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After a much-needed weekend off, the Ultimate Fighting Championship swings back into action on Saturday with UFC Fight Night 189—an event high on quantity but not as stacked in quality as its other recent shows. This 14-fight offering brings in several newcomers and, perhaps more importantly, a heavyweight headliner that should be avoided at all costs from a betting perspective. The questions outweigh the answers in that heavyweight rumble, so four options—including two others in the 265-pound category—present themselves as much more suitable choices in this installment of Prime Picks.
Marcin Tybura (-170)
Like many heavyweight matchups of days gone by, this co-main event should be a two-outcome battle. The line favors Tybura to get his hand raised and win his fifth in a row, and he has a very clear path to victory against Walt Harris. Like many men that “Tybur” has squared off against in the past, Harris holds one-shot knockout power. To wit, the line that sees Harris maintaining his 100% knockout rate by scorching Tybura is a very palatable +305. Tybura, at 35 years of age and on a winning stretch that lifted his UFC record above .500, appears to have turned a corner and shored up those chin-first deficiencies to a degree. As long as he does not get caught early, this should be Tybura’s fight to lose.
Harris has been stopped with strikes in each of his last two bouts, and his reckless pursuit of a highlight-reel win has given him some issues. Against Alistair Overeem, he surrendered a takedown in the first round that sapped his gas tank before “The Demolition Man” demolished him with a head kick and follow-up punches. Every single man in Harris’ 15-fight career that has taken him down has beaten him, and none have needed to land more than one. This revelation should make his Polish adversary lick his chops and try to emulate the success he enjoyed against Greg Hardy in December.
The danger is clear and present from the opening seconds of the fight. Harris’ last victory was a 12-second drubbing of Alexey Oleynik, where a flying knee brought about the beginning of the end to their quick affair. Harris may not be a loss away from the chopping block quite yet, but this is a pivotal opportunity for him and one that he will not take lightly. The last man with dynamite in his fists that Tybura faced was Derrick Lewis, and “The Black Beast” smoked the former M-1 Global champion towards the end of a fight that he was likely winning. Harris presents a similar one-hitter-quitter approach, so Tybura will need to be at his suffocating best to extend one of the quietest winning streaks in the heavyweight division. One shot is all it will take from Harris in the early going, but one takedown is all the Polish powerhouse may need to end it on his side.
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Santiago Ponzinibbio (+105)
Much like how we predicted that Jingliang Li was a bad matchup for Ponzinibbio, this welterweight encounter between Ponzinibbio and Miguel Baeza could very well be a trap fight for the latter. Baeza has feasted on lesser or aging competition to string together a gaudy 10-0 record with an 80% finish rate, and Ponzinibbio is head and shoulders better than anyone he has faced to date. Some fighters can rise to the occasion, while others falter, and in this welterweight offering, Baeza may suffer his first career loss when he meets an adversary who hits back harder.
Each of Baeza’s three UFC wins has ended in the second round and from a variety of ways, but they were all set up in part by the leg kicks of the man known as “Caramel Thunder.” In his debut, those leg kicks spelled the end for Hector Aldana, while they worked effectively on Matt Brown and Takashi Sato before he stopped them, as well. Not only will this strategy be a tough sell against Ponzinibbio because the Argentinian checks kicks, but he is quite keen on firing his own low kicks at his enemies. Like his opponent, Ponzinibbio sets up punch salvos from kicks, and he can start and end combinations with them to great effect. While Ponzinibbio has been caught looking a few times in the past, only to wind up staring at the lights, as long as he is not completely shot at the age of 34, his ability to slip strikes and counter will work volumes. If there was a prop bet that this fight would see at least one knockdown, that would also be a wise addition to this play.
Ilir Latifi-Tanner Boser Goes to Decision (-120)
Even as a former light heavyweight, Latifi will likely find himself well heavier than the man staring across from him in their meeting, and he will look to throw his weight around accordingly. When he returned to the heavyweight division against Derrick Lewis, his goal was singularly focused on embracing the grind. This will no doubt be his same strategy as he searches desperately for his first win since 2018, all while he chases a fleet-footed Boser around the cage. Boser figures to pepper him with jabs and low kicks. Even though three of the last four victories for Boser have come by knockout and nearly the same can be said about his Swedish rival, this has a very cat-and-mouse feel to it as they both try to get back to their winning ways.
It may come as a bit of a shock that of these two heavyweights, they will come close to weighing the same, while Boser appears to have the better chance for a move to 205 pounds in the foreseeable future. The Canadian competed at 233 pounds his last time out, and Latifi tipped the scales just south of the 250-pound mark. If “The Sledgehammer” were a competitor on the robot fighting show “Battlebots,” his latest incarnation would be that of a wedge bot, content to simply shove the other around and win on the scorecards. Against Lewis, Latifi scored a critically low five significant strikes in their 15-minute slog. The Swede landed nearly as many takedowns (three) as he did significant strikes, with a grind-first, damage-later approach that did not work on Lewis. Because Boser is elusive and tough to pin down and has yet to be taken down inside the Octagon, Latifi may grow frustrated when he cannot get his hands on his man. Boser on his bike can rip minutes off the clock, leading to a potentially trudging fight that should end up in the hands of the judges.
Manon Fiorot-Tabatha Ricci Doesn’t Go to Decision (-195)
This flyweight match, cobbled together on fight week, does not yet have a wide array of betting lines available. Fiorot was originally booked against Maryna Moroz, but “The Iron Lady” was forced out and replaced by a relative neophyte in Ricci. As far as style matchups go for UFC debuts for a burgeoning woman like Ricci, this is not one to her advantage. Fiorot looks to be the significantly larger woman, and Ricci’s best chance for success is to catch her opponent early with an armbar. With Ricci’s gas tank likely to run low quickly thanks to the short-notice appearance, Fiorot should roll downhill and be able to force a stoppage.
Ricci may yet be a UFC-caliber fighter, but the jury is still out on the 5-0 Brazilian. Making her debut in 2013 and taking nearly six years off from competition before returning in the Legacy Fighting Alliance circuit, Ricci has yet to beat a woman with a winning record. This massive increase in her level of competition will serve as a rude awakening, as she will not likely be able to have her way with an outmatched opponent when she meets Fiorot. As Fiorot is a prohibitive favorite at around 5-to-1 odds, the only suitable option is that this fight ends with a stoppage. There is value in this selection, as the newcomer could pull off the biggest upset of the night with an early submission and still cash on this line. No matter how it shakes out, this pairing has all the makings of producing a sudden ending.
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