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Preview of UFC 252 main card fights at the Apex

A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 252 on Saturday at the Apex, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:

Stipe Miocic (19-3) vs. Daniel Cormier (22-2, 1 No Contest)

Class: For Miocic’s heavyweight title

Line: Cormier -120

Storyline: Two of the top heavyweights to ever compete in the UFC meet to settle their trilogy and possibly determine the division’s best-ever champion. Cormier won the first meeting in 2018 with a shot at very close range and was having success in the 2019 rematch until Miocic adjusted and started working the body until he softened Cormier up and eventually knocked him out.

The game plans should be similar. Miocic will try to stay outside and utilize his speed and length, looking to the body first. Cormier will look to get to the clinch and take advantage of his Olympic pedigree as a wrestler. There is one huge wild-card in the rubber match. The bout will be contested in a 25-foot cage instead of the standard 30-foot octagon. With less room to operate, that should play in Cormier’s favor with less room to operate.

Hill’s pick: Cormier by third-round knockout

Fang’s pick: Miocic by fourth-round knockout

Sean O’Malley (12-0) vs. Marlon Vera (15-6-1)

Class: Bantamweight

Line: O’Malley -275

Storyline: The “Suga Show” is back in Las Vegas. O’Malley is on the verge of crossing over from breakout phenom to full-on superstar. The offbeat look and outlandish personality don’t obscure a dynamic skillset that has him climbing the rankings nearly as fast as he’s racking up social media followers. O’Malley has picked up right where he left off after missing two years of competition due to a battle with USADA over the presence of ostarine in his system.

He said he spent the time away refining his game. The results tend to support the claim. The 25-year-old has scored first-round knockouts in each of the two fights since he returned and will look to add another victim to his hit-list. Vera represents perhaps his toughest test to date. He had his five-fight winning streak snapped with a tough decision loss to Song Yadong in May.

Hill’s pick: O’Malley by third-round knockout

Fang’s pick: O’Malley by first-round knockout

Junior dos Santos (21-7) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-1)

Class: Heavyweight

Line: Rozenstruik -130

Storyline: Rozenstruik has shown himself to be one of the most powerful strikers in the entire organization, but he proved human when he was knocked out by Francis Ngannou in just 20 seconds back in May for his first career loss. He will look to bounce back against a former champion in dos Santos, one of the most skilled technical boxers in the division.

Dos Santos appeared on his way back to title contention before getting knocked out in his last two fights. Rozenstruik is not an ideal opponent for someone who has started to show signs of a questionable chin.

Hill’s pick: Rozenstruik by first-round knockout

Fang’s pick: Rozenstruik by second-round knockout

John Dodson (22-11) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (11-4)

Class: Bantamweight

Line: Dvalishvili -150

Storyline: Dvalishvili has won four straight fights and appears poised to take his nonstop, chaotic offensive style straight into title contention. The approach works particularly well for him. He always seems to have an edge in cardio, wearing down his opponents as the fights progress.

Dodson, a two-time title challenger at flyweight, probably has his best days behind him. He’s 2-3 in his last five fights, though all three losses have been to top contenders at 135 pounds. He still poses a threat to just about anyone in the division, particularly with his right hand. Dodson will almost certainly need a finish to have any chance of emerging victorious.

Hill’s pick: Dvalishvili by decision

Fang’s pick: Dvalishvili by decision

Herbert Burns (11-2) vs. Daniel Pineda (18-11)

Class: Featherweight

Line: Burns -285

Storyline: Burns gets a showcase bout as the lid-lifter on the pay-per-view card after continuing his impressive run with a first-round submission of Evan Dunham on the UFC 250 card in June in this same venue. He also earned a UFC contract with a first-round submission of Darrick Minner at the Apex last August. In between, he knocked out Nate Landwehr with a knee in the first round.

Pineda returns to the UFC where he went 3-4 in seven fights between 2012 and 2014. The 35-year-old Texan is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with 18 submissions to his name and a huge edge in experience. He’ll be a stiff test for the rising star.

Hill’s pick: Burns by second-round knockout

Fang’s pick: Burns by third-round submission

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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