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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday ends its five-week residency at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas with UFC on ESPN 12. Unlike its predecessor, a majority of the bouts on the card see favorites with odds above -200. Do not let that dissuade you, as there are still plenty of ways to make bank in this edition of Prime Picks.
Dustin Poirier (-230)
Both Poirier and Dan Hooker had success in the featherweight division early in their UFC tenures, before realizing that the weight cut was not worth the strain. Moving up to lightweight, Poirier fought for a title, while Hooker has worked his way up the ranks with impressive performances over many top guys. In likely the biggest fight of Hooker’s career, he is going to face a fighter who will pressure him right out of the gate and not let up until the final bell. Over five rounds, this will wear down the Kiwi.
On paper, Poirier’s record appears far more impressive than Hooker’s. Prior to his most recent loss to unbeaten lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov, Poirier turned away Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez and Max Holloway on the way to that elusive title shot. Historically, any of those four names can be considered a more accomplished fighter than New Zealand’s Hooker. Pettis is a more effective kicker, Gaethje is more durable, Alvarez is more well-rounded and Holloway is faster. Hooker will have to put on the best performance of his career to get past the former interim champ.
The value on a talent like Hooker may be worthy of consideration given his strong underdog status. Poirier is a fast-charging striker who puts on the pressure and rarely lets off, so Hooker will unquestionably be in for one of the tougher tests of his career. It cannot be dismissed that, beyond a “Beatdown of the Year” candidate in 2018 at the hands of Edson Barboza, Hooker has won seven of his last eight bouts. This includes cold-cocking James Vick, beating Al Iaquinta to the punch over 15 minutes and clobbering current welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns less than two years ago. Hooker’s power and effective approach to keeping distance and landing kicks could prove an excellent foil to Poirier.
Gaethje enjoyed most of his success by battering Poirier’s lead leg in their encounter. Were it not for Poirier scoring a perfect counter left to hurt Gaethje, “The Highlight” could have finished chopping down that tree in the next 10 minutes. Although Poirier may have still won early rounds from Gaethje by being quicker, the former World Series of Fighting champ had him hurt badly with leg kicks. Hooker displayed that he was willing to follow a similar strategy when he took on Paul Felder, and although all three Sherdog.com official scorers awarded the decision to Felder, two of the three cageside judges gave it to Hooker.
A win like that over an incredibly durable Felder does not inspire the greatest amount of confidence going into his pairing against Poirier. While Felder may sharpen his elbows backstage on a grinding wheel, Poirier toughens his fists by punching steel. Although Hooker believes that Poirier cannot take the shots that Felder absorbed, we do not agree. Poirier took everything the vaunted Gaethje had to offer for over three rounds, and ate over 180 strikes from Holloway in April 2019. Poirier may not be able to secure a finish, but if he does, it will likely be in the later rounds after Hooker is worn out from taking punishment. Should you instead believe that Hooker will get his hand raised, the line on the Kiwi sits at a palatable +185.
Mickey Gall (+260)
A lot is to be made of this welterweight pairing with surprising co-main event status, as the punchy brawler Mike Perry takes on the grappling-minded Gall. One major change going into this contest that could make this pick silly is the notion that Perry has abandoned all semblance of a legitimate camp. His lone corner member will be girlfriend Latory Gonzalez, who he claims will simply be there to give him water and put ice on his neck should this fight leave the first round. Even so, the gameplan for Perry is simple: try to knock Gall’s block off, all while staving off the inevitable takedown attempt.
This kind of plan has worked fairly well throughout Perry’s career, although much has changed since he made his start in the sport. Beginning his career at 9-0 with nine knockouts, Perry has not finished an opponent in any of his last seven outings. This can be partially attributed to the caliber of opponent that Perry has faced higher up in the welterweight rankings, including talents like Santiago Ponzinibbio, Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal. It can also be blamed on his lack of development as a fighter, which has in turn led to his quitting multiple teams, including Fusion X-Cel and Jackson-Wink MMA. His appearance at UFC Virtual Media was very concerning, not just because he was slurring his words and seemed out of sorts, but because his approach to this fight seemed lackadaisical at best.
Facing Perry will be a man in Gall who does not like to or need to get hit. Although Perry’s fight IQ leaves much to be desired, Gall will have to hope to either hit a takedown and go for a submission or use the clinch position to transition around and take Perry’s back. The takedown defense for “Platinum” has rarely needed to be tested, although a striker like Ponzinibbio managed to ground Perry three times on route to a decision win. The lone person to tap Perry was Donald Cerrone, who did so when Perry himself scored a takedown and fell victim to the veteran’s armbar. Gall has won multiple UFC bouts in which an opponent did not land a significant strike, but we expect that Perry will get on the scoreboard before it is all over. Unless he connects flush while Gall attempts to close the distance, he could find himself with an opponent who latches on like a leech.
Should Perry hurt Gall and get careless if he winds up on top, Gall and his long legs could present some danger. Gall has an impressive ability to scramble when put on his back, but he can also overrely on his submission chops to threaten off the ground instead of getting back up. Perry’s power is the great equalizer in this contest, and despite the fact that his game plan may look like a strategy out of the David Abbott playbook, he could make this pick look foolish quickly. Should you vehemently disagree and expect that Perry will figuratively separate Gall’s head from his shoulders, Perry Wins by TKO/KO at -170 is the savviest alternative.
Maurice Greene Wins Inside Distance (-123)
On some occasions, an appearance at Media Day will be useless and filled with empty words and platitudes. On others, a fighter’s demeanor and approach to the fight can speak volumes. In this case, we expect that Maurice Greene will not only beat but finish former light heavyweight Gian Villante. It is a tough ask for a fighter to move up in weight, generally speaking, but even more difficult when you put that fighter up against one of the largest men in the division. At 6-foot-7 with an 80-inch wingspan, Greene is a massive fighter who holds some pop in his punches.
Villante made his name in the UFC for his exciting, if not sloppy, brawls. His slugfests with Sean O'Connell, Corey Anderson and Saparbek Safarov gave him the reputation as a guy who will take two punches to land one harder. This has not worked to his advantage often, only amassing a single winning streak during his entire UFC tenure—over the aforementioned O’Connell and Anderson. When speaking to media, Villante openly spoke of his lack of a game plan and struggle to find motivation to compete during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Greene was ebullient and chock full of confidence.
Greene’s recent losses to Alexey Oleynik and Sergei Pavlovich displayed holes in the relative newcomer’s game, and he even admitted at Virtual Media Day that he lost to Oleynik and gave up the submission because he was having too much fun with his opponent. The opportunity exists for Villante to draw Greene into a prolonged striking battle, but Greene may hit harder than some of Villante’s former foes. When added to the fact that Greene has an effective submission game and is a proud two-stripe blue belt, there are more tools in the arsenal for Greene to win this fight. Although new father Villante could come out and show new wrinkles in his game, we believe that “The Crochet Boss” will stop the New Yorker before the final bell.
Philipe Lins (-105)
This heavyweight match is currently a pick-’em, with opponent Tanner Boser coming back with -115 odds. Most heavyweights maintain an inherent stopping power to end the fight in an instant, but in the case of both men, they prefer volume to pure one-punch knockout shots. Of the two, Lins presents the more immediate fight-stopping threat, with the former light heavyweight sporting a finish rate over decent competition at 86 percent. His power stayed with him up a division to lead him to victory in the 2018 Professional Fighters League heavyweight season. Boser’s chin has held up to several tests, outside of a six-second obliteration from Tim Hague.
Boser’s best bet to emerge with his hand raised is to rely on his effective leg kicking game, all while avoiding the counter right hand from “Monstro.” His promotional debut, a victory over Daniel Spitz, resulted in over a third of his significant strike total being attributed to leg kicks. Keeping the Brazilian striker at bay will be crucial, as Lins in an unsuccessful outing against Andrei Arlovski recently displayed that he winds up power right hands perhaps a little too often. Lins managed to hurt Arlovski more than once in their meeting but did not capitalize on the right opportunities and simply did not show enough activity to overcome the former champ.
Boser’s sophomore appearance saw him follow a similar strategy to the one he adopted against Spitz, although his kicks were not nearly as frequent because of opponent Ciryl Gane’s pressure. Should Lins take a similar approach, walking down “The Bulldozer” and disrupting his kicking rhythm, this can be his fight to win. If you wish to double-up on this heavyweight scrap, a suitable prop bet to couple with a Lins win is that the Fight Goes to Decision (-210). This allows for the possibility of Boser doing enough to take home a decision, while relying on the expectation that the Canadian does not hold the power to score a finish but holds the durability to reach the final bell.