Prime Picks: UFC on ESPN 28 ‘Hall vs. Strickland’

By Jay Pettry Jul 31, 2021

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For the first time in a long while, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will be outgunned by a superior MMA product counterprogramming its show. While UFC on ESPN 28 goes on with 13 fights and a majority of the fighters on the card making their debuts or sporting UFC records below .500, this a weaker offering on paper. With Bellator 263 posting up one state away, much more focus will be on the California-based company’s product. Therefore, the focus should appropriately be split between this UFC offering and Bellator’s tentpole event, with a few prime picks for each card on tap.

Sean Strickland (-190)

For a borderline Top 10 middleweight clash in which both competitors carry four-fight winning streaks with a few noteworthy stoppages against solid names, it may be somewhat surprising to learn that one of them is nearly a 2-to-1 favorite. However, when looking at the tools that these fighters bring to the table—one is a technical brawler while the other is far flashier and puts all his power into every blow—it makes sense that there is a disparity. After all, styles make fights. Barring Strickland eating something flush that knocks him out of his game, this has all the makings of a growingly one-sided affair on the feet that sees him tee off on Hall while the former Ring of Combat champion swings wildly and hits nothing but air. There is money to be made on a straight bet for Strickland and possibly a stoppage in the later rounds if one wishes to take a greater risk.

The pace that Strickland has been able to put on display since returning from his motorcycle accident in 2018 is a sight to behold, as the move up to middleweight has boosted his gas tank and allowed him to maintain an average of about 95 significant strikes on those last three foes. His power has leveled up as well, completely taking his opponents out of their preferred games when he lands on them. A piercing jab can be followed by a cross, and while his one-twos may not seem particularly devastating, they can do some major damage. Look no further than his work against ranked middleweight Brendan Allen, a man whose block he knocked off in a 195-pound catchweight contest. The accumulation of damage that Strickland puts on his foes will be running up against the sheer destructive nature of Hall, and the latter has been problematic for some.

If Strickland falls short, it is likely in part because of Hall’s leg kicks. With “Primetime” turning his hips into kicks with bad intentions, Strickland’s surgically repaired knee could be at risk. Checking leg kicks will need to be done early on to send a message that Hall will not be able to get away with battering his lead leg, but fighters in the past have feasted on Strickland’s stance to chew him up. Nordine Taleb practically could not miss when chopping down Strickland’s lead leg, while Allen and Jack Marshman both found success with those strikes, as well. Hall’s power outshines all of those recent names, so Strickland will need to counter leg kicks with straight shots down the pipe. If not, threatening with takedowns or catching the kicks to put Hall off-balance will work to his advantage, like when he hurled Allen to the ground off of a body kick.

Should you believe this is Hall’s fight to lose—and this is fair, since Hall does possess equalizing power—the line of his winning by TKO/KO practically jumps off the page at +325. The question of which version of Hall shows up has been asked for years, and Strickland may be his toughest test in a while. His kicks can set up openings with his hands, and Strickland will need to be careful for the first few rounds to not get clipped with an errant bomb. Either way, this matchup of speed versus power will not likely make it to the final bell, giving a possible parlay option of your preferred victor and Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision at -155.

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Ryan Benoit (-140)

This event finds itself plagued by short-notice matchups, lopsided betting options and potential pink-slip battles, and one of the latter winds up on the main card thanks to a slew of other higher-stakes bouts falling through. In this rescheduled flyweight tilt, Benoit—who has at least won a fight inside the Octagon—drags in a 3-5 UFC record against Zarrukh Adashev. Both could be one defeat away from getting cut, but based on the skills the two have presented and the relatively close nature of Benoit’s losses compared to that of his adversary, this should be his fight to win big. The line of -140 for the Texan provides solid value against an opponent who has done little to show he is a UFC-caliber fighter.

Adashev, whose skillset is unquestionably raw despite nearly 20 kickboxing matches to his credit, does hit hard for his size. A trio of Bellator MMA wins, including a pair of knockouts against lackluster competition, does not bolster his appeal greatly, as his foes were a combined 3-4 when he faced them. His Glory kickboxing experience has yet to help him on the larger MMA stage, and Benoit’s ability as a counterstriker who can grapple when he needs to should give the American the edge across the board. A fighter who likes to explode into situations might wind up on the wrong end of a check hook, and Adashev’s blitzing approach could easily work against him. One single takedown attempt or even a fake could throw Adashev off of his game, and Benoit’s speed and relative volume will make all the difference.

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