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The third Ultimate Fighting Championship card in the span of a week on Saturday goes down in Jacksonville, Florida, as it follows UFC 249 and UFC Fight Night 171 in rapid succession. Our aim: to leave the Sunshine State with a win in this UFC Fight Night 172 edition of Prime Picks.
Walt Harris (-145)
Harris hits like a truck, as evidenced by his 100 percent knockout rate. In fact, for better or worse, “The Big Ticket” has never won a fight that went longer than 10 minutes. While he briefly held a victory over Andrei Arlovski—who busted a pick with an upset on Wednesday—that win was overturned to a no contest when Harris inadvertently tested positive for a SARM that was determined to be a tainted supplement. Since then, Harris’ four-fight unbeaten streak has looked solid, especially with back-to-back sub-minute knockouts of Sergey Spivak and Alexey Oleynik.
A veteran of 64 MMA and 14 kickboxing bouts, Overeem has suffered a tremendous amount of head trauma over the years. With three knockout defeats in K-1 and 14 more in MMA, including seven inside the Octagon, all of Overeem’s UFC defeats have come due to strikes. Having healed from his lip getting split worse than Robbie Lawler’s, he has a difficult task ahead of him in the headhunting Alabama native. Overeem is no lightweight, either, and he proudly touts a stoppage rate of 89 percent, although all of his finishes in the last decade have come by knockout.
Returning from a personal loss affects everyone differently. Speaking at Virtual Media Day on Thursday, Harris shared that he has felt invigorated since rejoining his team to train again. He even mentioned that he felt like he was 24 again and that he is motivated to lay waste to his opponent. Should an aggressive Harris come forward and does not fall victim to an effective Overeem clinch that could lead into a trip or body lock takedown, he can catch “The Demolition Man.” Harris’ power has surprised several opponents, including Oleynik, who did not expect to get smoked in 12 seconds. However, a knee up the middle and a compact left hook was all that was required to flatten the durable Russian.
Perhaps the safest prop bet option of the night is Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision, which is at an understandably high -450, given that these two heavyweights have an aversion to reaching the scorecards. Including the aforementioned no contest, the two men have gone the distance a combined 12 times across 85 bouts. It is an unlikely proposition that Harris will win by any way other than the knockout, which is why Harris wins by TKO/KO is an acceptable +100 worthy of consideration. Overeem’s veteran savvy could surprise, as a more economical Dutchman has presented himself the last few years. Even so, as the fight drags on, Harris’ power should make the difference as he earns the biggest win of his career.
Dan Ige (+110)
The showdown between Ige and the vaunted Edson Barboza is just the kind of name matchup that “Dynamite Dan” was seeking while riding a quiet five-fight winning streak. Although beating fighters like Mirsad Bektic and Kevin Aguilar is impressive to the critical eye, from a star-power perspective, Barboza could be just what Ige needs to rise to that next level. To get there, he will undoubtedly have to endure a fury, especially in the early going, as Barboza gets attuned to his new weight class by attempting to demonstrate his power is still very much there.
During an unexpected rough patch in which Barboza has dropped four of five fights, it should be noted that each opponent who defeated him—Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kevin Lee, Justin Gaethje and Paul Felder—ranked among the best fighters in the lightweight division. Even so, the blueprint appears to have been laid, if a fighter is able to follow it and fight through the fire to get there. The lone win in that stretch came against current 155-pound contender Dan Hooker, as Barboza bestowed a beating on the boisterous Kiwi with a barrage of brutal body blows.
To get through this fight, Ige will need to put his foot on the gas and keep it there for three rounds. To allow Barboza to get space and unleash his devastating kicking arsenal would spell his undoing, so this could turn into quite a grinding affair in which Ige keeps the fight tight and works over the former Ring of Combat champion at very short range. Ige has never been stopped despite taking on some tough outs in his relatively young career, and Barboza has been shown to fade as the fight presses on. In a match that could have several scary moments for the Hawaiian fighter, he will have to stay close and even drag the fight down when presented with the opportunity to do so. Otherwise, he may be in for a long night.
Matt Brown (+155)
In perhaps the biggest surprise on a betting line, the dangerous veteran who is closing in on 40 years of age is the underdog against the much younger Miguel Baeza. The undefeated Baeza comes in to this welterweight matchup with a solid amount of momentum, having put on a show against an overweight Victor Reyna on Dana White’s Contender Series before storming through Hector Aldana in October. This level of competition is a giant step up, and there is a definite parallel to Brown spoiling Stephen Thompson’s coming-out party back in 2012.
Baeza fed the overmatched Aldana a steady diet of punishing low leg kicks in their bout. Recording three-quarters of his wins by knockout within the first two rounds, “Caramel Thunder” sports a 12-year age advantage over his weathered opponent. Having returned from a two-year retirement to smash Ben Saunders in December, Brown will look to turn away a young, hungry fighter, and he can do it with his almost reckless aggression and effective use of the art of eight limbs.
Dating back to 2012, “The Immortal” has finished his opponent in each of his last eight wins. Several of those stoppage have come with knees and elbows, and others have been set up by his brutal clinch game. If he stays on the outside and lets Baeza chop down his base, he could struggle to find his plant leg as early as the second round. However, if he pushes the pace, makes Baeza retreat and finds himself in a prolonged clinch exchange, he can come out with a grinding win or maybe even score a nasty finish. We expect that Brown will spring the upset and become the first fighter to defeat Baeza.
Darren Elkins (-130)
Once riding an impressive winning streak that included victories over fighters like Bektic, Dennis Bermudez and Michael Johnson, Elkins has seen better days. Three straight defeats—albeit all to solid competition like current champion Alexander Volkanovski—have sent Elkins reeling. The former Indiana wrestler tends to display his best work after getting rocked, and Nate Landwehr will be happy to oblige him. However, Elkins’ gritty toughness has found many a man wondering what more they will have to land on him to put him down.
On the big stage, we found out very little about where Landwehr resides in the featherweight landscape. His promotional debut went very poorly, as he narrowly avoided a few submission attempts from Herbert Burns before eating a flush knee from a career grappler that put him out. Before the loss, the Tennessee native had pieced together a winning streak with M-1 Global, as “The Train” captured the featherweight title and earned a roster spot through the agreement M-1 has with the UFC. It allows champions to elevate to the Las Vegas-based promotion. Although he would largely prefer to bang it out and land his big right hand, he will have to cope with Elkins’ relentless pressure.
Elkins’ pace is difficult to match and can easily wear down an opponent, as he practically will not go out unless you hit him with a sledgehammer. Bektic spent the large part of two rounds throwing bombs at Elkins, but few fighters embody their nicknames more than “The Damage.” By staying in Landwehr’s face for three rounds, Elkins can wear out his opponent and get back in the win column for the first time since 2018. The takedown game, which has served Elkins well in the past, may be his best weapon against a fighter who wants to stay in the pocket and trade.