DraftKings MMA: UFC 252 Preview

DraftKings MMA: UFC 252 Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

The final chapter of arguably the greatest and most competitive trilogy in heavyweight MMA history takes place Saturday in Las Vegas.

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 the MMA Million that features – you guessed it – $1 million 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 - Heavyweight Championship

(C) Stipe Miocic (19-3-0) v. Daniel Cormier (22-2-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Miocic ($8,200), Cormier ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Miocic (-105), Cormier (-115)
Odds to Finish: -300

I have a difficult time seeing a UFC title fight right now without Francis Ngannou involved, but the UFC loves it's trilogies, and this fight makes sense given the fact Stipe and DC are tied at one apiece. 

Miocic dropped the first fight to Cormier, losing his belt, via first round knockout back in July 2018. Not the result itself, but how it happened – a one-punch knockout – was a fluke. I'm willing to bet that Ngannou could knock Miocic out with one punch, but DC is a wrestler, and I'm not buying he has that ability. The two rematched in August 2019, with Stipe winning via fourth round knockout to regain his title. Miocic did a much better job of landing body shots in the second fight. 

DC is one of the best mixed martial artists in the history of the sport. He could never figure out Jon Jones, and that certainly has to be crushing for Cormier on a personal level given how much the two men dislike each other, but that shouldn't impact Cormier's legacy in the least. He's been one of the best in the world for years and has done so in two different divisions. He could walk away tomorrow and his legacy would be assured. 

The thing that gets talked about most when these two compete is the size differential between the two, and rightfully so. Stipe is five inches taller in addition to having a massive eight-inch reach edge. DC is going to have to try to drill him with body shots over and over because he isn't long enough to land consistent head shots. 

Cormier has a wrestling edge against every opponent he goes up against. That's also true in this case, but the size differential between the two helps negate any technical edge DC might possess. The second fight between the two lasted just over 19 minutes and Cormier was credited with one successful takedown on three attempts. That's not going to get the job done. At the very minimum, the takedown attempts need to rise for Cormier, and they can't be lazy tries. The vast majority of them may not land, but that's more time Stipe is forced to fight defensively.

It's also worth noting the fight Saturday will be contested in the smaller cage. I think that benefits Cormier in terms of limiting Stipe's space. On the other hand, Stipe clearly has more power, and DC must do everything possible to not get caught in striking exchanges along the fence.

This is as close as both the betting odds and DraftKings salaries would indicate. Cormier and Miocic both have their strengths, and if they fought ten times, I imagine both men would win five. Ultimately, I still can't get past the size difference between the two. Stipe is so much bigger. He has also generally been durable and has always been a solid wrestler. DC's path to victory seems reliant on grappling to me, and that's risky. Regardless of who you think will win, I expect an excellent, competitive fight.

THE PICK: Miocic
 

Co-Main Event - Bantamweight

Sean O'Malley (12-0-0) v. Marlon Vera (15-6-1)
DK Salaries: O'Malley ($9,200), Vera ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: O'Malley (-310), Vera (+255)
Odds to Finish: -135

The "Sugar" show rolls on, as O'Malley looks to maintain his perfect professional record and gets to do so in a massive co-main event spot of a pay-per-view.

O'Malley has been untouchable throughout the early portion of his time with the company. He began his run with unanimous decision victories over Terrion Ware and Andre Soukhamthath before knocking out Jose Quinonez and Eddie Wineland in his past two fights, and he earned a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus for each. The 25-year-old O'Malley is one of the brightest prospects in the sport today. He's massive (5-foot-11) for the bantamweight division and features some of the most unique striking techniques we have seen in some time. There are very few prospects in the sport which you can dream on becoming a future UFC champion one day, but O'Malley is one of them. 

As good as O'Malley has been, he better come ready to fight on Saturday because Vera is no pushover. "Chito" is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Song Yadong in May, a setback that snapped a five-fight winning streak for the 27-year-old. Vera took the Song fight at featherweight and will be returning to his natural 135-pound weight class for this one. Vera can mix in a knockout here and there (five career), but does his best work on the ground. He has eight submission victories in his career and is a black belt in BJJ.

O'Malley will certainly try to keep this fight standing while Vera's biggest advantage will be on the mat. The gap between the two in the stand-up is massive, with O'Malley averaging a ridiculous (and entirely unsustainable) 6.86 significant strikes landed per minute. By comparison, Vera lands 3.70 per minute, and that's not a bad number. We haven't seen much from O'Malley on the mat, but my guess is he is better in that area than most people think. That doesn't mean he should go rolling around with Vera on the ground, but I bet he could hold his own if he had to.

I like this fight. It's a clear step up in competition for O'Malley, but it's a fight he should be able to handle. I'm a little surprised this fight was bumped up to the co-main over the next one I will break down, but it shows how highly the company thinks of "Suga". He's an easy pick given his natural ability. Vera isn't the worst Hail Mary play given his cheap salary, but the odds of him paying off are small.

THE PICK: O'Malley
 

Heavyweight

Junior dos Santos (21-7-0) v. Jair Rozenstruik (10-1-0)
DK Salaries: Dos Santos ($7,800), Rozenstruik ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Dos Santos (+130), Rozenstruik (-150)
Odds to Finish: -285

It's nearly impossible to believe, but JDS is just a .500 fighter (6-6) since losing the UFC Heavyweight Championship to Cain Velasquez back in December 2012. Dos Santos appeared to be making some headway following three straight wins over Blagoy Ivanov (decision), Tai Tuivasa (KO) and Derrick Lewis (KO), but he has since been knocked out by Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes. There's a legitimate argument to be made that Ngannou and Blaydes are the two of the very best heavyweights on the planet, but that doesn't impact JDS in the least. He's now 36 years old, and the fact he must avoid a third straight defeat at all costs goes without saying. 

Rozenstruik made a name for himself in short order following knockout wins over Junior Albini, Allen Crowder, Andrei Arlovski and a last-second stoppage of Alistair Overeem. Jair was rushed into a fight with Ngannou this past May and was destroyed in 20 seconds. There was zero reason to expect him to actually win, but the fact he wasn't able to get out of the starting gate was bad, bad news. Rozenstruik's offensive arsenal is extremely limited. He swings for the bleachers with every single shot he throws and doesn't worry about defense in the least. That won't work against Ngannou, and I'm not entirely sure it will work against Dos Santos, either.

The odds of this thing ever seeing the final bell appear minuscule, at best. Both men are 6-foot-4, while Rozenstruik holds a one-inch reach edge. I'm confident JDS is a better all-around mixed martial artist, but that doesn't figure to matter much in a back-and-forth slug fest. Yes, Rozenstruik was knocked out by Ngannou, but I firmly believe Ngannou can knock out every heavyweight on the roster in an instant. His chin held up well before that. On the other hand, Dos Santos' durability has been a question mark for years.

It's easier said than done, but Dos Santos can win this fight if he moves his feet and doesn't stand in front of Rozenstruik for an extended period of time. I'm more worried about his chin at this point than anything else. I'm also worried about Rozenstruik's ability to defeat anyone halfway decent given he has just one notable skill. I'm neither happy nor confident about it, but I'm going to take Dos Santos. The value seems right, even if this pick itself feels wrong.

THE PICK: Dos Santos
 

Bantamweight

John Dodson (22-11-0) v. Merab Dvalishvili (11-4-0)
DK Salaries: Dodson ($7,500), Dvalishvili ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Dodson (+160), Dvalishvili (-185)
Odds to Finish: +265

A winner of four fights in a row, all via unanimous decision, Dvalishvili has quickly earned as reputation as one of the bantamweight division's elite grapplers. The 29-year-old has averaged a whopping (and unsustainable) 8.67 takedowns per 15 minutes. He has 25 successful takedowns over the course of his past two bouts and has registered at least five takedowns in each of his first six UFC fights. The pace Dvalishvili has been able to keep is ridiculous. His striking remains a work in progress but he is going to manhandle most opponents with his wrestling and cardio.

Dodson will be by far his stiffest test to date. "The Magician" is just 3-4 in his past seven fights dating back to October 2016, but two of those setbacks came via split decision and all four losses came against high-end competition in Petr Yan, Jimmie Rivera, Marlon Moraes, and John Lineker. Dodson is less interesting at bantamweight than he was at flyweight simply because he power played up a bit in the lower weight class, but he's still plenty quick enough to succeed at 135 pounds.

The question here – as in every Dvalishvili fight – is whether or not Dodson will be able to stay off his back. His takedown defense over the course of his long UFC career is an excellent 80 percent, but defending tries from Dvalishvili is another task entirely. 

I have to go with the Serra/Longo product, but I do think Dodson is being underrated here. He has more than enough talent to win this fight if he is able to keep it standing and provides excellent value at $7,500 to help fill out a lineup for those in need of salary relief.

THE PICK: Dvalishvili 
 

Light Heavyweight

Magomed Ankalaev (13-1-0) v. Ion Cutelaba (15-5-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Ankalaev ($9,100), Cutelaba ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Ankalaev (-310), Cutelaba (+255)
Odds to Finish: -365

This is a rematch of a February bout which Ankalaev won via TKO in 38 seconds. It was an extremely controversial decision due to a baffling and foolish stoppage by referee Kevin MacDonald. 

Cutelaba predictably appealed his defeat to the Virginia Athletic Commission (the fight took place in Norfolk), and his request was predictably denied. He was then due to face Ovince Saint Preux in late-April before that one was cancelled due to the pandemic. Cutelaba his 4-4 through his first eight UFC bouts. Three of his victories and three of his defeats have come via stoppage. Cutelaba is a pure power puncher, with 12 of his career victories coming via knockout. The first fight with Ankalaev was the only time in Cutelaba's pro career that he has been stopped via strikes. He's young (26 years old) and generally durable, so it's possible the Moldovan could make some strides moving forward.

Ankalaev was submitted by Paul Craig with exactly one second left in Round 3 in his company debut back in March 2018, but has run off four straight victories since. The competition level he has faced has been lousy (Cutelaba, Dalcha Lungiambula, Klidson Abreu, Marcin Prachnio), but Ankalaev's power is legitimate. He has no ground game to speak off, and that will become more apparent when he goes up against better competition, but it hasn't really hurt Ankalaev to date. 

Cutelaba averages 2.59 takedowns per 15 minutes, and while Ankalaev has little in terms of an offensive ground game, his takedown defense is a very solid 85 percent. I'd give Ankalaev the edge on the feet in a prolonged kickboxing match, as I am far more confident in his ability to defend himself.

Ultimately there is really no reason to believe this fight will end any differently than the first – other than the poor stoppage – and that makes Ankalaev an easy pick.

THE PICK: Ankalaev
 

OTHER FIGHTS

Lightweight
Jim Miller (32-14-0, 1NC) v. Vinc Pichel (12-2-0)
DK Salaries: Miller ($8,300), Pichel ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Miller (-105), Pichel (-115)
Odds to Finish: -140
THE PICK: Miller

Women's Strawweight
Ashley Yoder (7-5-0) v. Livinha Souza (13-2-0)
DK Salaries: Yoder ($7,600), Souza ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Yoder (+130), Souza (-150)
Odds to Finish: +240
THE PICK: Souza

Heavyweight
Chris Daukaus (8-3-0) v. Parker Porter (6-4-0)
DK Salaries: Daukaus ($7,700), Porter ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Daukaus (+105), Porter (-125)
Odds to Finish: -320
THE PICK: Daukaus

Women's Strawweight
Felice Herrig (14-8-0) v. Virna Jandiroba (15-1-0)
DK Salaries: Herrig ($7,200), Jandiroba ($9,000)
Vegas Odds: Herrig (+250), Jandiroba (-300)
Odds to Finish: +160
THE PICK: Jandiroba

Featherweight
Herbert Burns (11-2-0) v. Daniel Pineda (26-13-0, 2NC)
DK Salaries: Burns ($8,900), Pineda ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Burns (-255), Pineda (+215)
Odds to Finish: -365
THE PICK: Burns

Featherweight
T.J. Brown (14-7-0) v. Danny Chavez (10-3-0)
DK Salaries: Brown ($8,800), Chavez ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Brown (-170), Chavez (+150)
Odds to Finish: -130
THE PICK: Chavez

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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