DraftKings MMA: UFC 251 Preview

DraftKings MMA: UFC 251 Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

The UFC has been limited to Jacksonville and Las Vegas this summer due to the global pandemic, and while the company continues to put on excellent cards, the U.S.-based talent is starting to get drained. Knowing this would eventually happen, UFC President Dana White secretively secured Fight Island, which was announced as Yas Island in Abu Dhabi last week. UFC 251 will kick off a two-week period featuring four events next Saturday, and to put the icing on the cake, three title fights will headline the July 11 card.

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, including a $2.25 million GPP titled "The Island Millionaire" with $1,000,000 to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:

Moves Scoring
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

Scoring Notes
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 - Welterweight Championship

(C) Kamaru Usman (16-1-0) v. Jorge Masvidal (35-13-0)
DK Salaries: Usman ($8,900), Masvidal ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Usman (-300), Masvidal (+250)
Odds to Finish: -160

48 fights and 17-plus years into his MMA career, Masvidal finally gets his first shot at UFC gold. Taking the spot of Gilbert Burns, who was forced to withdraw due to a post COVID test, Masvidal enters on a three-fight win streak. All three of those victories came via knockout and all three came against top flight opponents in Nate Diaz, Ben Askren, and Darren Till. Personally, I preferred the original matchup of Usman v. Burns, but this is an excellent fight and Masvidal deserves his chance. He's one of the true veterans of the sport, and it's nice to see him rewarded after grinding away for so many years.

Unfortunately for "Gamebred", he is going up against a guy who may very well go down as one of the best 170-pounders of all time when all is said and done. Usman lost his second professional fight way back in May 2013 and hasn't tasted defeat since. He destroyed Tyron Woodley to win the UFC Welterweight Championship in March 2019 and followed that up with a fifth-round knockout victory over Colby Covington in his first title defense last December. Usman doesn't have a single weakness in his game. He's big, powerful and an excellent wrestler. To give you an idea of Usman's dominance since joining the UFC, he lands 4.60 significant strikes per minute while absorbing just 2.17. He's an excellent defensive fighter and has proven to be durable in the rare instances in which he is trouble.  

Masvidal is an entirely different type of fighter than Burns. While Burns is one of MMA's most gifted submission specialists, Masvidal is a pure striker. 16 of his 18 stoppage wins have come via knockout. He obviously has power, but Jorge does an excellent job of stringing together combinations. Masvidal will have to land early and often in an attempt to offset the physicality of Usman.

Jorge has a nice frame (5-foot-11) for the division, but he's actually a inch shorter than Usman and giving up two inches in the reach department. That being said, Masvidal is going to have to take his chances on the feet, because he's at real risk of being controlled on the mat by Usman if this fight ends up on the ground.

I respect everything Masvidal has done for the sport and as I mentioned earlier, I'm happy he's getting this opportunity, but this is a massive ask. He has to fly halfway around the world after accepting a fight on a week's notice against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. It's just a really, really tough ask for anyone. I don't have much interest in Masvidal as an underdog on DraftKings. I'd prefer him over Jose Aldo, but I'd much prefer Max Holloway in a Hail Mary situation.

THE PICK: Usman
 

Co-Main Event - Featherweight Championship

(C) Alexander Volkanovski (21-1-0) v. Max Holloway (21-5-0)
DK Salaries: Volkanovski ($9,100), Holloway ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Volkanovski (-190), Holloway (+165)
Odds to Finish: +180

This is a rematch of the December 2019 fight in which Volkanovski ended Holloway's title run, in addition to stopping his 14-fight win streak at featherweight. Neither man has fought since.

Volkanovski's victory over Holloway in the first bout between the two was a work of art. He looked calm and composed in what was by far the biggest fight of his career up to that point. He was the quicker man and landed the cleaner, more powerful shots. He also had no issues getting inside against Holloway despite giving up five inches in the height department. Volkanovski spent a good portion of his career at lightweight and has even fought as high as welterweight at one point. Alex isn't a big guy (5-foot-6), but he's extremely strong for his size. He rarely loses positional battles in tight, and his hands are quick enough to land effective shots when he does decide to back off. 

Holloway would be ticketed for the UFC Hall of Fame if he decided to walk away tomorrow. Max made his UFC debut in his fifth professional fight. That bout (a loss to Dustin Poirier) took place at UFC 143 in February 2012. Somehow, Holloway is still just 28 years of age. His resume speaks for itself. Over the past six-plus years, Max has scored victories over Frankie Edgar, Brian Ortega, Jose Aldo (x2), Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, and Charles Oliveira. It's literally the best of the best at 145 pounds. Holloway is massive (5-foot-11) for the division and excels at putting together combinations. He throws a bunch of kicks and is extremely creative offensively. His skill set is truly unique and also appears to be entirely sustainable. I expect Max to remain one of the best fighters in the sport for years to come despite being around for seemingly ever. 

All that being said, this still seems like a poor match up for Holloway. I picked Volkanovski the first time and I feel more confident this time around after seeing the first fight between the two. Max is known for his world-class cardio, but Volkanovski has proven to be his equal in that area. Alex clearly has more power of the two, in addition to possessing the hand and foot speed to give Holloway fits. I wouldn't say Max is a fighter who gets his frequently, but check out this stat. Holloway absorbs 4.45 significant strikes per minute, while Volkanovski absorbs a remarkable 3.14 significant strikes per minute. That's not a knock on Holloway, it's just evidence of how good Alex is. 

I'm obviously sticking with Volkanovski, but I expect this to be a tighter fight than the first bout between the two. That fight wasn't as close (50-45, 48-47 x2) as the scorecards would lead you to believe. Picking against Max is generally bad for business, but I simply think this is a lousy matchup for him. Daniel Cormier is one of the best fighters in the history of the sport, but he could never figure out Jon Jones. It happens. From a DK perspective, Max is in the same boat as Burns. I can't pick him, but he's a world-class talent at the fraction of his usual price.

THE PICK: Volkanovski
 

Bantamweight Championship

Petr Yan (14-1-0) v. Jose Aldo (28-6-0)
DK Salaries: Yan ($9,300), Aldo ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Yan (-220), Aldo (+180)
Odds to Finish: -170

This title fight doesn't make as much sense as the previous two, but Aldo was due to challenge the since-retired Henry Cejudo for the UFC Bantamweight Championship (before Aldo was forced to withdraw due to visa issues), and the company decided to leave Aldo in that spot following Cejudo's decision to vacate the belt. 

Yan has been unstoppable since arriving on the scene back in June 2018. He's a perfect 6-0 with the company (three knockouts), including wins over Jimmie Rivera, Urijah Faber, and John Dodson. Yan is an excellent fighter. He hits hard and his striking defense (3.15 significant strikes absorbed per minute) is exceptional. He's quick on his feet and averages 1.73 takedowns per 15 minutes for good measure. Did I forget to mention he's also just 27 years old? Yan fought his entire career prior to joining the UFC in his native Russia and has competed in the United States just three times. The top of the UFC's bantamweight division is stacked, but Yan is talented enough to win and hold on to the title for an extended period of time.

It's very, very difficult to make a case for Aldo deserving a title shot right now. He's dropped back-to-back decisions to Volkanovski (unanimous) and Marlon Moraes (split) and is sporting a 3-5 record dating back to his 13-second knockout loss to Conor McGregor back in December 2015. This will be just Aldo's second fight at bantamweight after spending his entire career at featherweight. I certainly don't think Aldo is completely washed up at age 33, but he's clearly not the same guy who was viewed by most as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world for the better part of a decade. He's just a tad slower, and his reactions are just a bit delayed. Jose has enough natural ability to remain somewhat competitive against the best fighters in the sport, but I think the UFC needs to be a bit more careful regarding who they match him up against. 

This seems to be a really bad matchup for Aldo. Disregarding whether he deserves the title shot or not, Jose is going up against a younger, faster opponent with the ability to match him strike-for-strike in what I expect to be a kickboxing match. I expect Aldo to try to lean on his trademark kicks for success, but I don't think that will be enough. I could easily see this fight going the distance, but the pick is an easy one, and it's Yan. I predict a clear-cut, unanimous decision for Yan here and then a bout with rising star and Serra/Longo product Aljamain Sterling for his first title defense in the later stages of 2020. I'd have Aldo ranked well behind Burns and Holloway in terms of pulling the upset. 

THE PICK: Yan
 

Women's Strawweight

Jessica Andrade (20-7-0) v. Rose Namajunas (9-4-0)
DK Salaries: Andrade ($7,200), Namajunas ($9,000)
Vegas Odds: Andrade (+155), Namajunas (-175)
Odds to Finish: +115

This is the rematch of a May 2019 title fight in which Andrade slammed Namajunas to the mat and knocked her out cold to win the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship. It was scheduled for April before Rose withdrew due to personal issues.

Andrade's title reign didn't last long. She was knocked out by current champion Weili Zhang in her first defense just over fourth months later. She hasn't fought since. Andrade's UFC career has been fascinating. She was nothing more than roster depth before making the move down to strawweight from bantamweight back in 2016. It's crazy to think a woman with Andrade's muscle mass can make the 115-pound limit without issue, but she hasn't missed weight a single time since dropping down. Jessica possesses a well-rounded game. She has seven career wins via knockout and seven via submission. She's also a very strong wrestler (3.21 takedowns per 15 minutes), although I believe that success is the more the result of her brute strength than any technical skill in that particular area. Andrade's biggest weakness is her striking. More specifically, her striking defense. She can get exposed if she is forced to stand and defend herself for a significant length of time.

Namajunas hasn't fought since the first fight between the two, so she is looking at exactly 14 months on the sidelines. Rose has been up and down over the course of her time with the company. He record is strong (6-3) and her victories over Joanna Jedrzejczyk (x2) and Michelle Waterson were extremely impressive, but she has been inconsistent overall. Rose's striking has improved under the tutelage of her fiance (and former pro kickboxer) Pat Barry, but her stand-up is well behind her ground game. Namajunas has one career win via knockout (against Joanna) and five via submission. Rose is tough, gritty and always in excellent shape, so she has been able to survive that one clear shortcoming in her game. 

I'm torn on this pick. I think the result of the first fight – or at least the way it occurred – was a fluke. The odds of Andrade slamming Rose to the mat and knocking her out cold again are slim to none. That being said, Jessica has a clear power and strength advantage. In the end, I can't get over the massive gap in salaries between the two. I'd probably prefer Rose, all things considered, but the savings on Andrade is too much for me to overlook.

THE PICK: Andrade
 

Women's Flyweight

Amanda Ribas (9-1-0) v. Paige VanZant (8-4-0)
DK Salaries: Ribas ($9,500), VanZant ($6,700)
Vegas Odds: Ribas (-900), VanZant (+600)
Odds to Finish: -105

VanZant has been entirely underwhelming and oft-injured during the course of her UFC run, but she continues to get notable fights in spotlight positions. PVZ's last bout was a submission win over Rachael Ostovich in January 2019. She fractured her arm a few months after that and has since fractured the same arm two additional times. Paige is apparently fully healthy now, but these arm issues are concerning, to say the very least. She's well conditioned and extremely aggressive, but her technical skills have always been lacking, and I see no way that has improved due to the repeated injuries.

Ribas looks like a potential future contender at 135 pounds. She has begun her time with the company with victories over Emily Whitmire, Randa Markos, and most impressively, Mackenzie Dern. The sample size is small, but Ribas has proven to be an excellent striker with an underrated wrestling game. She averages north of two (2.02) takedowns per 15 minutes and rarely gets hit (1.70 significant strikes absorbed per minute) on the feet. This projects as a good spot for Ribas. It's a fight against a well-known opponent she should clearly beat. It will get her name out there, and there doesn't appear to be much risk in terms of PVZ pulling the upset.

Even casual MMA fans would have to admit that VanZant has been overrated from the get-go. She can defeat fringe fighters due to her cardio and work ethic, but that all changes the second she steps into the Octagon with a talented opponent. This is also the last fight of her contract. I think Ribas has a ton of long-term potential. I'm not crazy about using her at this salary – $9500 is prime Ronda Rousey/Jon Jones territory – but I have a very difficult time finding any path to victory for PVZ here.

THE PICK: Ribas
 

Other Fights

Light Heavyweight
Volkan Oezdemir (17-4-0) v. Jiri Prochazka (26-3-1)
DK Salaries: Oezdemir ($8,400), Prochazka ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Oezdemir (-150), Prochazka (+130)
Odds to Finish: -190
THE PICK: Prochazka

Welterweight
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (22-6-0) v. Muslim Salikhov (16-2-0)
DK Salaries: Zaleski dos Santos ($8,000), Salikhov ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Zaleski dos Santos (-110), Salikhov (-110)
Odds to Finish: +105
THE PICK: Zaleski dos Santos 

Featherweight
Makwan Amirkhani (15-4-0) v. Danny Henry (12-3-0)
DK Salaries: Amirkhani ($8,600), Henry ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Amirkhani (-200), Henry (+170)
Odds to Finish: -150
THE PICK: Amirkhani

Lightweight
Leonardo Santos (17-4-1) v. Roman Bogatov (10-0-0)
DK Salaries: Santos ($8,800), Bogatov ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Santos (-170), Bogatov (+150)
Odds to Finish: +115
THE PICK: Santos

Heavyweight
Marcin Tybura (18-6-0) v. Maxim Grishin
DK Salaries: Tybura ($7,900), Grishin (TBD)
Vegas Odds: Tybura (-120), Grishin (+100)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Grishin

Flyweight
Raulian Paiva (19-3-0) v. Zhalgas Zhamagulov (13-3-0)
DK Salaries: Paiva ($8,700), Zhamagulov ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Paiva (-190), Zhamagulov (+165)
Odds to Finish: +175
THE PICK: Paiva

Women's Bantamweight
Karoline Rosa (12-3-0) v. Vanessa Melo (10-7-0)
DK Salaries: Rosa ($9,200), Melo ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Rosa (-225), Melo (+185)
Odds to Finish: +195
THE PICK Rosa

Bantamweight
Martin Day (8-3-0) v. Davey Grant (11-4-0)
DK Salaries: Day ($8,500), Grant ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Day (-170), Grant (+150)
Odds to Finish: +145
THE PICK: Day

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Jon Litterine plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: JLitterine.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Litterine
Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.
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