With the last of five straight weeks of Saturdays with UFC cards on the schedule, the one thing everyone is hoping for is a competitive and memorable main event.
At the last Jacksonville show, Alistair Overeem’s TKO win over Walt Harris was overshadowed by Harris’s emotional return to action after the tragic death of his stepdaughter, and in the weeks that followed fans had to slog through two one-sided, show-closing beatdowns (Gilbert Burns vs. Tyron Woodley, Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer) and a headliner that was light on hype and action (Cynthia Calvillo vs. Jessica Eye).
However, with UFC on ESPN 12 set to feature lightweights Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker in the main event, it appears that fans will head into the pre-“Fight Island” break with a five-round fight that is sure to satisfy. Not only are Poirier and Hooker two of the most proven competitors in all of MMA when it comes to putting on exciting fights, they’re both angling for an eventual title shot too. They could not be more motivated.
Despite not having the same rankings implications, Saturday’s co-main event between Mike Perry and Mickey Gall is high on intrigue. Two welterweights who have made the most of their camera time and social media presence, Perry and Gall bring plenty of bad blood into the cage; in Perry’s case, that and his girlfriend Latory Gonzalez are pretty much the only things he’s taking with him to the cage as he’s eschewed a traditional corner for this matchup.
In other main card action, Gian Villante moves up to the heavyweight division to fight Maurice Greene, rising middleweight Brendan Allen looks to go 3-0 when he faces top prospect and short-notice replacement Kyle Daukaus, 2018 PFL heavyweight champion Philipe Lins seeks his first UFC win when he faces Canadian Tanner Boser, and Sean Woodson meets short-notice replacement Julian Erosa in a 150-pound catchweight bout.
What: UFC on ESPN 12
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, June 27. The entire event will air on ESPN and ESPN+, with the four-fight preliminaries starting at 6 p.m. ET, and the six-fight main card starting at 8 p.m. ET.
Dustin Poirier has more ways to win.
No matter what, this is going to be a fun fight, especially when you consider that at some point Poirier will probably eschew whatever game plan he has and just throw down with Dan Hooker. He’s a man of the people, if nothing else.
He has a big advantage in the grappling department though and while working his way past the long, slicing limbs of Hooker is going to be sheer hell, Poirier has the toughness to weather the storm until he gets to where he wants to go. Whether that’s in close where he can light Hooker up with combinations or take Hooker down, it’s for Poirier to decide.
That said, Hooker is as live a dog as they come. If Poirier can’t control Hooker in the clinch, “The Hangman” is going to annihilate Poirier with knees and elbows. It doesn’t matter how durable Poirier is, even the best lightweights can only take so much punishment from Hooker when he gets rolling.
Poirier should be able to prevent that from happening, so I like him to control the tempo of the fight and find a finish in the third or fourth round.
Mickey Gall showed a lot of improvements in his last fight against Salim Touahri, especially in proving that he could go the distance in a busy three-round fight. But I don’t know if he has what it takes to outlast the rock-headed Mike Perry.
Yes, I know Perry is going into a fight without his coaches in his corner which, yes, on paper is insane. However, nothing about Perry’s approach to the fight game is orthodox and even though heading into such a pivotal bout with only an untrained loved one in your corner sounds, again, insane, it would be classic Perry for him to put on a job-saving performance without pesky distractions like grappling instructions and quality mid-fight advice.
Plus, he punches really hard. That may be a reductive evaluation of Perry’s talents, but he’s always been blessed with natural power and that’s something Gall hasn’t had to deal with much in his brief career so far. Gall’s chin will be tested, especially with the smaller cage at the APEX.
Of course, all of this is a moot point if the larger Gall secures a takedown early and exploits Perry’s weaknesses on the mat. We could just as easily see Gall win a first-round submission as we could Perry winning a three-round war.
I’m expecting the most MMA thing possible to happen, which is Perry picking up a win and celebrating with his girlfriend to rub it in the face of all the doubters in “the so-called MMA media.”
You know what you’re getting with Gian Villante. He wants to come forward, put pressure on his opponents, and hunt for a knockout. He also has major defensive deficiencies and I’m not sure a return to heavyweight is going to fix them.
Maurice Greene has been unpredictable in his UFC career so far. He’s adept at fighting on the ground, but he’s also shown he has some pop in his hands and he might want to see if he can take advantage of his reach early on to test Villante’s chin. Though he enjoys a good brawl, Villante is susceptible to the knockout.
Coming off of a near 500-day layoff might actually be a positive for Villante, who has been in his share of rough three-round scraps. Could a revitalized Villante surprise Greene and spark him in the first? I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s in the realm of possibility.
Greene’s defense should hold up against whatever Villante has to offer early and as long as he doesn’t let his admitted wild side get the best of him, he’ll pick up the win.
Besides the main event, this bout between Brendan Allen and Kyle Daukaus might be the most difficult to predict.
As promising a prospect as Daukaus is, asking him to make his debut on less than two weeks’ notice against an opponent of Allen’s caliber is too much to ask (not that Allen has had much time to prepare himself). Both fighters are excellent grapplers who know how to use their strength to impose their will in the clinch. Look for them to spend a lot of time battling for underhooks and angling for trips, while blasting each other with short elbows and punches. It’s going to be a grueling fight, which is where Daukaus’s lack of prep time will cost him.
Offensive wrestling could be a key factor here as well as neither excels at setting up takedowns with their striking. Not that it should matter much since they’re going to be right in each other’s faces from the opening bell.
Experience counts and while Daukaus will have his day, I like Allen to win this one by decision.
These are two heavyweights looking to bounce back from flat performances after entering the UFC with some fanfare.
Lins became a millionaire and a notable name overnight after winning four fights in 2018 to become the inaugural PFL heavyweight champion. He was matched up with former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski for his UFC debut, and while he had his moments, he was out-struck by the seasoned vet. Lins compliments solid technical striking with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and should present a lot of problems for Tanner Boser.
Boser was one of the most talked about heavyweights on the Canadian regional scene before making his UFC debut with a mostly uneventful win over Daniel Spitz. In his sophomore outing, he failed to impress against Ciryl Gane and now he and Lins are both likely fighting for their jobs.
This one should stay on the feet, where Lins’ consistency gives him the edge. Boser is light on his feet and has fast hands for a heavyweight, but he tends to get wild and Lins will punish him if he’s off-balance. With Boser likely to be pressing forward, it behooves Lins to remain calm and counter-punch his way to a win.
Lins by decision.
Sean Woodson vs. Julian Erosa
While it’s a shame that visa issues knocked Kyle Nelson out of this matchup, having Julian Erosa step in to fight Sean Woodson gives us a distinctly unique style matchup on paper; to be specific, we’ve got two long strikers here that can be fascinating to watch.
No featherweight can match Woodson’s measurements. He’s a lanky 6-foot-2 with a staggering 79-inch reach advantage and he knows how to use it. Constantly switching stances and flicking his hands out at strange angles, there’s almost no way to get a bead on him. Erosa has a tricky standup game himself, so this could be a one-of-a-kind chess match.
This bout is closer than the odds will tell you, but Erosa’s past failures performing at the highest level make him a risky pick. He just doesn’t have the power nor the wrestling to seriously threaten Woodson and as puzzling as his striking can be, Woodson even has him beat in that department.
Woodson looked great against the more experienced Kyle Bochniak in his last outing and I expect him to improve on that performance, finishing inside the distance this time.