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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday carries on with an event split on broadcast networks while struggling to find an official name. This fight card, currently titled UFC on ESPN 17, comes to Las Vegas with a few decent options, as pick-’em fights litter the card. Four significant bouts in their respective divisions draw odds both close and distant, so let us make our way through the trenches to find some suitable options for this edition of Prime Picks.
Thiago Santos (-240)
A layoff of 17 months is a long one, especially when it comes with a great deal of physical therapy and even a few months of being wheelchair-bound. Santos was on a tear in his new division, proving that his power transferred with him from 185 pounds, as he smashed Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and current divisional king Jan Blachowicz in the span of five months. This long-awaited bout quickly became one of those storied matches rescheduled time and time again, as each man came down with COVID-19 to delay the bout by two months. Finally, these two will meet, and even though Glover Teixeira is making a remarkable run back to a title shot, it will likely end here.
Betting lines with a favorite above -200 can be risky, especially in the higher weight divisions, where one single strike can change the complexion of the fight. With this meeting, however, and with Santos’ performance in his last bout, it appears to be a more comfortable bet for any line for “Marreta” below -300. This is not to discredit Teixeira’s last few wins, including a drubbing of Anthony Smith, but rather to focus on Santos as a potentially dominating force in the division. While Manuwa had been knocked out in the past and has been knocked out since, Santos scored the only strike-stoppage wins over Blachowicz and Anders. The lone other TKO defeat for Blachowicz came in a KSW title fight in 2011, when he quit on the stool against Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.
Teixeira will need to mind his Ps and Qs against a heavy-handed brawler like Santos. Both men share identical striking accuracy rates of 47 percent, but the volume favors Santos. On the other side of the equation, Teixeira has the ability to slow a fight down and mash his opponents against the cage before wrenching them to the ground. Santos relies a lot on his explosive ability to scramble and power back to his feet, and this is the kind of technique that only lasts for two rounds before it starts to fade. A smart Teixeira who wants to take a path of lesser resistance will be one who chains takedowns together to slow his fellow Brazilian contender. As long as he does not get clipped coming in—Santos has pinpoint accuracy when it comes to his counterstrikes, stunning his opponent with a quick right hand before unleashing the thunder—Teixeira can enjoy some success by making this a dirty fight.
A solid knockout rate of 71% accompanies Santos, even though he has only notched three of them at 205 pounds. In his 15 victories throughout his UFC tenure, however, “Marreta” has put his opponent out in 13 of them—with a relative knockout rate boosted to 87%. Most crucial was his triumph over Blachowicz, as a win against Teixeira would almost certainly slot him in line for the next crack at the Polish fighter, if not for Israel Adesanya’s attempted coup to skip the line. In their February 2019 meeting, Blachowicz kept Santos guessing with kicks to varied targets, but “Marreta” closed the distance and eventually detonated a couple bombs on Blachowicz’s chin when he was charging. A staggering unanswered 25 hammerfists eventually drew intervention from referee Herb Dean, although the fight could have been stopped when Blachowicz landed face first on the canvas. Should Teixeira wade forward with his chin exposed, as he has done in the past against the likes of Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustaffson, Santos will find it and shut the lights out.
There is a chance that Teixeira’s durability allows him to reach the final bell or perhaps that he is able to land a takedown early on to take some of the sting out of Santos’ punches. This possibility makes Santos Wins by TKO/KO at -145 a little bit of a reach, although it certainly pairs well in a parlay. Of note, Jones was the only man to take either fighter the full five rounds, and both men lost decisions; Santos’ came by split verdict while Teixeira’s was a one-sided defeat. The tread on Teixeira’s tires makes it a promising one for Santos bettors, as Teixeira seems to struggle in the early going of every fight, win or lose. Providing that “Marreta” can either score an early knockout or keep his back away from the fence as the minutes tick off the clock, he should win this headliner in resounding fashion.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Tanner Boser Goes to Decision (-115)
The line for whether or not this fight will go the distance is an even -115 pick-’em—and for good reason. At the age of 41, Arlovski’s chin is withered and could fall away at any point. His lone stoppage in his last 10 bouts is to Jairzinho Rozenstruik in less than 30 seconds, and he has taken some shots from heavy hitters like Walt Harris and Ben Rothwell along the way. Although Boser came into the UFC as a smaller heavyweight striker who would get things done through volume and leg kicks rather than with one devastating shot, he has put away Philipe Lins and Raphael Pessoa within two rounds this year. While Boser is favored for a reason and will likely pull out the decision win (+168), the smarter play allows for “The Pit Bull” to turn back the clock again and eke out a win.
Arlovski has not stopped an opponent since 2015, when he and Travis Browne put on a battle for the ages across nearly five minutes that saw both men take major damage. Since then, Arlovski has picked up five wins—six if you count the atrociously scored match against Augusto Sakai—but each came by three-round verdict. The former champ has not closed as a betting favorite since he took on Frank Mir in 2015, a span of 14 fights; Arlovski beat Mir by decision. Since then, every one of his upset victories have seen lines on him close anywhere from +155 to +260. Although he has not won often of late, the venerable veteran eclipsed the 100 significant strike margin for the first time in his career against Rothwell a year ago. This nth iteration of Arlovski could cause problems if he pushes the pace and stays close enough in boxing range to take Boser’s leg kicks out of the equation, thus putting the Canadian at risk to drop this bout.
Before his consecutive finishes of Lins and Pessoa, Boser had fought at least three rounds in 13 of his last 14 bouts, a second-round knockout of Dave Cryer at an Absolute Championship Akhmat event in 2017 the lone outlier. On the other side of the equation, Arlovski has more or less fought to the level of his competition and has only struggled the last few years against sluggers with fight-changing power. The sambo specialist has almost completely abandoned all of his grappling over the years, preferring to stay in boxing range where he can do work. As long as Boser does not catch Arlovski with something behind the ear, as he has done lately, this co-main event has the makings of one that ends up in the hands of the judges.
Brendan Allen (-115)
This battle between former Legacy Fighting Alliance middleweight champs takes place inside the Octagon. However, this is far from unusual, as ex-185-pound LFA kings have been squaring off in the UFC for a while now. Even though Allen and Ian Heinisch swam in the same pond at the same time—Heinisch captured the interim title after Allen lost it to Anthony Hernandez—they somehow never met. These two middleweights are aiming to either join or cement their place in the rankings, and this could be a wild one for as long as it lasts.
Allen’s “All In” nickname is fully indicative of his style, and he will attack aggressively and wildly until the bitter end. He comes into their meeting with all the momentum in the world, sporting a seven-fight winning streak that includes impressive UFC names like Tom Breese and the streaking Kevin Holland. “All In” would likely prefer to charge headlong into the fray and perhaps drag the fight to the ground so that he can attack with submissions or otherwise do some damage. Against Breese, Allen threatened with multiple kimuras before opting to hammer his opponent with ground-and-pound. Allen managed to get the Holland fight down by jumping guard for a guillotine, only to force a scramble, wind up on top and land a submission following a lightning-quick back take.
Heinisch is more of an all-around talented fighter with quick hands and a powerful wrestling game that allows him to practically bowl opponents over and blast them in the face from on high. While he appears to be the stronger fighter on paper, his cardio has been an X-factor, as he faded against Derek Brunson and did not have enough in the tank to come back against Omari Akhmedov. This stylistic matchup of an offense-first attacker and a defensive counterpunching wrestler means they will clash like a lesser version of an unstoppable force against an immovable object. It is entirely possible that Heinisch, who has survived more talented grapplers like Antonio Carlos Jr., may ride out the fight on top. However, Allen’s hyper-aggressive style, with a very offensive guard and stellar cardio, will play to his advantage as the bout progresses. Heinisch may win the first round, and he can crack, but Allen can play to his strengths and craftily put Heinisch on his back, threatening all the while. The easy alternative option is a selection for Heinisch, who resides at -105 in their pick-’em encounter, but Allen should be able to do enough to take home a decision or get a late submission.
Alexander Romanov Wins by Submission (+140)
A narrow prop bet may be the best option for when a fighter is a nearly prohibitive favorite (-410) and when the line on that favorite finishing the fight is still nearly untenable. Given what Romanov has put on display so far and what Marcos Rogerio de Lima has brought to the table since moving to heavyweight, the smart and safe expectation is that the Moldovan finishes the fight (-235). It is entirely possible that “King Kong” gets the fight down and works his opponent over with strikes to break up this play, but the option for Romanov winning by submission against a man whose UFC losses all came by tapout is an appetizing one.
Romanov impressed some when he stayed undefeated by running roughshod on fellow newcomer Roque Martinez in September. His energy-inefficient style nullified the striker from Guam, as he toyed with his opponent before finally getting the submission at the end of the second stanza. Romanov may yet encounter an opponent that does not allow himself to get tossed around like a sack full of grain, but Rogerio de Lima does not appear to be that kind of test. Most of the opponents who have tried to put the Brazilian on the ground have done so successfully, and he may be better suited attempting to threaten with a submission off of his back to sweep position than staving off the nearly inevitable suplex.
Rogerio de Lima is a sizeable heavyweight. He clocks in around 250 pounds, which may be surprising for some, as “Pezao” competed at middleweight prior to joining the UFC in 2014. Although he competed at heavyweight on his season of “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil,” the move down in weight was quick and expected. Drifting back up to heavyweight has seen intermittent success, but Romanov may be too daunting of a challenge to overcome. Look for “King Kong” to maintain his 100% finish rate, as he attempts all sorts of odd chokes while on top before finally securing one.