This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The rise of Whittaker has been one of MMA's most remarkable stories over the past few years. Our regular readers know that I have been leading the "Bobby Knuckles" bandwagon for a quite a while, but I'm not sure I ever envisioned him becoming UFC champion. The 28-year-old now gets to headline an event in his home country in the prime of his career. What a wild ride.
If you're hoping to turn the event into an opportunity to build your DFS bankroll, DraftKings.com has you covered with a full slate of contests. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings altered their scoring system in December 2016 to add a new fighter to the lineup and adjust scoring. The most recent point values are listed below.)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Advance (ADVC): +3 PT
Takedown (TD): +5 PTS
Reversal/Sweep (REV): +5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +10 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses
1st Round Win (1rW+): +90 PTS
2nd Round Win (2rW+): +70 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rW+): +45 PTS
4th Round Win (4rW+): +40 PTS
5th Round Win (5rW+): +40 PTS
Decision Win (WBD+): +30 PTS
Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
Advances include: To Half Guard, To Side Control, To Mount, To Back Control
Now, on to the fights...
Main Event - Middleweight Championship(C) Robert Whittaker (21-4-0) v. Kelvin Gastelum (15-3-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Whittaker ($8,900), Gastelum ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Whittaker (-250), Gastelum (+210)
Odds to Finish: -175
In the midst of a nine-fight winning streak, Whittaker's last lost came against Stephen Thompson in February 2014. His last four wins were over Yoel Romero (twice), Jacare Souza, and Derek Brunson. Whittaker is stupidly tough. There were countless times in the Romero and Brunson fights that he looked to be finished and somehow managed to survive and end up victorious. The toughness is a necessity given how often Whittaker gets hit (3.65 significant strikes absorbed per minute). He is most comfortable in a brawl and has displayed an ability to fight through troubling situations. I'm still not entirely convinced that he is the type of talent that will hold his belt through four or five title defenses, but he's really, really good.
Gastelum received a new lease on life after moving up to middleweight in late 2016. Numerous issues cutting weight necessitated the move, and it was the best thing that ever could have happened to the challenger. Kelvin is 3-1 (1NC) since moving up and the lone loss came against Chris Weidman in a fight in which he was simply giving up too much size to win. Gastelum trusts his hands and my guess is that he would be willing to engage Whittaker in the brawl he is seeking. He is once again at a size disadvantage, so keeping this fight at distance on the feet is likely Gastelum's best chance of winning.
I'm curious to see if Kelvin attempts to lean on his wrestling at some point during the fight. He's the better grappler of the two but the fact he is the smaller man will make closing the distance against Whittaker difficult. Both the betting odds and DraftKings salaries seem a bit high here in Whittaker's favor. Gastelum is darn good and while Whittaker has the advantage of fighting at home, Kelvin is certainly a live underdog. I'm not going to pick him to win outright, but I think he is the better fantasy play of the two given the price. Whittaker's DraftKings appeal stems from the fact he can absorb a lot of punishment before eventually landing plenty of shots of his own. I think he wins, but I think it's a struggle throughout.
THE PICK: Whittaker
Co-Main Event - MiddleweightIsrael Adesanya (15-0-0) v. Anderson Silva (34-8-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Adesanya ($9,600), Silva ($6,600)
Vegas Odds: Adesanya (-670), Silva (+485)
Odds to Finish: -195
While this fight is interesting in the sense that it features one of the sport's biggest up-and-coming stars (Adesanya) against one of the greatest of all time (Silva), once you get beyond that initial excitement, it figures to be a pretty lopsided bout.
Adesanya has quickly developed into must-see TV. The 29-year-old is one of the most dynamic and innovative strikers in the UFC and he offers crazy length for the middleweight division at 6-foot-4. A former professional kickboxer (75-5-1, 48KO), Adesanya remains undefeated in MMA and is coming off a thorough beating of the talented and underrated Derek Brunson at Madison Square Garden in early-December. Everyone was worried about how Adesanya's takedown defense would hold up against an opponent with a wrestling background and he went out and proceeded to stuff all seven of Brunson's attempts, according to FightMetric. If his grappling advances are legitimate, Adesanya could be the biggest star the UFC's middleweight division has to offer in short order.
Due to USADA issues, Silva will be looking at almost two years to the day on the sidelines when he steps into the cage on Saturday. That is not a good stat for a guy who will turn 44 years old this coming April. Anderson was credited with a unanimous decision win over Brunson in his last fight at UFC 208, but anyone who watched that bout knows that Brunson deserved the victory. Had the judge's made the correct call in that one, Silva would be looking at more than six years without a victory. As is, his last win other than the Brunson fight came against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153 in October 2012. Facing a dynamic athlete such as Adesanya appears to be a worst-case scenario for the aging Brazilian.
Unless Adesanya fights foolishly, I don't see how Anderson wins. He can't match Adesanya's power and I seriously doubt he's going to continuously go for takedowns at age 43. When you add in the fact that Adesanya has displayed a terrific chin, this one seems like a forgone conclusion. Perhaps the UFC is viewing this as a passing of the torch type moment. Maybe Anderson will hang up his gloves if he gets creamed, which I expect to happen.
THE PICK: Adesanya
BantamweightRani Yahya (26-9-0, 1NC) v. Ricky Simon (14-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Yahya ($8,000), Simon ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Yahya (+105), Simon (-125)
Odds to Finish: -105
This fight, while intriguing, will do nothing for the casual fan and really shows the lack of depth on this card as a whole. The 34-year-old Yahya is one of the world's most talented ground specialists. 20 of his 26 career wins have coming via submission including 6-of-10 while with the UFC. Yahya's striking isn't great (he doesn't have a single career win via knockout), but he's durable. He's so good on the mat that he is a legitimate threat to most anyone at 135 pounds if he can hold his own on the feet. Yahya is 7-1 in his last eight fights dating back to September 2014.
A product of Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender series, Simon has submitted Merab Dvalishvilli and decisioned Montel Jackson in his first two bouts with the company. While Simon has considerably more power than Yahya, he faces an uphill climb in this one give how far ahead of him Yahya is on the mat. Simon has to keep this fight standing if he has a prayer of emerging victorious. He has youth and athleticism (26 years old) on his side, but it's a tall ask.
The odds and DraftKings salaries here are baffling to me. Yahya has the experience edge and the fight's one and only elite trait in his ground game. Simon has never beaten anyone of note and I'm not convinced he can survive the flurry that is coming his way from the Brazilian. This was an easy pick for me.
THE PICK: Yahya
LightweightDong Hyun Kim (16-8-3) v. Devonte Smith (9-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Kim ($7,600), Smith ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Kim (+200), Smith (-240)
Odds to Finish: -225
After beginning his UFC run with back-to-back knockout losses, Kim has won three straight. The competition he has faced has been lousy (Brendan O'Reilly, Takanori Gomi, Damien Brown) and he fought just once per year in 2016-2018. Kim has a respectable all-around offensive game but I am extremely comfortable saying he is nothing more than roster depth at age 30. His placement this high on a pay-per-view speaks to the card's lack of overall depth.
Another product of the Dana White Contender series, Smith is at least a legitimate prospect. He has won five fights in a row with four of them coming via knockout. The concern is that Smith is nothing more than a power puncher. Based on the little I've seen from him, I think those concerns are valid. I also think that it's unlikely to matter in this fight.
Smith is the better athlete, the harder hitter, and he is facing a guy with a questionable chin. I really don't like using fighters we have limited exposure to in my lineups, but this card is full of those kind of guys and you have to make your stand somewhere. Smith seems like one of the better bets.
THE PICK: Smith
Light HeavyweightSam Alvey (33-11-0, 1NC) v. Jim Crute (9-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Alvey ($7,900), Crute ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Alvey (+120), Crute (-140)
Odds to Finish: +100
Originally scheduled to face Gadzhimurad Antigulov in Prague later this month, Alvey is in for an injured Ryan Spann who was forced to withdraw due to a hand injury. Not that he was all that interesting to begin with, but Alvey's knockout loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in September limited what little appeal he had left in the UFC's thin 205-pound division. It was just the second time in Alvey's career that he was stopped via strikes, a stunningly low number considering how little attention he pays to defense when inside the octagon. Alvey's power is legitimate and he's still fairly young at 32 years of age, but he has little value to the company outside of his willingness to engage in senseless brawls. That alone should keep him around for quite a while longer, but matching him up against quality competition is a mistake.
Another of the many products of the Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender series to surface on the main roster, Crute made his official company debut in December and submitted Jim Craig in a back-and-forth affair. Crute will be 23 years old in March and is one of the few legitimate prospects that the division has to offer. He has some pop in his hands and a clue on the mat. I see some potential here but Crute's defense in the Craig fight was often poor, and occasionally bordering on non existent. He is going to have to fight smarter to beat Alvey.
Other than his poor striking defense, Alvey's biggest issue is a distinct lack of athleticism. Any opponent who moves his feet and forces "Smile'N Sam" to do something other than throw bombs stands a decent chance of beating him. It seems shockingly easy on paper, but Alvey has a unique ability to lure his opposition into brawls. I'm seriously worried that Crute, as a favorite, will fall into that trap. He's the better fighter and he has more ways to win, but I'm taking Alvey in an upset until I see better fight IQ from the youngster.
THE PICK: Alvey
Shane Young (12-4-0) v. Austin Arnett (16-5-0)
DK Salaries: Young ($9,100), Arnett ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Young (-310), Arnett (+255)
Odds to Finish: +135
THE PICK: Young
Montana De La Rosa (9-4-0) v. Nadia Kassem (5-0-0)
DK Salaries: De La Rosa ($8,800), Kassem ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: De La Rosa (-265), Kassem (+225)
Odds to Finish: +100
THE PICK: De La Rosa
Kai Kara-France (18-4-0, 1NC) v. Raulian Paiva (18-1-0)
DK Salaries: Kara-France ($9,000), Paiva ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Kara-France (-310), Paiva (+255)
Odds to Finish: +140
THE PICK: Kara-France
Teruto Ishihara (10-6-2) v. Kyung Ho Kang (14-8-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Ishihara ($6,800), Kang ($9,400)
Vegas Odds: Ishihara (+360), Kang (-450)
Odds to Finish: -155
THE PICK: Kang
Lando Vannata (9-3-2) v. Marcos Rosa (6-4-0)
DK Salaries: Vannata ($9,300), Rosa ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Vannata (-380), Rosa (+315)
Odds to Finish: -265
THE PICK: Vannata
Jalin Turner (7-4-0) v. Callan Potter (17-7-0)
DK Salaries: Turner ($8,700), Potter ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Turner (-260), Potter (+220)
Odds to Finish: -335
THE PICK: Turner
Wuliji Buren (9-5-0) v. Jonathan Martinez (9-2-0)
DK Salaries: Buren ($7,700), Martinez ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Buren (+155), Martinez (-175)
Odds to Finish: +175
THE PICK: Buren