The UFC chose the international cash in for the unification of the lightweight title to occur in Abu Dhabi. This brings us an odd start time for a pay-per-view event, 10:15 a.m. EST with the PPV portion starting at 2 p.m. EST. Be sure to make a note of that.
We have a full 13 fights which makes large tournament entry far more attractive. This card will be a fantastic indicator of how well the public can sift through skill sets and probable outcomes versus betting lines.
As always, cash, single entry, picks, and bets will come after weigh-ins.
Update: One fighter missed weight, Moras was two lbs over. All fights will proceed as scheduled.
Early Prelims on Fight Pass
Don Madge, -175, 8700 vs Fares Ziam, +145, 7500
Fight is at 155 lbs and is -190 to end inside the distance.
Don Madge showed so much more than expected in his debut fight as a massive underdog, and I won’t be making the same mistake again. He came out of the gate with intense pressure and scored a knockdown in the first 30 seconds and ultimately scored the KO in the early second round. He showed a real ability to attack submissions from his back and especially how to swarm with strikes and fight a finish. The southpaw’s head kicks are ultimately what finished the fight but showed he can attack the liver with that left kick as well and that is in play. While he’s not likely to be the one to initiate grappling exchanges, I believe he’s better on the floor and on the feet. The most likely outcome here is Madge scoring a KO.
Fares Ziam is a bit of a head-scratcher in terms of a signing for the promotion. His competition level is highly suspect to this point. He’s a striker first that will try for takedowns, but should be careful there as both of his losses have come via rear-naked choke in the first round. I don’t believe he has one shot power nor an activity level to keep Madge off of him. The only mildly realistic path to victory that can be foreseen is avoiding submissions in top control for a large portion of the fight.
This is likely just a poor stylistic matchup for Ziam. Ziam is just a low exposure or fade candidate. Madge is both likely to win and has a ceiling and is must for real exposure. Middle of moderate is floor there and there’s room for much more.
Omari Akhmedov, -120, 8300 vs Zak Cummings, -110, 7900
Fight is at 185 lbs and is +130 to end inside the distance.
Omari Akhmedov changed his game plan in his last fight. He was more calculated with better tempo throughout, which will help his issues of gassing later in fights, but also keeps his DK ceiling mostly capped. The Sambo fighter will have the striking edge in this one but may want to avoid grappling and just keep it on the feet here as he’ll be in less danger there. His opponent prefers to fight slower so his pacing won’t be as large of an issue in other fights should he turn it back up. He will have the power and wrestling edge but a decision is still the most likely outcome in a win with KO being next most likely.
Zak Cummings is a mostly unexciting fighter who is the biggest threat when attacking submissions. He generally wants to wait and wear down his opponents and is better in the BJJ department than wrestling when it comes to grappling. He has a sound chin and has the best bet to find a submission later in the fight.
This fight is just unlikely to be a player for the optimal lineup from a DFS perspective and not one to take a bunch of exposure to. Akhmedov is the more likely for a decision win, but that won’t be a score for the optimal. Just low exposure there. Cummings can see slightly more exposure if he can find the mini submission ceiling and should see slightly more exposure.
Nordine Taleb, -125, 8200 vs Muslim Salikhov, -105, 8000
Fight is at 170 lbs and is -105 to end inside the distance.
Nordine Taleb remains a rounded vet. He’s long and will have 5.5 inches of reach in this fight, and should try to grapple. He will have an advantage in top position but isn’t generally a submission fighter. His fight IQ is still lacking and approaching his 38th birthday, his chin is quite a question mark after failing in his last fight. He will be in danger on the feet and will be at both a power and quickness disadvantage.
Muslim Salikhov is a kickboxer who has just worlds of experience outside of MMA. While he will have a length disadvantage, he will be the more powerful striker, particularly with spinning techniques, and will have the quickness advantage as well. It likely takes just one clean shot on the feet for him to find a KO win in the matchup. His volume leaves something to be desired and needs a KO for usefulness to be sure. He will need to avoid grappling exchanges as this is where he’s not of the highest level.
Taleb’s power doesn’t quite match his impressive physique, and his path is grinding out a decision win on the floor. This means he’s just a low exposure. Salikhov has real KO potential and, much like Madge, requires a minimum of middle of moderate exposure with room for more depending on how much exposure is sought after in this fight.
Belal Muhammad, -385, 9100 vs Takashi Sato, +295, 7100
Fight is at 170 lbs and is +160 to end inside the distance.
I won’t spend too long on this fight. Belal Muhammad holds an advantage over Takashi Sato in every area the fight can go. Sato won’t be able to overwhelm Muhammad with volume and I don’t believe he can knock him out, so we are well on our way to a decision win for Muhammad. Muhammad could get a ground finish if Sato makes a mistake on the floor.
Sato has just a puncher’s chance of finding a finish here and is between fade and low exposure. Muhammed at price is more floor than ceiling but not a fade. Low end to middle of moderate exposure on him.
Prelims On FX
Ottman Azaitar, -225, 8900 vs Teemu Packalen, +185, 7300
Fight is at 155 lbs and is -185 to end inside the distance.
Undefeated Ottman Azaitar makes his debut, and debuts in a spot where he’s set up for success. He’s not technical in nature, but he looks to finish. He will press forward striking and mostly throw caution to the wind. He relies on chin and this will catch up with him in the future if he doesn’t change the style, but this is probably a fight in which he gets away with it. He is willing to grapple and looks to ground and pound but is not at all controlling. The most likely outcome in a victory here is an early KO, with a path to victory more sketchy the longer the fight goes as the gas tank is an issue later.
Teemu Packalen returns to the octagon after a two-and-a-half-year absence. The absence was first due to being brutally knocked out in his last fight and then having other injuries. He’s a grappler who is hittable, and surviving the first round will be a large key for him. If his chin holds up, he will probably be able to get the fight to the floor and submit a gassed opponent after the first round. Bear in mind he’s had the long layoff and there is an element of unknown.
I just don’t see this one getting to the scorecards — it’s a fight to grab exposure to. Azaitar is a favorably priced favorite and should see middle to the high end of moderate exposure. Packalen is an underdog with ceiling and path to victory and should be middle of moderate exposure.
Liana Jojua, -145, 8400 vs Sarah Moras, +115, 7800
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +150 to end inside the distance.
Liana Jojua makes her debut and brings a limited skill set. Her striking is just not up to par and she was matched up with perhaps the only opponent in the division that wouldn’t hold a wide advantage in the striking department. There are basic punches, and that’s it. She is a submission hunter that lacks dominant wrestling. She’s okay on the floor and that’s where she’ll need the fight to take place, and will need to be hyper aware with her armbar defense — she’s not been sound with that to date. She will look for a takedown to a submission and that’s what she’ll need to win this fight, or we all lose if she (or her opponent) wins a decision, as the fight will be awful in that case.
Sarah Moras is on a three-fight skid and gets a drop in caliber of opponent that may allow her to save her job. She will have a 3-inch height and an unknown reach advantage, but she will be larger. As mentioned, she’s not a great striker but is enough of one that she has the advantage in this matchup. She can definitely take a point decision if she can keep the majority of the fight standing. She’s an okay grappler and an armbar specialist if she ends up on her back. She rarely threatens from top position apart from consistent ground and pound that doesn’t carry real purpose. She can also get a submission in a grappling scramble or even once settled or she could also get an ugly decision win. As ugly as this fight is, Moras should probably be the slight favorite.
Any exposure on this fight is just for the submission outcomes. With the favorite pricing on Jojua, it’s capped at low exposure. With the underdog pricing on Moras, the low end of moderate is a good spot.
Zubaira Tukhagov, -425, 9500 vs Lerone Murphy, +325, 6700
Fight is at 145 lbs and is +125 to end inside the distance.
Zubaira Tukhagov returns to the octagon after an absence of over three years. He’s a complete fighter with no real holes, but I also wouldn’t say he has any overwhelming strengths either. He’s not a busy striker and is often inaccurate with the flurries that he throws. While he does have sound power, he just doesn’t land enough to look good to the judges. He will certainly be at a length disadvantage in this fight and will need to make it up on the technical side and not get hit often. There’s a strong chance that winning will need to see him default to his wrestling which he generally hasn’t opted for thus far in MMA. This line feels far too wide, but it is dropping. His most likely path to victory is a decision or later finish on the floor. His style simply doesn’t lend well to DK scoring.
Lerone Murphy is a long athletic striker making his debut. He will certainly have an advantage at range in this fight and would do well to keep his movement perpetual in this one and not hesitate to work the body. He has a path to victory — decision and KO are both in play — at the cheapest salary on the card and shouldn’t be ignored. While he has a bit of offensive wrestling to his game, he will be at a large disadvantage here, further emphasizing how well he would do to keep range.
At salary, Tukhagov needs a first-round KO to return value and is just a low to the low end of moderate exposure. Murphy is quite the opposite with the most favorable salary and should be used at a minimum of the low end of moderate exposure with room for more.
Update: This line has now dropped nearly 200 points and Murphy was noticeably larger at face offs.
Joanne Calderwood, +185, 7400 vs Andrea Lee, -230, 8800
Fight is at 125 lbs and is +240 to end inside the distance.
This is a fun matchup that brings more DK floor than ceiling. Joanne “JoJo” Calderwood is just a slightly lesser version of Andrea Lee in all aspects of MMA. JoJo may be able to overcome the slight ability gap with volume, and she will likely be the busier striker, but Lee will be the more effective one. The 4-inch reach advantage for Lee will likely have a cumulative effect. The grappling strides JoJo has made have closed the gap enough that she won’t be at a massive disadvantage in this one, but outside of some clinch work, we likely won’t see much grappling. I’d label JoJo the more likely to try to take the fight down, but I’m not sure she’ll be able to control or be effective. A finish in this one would be late and attrition based on either side, and a decision is very much the most likely outcome. It’s a sound floor fight with SS likely to add up, but it would be a large upset to see either fighter hit triple digits.
JoJo has the more favorable underdog pricing so that would move me to want equal exposure to each fighter. Low end to middle of moderate exposure on each in a build.
Main Card On PPV
Mairbek Taisumov, -270, 9000 vs Diego Ferreira, +220, 7200
Fight is at 155 lbs and is -155 to end inside the distance.
Mairbek Taisumov is a powerful striker, albeit in low volume and from a DFS perspective he is KO or bust. He’s fully capable of the KO but be very aware there is no scoring floor if he doesn’t and will have a very hard time hitting triple digits if a KO comes in round two, let alone round three. If we see the fight hit the floor, Taisumov wants to get up as soon as possible as he’s in trouble there. He’s had plenty of submissions in the past but this is a different opponent and one he will absolutely need to stay upright against.
Diego Ferreira has been predominantly a striker in the UFC and he’s a sound one with sound power. He will be at a power and overall striking disadvantage in this one, however, and would do well to get the fight to the floor early and often. He’s in danger on the feet and not the superior fighter there, but that flips on the floor. He should even pull guard as he’s sound off his back. It remains to be seen if he will.
Despite the KO or bust nature of Taisumov, he’s still a fighter to grab the high end of moderate exposure to. Lack of floor doesn’t mean lack of ceiling. Ferreira should also be middle of moderate exposure as he does have paths to victory with ceiling.
Curtis Blaydes, -485, 9400 vs Shamil Abdurakhimov, +365, 6800
Fight is at heavyweight and is -185 to end inside the distance.
Curtis Blaydes remains the wrestling class of the heavyweight division and is at his best when just grinding the wrestling, mat returning and dropping ground and pound. This is a perfect stylistic matchup for him as the takedowns likely come easy and the ground and pound to follow. Even if he doesn’t finish the fight, his grinding wrestling puts him on the short list for highest floor and ceiling on the card.
Shamil Abdurakhimov is somewhat rounded and not at all a terrible heavyweight, but this is a tough spot for him as he’ll have no answer for the wrestling. He has adequate, but not ample, power and his path to victory is likely solely in finding a KO before his back hits the canvas. There’s not a whole lot more to it.
Blaydes is the most attractive of the high salaries on the card and is a candidate for the highest exposure overall and should be a high exposure in any build. Aburakhimov is just for a variance outcome at low level.
Islam Mahkachev, -350, 9200 vs Davi Ramos, +270, 7000
Fight is at 155 lbs and is +180 to end inside the distance.
Islam Mahkachev is a wrestler and a mostly dominant one at that. He is good at controlling and passing and it will be a treat to see how this style plays out against a high-level BJJ fighter. On the feet, Mahkachev doesn’t throw a lot of volume nor does he throw much heavy power. His game is based on his controlling top game. This is problematic as he’ll be in danger if he takes the fight to the floor in the first two rounds and will have to avoid heavy shots if he doesn’t. The submission wins he’s gotten in the past just aren’t really in play here.
Davi Ramos is a BJJ fighter at his base and a high level one at that. He is a true submission threat, especially when his gas tank is full. He is rarely or never the same fighter later in fights than he was in the beginning and isn’t nearly as dangerous. On the feet, he will throw heavy power and try to end the fight, particularly early with no worries on being taken down as he’s at home on the floor. To get a decision he will need to take the first two rounds, but he is fully capable of an early KO standing or an early submission.
If you couldn’t already tell, I think the line and salaries in this fight are way too wide and I also believe the more probable DK ceiling lies with the underdog Ramos. If we see the fairly common outcome of a striking match when a wrestler faces a BJJ fighter, then the wrong fighter is favored altogether. Mahkachev isn’t quite a fade, but just low to the low end of moderate exposure while Ramos ceiling should be played at the middle of moderate exposure with room for more.
Edson Barboza, -160, 8500 vs Paul Felder, +130, 7700
Fight is at 155 lbs and is +110 to end inside the distance.
Edson Barboza remains a high-end lightweight with some of the most feared kicks in the division. He is truly a dangerous striker and much like his opponent, the key to the fight will be controlling range. He will need to keep at kicking range and let his next level leg kicks chew up the lead leg and bait his opponent into exchanging those on the outside. If he can keep range early, he’ll be able to force enough damage to make this a one-sided decision or late KO. He will not have the chin advantage so dictating the first round will be key.
Paul Felder is also high-end and quite a sound technical striker. His bread and butter is getting inside with punches and especially elbows and doing some clinch work, hence the need for Barboza to keep on the outside to let his kicks work. Felder needs to keep the fight inside and close range while Barboza needs the opposite and the result likely hinges on the willingness of Felder to march through. He is also in play for a decision or KO.
There’s a strong chance this fight is better for entertainment purposes than DFS scoring but that will hinge on Felder’s game plan. Take the middle of moderate exposure to both fighters so the fight doesn’t bury the build and take stands elsewhere.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, -460, 9300 vs Dustin Poirier, +345, 6900
Fight is five rounds at 155 lbs for the lightweight championship and is -170 to end inside the distance.
Khabib Nurmagomedov finally returns for a title unification bout after nearly a year’s absence. He remains the most prolific grappler in the sport and whether the betting line is accurate or not, being nearly 5 to 1 against someone at the elite level of Poirier speaks volumes. This will be a bit of a different test for Khabib as he’s now fighting someone who will continuously touch him with crisp strikes with pop. He’ll have to navigate that to get to his dominant top game. I don’t fully buy that his striking is on some next level recently as is being discussed in some circles and the fact of the matter is if he doesn’t have at least half of this fight on the floor, he’ll be in trouble on the feet and will lose a decision or be knocked out. That said, no one has been able to solve the puzzle of his wrestling and control and at the end of the day, it’s not a likely scenario that changes on Saturday. His paths to victory are decision or later ground finish.
Dustin Poirier has made quite the ascension and is one of the most fun fighters on earth to watch. His crisp striking with pop and volume is something to behold. He will be the better striker here and I don’t agree with anyone saying this point is arguable. He is a sound wrestler but is simply not on Khabib’s level and he will be taken down in this fight. The key for him is to not be held down, and that’s the puzzle no one has been able to solve yet. If he can stay upright for 15 or more of 25 minutes, he can win a decision and is capable of a KO against anyone.
Khabib should be a high exposure on par with Blaydes. A Poirier win would completely change the optimal construction and the winner of this fight will be a certainty for the optimal so whatever lineups Khabib isn’t in, get Poirier in those. In MME you may even want to build 10 or so lineups with a fight stack as a Poirier loss could see him to the optimal if this is a card dominated by favorites.
Cash And Single Entry
Our cash lineup undoubtedly starts with a main event stack and Blaydes is a must have as well. When looking for another underdog value, there’s no greater value than Murphy as the cheapest salary on the card and he’s the next fighter in. This leaves us 8850 per on our last two fighters. Andrea Lee brings some value but more importantly she brings a great floor. The last fighter in is then a choice between Azaitar and Madge. Both certainly have ceiling but the floor certainly belongs to Madge and he would be my choice.
For single entry, the above lineup is probably sound for profit but it is probably more efficient to take a stand on the main event and sub Azaitar in for Lee from a ceiling perspective. This would mean we pivot from Poirier to Ramos if shooting for ceiling in a lineup keeping Khabib. In a lineup keeping Poirier, moving all the way down from Khabib to Salikhov might be the play and then choosing between any remaining underdog on the card over Murphy.
Picks And Bets
Picks with personal confidence percentage:
- Madge 78%
- Akhmedov 53%
- Salikhov 69%
- Muhammed 94%
- Azaitar 72%
- Moras 60%
- Tukhogov 60%
- Lee 82%
- Taisumov 70%
- Blaydes 95%
- Mahkachev 67%
- Felder 51%
- Khabib 75%
- Madge -165
- Salikhov -105
- Moras +120
Partial unit punts:
- Murphy +290
- Blaydes Round 1 win +300
- Poirier +340