UFC on ESPN 12: Poirier vs. Hooker analysis, best bets

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS — Nearly three out of every four fights that Dan Hooker and Dustin Poirier have been involved in during their mixed martial arts career have ended in a finish.

Poirier has had 32 pro fights, which includes 25 wins, six losses and a no-contest (which is not counted as either a finish or a distance bout). Only eight of those 32 went the entire way.

Hooker has had 28 fights as a pro, and 20 of them have been finishes. Between them, there have been finishes in 43 of their 60 pro bouts.

Their bout in the main event of an ESPN-televised card Saturday at Apex is critical in the hierarchy of the lightweight division. A former interim champion, Poirier is returning for the first time since being submitted by lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in the third round at UFC 242.

Hooker moved up to No. 6 in the divisional rankings after his incredible back-and-forth victory over Paul Felder in February.

Much is at stake in the bout, both for the winner and the loser. And both men appear to be on point physically.

Their styles are similar, though Poirier has an advantage in grappling. But history suggests this fight could be determined in the standup.

Hooker has shown an incredible chin and has only been finished once in the last six years. That was a bludgeoning in 2018 by Edson Barboza, whose kicks got most of the credit but whose right hand in the first round badly hurt Hooker.

Dustin Poirier (L) and Dan Hooker of New Zealand face off during their weigh-in at UFC APEX on Friday in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

“About halfway through the first round, he clipped me with an overhand right,” Hooker said of Barboza. “I didn’t look that hurt, but it set me on autopilot. I didn’t drop; there was just a small wobble, but I was actually quite badly hurt. And so I wasn’t thinking well and he was able to land a lot of those kicks.”

But it wasn’t until the third round that a great shot to the body, after a lengthy attack on the legs, finished off Hooker.

Since then, he’s scored three wins in a row, a KO of James Vick and then decision victories over Al Iaquinta and Felder.

He’s at the peak of his game at an opportune time, as he faces one of the elite in not only the division but the entire sport.

Poirier lost to Nurmagomedov, which says more about Nurmagomedov than it does about him. In the four fights prior to the title shot, he submitted ex-UFC champion Anthony Pettis; stopped current interim champion Justin Gaethje and former champion Eddie Alvarez; and decisioned featherweight champion Max Holloway.

It was an incredible run that made obvious Poirier is one of the best in the world.

Given how closely they seem to be matched, the line is largely in favor of Poirier, who is -225 at the MGM Grand sports book. Hooker is +185.

There’s little value in laying better than 2-to-1 on Poirier. The value is there on Hooker, but it’s a challenging bout for him.

The play, as I see it, is to bet that it will go the distance. “Will go the distance” is +215, while “won’t go” is -290. I’ll lay $100 to win $215 on will go the distance.

These guys are too good, and too durable, as I see it for the fight to be finished early, so I’ll also lay $100 on “fight will start Round 3” at -170. Fight won’t start Round 3 is +130.

Other plays: