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UFC 302 predictions, odds, best bets: Dustin Poirier, Sean Strickland among top picks to consider

UFC 302 is just around the corner and with it, another card full of intriguing fights. No fight is as interesting on paper as the main event, where Dustin Poirier looks to finally win a world championship when he faces lightweight king Islam Makhachev on Saturday in Newark, New Jersey.

Poirier’s storied career has seen him become one of the most successful and popular fighters on the UFC roster, though he has twice come up short in world title fights, losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira. Makhachev is a dominant fighter and looking to make the third defense of his belt after twice defeating former featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski.

In the co-main event, polarizing former middleweight champ Sean Strickland looks to get back in the win column after losing his title to Dricus du Plessis in January. Standing across the Octagon will be former title challenger Paulo Costa, who brings a unique brand of unpredictability to every fight.

After going 4-1 with our best bets for UFC 301, we are sitting with a record of 12-13 on the year. That’s not a winning record, but we’re back on track to get out of the red, hopefully starting with UFC 302.

Randy Brown vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos

Randy Brown via decision (+150)

There’s a lot to consider coming into this fight. Zaleski has the better power and a solid low kick game to go along with a willingness to throw down and just try to make something happen. That said, Brown is younger at 33 to Zaleski’s 37, quicker and with a five-inch reach advantage. It is in Brown’s best interest to try to use his reach and speed to stay away from wild exchanges that could get him in trouble. Should he stick to the gameplan against a durable opponent, a decision win seems like the likeliest outcome.

Niko Price vs. Alex Morono

Fight to go the distance: No (-190)

While this is a rematch, there’s probably not much use looking back at the first fight for indicators of how this go-round plays out. Price won that first fight by knockout only to have it overturned due to a positive drug test for marijuana (the first of two times that would happen to Price). Price is 5-7 after a 10-0 start to his career while Morono has found much more success, going 11-6 since the first Price fight. Price has the power to stop the fight but is also just as likely to get stopped, with five KO losses in his 10 most recent fights. Morono isn’t the best finisher but the stars seem to have aligned for a fight that doesn’t reach the final scorecards.

Kevin Holland vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk

Fight to go over 1.5 rounds (-150)

The best advice on this fight might be to stay away completely, but pushed to select one play, I like the over 1.5 round line. Oleksiejczuk has good knockout power and Holland is a good finisher as well, but styles make fights and all those other cliches. This fight is likely to play out on the feet and Holland is crafty and willing to use his natural advantages in height and reach. Holland’s reach is 81 inches to 74 for Oleksiejczuk. If a finish happens, it likely comes in the back half of the fight after the fighters have figured out their approach and made in-fight adjustments.

Sean Strickland vs. Paulo Costa

Sean Strickland moneyline (-250)

The line is a little bit wider than ideal but the fight is what it is. Costa is always a wildcard but he’s also inconsistent where Strickland’s consistency is one of his best assets of late. Strickland’s boxing style is hard for opponents to figure out and Costa isn’t exactly a cerebral fighter. Rather that try to figure out if Costa will last the distance or get stopped along the way, we’re simply advising to put your money behind the better, more reliable of the two combatants. Costa likely gets picked apart while having a few moments of success, but Strickland’s durability should allow him to survive those moments and get back to his boxing connecting and making it a pain for Costa to find consistent success.

Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier

Dustin Poirier moneyline (+425)

There is an element of picking Poirier that comes down to heart over head but it’s also that +425 feels too big to pass on. That represents implied probability of Poirier winning at 19%. Makhachev is an excellent fighter and deserves credit for his dominant run and Poirier has stumbled a few times in his own legendary career. But Poirier is also a different kind of challenge than a short featherweight moving up (and once on short notice) like Alexander Volkanovski or even Charles Oliveira.

Makhachev could crack Poirier on the feet or go back to the successful approach of a takedown into an arm-triangle choke while dominating the fight. But I expect Poirier brings everything he has in an effort to find the small openings to do meaningful things and put his own pressure on Makhachev. Straight up, I’d pick Makhachev, but with the odds as wide as they are, I think the value is in Poirier.

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