After a chaotic year, the UFC lightweight division is set to close the year with a bang. Lightweight champion Charles Oliveira will defend his belt against consensus top lightweight Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 269 on Saturday night.
The fight will settle any lingering debate over who controls the 155-pound division in the wake of Khabib Nurmagomedov's October 2020 retirement.
Plus, the return of the women's G.O.A.T. gets the co-main event slot when Amanda Nunes looks to defend her title against Julianna Pena. It's her first fight in the division since 2019.
That's not even mentioning two former champions helping to fill out the undercard with both Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt in action, as well as heavyweight sluggers Augusto Sakai and Tai Tuivasa.
Clearly, it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of a big event. So we're here to help give you a concise outlook of what to expect and what to know for every main card fight along with odds from Caesars Sportsbook. Let's take a closer look at what to expect on Saturday.
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Raulian Paiva vs. Sean O'Malley, bantamweight
- Odds: O'Malley -310, Paiva +250 | Last three results: O'Malley - W,W,L | Paiva - W,W,W
- O'Malley: A flashy striker who has been positioned as one of the future stars of the UFC
- Paiva: On a three-fight winning streak since a two-loss skid to start his Octagon career
O'Malley (14-1) was a breakout star coming off his fight on Dana White's Contender Series. After winning two fights in the UFC, O'Malley fell into a mix of injuries and suspensions for anti-doping violations. That kept him out of the Octagon for a two-year stretch from March 2018 to March 2020. Since returning, O'Malley has fought five times, going on a 4-1 run in that stretch. All five of the fights have ended by stoppage due to strikes, including his first career loss, a fight where Marlon Vera damaged O'Malley's leg and then finished the fight with strikes on the ground. Paiva (21-3) made his UFC debut in February 2019 after picking up a win on Dana White's Contender Series Brazil. Paiva's UFC career has been a bit uneven, losing his first two fights before going on a three-fight winning streak. At UFC 251 in July 2020, Paiva badly missed weight and subsequently moved up from flyweight to bantamweight where he picked up a July 2021 majority decision win over Kyler Phillips to set up a big opportunity against O'Malley. While Paiva has proven a capable UFC fighter, he is not on the level where it will calm the continued criticism against O'Malley for boosting his record against lower-tier opposition.
Kai Kara-France vs. Cody Garbrandt, flyweight
- Odds: Garbrandt -140, Kara-France +120 | Last three results: Garbrandt - L,W,L | Kara-France - W,L,W
- Garbrandt: A former bantamweight champion who will be making his flyweight debut
- Kara-France: A consistent presence at the top end of the UFC flyweight division looking for his biggest career win
Garbrandt (12-4) ripped through the UFC's bantamweight division with a series of impressive performances before winning the bantamweight championship from longtime division king Dominick Cruz in December 2016. Things then went downhill quickly for Garbrandt as he immediately went on a three-fight losing skid, each loss coming by knockout. After going more than three years without a victory, Garbrandt got back on track with a June 2020 knockout of Raphael Assuncao. In May, Garbrandt failed to build on that victory, dropping a decision to Rob Font. He now will make a long-anticipated move to flyweight to face Kara-France (22-9), a fighter who has been a UFC staple in the division since debuting for the promotion in December 2018. The New Zealander won his first three fights in the Octagon but has alternated between wins and losses over his four most recent outings. A win for either man here is likely to set up a shot at the flyweight title in 2022.
Geoff Neal vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio, welterweight
- Odds: Neal -110, Ponzinibbio -110 | Last three results: Neal - L,L,W | Ponzinibbio - W,L,W
- Neal: On a two-fight losing skid after winning his first five UFC bouts
- Ponzinibbio: 10-3 in the UFC and a constant presence on the fringes of the UFC rankings
Neal (13-4) burst onto the UFC scene with a five-fight winning streak that saw him pick up four stoppages. Included in that run were wins over solid names like Belal Muhammad, Niko Price and Mike Perry. The winning streak also saw Neal placed into fights that could have moved him into the title picture, but defeats against Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny have set him back from his attempt to reach the top tier of welterweight. Ponzinibbio (28-4) has been with the UFC since 2013. After a 2-2 start with the promotion, Ponzinibbio went on a seven-fight winning streak that culminated with a knockout win over Magny. Ponzinibbio then suffered a big setback when he was knocked out by Li Jingliang in January, snapping Ponzinibbio's winning streak that dated back to December 2015. A decision win over Miguel Baeza in June got Ponzinibbio back in the win column.
Amanda Nunes (c) vs. Julianna Pena, women's bantamweight title
- Odds: Nunes -800, Pena +550 | Last three results: Nunes - W,W,W | Pena - W,L,W
- Nunes: The undisputed greatest fighter in the history of women's MMA and one of the sport's pound-for-pound elite
- Pena: Winner of Season 18 of "The Ultimate Fighter" and the next woman up for the women's MMA G.O.A.T.
Nunes (21-4) has become such a dominant force as both bantamweight and featherweight champion that her fights are put together on the accepted idea that her opponent has little hope of pulling out a victory. She has defeated every woman to ever hold either of the titles she now claims and has won 12 consecutive fights. Nunes holds huge victories over Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Cris Cyborg, in addition to a pair of wins over current women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. Pena (10-4) is in the role of "next woman up" for the champion. She is in the challenger role despite a 2-2 record in her four most recent fights. Both losses have come via submission and against women Nunes has already conquered (Germaine de Randamie and Shevchenko). Still, Pena is a dangerous fighter and has only gone to the scorecards four times in her 14 career fights.
Charles Oliveira (c) vs. Dustin Poirier, lightweight title
- Odds: Poirier -160, Oliveira +135 | Last three results: Poirier - W,W,W | Oliveira - W,W,W
- Oliveira: The lightweight champion who brings a nine-fight winning streak into the night's main event
- Poirier: The consensus top lightweight on the planet is looking to finally add a world championship to his resume
Oliveira (31-8) completed an unlikely rise to lightweight champion in May, scoring a comeback knockout of Michael Chandler in the second round. Prior to stopping Chandler, Oliveira was nearly finished in the first round but found a way to win, as he has done in his last nine fights. Oliveira holds the all-time record for submission victories in the UFC and is also a dangerous striker. He has fought in the UFC since 2010, having stretches of success and failure at both lightweight and featherweight. But a return to the lightweight division in 2017 set him off on his recent run of success, which includes eight Performance of the Night bonuses in a 10-fight span
Poirier (28-6) is also a longtime UFC veteran, having competed for the promotion since 2011. The Louisiana native is 8-1 since 2017, with the lone loss in that stretch came after winning the interim lightweight title and attempting to unify the title against then-champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Many felt Poirier was a lock to take over the division after Nurmagomedov's retirement, but he pursued a pair of huge-money fights with Conor McGregor. Poirier beat McGregor twice and now is ready to attempt to add a stint as undisputed champion to his already-impressive resume.
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