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An Ultimate Fighting Championship card on the ESPN
flagship network used to mean something greater than a standard UFC
Fight Night at one time. These days, they are one and the same, as
only two of the 24 competitors at UFC
on ESPN 35
this Saturday in Las Vegas are ranked, and they find
themselves in the main event. While extremely light on star power,
this fight card still features multiple avenues to profit—beyond
the rescheduled heavyweight fight that will bring about the largest
betting favorite in UFC history. This edition of Prime Picks will
check out a slight favorite in the headliner, an old lion whose
fourth gear is enough for his tier of heavyweight, a lethal
opportunist in an opportunistic matchup and a frenetic flyweight
affair likely to reach the final bell.

Experience matters. When it comes to the UFC on ESPN 35 headliner,
Font has seen a pair of 25-minute fights recently on his ledger,
while this is Vera’s first UFC main event and as a result, first
five-rounder on the roster. Outslugging Cody
Garbrandt
while coming up short to Jose Aldo has
given Font the opportunity to clock in cage time and get his
footing when having to pace himself for two extra rounds. It did
not work to his disadvantage when taking on Garbrandt, as his
workload actually increased in Rounds 4 and 5, further putting
distance between the ex-champ as he surged. This marquee attraction
is a spectacular contest between two high-volume yet powerful
strikers, both with iron chins and multiple tricks up their
sleeves. Font, as the slightest of favorites, is a rightful pick
given what he brings to the table.

A nearly unflappable high pace and the ability to roll with punches
coming his way have made the New England Cartel staple a force to
be reckoned with at 135 pounds. Those that have defeated him have
either done so with superior power—like how Aldo dropped him twice
in their December meeting—or the element of surprise. For the
former, John
Lineker
gave him problems when they squared off in 2016. For
the latter, the last gasp of Raphael
Assuncao
outfoxed him with effective counterstriking and a
couple solid takedowns. Thankfully, Font will not encounter either
of these specific skill sets when he comes to blows with Vera, a
veritable meat grinder of fists and feet but not the kind that has
historically wiped Font out. It is Font’s style that will give Vera
pause, especially if he leads with his sharp jab and fights long to
turn a one-inch reach advantage into something seemingly
greater.

“Chito” would like nothing more than to make this battle with Font
an all-out brawl, putting his might against the Massachusetts
native’s and seeing where the chips fall. Whether punishing Font
with leg kicks or clubbing him with elbows up close, Vera would
vastly prefer to let his strikes do the talking. Font can play the
oft-cited matador to Vera’s charging attacking approach, flustering
him with distance shots and even mix things up with a level change
should Vera get reckless. It would likely be in the best interest
of the favorite to take this fight into deep waters, forcing Vera
to account for himself after the 15-minute mark. Should one expect
instead that the Ecuadorian will notch arguably the biggest win of
his career, look no further than the even-money line on
“Chito.”

Much like the cries of a distraught Jesse Pinkman from “Breaking
Bad,” there exists a growing contingent of fans that shout after an
Arlovski victory, “He can’t keep getting away with it!” It is
nothing short of remarkable that at the age of 43, former
heavyweight champ Arlovski—a man that held the UFC strap six years
before his opponent Jake
Collier
made his professional debut—can still perform so
impressively after so long in the game. Some expected after
Fedor
Emelianenko
knocked his block off and subsequent defeats in
Strikeforce to the likes of Brett
Rogers
and Sergei
Kharitonov
it spelled the end of the career of the Belarusian.
A remarkable 13 years after Emelianenko leveled him mid-air and
provided one of the most spectacular fight images of all time,
Arlovski is still not only competing but winning bouts in the UFC.
Sometimes it is as simple as playing the hot hand, but as a small
favorite against ex-middleweight Collier, Arlovski makes all the
sense in the world.

Knowing his chin had become a liability, Arlovski adapted a new
approach to combat, by keeping a jab out there and a high enough
volume to stave off those coming at him. Even though Arlovski has
suffered 10 defeats since 2015, they have all come against
top-ranked opposition. “The Prototype” has yet to establish himself
as this type of talent since returning after several years away and
multiple pants sizes larger. For a full-framed fighter that will
likely tip the scales around 265 pounds—likely about 20 pounds
above “The Pit Bull”—Collier moves deceptively fast. Even at this
size, Collier maintains a solid workrate as the rounds progress.
This is somewhere he will have a leg up on Arlovski, who has shown
to tire after about 10 minutes. As long as he can bank the first
two rounds and survive to the final bell, Arlovski can put himself
on his longest win streak in years. There is also a pattern to
follow: Collier has alternated wins and losses for his entire UFC
career, and a defeat would keep that long-standing trend
intact.

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Things really seem to be clicking for the man known as “GM3,” who
is riding an impressive three-fight submission streak into his
meeting with tough Polish out Krzysztof
Jotko
. This consecutive stretch of three wins in a row is his
longest since joining the organization, and to make matters more
impressive, he has never reached the final bell in any of his UFC
triumphs. Far from impregnable, the Achilles heel for the Wisconsin
native appears to be his early-fight sturdiness. Ten foes
throughout his career have dispatched him within the first five
minutes—this does include a notable setback to Jay Ellis, the
man with the most losses in MMA history. Fortunately for
Meerschaert, Jotko is not historically the blitzing type, with just
one victory in over a decade in the first round. The longer this
fight goes, the more it favors the dangerous grappler Meerschaert,
and at big plus money for a finish, he can get things done and put
a smile on bettors’ faces.

Unlike Meerschaert, Jotko is the kind of fighter that needs to
involve the judges to get his hand raised. His lone UFC win by
stoppage came over Tamdan
McCrory
over five years ago, and he has not appeared
particularly close to replicating this feat since then. The onus
will be on Jotko to survive all that Meerschaert throws at him,
while nullifying his foe likely on the feet. On the mat, Jotko will
constantly be in the danger zone, as “GM3” can hit a guillotine
choke in an instant. It will have to be a slow, methodical
kickboxing match with Meerschaert if Jotko hopes to not get snared
in a web. While many moons ago, Magnus
Cedenblad
hit the exact kind of “snatching victory out of
nowhere” submission in which Meerschaert specializes, with Jotko
leaving his neck exposed a little too long in a takedown effort. If
Jotko cannot keep his distance for 15 minutes—Jotko by decision is
+210—the Roufusport product can hunt for submissions until he snags
one, or attack from top position with ruthless ground-and-pound,
and likely earns a spot in the rankings to boot.

It is not a slight to look at the lightest men’s weight category
and expect the fight will end up going to the scorecards. Over half
of all UFC men’s flyweight fights have gone to decision—a bit above
58%, to be more precise—and at +110, there is juice in this
squeeze. On paper, the two Octagon newcomers in Taira and
Candelario present high stoppage rates, but traditionally that is
the case of two competitors that had not yet surpassed a feeder
league onto a major stage. In the case of Taira, his advantageous
grappling style, threatening with chokes or delivering rapid
ground-and-pound strikes, may not translate up to a UFC-ready
fighter. As for Candelario, this has already been evidenced as his
last three outings against legitimate competition have gone the
distance. It is one thing to knock out 1-2 Timothy
Wheeler
and another to go three hard rounds with Victor
Altamirano
.

This Shooto vs. CES MMA affair has excitement written all over
it, even if Candelario did lose his last fight and earned a UFC
contract in the same vein that Stephan
Bonnar
was signed to the promotion. There is much to like about
Taira’s fast style, but his gaudy record will be put to the test
when he finds he cannot simply take Candelario’s back in a hurry
and get the choke in the first three minutes. Of the two, “The
Cannon” has displayed more recent, relevant success going the
distance, while every fight to go to the judges has been victorious
for Taira. The bet is not about who wins, but rather how long the
fight lasts. In this case, the plus option for it going the
distance is more appetizing than -115 for the over of 2.5 rounds;
neither man has ever netted a stoppage after 7:11 into a fight, so
it does not seem a late stoppage is in the cards.


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