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UFC on ESPN 12 predictions: Early ‘Prelims’ preview for ‘Poirier vs Hooker’ - Pt. 1

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to ESPN+ this weekend (Sat., June 27, 2020) when UFC on ESPN 12: “Poirier vs. Hooker” storms UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

UFC Fight Night: Camacho v Dariush Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight division once again blesses us with heinous amounts of violence this Saturday (June 27, 2020) when former 155-pound interim champion, Dustin Poirier, takes on Kiwi slugger Dan Hooker at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fifteen pounds north, Mike Perry attempts to rebound from consecutive losses against Mickey Gall, while Brendan Allen looks to make it three straight Octagon victories at newcomer Kyle Daukaus’ expense.

UFC on ESPN 12 features six “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, all of them on ESPN and ESPN+. Let’s get the first half done:

125 lbs.: Mara Romero Borella vs. Miranda Maverick

Mara Romero Borella (12-8) started her UFC career with a major upset, choking out contender Kalindra Faria midway through the first round at UFC 216. She has since struggled to regain that form, dropping four of her next five and each of her last three.

The Spaniard boasts a three-inch height advantage and a four-inch reach advantage.

Miranda Maverick (7-2) both avenged a loss and claimed victory in Invicta’s second Phoenix Series tournament, choking out DeAnna Bennett in the finals and becoming the first person to submit “Vitamin D” in the process. This past February, she further extended her win streak with a comfortable decision over UFC veteran Pearl Gonzalez.

Five of her professional wins have come by submission, four of them in the first round.

This match up looks more than a little worrisome for Borella. Between Maverick’s superior wrestling pedigree and fast-improving striking, the UFC newcomer has the skills to dominate wherever the fight goes. Though Maverick does occasionally leave herself open to takedowns by throwing naked kicks, she’s capable enough off of her back to keep Borella from mounting any meaningful offense during her brief windows of opportunity.

Maverick is a quality prospect at just 22 years old and Borella’s proven unable to consistently make her game work against strong opposition. In short, crisp combination striking and regular takedowns secure a comfortable decision win for Maverick.

Prediction: Maverick via unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Takashi Sato vs. Ramiz Brahimaj

Takashi Sato (15-3) — entering the Octagon with knockout wins in five of his previous six bouts, made it six of seven by flattening Ben Saunders in his debut. His next bout pitted him against rising contender Belal Muhammad, who choked the TRIBE TOKYO product out early in the third round.

He has scored 10 pro finishes by form of knockout.

Ramiz Brahimaj (8-2) scored six consecutive first-round submissions before tasting his first professional defeat, since which he’s tapped two of three. His latest wins include a guillotine finish of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” finalist William Macario and a 55-second arm triangle of Carlos Martinez.

Injury scrapped a planned “Contender Series” bout with Miguel Baeza, making this his first fight in 15 months.

This pick, I’ll admit, is mostly guesswork. Brahimaj has spent most of his career in LFA, which doesn’t seem to have a video archive for its time on AXS TV. As a result, I’m forced to work with footage from 2017 and what highlights the promotion uploaded to YouTube. Though it’s clear from that footage that Brahimaj is a capable wrestler and a pathologically aggressive submission hunter, it’s not clear whether those skills are top-level or just the product of selective video editing.

Either way, Sato looks like a problem for him. The Japanese bruiser is difficult to hold down and only becomes vulnerable to submissions when his cardio begins to wane. Brahimaj could push him to that point, sure, but he’s had enough issues with powerful strikers like Macario to make it unlikely that he lasts that long. Sato floors him with the quickness.

Prediction: Sato via first-round technical knockout

145 lbs.: Jordan Griffin vs. Youssef Zalal

Jordan Griffin’s (18-7) impressive finish on “Contender Series” didn’t translate into immediate UFC success, dropping consecutive decisions to Dan Ige and Chas Skelly. He came up big with his back against the wall, however, coming back from a rough first round to choke out T.J. Brown in February.

He was previously scheduled to rematch Darrick Minner two shows ago.

Youssef Zalal (8-2) — reeling from two recent losses — entered his UFC debut as a notable underdog to power-punching prospect Austin Lingo. Undaunted, “The Morrocan Devil” used solid movement, steady kicks, and effective takedowns to shut down Lingo’s offense and claim victory.

The win was his first by decision, five others coming by submission.

Zalal’s success against Lingo should give him confidence against another wild, all-offense bruiser in Griffin. There is, however, a key difference between “The Native Psycho” and “Lights Out:” Griffin wrestles, and Zalal had all kinds of trouble with a relentless takedown artist in Jose Mariscal last year. It’s quite likely that Griffin gets in on Zalal’s hips at some point, and between Griffin’s submission defense and the fact that Zalal is a less dominant wrestler than the likes of Ige or Skelly, that bodes well for Griffin.

If Zalal can execute perfectly like he did against Lingo, picking away at Griffin with kicks and landing reactive takedowns, he’s got a real shot at making it 2-0 in the Octagon. More likely, though, Griffin outlands and outscrambles him on his way to a competitive but clear decision.

Prediction: Griffin via unanimous decision

Three more UFC on ESPN 12 “Prelims” bouts to preview and predict, including appearances from Luis “Violent Bob Ross” Pena and unbeaten Sean Woodson. Same time tomorrow, Manaics.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 12 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 12: “Poirier vs. Hooker” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.