
Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Holland
Anton Tabuena: Really good fight that can go either way. I think Holland should be good enough to fend off submissions, but I’m not sure if he’ll be good enough to stay off his back and not concede multiple rounds. That being said, I think Chiesa will strike with him for long stretches, and he will probably give too many openings to get cracked. Kevin Holland by decision.
Chris: It’s so weird when a guy who used to fight at 185 lbs moves down to fight a guy who used to fight at 155lbs. Chiesa by Holland brain fart.
Dayne: I hate picking this fight… which is what makes it such a fantastic contest. There are so many clues Chiesa has checked out from fighting, which could completely wipe out how favorably Holland matches up with him. Holland has long struggled with physical ground based fighters… which is exactly what Chiesa is.
Many would point to Holland having much better takedown defence at 170, but who has he faced there that is primarily a mat fighter since moving down? Chimaev was a catchweight. Thompson, Ponzinibbio, and Means are undoubtedly strikers. Maybe Alex Oliveira, but that was the ghost of Oliveira that Holland faced… and Oliveira still managed to take him down multiple times in just over five minutes of action.
I’d be more inclined to pick Holland if I could trust him, but there may not be a more untrustworthy fighter than Holland. As a fight fan, I love it. As a prognosticator, I absolutely hate it. I don’t trust Chiesa either, but he knows what he should do and is more dependable to play to his strengths than Holland is. Michael Chiesa via decision
Zane: I really kinda want to pick Holland here. Chiesa’s striking is not good at all, and he’s very willing to use it for long stretches. He’s insulted by his massive frame, but Kevin Holland will have all kinds of reach on him. The thing is, Holland isn’t an easily dependable KO artist and his desire to dip into the pocket and fire hard combos often leaves him positionally compromised for takedown attempts.
Holland might make a mess out of Chiesa early, but if he can’t put him away, it seems much more likely that Chiesa starts to get on his wrestling game and drags Holland into a grind. Michael Chiesa by decision.
Victor: It all comes down to whether or not Holland can remain consistent for me. As much as I love the guy, I can’t trust that. The guy with the flypaper grappling, though? Shit, that guy’s pretty good. Michael Chiesa by submission.
Bissell: I think activity is the key here. Chiesa just hasn’t had many reps in the past few years. Holland has been in there with a wide variety of fighters in a very short time span. It’s not that I think Chiesa will be less sharp, it’s that I think Holland will be more smooth and present in the hardest moments of the fight. Kevin Holland via decision.
Staff picking Chiesa: Lucas, Chris, Dayne, Stephie, Zane, Victor
Staff picking Holland: Kristen, Bissell, Eddie, Anton, Jack
Stephen Thompson vs. Michel Pereira
Anton: Both have really fancy kicks, but one tries to time them properly, while the other just spams and button mashes. Pereira has the power and physicality to crack that chin, but unless Wonderboy has fallen off significantly with his age, he should be the clear favorite here at UFC 291. Stephen Thompson by decision.
Chris: It’s with a heavy heart that I consent to the coin picking Pereira. There’s a part of me that years for the tactician, the fundamentals guy, the disciplined fighter to triumph over the meme fighter. But today is not that day. Pereira by moonsault.
Dayne: I initially leaned towards Pereira here at UFC 291. His unpredictable nature might be the perfect antidote to Thompson’s disciplined use of angles and spacing ala Anthony Pettis. Plus, Thompson is 40. He should start slowing down soon, right? I haven’t seen signs of it. And while Pettis’ win over Thompson was incredible, am I really going to expect lightning to strike twice?
Plus, Thompson’s most recent losses came against fighters with a clear cut advantage on the mat who could reliably get Thompson to the ground in Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad. Pereira might be better on the mat, but I don’t trust he can get the fight to the mat. I think Thompson still has enough in the tank to outwit Pereira, especially after he did so to a similarly athletic and unpredictable Kevin Holland. Stephen Thompson via decision
Zane: Thompson has definitely slowed down and lost a step, but most of that comes across in his wrestling defense. He has more trouble getting his shot defense in place once an opponent ducks in on him. In a straight kickboxing match, however, Thompson’s excellent footwork and patient positioning rarely ever leave him needing to be fast on his defense.
Pereira is huge and dangerous, but he’s not a clean technician and he almost entirely likes to strike. Feels like the kind of fight Thompson can still win. Stephen Thompson by decision.
Victor: Tristan Connelly was smart enough to not fall for the okey-doke against Michel, and Wonderboy is smart enough, too. When limited to basic MMA after exhausting his bag of tricks, Pereira is still a very good and capable fighter, and yet Wonderboy still has his crafty striking and use of range. Gonna trust the steadier hand here. Stephen Thompson by decision.
Bissell: I have a feeling this fight might be a bit of a dud. Both guys will have respect for each other and both will want to out-fancy they other. I think this leads to a lot of kicks and a lot of whiffs. Pereira might do a backflip, too, though, or something else that makes the judges remember his offence more in a pivotal round than they do Wonderboy’s. Michel Pereira via decision.
Staff picking Thompson: Dayne, Eddie, Zane, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Pereira: Lucas, Chris, Kristen, Bissell, Stephie, Jack
Derrick Lewis vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Chris: Oof, I love the Black Beast, but he’s been getting outworked on the feet and on the ground in almost every fight. The last time he looked truly in control besides the Daukaus win was in 2020 vs Alexei Oleinik. It’s been a minute since Derrick Lewis looked like the gatekeeper to title shots. I guess de Lima is the new benchmark.
Dayne: Lewis has always struggled with motivation. Now that he’s made himself a nice little egg out of his success in MMA and finds himself quickly sliding down the heavyweight ladder, how much motivation does he have left? He looked pretty…
More UFC 291 picks and predictions
To read the rest of our UFC 291 staff picks head on over to Substack. Now that Bloody Elbow is a fully independent site the best way to support us, so that we can continue fearless coverage of combat sports, is to pick up a paid subscription. Paid subscribers help fund other exclusive content like editorials from Karim Zidan and Jonathan Snowden and investigations by John S. Nash.
Dayne and Eddie remain locked in tied first place after both going 10-5 at UFC London (despite differing on some of their picks). Let’s see if one of them can break the tie at UFC 291.
|Position||Staffer||Correct||Incorrect||Total Picks||%||Picks Back||Week 23 Record|
|10 (-)||BE Community||114||124||238||0.479||64||7-8|
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