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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday concludes its three-event tour on “Fight Island” with a major pay-per-offering featuring the biggest star in the sport. It features outstanding matchmaking, with over half the fights on the card close to pick-’em status. Major money has poured into this card—and perhaps more appropriately towards the main event—so it would be prudent to cover not only the headliner but two other matchups on the main card itself. Join us for this UFC 257 edition of Prime Picks, where we see excellent value in the aforementioned marquee attraction, take a UFC veteran over a newcomer and expect a former title contender to rise to the occasion.
Before diving into the picks themselves, as is customary for a match involving Conor McGregor, sportsbooks have opened their lines to more unusual betting options based on minor occurrences in his fight. Courtesy of a press release from BetOnline, bettors can put money on various results—including McGregor by omoplata submission at +50,000—and can also pursue action for pre- and post-fight occurrences.
Will the fighters touch gloves? If you think so, based on the respectful attitude of the two lightweights going into their bout, you can find that line at -550; this is probably a solid option. Is McGregor going to invoke the words “Proper 12” in his post-fight interview, win or lose? That option is a perfect pick-’em at -115. In a true “just bleed” fashion, bettors can appropriately bet on the first fighter to bleed: -260 for Dustin Poirier, +300 for McGregor. Following the logic that McGregor is a substantial favorite at around 3-to-1 odds, most of the betting options involving the headliners favor the Irishman doing more damage, landing knockdowns or drawing first blood.
Dustin Poirier (+245)
Put away your pitchforks for a moment, McGregor fans. In a pure striking battle in MMA, no man has yet topped McGregor. He has already notched a knockout over Poirier over six years ago and has put down Jose Aldo, Eddie Alvarez and Donald Cerrone on the feet, as well. All of the Irishman’s finishes inside the Octagon have come in the first two rounds, and disregarding a three-round affair in 2013 against Max Holloway where McGregor landed a multitude of takedowns to secure the final frame, his appearances in Round 3 and beyond have not been historically great for him. When comparing the resumes of these two fighters since their first meeting and judging by their overall improvements, Poirier should not be this massive of an underdog. Poirier came in at +240 when they first met at UFC 178, and the line should be much closer than it is. This presents excellent value for savvy bettors who are on the fence as to whether McGregor can get the job done.
While McGregor did become the first UFC fighter to officially win a round over Nurmagomedov by taking the third frame in their bout, he was tapped out in Round 4. On one official scorecard, Nate Diaz earned a 10-8 score in the third round and won the fifth round, as well. This is where Poirier can find success, outlasting the early barrage and keeping a steady pace while McGregor tires.
Diaz is the only fighter to put up at least 40 significant strikes on the feet against McGregor in his entire UFC run, and he did so twice. Cerrone famously did not land a single significant blow in their 40-second endeavor in McGregor’s last appearance. Poirier, by keeping a steady pace and landing on his counterpart early and often, can draw respect and slow down a man who will be looking to get the job done in 60 seconds or less. McGregor is not the kind of fighter who normally comes out looking for the knockout but instead sets it up with quick combinations punctuated by devastating shots. This notorious power from “Notorious,” however, has been known to fade as the rounds progress.
Poirier’s chin is not indestructible, and he has been hurt often in fights. Poirier is—and has always been—hittable on the feet. This is a prime liability for him against a sniper like McGregor, who can land his lethal left hand with impunity. Despite this, the Louisiana native’s recoverability and heart are second to none, as evidenced by his fourth-round knockout of Justin Gaethje in a bout where he could barely stand up. Holloway started landing on Poirier, too, but “The Diamond” dug deep and won out the last rounds. The same could be said for his instant classic against Dan Hooker, sweeping the final three rounds on all three cards. This is Poirier’s best path to victory, winning out as McGregor fades.
Should this fight go down to the ground for a moment, Poirier should display a significant advantage. If McGregor hurts him on the feet, Poirier could attempt to drag the fight to the ground, where he is ready to threaten with chokes if he finds even the slightest of openings. “The Diamond” had Hooker in all sorts of trouble in the third round, as Hooker left his neck exposed for a second too long, only for it to get snatched up. This versatility allows Poirier to not simply resort to a striking-only contest, like when he grounded Anthony Pettis repeatedly on his way to victory. The options are there, as long as he does not get knocked out. This is a big if, judging by the fact that McGregor is favored to win by knockout (-180). Should you disagree completely with this previous analysis, look no further than the line of the Irishman finishing Poirier with strikes.
Dan Hooker (-130)
By winning the first two rounds against Poirier and keeping it close for the remainder of the bout, Hooker lifted himself from the mid-tier echelon of ranked lightweights to the elite. Even though the Kiwi had won seven of eight up to that fight—including blistering knockouts of Jim Miller, Gilbert Burns and James Vick—questions still remained as to how the rangy striker would fare against other top-flight 155-pounders not named Edson Barboza. Erased were early decision setbacks to the likes of Yair Rodriguez and Jason Knight; Hooker placed himself in prime position as the future of the division. In a major stock-boosting matchup, he wins the lottery of welcoming three-time Bellator MMA champion Michael Chandler to the promotion, and he will likely make the ex-champ feel quite unwelcome in the process.
Hooker has predominantly been a volume striker capable of putting one’s lights out with a perfectly placed strike, like a knee up the middle. In his last three performances, his power has dropped a notch so that he could improve his volume, and this may have been an excellent choice in the vein of former opponent Poirier or the spectacular Holloway. This style may not have served him well against a similarly focused Paul Felder, who arguably took home the decision in their meeting last year. Keeping Chandler at the end of a four-inch reach advantage as he peppers him with jabs and power punches will work wonders for Hooker in holding the gate against the ex-Bellator kingpin.
Chandler, a headhunter by trade, will need to close the distance and land hard early to gain Hooker’s respect. Hooker’s chin is spectacular, and it remains to be seen if his body is a liability; Barboza struck him with everything and the kitchen sink to earn his “Beatdown of the Year” win. In each of Hooker’s prior three defeats, his opponents were able to overcome him largely thanks to takedowns mixed in with effective strikes. Were this matchup to happen a few years ago, Chandler would be heavily favored for a reason. However, the soon-to-be 35-year-old may find himself outpaced against a younger, improving opponent in Hooker. “Iron Mike” did solid work in a 2019 return to form against Sidney Outlaw, starting out with the body to open up the head. Should Chandler follow this path to victory, investing in strikes to the body to set up his looping hooks, he could get the job done. Hooker can take a punch, though, and his resiliency over the course of three rounds should hold up while he tattoos Chandler’s face and torso with volume combinations.
Jessica Eye (+100)
Eye is a tough style matchup for practically any opponent not named Valentina Shevchenko in the flyweight division, and her pairing with Joanne Calderwood is no different. Eye, a suffocating boxer who can nullify her opponent well, can put up frustrating pressure that not all fighters can keep pace. The kickboxer in Calderwood will have to keep her distance and let kicks fly, and she can also threaten with a potential takedown should Eye close the distance. The style matchup presented gives a decent opportunity in what books have as a close fight, where Eye can capitalize by crowding her opponent and getting off strikes to control the fight.
Calderwood’s most effective strike will be her leg kick, as she slowly chips away at her boxing-heavy opponent. Jabs will start to have less snap in them, and Eye’s heavier punches will not be quite as heavy should her lead leg become compromised. On the feet is where this matchup should take place, as Eye could be in submission danger if she puts Calderwood on her back. Similarly, while Calderwood could find success grinding the fight out on the canvas, she has not proven to have grappling chops where she can rack up control time and keep Eye trapped on the bottom. Her training with coach-turned-husband John Wood has particularly honed her striking, but wrestling is never the primary focus of “Jojo.”
The Scot should use her legs to win this fight, peppering away with low kicks that get Eye thinking about that target, only to go high with another. This versatility in her kicking game could give her the edge to win. However, she has to have enough space to start getting kicks off, and if she is consistently fighting off her back foot, Calderwood will not be able to generate nearly as much force with them. By Eye maintaining a constant pace where she walks forward into the fray while chaining boxing combinations together, she can outwork her counterpart and start the slow climb back to title contention. No matter who you choose to win, feel free to couple your play with the pick that Fight Goes to Decision at -325, as this fight will almost certainly go the full 15 minutes.