As always, we get a massive card for International Fight Week, and additionally the largest DraftKings MMA tournament ever offered. What we did not get however, are fights with tight betting lines. The smallest favorite on the entire fight card is better than two to one and getting underdog winners and/or high scorers in losses will be a massive key in tournaments.
As always, tournament exposures are included in each fight’s breakdown with cash, single entry, confidence picks and bets updated after weigh-ins.
We have some tight betting line groupings to monitor as movement on one or more of those could create higher ownerships. I will touch on this more after weigh-ins.
Update: all fighters are on weight and all 12 fights to proceed as scheduled.
Early Prelims On Fight Pass
Julia Avila, -230, 8600 vs Pannie Kianzad, +185, 7600
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +155 to end inside the distance.
Pannie Kianzad is best described as rounded and “just okay” in all facets. She lost in the finals of TUF28 and was not given a contract. Instead she steps in as a short-notice replacement to make her true UFC debut. She’s an okay striker without a lot of power. Her best assets are counter punches and straight rights, but these are more attrition strikes than truly damaging ones. Both her offensive and defensive wrestling are okay but not high level. She’s capable of soundly attacking submissions but isn’t conscious of position and has been submitted twice. Looking at her level of competition, she’s lost to whom you’d expect and beaten whom you’d expect. She’s fighting an uphill battle here and her path to victory is perfect footwork and avoiding flurries with some ground top control en route to a decision win.
Julia Avila makes her UFC debut and it is a highly anticipated one. She has a fun skill set with power in her strikes, which often come in high-volume flurries. Her record shows 6-1 but the defeat wasn’t an actual defeat — she had a finger dislocation that had bone break through the skin from blocking a kick, and the fight was stopped … she wanted to keep going. Her grappling is sound and similar to her opponent — I’m not sure either has a real edge there. Striking is where Avila will prosper. She’s busier and more powerful and has the rare clinch game that is fun to watch. She knows how to get power strikes home from that position and is great at creating just a little space to damage an opponent pinned against the fence. She can easily find a KO, and if Kianzad survives the flurry, she’s a good bet for a decent decision score.
Any scoring ceiling Kianzad brings would be completely on the outlier portion of the spectrum, but she is an underdog so have at least variance exposure in all formats, as we need to cover underdog bases, especially in MME. On other cards she would be a sound fade candidate. Avila is quite capable of an early finish, and with that could also come a high strike count, putting her squarely in play for not just the optimal, but the highest score of the night. She will be quite iffy for the optimal if it’s a decision win but her price isn’t prohibitive so a moderate to high amount of exposure in all formats.
Ismael Naurdiev, -500, 9300 vs Chance Rencountre, +380, 6900
Fight is at 170 lbs and is -125 to end inside the distance.
Ismael Naurdiev makes his second walk to the octagon after pulling what was considered a massive upset in his short-notice debut against Tractor. The thought was that he was a striker with fun finishes but would be rolled over on the floor. He said not so fast my friends. He showed real strength and technique in his grappling and stout takedown defense against a high-level BJJ fighter, thus having quite a complete skill set at the age of 22. He was a little excited early in the fight and ate some shots that could have been avoided, but the full arsenal of strikes were on display in the limited stand up portion of the fight, and it will be exciting to see what he can do with a full training camp against a lesser opponent. He is very much in play for a KO or a decision win.
Chance Rencountre is a wrestler/grappler making his third walk to the octagon. His first fight was a short-notice debut in which he showed little aggression and was beaten soundly by a better striker in a decision win. His second fight was the shinier side of the coin, as he had a full camp, was far more aggressive and was able to get the fight to the floor and get a quick submission, albeit against the lowest caliber opponent the UFC offers. His striking is technically decent and he tries to use a jab to keep his preferred range, there’s just not any pop to it, much like the remainder of his striking arsenal. It should be noted he’s never been finished so it would be a first if he were put out. After seeing Naurdiev’s ability in grappling situatuations, namely his ability to reverse positions, it’s difficult to identify a spot in this fight where Rencountre has an advantage. The best path I see –and it’s not an easy one — is finding a way to get his opponent’s back and hunt for a submission.
Naurdiev’s price is a bit of a quagmire. He certainly has real ceiling and the ability to score extremely high, but the quagmire comes on how to split the exposure with his salary piers in Jon Jones, Marlon Vera and especially Edmen Shahbazyan. You have to draw moderate exposure in all formats but there needs to be a line drawn due to the other aforementioned great plays. Rencountre is variance exposure to fade in all formats.
Update: slight money came in on Kianzad dropping Avila to -205. ITD money came in on the fight as a whole moving to +140 but Kianzad’s ITD price actually raised to a virtual three way for the highest ITD line on the card.
Edmen Shahbazyan, -610, 9400 vs Jack Marshman, +440, 6800
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -185 to end inside the distance.
Jack Marshman is the epitome of “just a guy.” His chin is his best attribute as it takes some clean and heavy shots to put him out. He’s a striker with a boxing base that doesn’t throw in volume, instead mostly trying to set up a big right hand, generally as a counter. His grappling has a level of competence, more so on the defensive side, but he isn’t a real threat for takedowns or submissions. When on his back, he does have a way of attempting to control posture and delay getting up, which would put a damper on DK scoring if this situation were to arise. His sole path to victory in this fight lies on getting a huge right hand home and finding a KO.
Shahbazyan is making the octagon walk for the third time after gaining entrance to the promotion on DWCS. His MMA record is now 9-0, which includes eight first-round finishes. He’s an extremely dangerous striker and wrestler and has a talent for finding ways to put his opponents out. His lone victory that wasn’t a finish saw him take a wrestling heavy approach against the heavy-handed Darren Stewart. This was obviously our only glimpse of his level of cardio and it did raise question marks as he was gassed and damaged by the end of the fight. This fight is most likely decided in the first round as he will move forward with either a wrestling attack for ground and pound or standing strikes, the latter of which would put him in harms way. KO or decision are his paths to victory, and he does bring a very real scoring ceiling.
Shahbazyan, like Naurdiev in the previous fight, should see a moderate amount of exposure, and their exposures should be similar in all formats. Unlike the previous fight, you can take a little bit of exposure to the underdog in Marshman, who is at least realistic for a KO, which can’t be said for many of the underdogs on the card. Marshman is more attractive in MME than 20 max.
Update: Shahbazyan remains the second highest price on the card and is within 35 points of Jones with a scoring skill set and his personal ITD line is up to -135. He should be safely your highest exposure of the top five priced fighters.
Prelims on ESPN
Alejandro Perez, +190, 7700 vs Song Yadong, -225, 8500
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +155 to end inside the distance.
Alejandro Perez is a solid and defensively well-rounded fighter, but one whose style is the antithesis of exciting for DFS purposes. He’s a slow striker that waits … and waits. This is his 11th UFC fight. His largest significant strike output in those first 10 fights was 61 … he lost that fight. He’s also never completed more than one takedown in any fight. It’s also not the case that these figures are skewed by quick finishes, six of these fights have gone the distance. He does have three KO wins and the strikes are crisp enough to find a KO, but he will be on the wrong end of the volume disparity and will have KO be the only real path to both victory and the optimal.
Song Yadong is an incredibly polished fighter for 22 years old. He’s incredibly quick in both body movement and striking and packs ample power. His grappling is seasoned beyond his years as well, with smooth transitions and good ground and pound. I don’t believe this fight is one that hits the floor but if Yadong is able to hurt Perez, there may be some desperation attempts from Perez. Yadong’s paths to victory are KO and decision. He’s a virtual certainty to be busier.
Perez is unfortunately a must play in our quest for underdog wins. He will likely be the first to actually test the chin of Yadong, however I don’t expect it to be in volume. Even still he’s in play for a KO, so you need at least the low end of moderate exposure. Yadong’s pace is likely to be slowed by that of Perez, which offsets the favorable pricing.
Claudia Gadelha, -225, 8800 vs Randa Markos, +190, 7400
Fight is at 115 lbs and is +240 to end inside the distance.
Cláudia Gadelha remains a high-end complete fighter at strawweight. She will have every advantage in this fight: she will be the better stronger striker, the better wrestler, and have the better BJJ. All skills will be to her advantage but the big question mark is her now massively questionable gas tank. She is very similar to her opponent, just better, apart from cardio. The first half of the fight will belong to her, and if she’s able to find a finish, no worries. If she’s not, it could become a bit dicey for a decision.
Randa Markos is a grappler without a great standup skillset. She generally tries to force the fight to the floor when it starts going south in the standup (or sooner), but that will be a real issue in this one, especially in the early stages, as she’s running into a better grappler, and the best she’s faced to date. Assuming she survives the first round, she will have a good enough chance to let energy guide her to a decision win.
A Gadelha win is more likely to be a decision win than a finish, and a decision win would likely not be in play for the optimal. Her exposure should be low to the low-end of moderate, needing a finish to get there. Markos is in play for low to moderate exposure as well, as there’s a sound chance for a full 15 minutes and a rally to a decision win. She can buoy her score with some grappling points in the second and third rounds.
Marlon Vera, -360, 9500 vs Nohelin Hernandez, +265, 6700
Fight is at 135 lbs and is -165 to end inside the distance.
Vera remains on the card after the promotion found a very short-notice replacement after his initial fight fell through. The biggest knock on Vera has always been that he’s a slow starter, but he is a finisher. He’s 6-2 in his last eight fights in the promotion with the last five all coming by way of finish. All of his career losses have been by way of decision. He’s a complete fighter that can put opponents out with strikes or tap them out on the floor. His betting line to salary disparity is likely one that creates a low ownership spot in a fight he can win by finish or decision, with submission being the most likely.
Nohelin Hernandez makes an extremely short notice debut, but was in a training camp and preparing for a different fight, so cardio shouldn’t be an issue. Hernandez is more striker than grappler, and while he’ll likely be at a disadvantage in all aspects, he’ll want to avoid the floor in this one as he would be in trouble there. His last seven fights have gone to decision and he’s won six of them, and that’s the path he’d need to take for a win here. Standing throughout and winning on the scorecards is his path.
As mentioned, the pricing on Vera compared to his opening odds makes very little sense and takes value away from the play, but it may create an exploitable opportunity on ownership. He may end up being the lowest owned favorite on the card and taking even the low end of moderate exposure should give an ownership edge on the field. Of the bottom priced fighters that are all unlikely for a win of any sort, Hernandez is probably the second best bet behind Santos. He should be included in builds at low to low end of moderate exposure.
Update: Vera’s price (from -360 to -425) and ITD line (from -140 to -180) have both sky rocketed from opening. Unless most are making their lineups late, there will likely be real ownership advantages to him.
Gilbert Melendez, +290, 7200 vs Arnold Allen, -375, 9000
Fight is at 145 lbs and is +165 to end inside the distance.
Arnold Allen is a slow paced striker who is generally content to leave with a decision win and doesn’t really seek finishes. He’s 5-0 in the UFC, but all five of those fights have reached the third round, he’s never hit 80 DK points and hasn’t eclipsed 37 significant strikes in any fight. Additionally four of the five opponents he’s beaten have been released from the promotion. His grappling is sound but I don’t believe he has a technical advantage in this fight, but he will have a youth and athleticism advantage in grappling exchanges. He will be giving up 3 inches of reach in the fight and the key to victory for him may well be takedown defense, which has been questionable in the past. His path to a win is a decision or late finish due to attrition.
Gilbert Melendez returns to the octagon after nearly a two year layoff at age 37. He had lost his previous four fights before the layoff, but man, one of these things is not like the others:
Anthony Pettis, Eddie Alvarez, Edson Barboza, Jeremy Stephens, Arnold Allen.
What’s more, the last two losses were due to sustaining heavy damage from leg kicks. It should be noted that Allen has landed a grand total of nine leg strikes in five UFC fights (Stephens landed 11 in just the first round of their fight). Even after a two-year layoff, there would have to be some serious decline to call Allen a favorite in this fight … a -375 favorite is just taking it severely overboard and the line is just too wide. While I’m unsure if Melendez still has the pop to find a KO, I am sure he can go win a decision in this fight.
Allen is a candidate for a full fade, but perhaps variance-level exposure in MME as a one-off, due to the Melendez layoff, covers a base. Melendez is a candidate for the highest exposure to an underdog on this card and carries the best chance of a win — go with at least moderate exposure.
Main Card On PPV
Diego Sanchez, +275, 7000 vs Michael Chiesa, -345, 9200
Fight is at 170 lbs and is -125 to end inside the distance.
Diego Sanchez is on a two-fight win streak resurgence, but takes a leap back upwards on level of opponent. After finding easy wins against two consecutive low-level opponents, he’s back to legitimate level competition. Don’t put too much weight in his finish of Gall in the last fight, Gall was dehydrated and there were even reports of some level of kidney failure post fight. He’s been talking some crazy talk about dying in the octagon leading up to this fight, and I’m taking it to mean he’s even going to smash forward more than even he usually does, and be willing to get knocked out. The time to hang it up is getting close for him, but he won’t change his fighting style for anything. I think he’ll be at a fairly significant grappling disadvantage in this one so hunting and finding a knockout is the most realistic path to victory.
Michael Chiesa makes his second walk since moving up a weight class, and the move looks to be a good one for him. He’s not a volume striker by any means and doesn’t really carry much power, and his game is grappling. He hunts submissions and is sound at finding them. His wrestling is behind his BJJ but Diego will offer plenty of opportunities for Chiesa to clinch up. Chiesa generally needs his opponents to wear down a bit before being able to find a sub. He’s had six submission wins in the UFC, but just one of those came in the first round. He’s very much in play for a submission win here, but given price, he’ll likely need it in the first round to find his way to the optimal.
Just reading the tea leaves, it sounds like Sanchez will be swinging for the fences. He should have a small to moderate part of any build. Chiesa is more of a floor play and the optimal ceiling is a lower percentage bet. Just low to the low end of moderate exposure on him.
Jan Blachowicz, +180, 7800 vs Luke Rockhold, -225, 8400
Fight is at 205 lbs and is -160 to end inside the distance.
Jan Blachowicz restarts his climb in hopes for a title shot one day after being KO’d by Thiago Santos in his last fight, which was a title eliminator. I don’t really like the stylistic matchup for him in this fight. He has the unfortunate puzzle solve of staying in boxing range (inside of kicking range) but also keeping the takedown radar on high for 15 minutes. Blachowicz doesn’t really have power in his hands and isn’t necessarily a KO threat, but his opponent’s chin may well just be shot, and we can’t rule out a KO. He’s a better grappler than striker, but he will have to be sure to keep top position in any grappling exchange, which we’ll touch on in a second. Assuming there’s no chin issues on his opponent, his path to victory is standing and boxing to a decision win. I want to note if he can get any takedowns, his top game is strong — nowhere near the level of his opponent, but he can eat up some clock, win a round and do some damage if he’s able to wind up on top.
Luke Rockhold makes his debut at 205, and the hope is that not having a brutal weight cut alleviates the chin issues after being brutally knocked out in two of his last three fights. I’ve never loved Rockhold’s stand up. He keeps distance and uses heavy kicks and has nothing resembling volume on the feet. The truly dangerous part of his arsenal is his top game, and the truly next-level ground and pound. He’s also probably the better black belt between he and Blachowicz. His path to victory is ground and pound and more ground and pound. He’s going to have get he fight to the floor as I think he’s going to lose the volume game on the feet. Once in the floor, he becomes a high output fighter and brings a DK ceiling. Many ground strikes leading to a KO, sub or decision win are all in play in a Rockhold win.
With Rockhold being the smallest price of all the favorites on the card, he makes things fit better than the rest and does bring a big ceiling, but the truth is we don’t know what we’re getting with his chin. In any event, I want at least a moderate amount of exposure and more is okay too. Blachowicz is on the other end of the value spectrum but has a real path to victory, and he is tough and busy enough to earn a win. Low end to middle of moderate exposure on him.
Update: some money came in on Rockhold ITD and I’m warming even more to the play. Ground and pound en route.
Ben Askren, -225, 8700 vs Jorge Masvidal, +180, 7500
Fight is at 170 lbs and is +115 to end inside the distance.
Ben Askren makes his much-hyped second walk to the octagon and if you haven’t heard, he’s a wrestler. No need to rehash his controversial debut win, but there is a takeaway from it: his chin held up after taking some big shots. He’s coming in for takedowns from the word go and wants mat returns, ground and pound, and rinse and repeat. His striking is subpar, and the time spent on the feet will see him at a large disadvantage. He will be relentless in pushing for takedowns, and his opponent’s get ups are better than his takedown defense so there’s a door open for many many grappling points, even in a decision win. He can win by avenue but it all stems from grinding his wrestling.
Jorge Masvidal is a good striker and decent grappler and will have to test Askren’s chin early in rounds or have some slick movement to keep distance. This is the cliche of a striker versus grappler matchup, and Masvidal will desperately need to have the majority of this fight take place on the feet. If that happens, he can easily find a KO or he could end up on the favorable side of judge’s scoring, but it’s best to assume KO or bust. Vegas agrees as he has the lower ITD line of the two.
Askren without a doubt has the highest floor and ceiling of anyone in a three-round fight, should it go the distance. The limit for takedowns for him is one higher than Masvidal has the energy to get up from. Get at least the high-end of moderate exposure on Askren. Masvidal is in a spot where a win would bring a ceiling score, and is within reach, so have at least moderate exposure to him and I suspect you’ll have a difficult time overweighting this fight, as it should be popular.
Amanda Nunes, -385, 9100 vs Holly Holm, +300, 7100
Fight is five rounds at 135 lbs and is -160 to end inside the distance.
For the womens bantamweight championship.
Holly Holm is inarguably a top-10 womens fighter of all time — probably top five, but that’s semantics. She will always be the one that dethroned Rousey to cement that legacy, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, she’s been beaten by every other high-end opponent she’s faced. Unfortunately for her, she now gets the goat, and it will be another L. She’s outclassed in all facets, and I guess her path to victory is a bad weight cut for Nunes? Playing Holm is playing her for the accumulated points over five rounds in a loss, which is not truly unsound strategy on this card.
Amanda Nunes is the greatest female fighter of all time. She is a quicker and stronger striker than Holm, puts better volume out there, and she’s at an immensely higher advantage in the grappling department. Whether she finishes the fight or Holly is tough enough to lose going the distance, Nunes is a winner at a very favorable price.
Holm is a fade candidate in your build if you believe there will be underdog wins on the card. Howevee if we see a clean sweep of favorites, she has a real path to the optimal just from output over five rounds. I’d recommend low to the low end of moderate exposure. Nunes should be the highest exposure in any build and I will be jamming her in.
Jon Jones, -675, 9600 vs Thiago Santos, +475, 6600
Fight is five rounds at 205 lbs and is -435 to win inside the distance.
For the light heavyweight championship.
Jon Jones is Jon Jones. We don’t need a mini bio on him. It’s important to discuss that he still hasn’t had a finish before the third round since 2013. His price is a real problem as his range of median and below scores will almost certainly not be good enough for the optimal, and it’s questionable if anything under 105 is in play for the optimal at his price. He can win by any avenue, but will need to get it done early to return value for DFS tourney purposes.
Thiago “Marreta” Santos has ascended to get his title shot, and from a fan perspective, I’m rooting hard for him. He’s my favorite fighter this side of Stipe Miocic. We know that Bones is a better technical fighter than Marreta … and everyone else. That’s not really arguable. Bones has just outclassed all of his recent opponents and no one really tested him at all. There was some thought that Smith would in his last fight but Smith settled for being picked apart with no chance of winning. Marreta is a wild card and could be the one to bring a frenetic brawl, force his way inside, walk through shots and actually test the chin of Bones. He’s willing to go out on his shield and it’s a big part of his appeal. At the lowest price on the card and potentially getting five rounds, he’s a great tourney punt, and I legitimately think his chances of shocking the world are not as wide as the betting line suggests.
Casual action will drive up the ownership of Jones, and I’m okay with being underweight at that price. I’ll set the recommended level at the lower end of moderate exposure. Santos is similar to Masvidal with the underdog ceiling, but has a much better floor at a better price. I’m probably going to be pretty overweight on him, shooting for the optimal, but would recommend moderate exposure.
Cash and Single Entry
For cash, we are certainly stacking both five round fights. The remainder to come after weigh ins.
I am making a big change here due to pricing. I think playing Jon Jones ruins the lineup construction for cash, and want to pivot to Shahbazyan. The $200 in salary matters and I’ll explain. The Nunes/Holm stack remains in the lineup, along with the punt of Santos. The 200 salary saving moving off Jones to Shahbazyan allows us to also fit Rockhold and Naurdiev and I think this is the best build. If remaining on Jones for the fight stack, you either have to use a third underdog (this would be Melendez with Shahbazyan) or pick two favorites averaging 8800 or less. If going in this direction, Avila, Rockhold, Askren, Yadong and Gadelha are all in play, in that order of attractiveness. Either of these are leaving a lot of salary on the table.
For single entry we aren’t stacking, even with the pricing making a tourney stack have some degree of attractiveness. The pivot off our cash lineup is from Holm to Melendez.
Winning fighter with degree of confidence:
- Avila 85%
- Naurdiev 93%
- Shahbazyan 94%
- Yadong 80%
- Gadelha 77%
- Vera 93%
- Melendez 50%
- Chiesa 79%
- Rockhold 80%
- Askren 80%
- Nunes 99%
- Jones 75%
- Avila -205. Optional partial unit press on Avila by KO at +255
- Naurdiev -550
- Shahbazyan -600
- Yadong -210
- Vera -425 (the earlier the better, price will continue to rise)
- Melendez +265
- Rockhold -235
- Askren -220
- Nunes -410. This is a double down spot, would press all of the night’s profits on it.
Enjoy this card, good luck to all and Happy Birthday America!