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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will plant its flag in Denmark for the first time with UFC Fight Night 160 at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen. The deceptively intriguing card has a lot to offer from an entertainment and betting perspective, so look no further than this installment of Prime Picks for what may be in store.
Jack Hermansson Wins Inside Distance (-140)
Hermansson enters into his main event contest against Jared Cannonier as a -240 favorite, and for good reason. The Swede is on a tear as of late, most recently beating Ronaldo Souza by about four rounds to one in the UFC Tampa headliner in April. Along the way, he became the first fighter to choke out Renzo Gracie black belt David Branch -- Branch’s prior submission defeat came to Rousimar Palhares by his dreaded heel hook. “The Joker” also tapped submission specialist Gerald Meerschaert and was the first man to knock out Thales Leites. In a seven-fight stretch dating back to the beginning of 2017, the only man to beat Hermansson was future light heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos.
Cannonier has had a career resurgence by radically changing his appearance and his weight classes. While his first career defeat came inside the Octagon at heavyweight against Shawn Jordan -- a man who holds two wins over former title challenger Derrick Lewis -- he dropped down to light heavyweight with less-than-stellar results until finding his new home at 185 pounds. Since then, he demolished Branch and kicked the legs out from the legendary Anderson Silva. His win over a ranked Branch put Cannonier among the top-10 of the division, but he will face a very different test than an aging David Branch or an aging Anderson Silva when he meets “The Joker.”
Despite celebrating two submission victories in his last three outings, Hermansson is far more apt to finish his opponent with strikes. Within the last year, the Swede has developed a wicked guillotine choke that has added yet another wrinkle to his game. He has used an ever-growing ground game to put the fight where he wants it, even going so far as to almost submitting “Jacare” with that guillotine in the opening round. This grappling improvement should work wonders against Cannonier, who would vastly prefer to keep the fight standing.
It might seem strange that Hermansson toppled a top-three Souza across five rounds and was rewarded with the ninth-ranked Cannonier. Both he and Cannonier took short-notice opportunities against ranked opponents and came out on top, with Hermansson over “Jacare” and Cannonier over Branch. With the middleweight division as it stands, matchups were predictably thin and the promotion appears to have scrambled to place a Top 10 matchup on a card for the European fans. Despite this, barring something exceptional, the winner of this contest figures to still be a win away from a title shot.
Until Branch, Cannonier struggled against top-flight competition, suffering losses against Glover Teixeira, Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes. It may be premature to tell if the Alaskan has developed more as he has gone down in weight, or if there is simply a cap to his skillset and ability. He might have the strength advantage over Hermansson and can muscle out of bad situations in the first few rounds, but that advantage should fade as the rounds progress. Cannonier has serious power in his strikes and could catch Hermansson early on, but we instead expect that “The Joker” will win out as his foe tires, forcing a stoppage in the later rounds. If you believe this fight makes it to the final bell, Hermansson Wins by Decision is an intriguing +500.
Gilbert Burns (-135)
Conventional wisdom dictates that when two highly skilled grapplers come face-to-face, one of two outcomes seems likely. The first is that, nullified by the knowledge and respect of their respective skillsets, this fight stays standing and transforms into an uneasy kickboxing match. On the other hand, the old adage of “there are levels to this game” could come forward, with one grappler establishing dominance over the other. We have seen both occur in Gunnar Nelson’s career: the first when Nelson faced off against a strong wrestler in Rick Story, and the second when Nelson competed against Demian Maia. Both fights, Nelson lost on the scorecards.
Burns, a multiple-time world champion in Jiu-Jitsu, returned to welterweight his last time out when he faced Alexey Kunchenko. The Brazilian sprinkled in takedowns to thwart the offense of the previously unbeaten fighter, until he ran out of steam in the final round. Burns may pursue a similar approach, putting Nelson on his back without fear of a submission attempt from "Gunni." Although Nelson has a few knockouts on his record, they came during the early part of his career, while Burns has separate multiple fighters from consciousness in his UFC career. Despite Nelson being the active welterweight and Burns moving up in weight, Burns should have a size advantage, and with it, will come power. While “Durinho” may have the striking to get the finish, we expect he will be able to take the first two rounds comfortably. After that, Nelson could have the advantage like Kunchenko did, but it may not be enough. As a bonus line, Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision is +155, if you feel that one man or the other will secure a stoppage.
Khalil Rountree (-125)
It is rare to see a fighter improve so markedly one fight into changing his or her training camp. In this case, Rountree left behind Syndicate MMA to change his entire regimen and join Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand. This was the best decision he could have made, as in his first outing with his new team, he battered Eryk Anders across three rounds and turned in an early “Beatdown of the Year” contender. His striking looked remarkable, dropping the former college football star four times in the second round, all while chopping down his opponent's lead leg.
Rountree will be facing off against another devastating striker in Ion Cutelaba, who has knocked his opponent out in nearly 80 percent of his victories. In most recent appearance, “The Hulk” had Teixeira on the ropes for much of the first round, until he tired and ended up on his back. All but one of Cutelaba’s stoppage wins have come in the first round, further displaying how dangerous the Moldovan can be in the opening stanza. These two men could very well go blow-for-blow until one falls down, and that could very well be either man. While Rountree has a single knockout loss to the surging Johnny Walker, Cutelaba has never been finished with strikes. This may be the fight that the latter finally occurs, because neither should have any interest in taking the fight to the canvas. Rountree, assuming he stays at the same level or improves on his skills from his last fight in April, should have the upper hand here. Oddsmakers also believe this fight will end violently, as Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision sits at a hefty -325, which is one of the safest bets of the night.
Nicolas Dalby (+125)
After receiving his walking papers following a draw to Darren Till and two unanimous decision verdicts against Zak Cummings and Peter Sobotta, Dalby fell on hard times. He has since appeared to overcome or fight back against his demons, with the Dane going 3-1 with a no-contest in Cage Warriors Fighting Championship with the lone defeat to future UFC fighter Carlo Pedersoli Jr. From there, Dalby switched his career into another gear. He went on to rattle off three wins and a fourth thrilling performance against Ross Houston to earn a shot in the UFC again -- his battle with Houston was so exciting and violent that it was called off due to unsafe surface conditions from all the blood the two spilled. The improvements Dalby have shown since his release have mostly come in his ground game, showing much more comfort fighting in a clinch or on the canvas.
Alex Oliveira has always been a wild card in his Octagon career, oftentimes forgetting his game plan and skillset to opt for a brawl instead. His last appearance against Mike Perry a defeat that saw him find success until his flashy striking sapped his gas tank. That loss marked the first time Oliveira had ever suffered consecutive defeats in his career, and it showed some glaring weaknesses the Brazilian does not appear to wish to shore up. Most telling is his overreliance on power, whether that means striking or submission game, offense or defense. If he gets planted on his back, he may just try to explode out. Dalby can remain composed and measured while "Cowboy" wears himself out, and as long as he avoids the most dangerous of strikes, he can outlast his opponent. Oliveira could easily hurt him, but “Lokomotivo” appears to be a more balanced fighter that can stay the course, put Oliveira against the fence or down on the canvas, and capture a hard-fought win. In this line of thinking, Fight Goes to Decision sits at +100, showing the books are nearly split on whether or not the fight will result in a finish.