UFC 290 is tonight and with it comes a stacked fight card (for a change). We have two title fights up top and scintillating match-ups and rising stars layered throughout.

The main attraction at UFC 290 is UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski (and range master) returning to the division he owns, to face interim champion Yair Rodriguez. The co-main features the flyweights with champion Brandon Moreno defending (and looking for revenge) against Alexandre Pantoja.

Beyond those fights there’s also Robert Whittaker vs. Dricus Du Plessis, Jalin Turner vs. Dan Hooker, Robbie Lawler’s retirement fight against Nico Price and appearances by Bo Nickal and Jack Della Maddelana (both of whom are taking on late replacements).

For the UFC 290 main event, all but Chris and his lucky coin are siding with the Aussie to get the job done.

In the UFC 290 co-main it’s almost as lopsided in Moreno’s favour, despite the fact Pantoja has beaten him twice before.

Keep scrolling to check out all our other picks for this stacked UFC 290 card.

UFC 290 pre-fight press conference.

UFC 290 staff picks and predictions

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Yair Rodriguez

Anton Tabuena: Yair Rodriguez will be more explosive and have the more potent strikes, and he is very tricky to prepare for. He will always have a shot at winning and landing a finish, especially in the earlier rounds, when Volkanovski has yet to make his reads and gauge his timing.

Although Volkanovski is more complete and well rounded, at UFC 290 I also expect him to strike with Yair for extended periods, which will give the challenger more chances to win. Both men also love striking from distance, and I’m curious if Volkanovski will just play Rodriguez’s game there.

I can really see avenues for the upset here, but that being said, Volkanovski is a robot. He is rarely out of place, never overextends or fights emotionally, and has far tighter fundamentals, even on the feet.

Yair will be flashier and more explosive with his strikes, but Volkanovski will have much more layers to his game. With a great team behind him that always plans well, I expect Volkanovski to try and enter the pocket well, use opportunistic clinch entries, and force Yair to fight on his terms, instead of just fully from distance. I think it will be much closer than people think, but Volkanovski is the smart pick. Alex Volkanovski by Decision.


Dayne: Nobody prepares better than Volk. The way he’s been able to solve the Max Holloway riddle with apparent ease has been nothing short of masterful. With his squat frame and long reach, he gets the best of both worlds and has learned to put what God has given him to good use. With his stockier frame, it’s hard to find a featherweight who can match his physical strength.

His knowledge of angles and distance appears to even exceed that of Holloway, allowing him to utilize his freakish reach. What he hasn’t faced in his title run is someone with the combination of athleticism and creativity possessed by Rodriguez.

While Rodriguez hasn’t always made the best use of fundamentals, he’s been grounding himself in his recent fights. His decimation of Josh Emmett was a masterclass in keeping himself anchored in the basics while judiciously picking his spots to take risks. He’ll need to do that against Volkanovski.

Given no one is better at preventing a fighter from finding their rhythm than Volk, I don’t see that happening at UFC 290. Rodriguez could very well land a Hail Mary ala his up-elbow against the Korean Zombie, but it would be foolish to count on that concluding the fight. Not against someone who is as meticulous as Volk. Volk frustrates and breaks Rodriguez late in the fight. Volkanovski via TKO of RD5

Victor: Volko’s boxing and wrestling should be able to stifle Yair’s offense, but handling Yair’s kicks from range will be another challenge. That’s where the wrestling and kick-catching come into play. Yeah, we saw the elbow against Jung. We saw him triangle Emmett.

This isn’t the same kind of guy that Yair’s facing, and he’s going to have to do a lot of leg and body kicking to wear down Alex and remember that Alex’s cardio is also top-shelf. Let’s also not forget that the man went toe-to-toe with Makhachev in the wrestling department and survived Brian Ortega, who is perhaps the best submission artist in featherweight history. Alex Volkanovski by TKO, round 4.

Chris: Sorry fellow BE staffers but the coins says Yair becomes the undisputed featherweight champ via some new inverted strike you never saw unless you’ve seen the director’s cut of Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (incidentally, a very good martial arts film)

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Denver-Jung vs Rodriguez, Nov 10, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Yair Rodriguez (blue gloves) elbows Chan Sung Jung (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports, 10.11.2018 23:18:42, 11644485, NPStrans, UFC Fight Night, Rodriguez, wow, Chan Sung Jung, Pepsi Center, MMA, TopPic PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xRonxChenoyx 11644485
UFC 290 headliner Yair Rodriguez lands a Hail Mary elbow on Chan Sung Jung back in 2018. IMAGO/USA Today

Zane: You have to pick Volk here if you’re anyone other than Chris’ coin. His durability, control, wrestling, and ability to dictate pace and timing behind his jab all should allow him to keep Yair on the back foot, hit takedowns, and control the action. That said, as Rodriguez has found more and more comfort in his high-flying chaotic style, he’s become an incredibly difficult puzzle to deal with.

A fighter capable of being pushed out of his preferred range and style without much difficulty, but who is so tough to slow down, tire out, or predict that he always has a chance to create dynamic finishing opportunities. Given that Volk will likely let him hang around for all 5 rounds at UFC 290, that’s a lot of chances for Yair to land something huge. Still, nobody’s been able to crack the champ’s chin in the UFC yet, I won’t pick Yair to be the first. Alexander Volkanovski by decision.

Bissell: Alexander Volkanovski is at a point in his career where he’s seen about every kind of opponent you can imagine and beaten them all (other than a notable sambo pressure fighter). Yair Rodriguez is more creative than anyone in the division (maybe the sport) and that is a bit of a wild card, but he’s not so unpredictable that Volkanovski will be caught off guard.

Volkanovski has nullified excellent strikers in the past, in Max Holloway x 3 and Jose Aldo, so he should be able to stay out of danger. And the most bizarre shots that Rodriguez throws are more likely to see Yair taken down than score a highlight reel KO. My biggest question is whether Rodriguez will last the five rounds or if we’ll see him wilt from ground and pound or maybe give up a sub to Volk’s ever improving ground-game. I’d love to see Volk get his first ever UFC submission at UFC 290, so I’m going to pick/root for that. Alexander Volkanovski via submission.

Staff picking Volkanovski: Lucas, Ben, Dayne, Anton, Victor, Kristen, Stephie, Zane, Eddie, Jack, Bissell
Staff picking Rodriguez:Chris

Brandon Moreno vs. Alexandre Pantoja

Anton Tabuena: This is really interesting because how many times have we seen a trilogy, where a champion faces off against a challenger that has already beaten him twice? Adesanya-Pereira is the only one that comes to mind, but those two losses were in kickboxing. 

Does Pantoja have his number? I’m sure that’s what the challenger and his team would like to believe, but I think Moreno just hasn’t come into his own yet in 2016 and 2018. At UFC 290 they’re both completely different fighters and while this should be really close – and fun – either way, I think Moreno has improved far more. Brandon Moreno by Decision.

Dayne: It’s been five years since these two last clashed, Pantoja emerging victorious. There’s no doubt Moreno isn’t the same fighter he was at that time. He’s matured into a two-time champion who is arguably the biggest reason the flyweight division has been able to secure permanent footing with the organization. He’s done so by being the scrappiest human being on the face of the planet. He’s not an elite boxer, but he’s very good. He’s not an elite wrestler, but he’s as economical as they come. Moreno isn’t an elite grappler either… but Pantoja is.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Moreno vs Pantoja, May 19, 2018; Santiago, Chile; Brandon Moreno (red gloves) fights Alexandre Pantoja (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Movistar Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports, 19.05.2018 04:11:44, 10844781, UFC Fight Night, Brandon Moreno, MMA PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xJasonxdaxSilvax 10844781
UFC 290 co-main eventers Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja when they fought for a second time (in 2018). IMAGO/USA Today

I’m not making my pick with a lot of confidence. Moreno appears to still be improving and Pantoja is more likely just past his peak than at it. That says nothing of the heart Moreno has shown time and again, proving to be exceptionally difficult to put away. But stylistically, Pantoja is problematic for Moreno.

Askar Askarov fought Moreno to a draw as Moreno struggled to escape his sticky grip. Pantoja can do the same thing as he very well may be the best pure grappler in the division. I think that one thing can be enough to limit Moreno’s effectiveness in all other areas, similar to how Figueiredo’s power did… when Figgy had stamina. Stamina could be an issue for Pantoja too – which is why I wish the UFC would do more flyweight main events – but I have to stick with my convictions. Pantoja via submission of RD2

Victor: Alexandre has bested Brandon twice now, but those bouts were years ago. I don’t see them as being the same guys at UFC 290 as they were back then. Brandon’s gotten so much better defensively and his submission setups are still money.

Pantoja has excellent wrestling and integrates his striking into his full game to make it more effective, drawing reactions with his strikes to work takedowns. Once on the ground, he doesn’t get enough credit for his control from there. But I can’t pick against the guy that finally reached the summit after one of the most sensational rivalries we’ve seen. Brandon Moreno by decision.

Chris: Drawing inspiration from Israel Adesanya’s triumphant righting of Alex Pereira’s wrongs, Moreno will “even the score” with Pantoja via newfound confidence. 

Zane: I don’t like picking against Pantoja here, given that Moreno’s an opponent he’s had no trouble handling in the past. But it’s hard to look at the Moreno of today alongside the Pantoja of today and say that this looks like a great matchup for the Brazilian. The biggest reason for that is Moreno’s ever improving command of range and distance.

The Mexican is so much better at working off his jab and kicking game than he used to be. He’s a calmer fighter in a fire fight, and less willing to give up positions to create scrambles. If he can be drawn back into that kind of fight, then Pantoja has the grappling and the relentlessness to beat him. We know that. But given how urgent and energy burning Pantoja has looked lately, I think Moreno’s calmer, more deliberate style will allow him to ride out the early blitz and start taking over as time goes on. Brandon Moreno via decision.

Bissell: Moreno’s old losses shouldn’t count for much. He’s evolved tremendously in the last few years. Pantoja will be a game challenger and this may be a very close fight, but I think Moreno has the better rounded skillset (and championship round experience) needed to get the W here at UFC 290. Brandon Moreno via decision.

Staff picking Moreno: Ben, Anton, Kristen, Victor, Stephie, Chris, Zane, Eddie, Jack, Bissell
Staff picking Pantoja: Lucas, Dayne

Robert Whittaker vs. Dricus Du Plessis

Anton Tabuena: If they wanted a fresh contender for Adesanya, the UFC really shouldn’t have booked this match up. Du Plessis is tough and durable, but skill-wise, they are just on completely different levels. I don’t think this will even be close, and Whittaker will surely just dispatch off yet another potential title contender here at UFC 290. Robert Whittaker by lopsided decision.

Dayne: Du Plessis has proven an unlikely contender. Much of that is due to the ups and downs he’s experienced in his recent wins. Du Plessis has gotten hurt, gassed, and showed questionable fight IQ in that time. Granted, it shows his incredible resilience and durability that he was able to secure wins in those fights, but will that be enough against Whittaker?

Whittaker has proven to be the best middleweight in the world this side of Israel Adesanya. He handily beat the likes of Marvin Vettori and Jared Cannonier. Vettori has a superior gas tank to Du Plessis while Cannonier is the superior puncher. I’d be shocked if Whittaker doesn’t put on the type of veteran performance he has been making his trademark the last few years. Whittaker via decision

Robert Whittaker (Aus Noir) vs Marvin Vettori (Ita Vert) - Middleweight - Combat co Principal MMA : Soiree UFC 279 - Paris Accor Hotel Arena - 03 09 2022 JBAutissier Panoramic PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxFRAxITAxBEL
UFC 290’s Robert Whittaker when he fought Marvin Vettori in 2022. IMAGO/Panoramic

Victor: Hey, do me a favor. Take a few minutes and watch this shit right here. Dricus is the most frustrating guy to me on this card, because he’s so good at a few things. Much like my lament last week regarding former KSW champ Ariane Lipski, he’s not fighting and shining the same way he did in the Polish org. The body lock, the rear naked choke attempt, the kicks from distance, none of these things looked high level, but he kept a great pace and when things slowed down, that hook was fucking money.

Dricus has the luxury of being a freakishly good athlete with amazing power and elite finishing instincts. But you gotta build to that first, and a guy that’s far more tactical and a more complete athlete like Whittaker is exactly the kind of poison that can ruin him.

The only guy he hasn’t finished in the UFC is Brad Tavares, which is understandable. Markus Perez and Trevin Giles? Respectable. But it’s hard to get a solid read on a guy’s development when his last two wins were the shell of a historically defensively compromised Derek Brunson and the shell of Darren Till, who did the opposite of the right thing in every grappling exchange. Against Bobby Knuckles, though? He’s got the power to put Whittaker away, but that shot gotta land first. I don’t see that happening. Robert Whittaker by TKO, round 2.

Chris: I’m going with straight up chaos picks this week. First Yair, and now Dricus. Sure Robert Whittaker has never lost to a middleweight other than Adesanya but that’s about to change. The coin says Dricus and I’m all alone. 

Zane: If ever there should be a point where rubber meets road for Dricus Du Plessis, Robert Whittaker should be that point. Like so many other MW prospects, Du Plessis has been running high on a steady diet of guys that were made to fold as time went on. Fighters who could be drawn out of their comfort zone with constant pressure and action into deep water where they would drown. Robert Whittaker is not one of those guys.

Whether Du Plessis wants to make it a grappling match, wrestling match, or striking match, Whittaker should have his number everywhere. We’ve seen Whittaker against brutally powerful athletes, against super durable pace fighters, and against top tier wrestlers and grapplers. He’s survived them all and found ways to win. Rober Whittaker via TKO, round 1.

Bissell: Dricus Du Plessis has been very impressive, but mostly because the division is full of guys who will throw caution to the wind and just brawl until someone falls down. He’s met a few of those in Darren Till and Derek Brunson. Whittaker is too measured to get into exchanges like that, unless he knows he can win them. I don’t think DDP has that level of caution to his game. I think that translates to DDP flurrying at every opportunity and Whittaker catching him with a counter. Rober Whittaker via KO.

Staff picking Whittaker: Lucas, Ben, Dayne, Anton, Kristen, Victor, Stephie, Zane, Eddie, Jack, Bissell
Staff picking Du Plessis: Chris

Dan Hooker vs. Jalin Turner

Anton Tabuena: Maybe I’m crazy, but I think people are really sleeping on Hooker here. Unless you’re Makhachev, Hooker is typically very hard to control on the ground, and he should have more than enough striking skills to take this. Dan Hooker by decision.

Dayne: Turner may have come up short against Mateusz Gamrot, but he gave the former KSW champion a hell of a fight, proving he belongs in the top ten of the division. No one is sure if Hooker belongs there anymore. His durability, once one of his hallmarks, has disintegrated.

March 5, 2022, Las Vegas, NV, LAS VEGAS, NV, United States: LAS VEGAS, NV - March 5: (R-L) Jalin Turner punches Jamie Mullarkey in their Lightweight bout at T-Mobile Arena for UFC 272: Covington vs Masvidal on March 5, 2022, in Las Vegas, NV, United States. Las Vegas, NV United States - ZUMAp175 20220305_zsa_p175_094 Copyright: xLouisxGrassex
UFC 290’s Jalin Turner when he fought Jamie Mullarkey in 2022. IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

Given he has never been a great athlete or possessed great defensive prowess, that durability was probably the biggest key to allow him to get off his own brand of lethal offense. With Turner being not only bigger, not only more athletic, but also the superior wrestler and grappler, Hooker’s going to have a hard time getting off that offense. Turner continues his ascent. Turner via TKO of RD2

Victor: Just how is Jalin making weight, my man? Dude’s big. And Dayne raises a great point (doesn’t he always?), that loss to Gamrot is a “good loss” given how good Gamrot is and his trajectory in the division. I wanna pick Dan, because Anton is dead-on about people not giving him enough love and perhaps counting him out a bit too soon. That said, this is Jalin Turner we’re talking about. Dude’s got some excellent tools in his box, and they’re sharp as fuck. Sorry, Hangman. Jalin Tuner by TKO, round 2.

Chris: Jeez… the coin is either going to be wrecking Draft Kings this weekend or I’m going to be drawing caricatures on the street corner for rent money. 

Zane: This has the look and feel of a close fight on paper, but I get the feeling it’ll be a lot more one-sided when both men are actually in the cage. Hooker is so used to having the height and range advantage that I think Turner will come as something of a shock. Especially given how lightning fast Turner is with his hands. Jalin Turner via TKO, round 1

Staff picking Hooker: Anton, Chris
Staff picking Turner: Lucas, Ben, Dayne, Kristen, Victor, Stephie, Zane, Eddie, Jack, Bissell

Bo Nickal vs. Valentine Woodburn

Anton Tabuena: It’s hard to takedown tree stumps, and Woodburn may just surprise a lot of people and cause some problems for the still green uber prospect. I think Nickal is the far better athlete though, so if he fights smart and does not just strike with him if he fails on the initial takedowns, he will eventually find a way to get this to the mat and get a finish. Bo Nickal by submission.

Dayne: Nickal was going to run through Tresean Gore. He’s going to eviscerate Woodburn. Woodburn was set to appear on DWCS next month, but Gore’s injury allowed the squat 185er to jump straight to the promotion. He isn’t without talent, but y’all remember how limited Deron Winn was? Woodburn isn’t quite that short, but only by an inch or two. Plus, Woodburn isn’t quite the athlete Winn was. Nickal will do whatever he wants to him. At least he’s in the UFC now…. Nickal via submission of RD1

Victor: I don’t know shit about Woodburn. He knows what the assignment is. He’s in on short notice and is dealing with absurd odds to win this, which I don’t feel he won’t. I’m more bothered by what it means for guys that are talented and looking to get into the UFC, and are willing to take a fight like this and eat shit to make it happen.

Best thing we can hope for is that he has at least a decent showing, followed by a way softer touch in a thank you fight or two. Let the kid do work on a different level. And look, I get that this may sound dismissive or patronizing. Believe me, it’s not. But it kind of sucks, and we gotta be real about that. Thanks for playing, kid. Can’t ride with you on getting the epit upset on this one, but I really hope you get some shine. Bo Nickal by first-round submission.

Stephie: I am so tempted to pick Woodburn just because of the odds but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

UFC 290 pre-fight press conference with Bo Nickal.

Chris: I flip a coin to pick all my fights and not even lady luck thinks Woodburn has a chance. 

Zane: As far as I can tell, Woodburn stands all of 5’8” in the MW division. Coming in on short notice, with a style entirely built on collar tie and clinch striking, it all seems like a recipe to get absolutely run over by a bigger, more technical wrestler and grappler. Bo Nickal by submission, Round 1.

Staff picking Nickal: Lucas, Ben, Dayne, Anton, Kristen, Victor, Stephie, Chris, Zane, Eddie, Jack, Bissell
Staff picking Woodburn:

Robbie Lawler vs. Niko Price

Anton Tabuena: I hate myself for typing this, but Lawler is washed. He is 41 and can’t maintain his offence at any reasonable pace to win fights at this level anymore. Even in his win over a far more washed and badly out of shape Nick Diaz, he didn’t look good at all. The only good thing about this is that Price isn’t in his prime anymore either, and isn’t likely to hurt him badly. Price is tough and can still push the pace better though, and I think that’s what wins him this fight at UFC 290. Niko Price by Decision.

UFC 290 free fight: Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald II.

Dayne: At UFC 290 Lawler is at the end of his rope. His lone win over the last six years came against Nick Diaz… who last won a fight in 2011. Granted, Price looks like he has aged before his time as well, his lone win since the turn of the decade coming against a washed Alex Oliveira. …

To read the rest of our UFC 290 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.

Leader board

Who did the best last week? Me! That’s a very rare site (you should really be fading me if you are reading these picks for anything other than fun). Eddie stumbled a little, but Dayne was not able to capitalize on that. Those two are still locked in first and second place. Anton fell a little back in his chase of the top two. Kristen had a strong showing last week, going 8-4.

With just a few picks separating us, we could see a lot of shuffling on the leader board after UFC 290 is all said and done.

PositionStafferCorrectIncorrectTotal Picks%Picks BackWeek 21 Record
1 (-)Eddie1551072620.5924-8
2 (▲1)Dayne1531092620.58426-6
3 (▼1)Anton1511112620.57644-8
4 (-)Zane1481142620.56576-6
5 (-)Kristen1451172620.553108-4
6 (-)Stephie1421072490.570137-5
7 (▲1)Bissell1321302620.504239-3
8 (▼1)Lucas1311192500.524246-6
9 (-)Chris1221302520.484336-6
10 (-)Victor93841770.525626-6
11 (-)BE Community90791690.533655-7
12 (-)Jack74631370.540818-4
13 (-)Ben2518430.6001305-7

Whether or not you agree with our opinion pieces, Bloody Elbow will always tell it like it is, and share our views without ever compromising or kowtowing for access. Support independent MMA opinions by subscribing to the Bloody Elbow newsletter.

About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE's lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

Email me at tim@bloodyelbow.com. Nice messages will get a response.

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