We get a step up this week from the previous weeks’ Fight Night cards and nearly the entirety of this card offers something to anticipate. The main event will be fireworks and offers an automatic cash stack and one that will almost certainly be the last piece for the optimal lineup in tournaments. There are at least five more fights that should have us glued watching, looking for a highlight reel finish. All in all, this isn’t a card to miss nor to skip from a DFS perspective.
Early Prelims On ESPN+
Alex Perez, -320, 9200 vs Mark De La Rosa, +250, 7000
Fight is at 135 lbs and is -110 to end inside the distance.
Alex Perez is a well-rounded, high-output fighter. He will look to bounce back from his first UFC loss to Joseph Benavidez in a fight where he failed to ascend to the very top of the 125-pound rankings. The promotion gives him a layup fight here to regain some momentum as Perez truly outclasses his opponent. He’s the superior striker and wrestler. While it’s open for interpretation which fighter has the better Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) skill set, that’s likely the spot he could find himself in danger. Perez will see very few spots where he’s not holding a distinct advantage.
Mark De La Rosa is an average striker and generally a submission hunter as a BJJ black belt without any real go-to tool. It’s likely an urgent need for him to land takedowns on the superior wrestler, but he could easily see himself fighting an uphill battle from the word go. He’s unlikely to find a point-win decision and likely needs to find a submission as his path to victory.
Perez has a favorable skill set for DK output and should see a moderate to high exposure in the build. He won’t hurt you terribly with a decision win score but is quite capable of finishing the fight. De La Rosa is just an underdog variance add to the build as a submission could get him into the optimal. Note that both fighters are moving up to 135 pounds for this bout.
Sabina Mazo, -155, 8800 vs Maryna Moroz, +125, 7400
Fight is at 125 lbs and is +240 to end inside the distance.
Maryna Moroz is a UFC vet that is best labeled as a gatekeeper for the very bottom of the roster. She’s also very much in danger of losing her roster spot if she finds herself on the losing end on Saturday. She’s a striker with good cardio that throws a volume of strikes at the air in an attempt to keep her opponents from closing distance on her. In turn, she lands at an embarrassingly low clip. She offers very little in the grappling department and will almost certainly have to win a point decision to secure a victory. Note that her only two wins spanning the last four years since her UFC debut have been against fighters no longer on the roster.
Sabina Mazo makes her UFC debut, riding two 2017 head kick KO’s to a UFC contract. The 20-year old is not yet near her peak and obviously has some striking acumen, but even with Moroz being a lowest tier UFC talent, this is by far her toughest test to date. We’re not yet privy to what she truly offers as either a striker or grappler, but if she’s anywhere near an ascension within the promotion, this should be a fairly easy win for her. Her DK pricing is unfortunate as she is the most expensive favorite of a very tight tier ranging from 8200-8800.
This is a muddy fight from a DFS perspective. If Mazo doesn’t push the pace, it will likely offer very little in terms of scoring. If she does push the pace, there should be a good bit of significant strikes tallied, but still highly unlikely for a KO, at least not for an early one not due to attrition. Mazo should see a low to moderate exposure in builds while Moroz is optional, but a full fade may not be prudent against a debuting fighter.
Ray Borg, -320, 9400 vs Casey Kenney, +250, 6800
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +165 to end inside the distance.
Ray Borg returns to the Octagon for the first time in 18 months, when he suffered a championship defeat at the hands of Demetrius Johnson. He’s a low volume and mostly ineffective striker who wants to grapple at every turn. He is great with transitions on the floor and is a real submission threat, but is virtually a non KO threat on the feet and will need the grappling points and perhaps a finish to find usefulness as the highest salary on the slate.
Casey Kenney will make his UFC debut on extremely short notice and is the second replacement fighter scheduled to fight Borg on this card. He literally just fought this past Friday and had an early KO win after seeing his previous six fights go to a decision. He’ll likely need another KO here as a decision likely sees him getting outdone on the floor, should he not end up submitted.
Borg brings grappling floor and ceiling and a high probability of a win, and should see the low end of moderate exposure in the build. Kenney is a low exposure play on the punchers chance in the hopes Borg has ring rust after the layoff.
Prelims on ESPN
Kevin Holland, -205, 8900 vs Gerald Meerschart, +165, 7300
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -260 to end inside the distance.
Gerald Meerschart is fully a BJJ fighter that is eager to grapple throughout any fight. He’s a decent wrestler without having a ton of physical strength and athleticism, an area in which he’ll be at a disadvantage in this one. He’s been finished in two of his last four fights, and is in real danger of a third here. While grappling is his base, there’s a very real question as to whether he’s at a disadvantage in that department in this fight. He’s very unlikely to be able to ride out a decision win, so it leaves finding a submission as the path to victory.
Kevin Holland is one of the more fun fighters, not just in the division, but in the UFC period. He enters his third UFC fight and has shown very well thus far. He debuted against the monster known as Thiago Santos and showed an amazing amount of chin and grappling acumen in that one. In his encore finish win, he showed off some real striking prowess in conjunction with more grappling shine. He has great length and will have two inches of height and four inches of reach in this one and no fighter on the card brings the ceiling he brings. There is a bit of a concern about gas if the fight were to reach deep water.
As mentioned, Holland is a scoring machine with an exciting style and is a strong candidate for largest exposure on the slate, particularly at his price. The excitement naturally leaves attainable ceiling for the opponent too, so Meerschart should have a place in the build as well. This fight should be close to the level of main event exposure.
Enrique Barzola, -120, 8200 vs Chris Aguilar, -110, 8000
Fight is at 145 lbs and is +205 to end inside the distance.
Enrique Barzola is a wrestler who averages a whopping 6.1 takedowns per 15 minutes and prefers to grind a grappling style on his opponents. He’s 5-1 in the promotion and hasn’t been finished in his career, so he’s a guy that certainly doesn’t need to finish to score. He’s good at keeping range and making sure it closes all the way to grappling range when it closes. This is likely a favorable stylistic matchup for him.
Kevin Aguilar is a striker who certainly doesn’t bring the same scoring floor as his opponent. He’s got enough power in his hands to find a finish but it’s likely he’d have to get that early before Barzola starts grinding the energy down. This fight is fairly straightforward.
Barzola should have an ample place in the build, bringing both floor and ceiling, while Aguilar is just a variance play, albeit one that I don’t think is a sound full fade.
Ross Pearson, +330, 6900 vs Desmond Green, -445, 9300
Fight is at 155 lbs and is +260 to end inside the distance.
Desmond Green is upwards of a -400 favorite — what a time to be alive! It really is off-putting to see him at this level of favorite and salary, as he’s completely unexciting. He’s got a wrestling background that he mainly uses for defense and is a slow-paced point striker. He’s only finished six of 21 pro wins and the last came in 2015 before his UFC tenure. He likely outpoints his slower opponent for a decision win.
Ross Pearson is similarly slow and unwilling to grapple, he’s just worse at everything at this point in his career. He counters well enough to think it’s not impossible he finds a KO but he has, similarly to Green, seen nine of his last 10 fights go to the scorecards.
We’ve got two fighters here that have seen a combined 17 of 18 fights over the last four years go to the judge’s scorecards. Neither throws in volume and neither looks to grapple, and if they do, it’s not in scoring volume. This fight is a candidate for a full fade. If Pearson somehow scores, someone at his price would be in the optimal and that’s the sole reason to not fade him, whether compelling or not. Green is a very good fade as even if he hits a highly unlikely scoring ceiling, his ownership should be low and his salary is prohibitive.
Jessica Aguilar, +260, 7100 vs Marina Rodriguez, -330, 9100
Fight is at 115 lbs and is +225 to end inside the distance.
Marina Rodríguez is a Muay Thai striker and an undefeated up and comer entering her second bout in the promotion. She fought to a draw in her debut against Randa Markos, but showed she’s ready for the division. She was taken down and controlled for the entire first round but was the superior striker and was an early takedown defense away from an easy decision win. This opponent is accurately described as a lesser version of Markos.
Jessica Aguilar is a subpar striker but a plus grappler. She doesn’t want to stand with Rodríguez and will be trying to get inside to get the fight to the floor. She will be at a greater disadvantage striking than advantage grappling.
The salaries are spread enough that you do need to get exposure to both fighters. Aguilar is capable of winning this fight against a still green opponent, and if she does so, it will be with grappling points accumulated. Rodríguez is clearly the more likely to win, but will need true volume to score well and potentially an attrition based KO, which is certainly possible, but not an outcome to attack at a high exposure. Get moderate to low exposure on both sides.
Main Card On ESPN
Sheymon Moraes, +120, 7500 vs Sodiq Yusuff, -150, 8700
Fight is at 145 lbs and is -135 to end inside the distance.
Sheymon Moraes is a somewhat heavy-handed counter striker that doesn’t throw anything resembling volume, but instead tries to sit down on punches and counter opponents as they move forward. He doesn’t attempt to grapple and doesn’t throw enough to score in a decision win, so playing Moraes is projecting a KO punch. A word of caution, he hasn’t won a UFC fight inside the distance and hasn’t had a finish win overall since 2015. He’s not incapable, but he has good power and is facing great power in this fight.
Sodiq Yusuff is a heavy-handed striker and a very fun fighter to watch. He has very real power on his punches and is very much in play for a KO every time he makes the walk. He also throws some of the most brutal leg kicks you’ll see in the division, and Moraes has a tendency to let those through. Simply put, if Moraes doesn’t address those early, he won’t be walking by the third round.
While Vegas doesn’t think a KO is extremely likely on this one, it’s still more likely than not to happen. By my view, Yusuff is the more likely of the two to achieve the feat and should be your more highly exposed fighter. Moraes can get there with a counter as well, and has the better value pricing, but we want at least twice the exposure to Yusuff.
Kennedy Nzechukwu, -200, 9000 vs Paul Craig, +165, 7200
Fight is at 205 lbs and is -415 to end inside the distance.
Kennedy Nzechukwu is a massive striker making his UFC debut. He punched his ticket to the promotion with a first-round head kick KO on DWCS. There’s no denying the ability and size here, but having enough of a mean streak is a real question. He is too aware of the rules as he stopped himself from finishing his DWCS fight even earlier because he deemed a ground and pound strike illegal that the referee did not. We have no idea what he offers as a grappler and that will be where he’s truly in danger of being submitted in this one, but any strike could be the fight ender.
Paul Craig is a grappler that doesn’t offer much on the way of striking. He’s been finished three times in five UFC fights and has allowed an average of 106 DK points in those losses. He will have to find a way to get inside of the five-inch reach disadvantage and get the fight to the floor without finding himself asleep. If he’s able to do so, there’s a strong chance he can find a submission as he is capable and against a very green opponent as far as pro experience.
This one is going to go to whoever can dictate where the fight takes place, and is very likely to produce a high score hitting the optimal. Nzechukwu has a much better path to ceiling than the fighters priced above him and should be a large exposure. Craig is also capable of a submission finish and should also have a sound place in the build.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz, -150, 8600 vs Michelle Waterson, +120, 7600
Fight is at 115 lbs and is +260 to end inside the distance.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz is a mostly fast paced Thai striker that’s fought the highest level of competition within the 115-pound division. She’s fought for the title and has only been beaten by the highest level of fighters the division has to offer. She will be the better and more active striker in this fight and the quicker the pace, the better it will be for her. It will be in her best interests to avoid grappling, and in turn the clinch as that’s where her opponent likes to get the fight to the floor. While she’ll be the better striker it needs noting her chin fully gave out in her last fight against Jessica Andrade and she had moments of worry in her fight before that.
Michelle Waterson is a good, but not great, 115 pounder and fights at a slow, calculated pace on the outside. She prefers to keep range and have the total strikes remain low, but she is capable and throws precise kicks from her wide karate stance. She will mix in grappling and will have the ground advantage in this one, but is not nearly an elite level submission fighter.
Waterson’s style generally pours cold water on scoring output in her fights. Kowalkiewicz throws in more volume and is the more likely to have a strike count add up in a decision win, but attaining that scoring ceiling will be tougher than it was against some of her previous opponents. Waterson probably has a ceiling of 80-85 DK points in a decision win, and while it’s possible that’s good enough for optimal, it’s difficult to project that. I think lower end of moderate exposure to both fighters is reasonable here with the ceiling and exposure edge going to Kowalkiewicz.
Josh Emmett, -115, 7800 vs Michael Johnson, -115, 8400
Fight is at 145 lbs and is +100 to end inside the distance.
Josh Emmett’s career took quite a turn last year, and it shows just how much MMA is truly a game of inches. After putting Ricardo Lamas out cold with one shot in the first round, he was very close to a follow up after knocking Jeremy Stephens down in the first round. That finish not occurring temporarily derailed his career. In the second round he was dropped by a punch which saw an illegal knee and ground and pound ensue that shattered his cheek and orbital bones. These injuries required multiple surgeries and additionally left him battling vertigo for months. Now fully healed, he returns to the octagon for the first time in 13 months saying the time has given other nagging injuries time to heal and being at his best level of health since his UFC debut. He has real power in his hands and has a complete game capable of finishing the fight at any point. He unfortunately now has the question of how he’ll react to being hit again and it’s something that we just can’t project one way or the other.
Michael Johnson is a very very good boxer but has reached a point where it is fair to wonder if he’s on the decline at age 32. He’s won two fights in a row against lower-level opponents, but prior to that he dropped five of six fights against very high-end competition. He’s not generally a finisher as he’s got just one KO in the past six years, but there has to be some weight put on the unknown of Emmett’s reaction to being punched again. His normal path to victory would be a medium-paced striking decision, but we will have to up the exposure a bit with the variable added.
If this fight took place a year ago, I’d believe Emmett the superior fighter and would have massive exposure to him. With the variable I still want a moderate to high amount of exposure at the favorable price with a real scoring ceiling. As mentioned, Emmett’s chin is a real question mark now and Johnson becomes in play at approximately half the exposure level of Emmett.
David Branch, +105, 7900 vs Jack Hermansson, -125, 8300
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -185 to end inside the distance.
David Branch is a fighter with a BJJ base that’s made strides in improving his striking over the past several years. While it still would not qualify as good, he does have adequate power and it helps him transition to grappling at times. I do truly believe he really doesn’t want to hit anymore at age 37. He’s been knocked out in two of his last three fights including a tap out to the non-vicious version of ground and pound from Luke Rockhold. He is still quite capable of finding a finish via KO or submission, and isn’t a fade by any means, but Father Time is certainly keeping an eye on him.
Jack Hermansson is a freestyle fighter and one whose fights bring excitement. He’s got heavy hands, and his last six have all ended ITD resulting in four wins and two losses. His takedowns are powerful and sharp, and while he’s not a BJJ expert by any means, he’s got some heavy ground and pound (which has been Branch’s worst nightmare) and a sound understanding of how to control. He could have difficulty off his back but is likely the stronger fighter and better wrestler and able to defend the shots.
This fight feels like the ITD line is too low and one to be overweight on. Clearly I lean Hermansson here but you certainly need both sides with the split being between 3:2 and 5:2. There’s likely a real ceiling to come from this one and a strong candidate for the optimal.
Edson Barboza, -135, 8500 vs Justin Gaethje, +105, 7700
Fight is a five round main event fight at 155 lbs and is -570 to end inside the distance.
Whew, get many helpings of popcorn ready. This one will be truly fun for as long as it lasts.
Edson Barboza is a heavy striker and well-rounded fighter who has flaws, but most of the flaws are mental ones. All of his kicks are brutal but he has a way of chewing up a leg more than anyone in the division, with his opponent being not far behind in that department. He generally does a poor job of pacing his gas tank, with situational snap decision-making during the fight, and that could be key against this opponent.
Justin Gaethje is one of the most exciting fighters on the roster and I’ll make an appointment to watch anytime he fights. He’s had four fights with the promotion, two early KO wins and two late KO losses. In the losses to elite Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier he landed 122 and 115 significant strikes before going out. He’s always pressuring and throwing in volume, which in turn forces his opponents to do the same. He’s fully willing to eat shots to land them and embraces his style.
Both fighters are tough as nails with chins, both fighters can finish and Gaethje will force striking volume in this fight. It’s a virtual impossibility one of these fighters is not in the optimal and this should be your highest exposure fight, up to 100 percent. I will be giving Gaethje the exposure edge. Needless to say, this is a main to stack for cash.
Look for an update on cash plays, bets and other thoughts after weigh-ins.
All but one fighter are on weight. Ray Borg missed by 1.75 lbs and the fight will go on as scheduled.
First and foremost, we’re lock buttoning a main event stack. Next in is Holland’s favorable price tag in relation to skill set, and Barzola’s takedown floor. Looking at the salary remaining at that point, the cheapest fighter we can consider is Waterson which gives the option for a pairing with the ascending betting line of Rodriguez. If not going in the Waterson direction, Kowalkiewicz gets another favorite in there that can be paired with the value salary of Emmett. The last route to consider for these last two slots is putting Perez in and punting the last slot with the value of Craig that lacks any floor whatsoever or with JAguilar that is likely to get decision loss output.
Justin Gaethje by KO at +150. With 25 minutes to work with, a KO will ultimately happen and adds extra value over the flat play.
Hermansson flat at -125.
Emmett flat at -115.
Nzechukwu by KO -105 with Craig by submission at +250 insulates most risk and offers sound profit with a Craig submission.
Yusuff by KO at +270 is a sound value.
Holland flat at -205.
Perez flat at -345.