This week’s UFC slate from the APEX center completes a string of cards held at the state-of-the-art Las Vegas facility. After Saturday’s event, the organization travels to Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, to complete another set of events in isolation and safety.
That location will allow fighters from all over the world to compete in a controlled environment. The backup of MMA talent in Asia, Russia, Brazil, Europe, Australia and New Zealand is yearning to compete, and I look for outstanding matchups and fight cards much like we have had in the U.S. the last couple of months.
Last week’s Josh Emmett-vs.-Shane Burgos co-main event presented yet another example of how cruel sport can be. Emmett, who had overcome massive orbital-bone damage earlier in his career, incurred severe injuries to his knee ligaments and femur in the first few minutes of his bout. These injuries will further interrupt his career, and at 35 this is one difficult situation to witness.
Emmett’s strength of will, his single-minded toughness and his focus on being a UFC champion leave me in awe. His passion is why I love working in a sport laced with so many focused, driven young people.
Last week: Emmett + 120 padded our profitability in 2020 to: 17-6 + 12.0u.
Let’s break down this week’s main event.
Dustin Poirier -200 vs. Dan Hooker + 180, lightweight (155 pounds), main event
As I assess this most competitive lightweight division, I see four or five elite talents and then a chasm before a group of competitors striving to compete with those top fighters.
Hooker, the fifth-ranked lightweight contender, is a kickboxing-based striker with a blue belt in BJJ. He trains at New Zealand’s City Kickboxing gym, a top-flight camp that also claims current UFC champions Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski in its group. All carry a deep belief in themselves and their abilities. That’s confidence.
Hooker will hold a 3-inch height and arm reach advantage over Poirier with another 2-inch advantage in leg reach. Hooker’s style involves using those attributes by striking from angles and at distance. He fights at his best when keeping opponents at the end of his precision striking and backing them up.
Hooker lands 4.35 significant strikes per minute, and while he’s not overly powerful, the accumulation of his precision strikes, gashing elbows and especially straight knees allows him to damage opponents who are unable to gain inside position or force him to the floor.
Hooker has won his last three fights over solid but not elite opponents. He was physically battered and stopped via body shots against Edson Barboza four fights back, which is a fight you can bet Poirier is studying.
Hooker’s 5.13 significant strikes allowed is glaring and subpar. His 78% takedown defense looks good, but he has never been in the octagon against anyone who planned any form of grappling attack.
I regard the third-ranked Poirier as one of the elite talents of the division along with Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson and the ruler of the roost, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Poirier has faced a far superior level of competition. He has competed in five five-round main event productions; this is Hooker’s second, and his first was his last fight in New Zealand. And Poirier benefits by having a more well-rounded fight arsenal.
Poirier trains at Florida’s ATT, which also is the gym Barboza trained at for his bout with Hooker in 2018. It’s likely Poirier is planning to attack Hooker with an abundance of dirty work downstairs, for Barboza provided the blueprint for beating Hooker in late 2018 when he used movement and pressure to gain inside position and batter his body in brutal fashion.
Poirier must not allow Hooker to control distance and spacing because Hooker is at his best with room to stick and move from angles with strikes, knees and elbows. The smaller cage may come into play. It should allow Poirier more opportunity to close in on Hooker.
From inside position, Poirier will go straight to an unrelenting body attack and perhaps even take Hooker to the mat. From the inside Poirier will be able to mute the effectiveness of Hooker’s striking and force him to use precious energy escaping pressure.
Poirier opened -170 on global markets and has been wagered to current pricing. The Over 2.5 rounds is -110.
Poirier’s advantage stems from his boxing and striking — he lands 5.59 significant strikes per minute — and his defense — he allows 3.69 significant strikes per minute. He also has a black belt in BJJ coupled with a depth of experience in five-round main events and a superior level of previous competition.
Also, Poirier travels within the U.S. for this fight, while Hooker travels around the world from New Zealand. His country has little to no COVID-19 issue, but he will surely find the situation here very different.
Besides his physical advantages of length, reach and height and coming from a red-hot gym brimming with confidence, I believe Hooker is overmatched. I’ll invest one unit in a two-fighter parlay utilizing Poirier -200 as the first leg and leaving the second leg open for use in the future. I would also play Poirier immediately, as I feel strongly that weight should be no issue. I don’t want to lose another 20 cents waiting for Friday’s weigh-ins.