Daily Fantasy Knockout: UFC 214 DraftKings Picks
UFC 214, the biggest and best card of the year, is upon us, and as of Friday morning, all the fights are still together (knock on wood). The stacked slate is headlined by a trio of title fights, topped by the greatest grudge match the sport has ever seen between 205-pound champ Daniel Cormier and former champion and GOAT candidate Jon Jones. Tyron Woodley also puts his welterweight title on the line against jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia and Cris “Cyborg” Justino finally fights for UFC gold opposite Invicta bantamweight queen Tonya Evinger. The rest of the card is loaded with meaningful matchups and fan-friendly slugfests. I’m here to break down all the fights and let you know who to play in your DraftKings lineups.
If you are new to playing fantasy MMA on DK, here are the scoring criteria. They changed a few months ago to try to balance out striking and grappling (lots of significant strikes used to be much more important), but DK over-compensated. Takedowns and passes are what we want to target now, in some cases even more than finishes. A note on terminology: “cash” games are 50/50s, double-ups, and head-to-heads where you only need to be in the top half to win, so you want to stay safe with your picks (high floor). Tournaments or “gpps” (guaranteed prize pools) are contests where you want to take more risks because you’re trying to have the very best lineup.
Before we dive in, let me quickly plug my MMA DFS podcast, Daily Fantasy Knockout, which you can find on YouTube, Soundcloud, iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, etc. Shoutout to my co-host, Drew (@whodeany16) who helped with the analysis. If you’re not able to read through this entire breakdown (though I encourage you to!), give it a listen.
Let’s get to it.
PPV Main Card
Light Heavyweight Championship: Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones
The Pick: Jones by decision.
After the first fight, it’s hard to see how DC can win the rematch. Maybe if he tried to stay out of the clinch, where things started out pretty even but Jones gradually wore him down, he could have better success. DC had some success when he forced the boxing action in the pocket, but in order to get close enough to land combinations, he was also close enough for Jones to tie him up. And when he was outside of boxing range, he got chewed up by Jones’ long-range kicking attacks. DC could try to chop Jones down with leg kicks, which he didn’t really commit to in the first fight. He wasn’t able to take Jones down, and forcing that would likely tire him out just as much as the clinch did. I’m sure there will be new tricks from both sides, but a Jones decision victory again seems like the most likely outcome. You might think that Jones will want to make a statement and finish DC, but he seems perfectly content to beat someone up over five rounds while staying as safe as possible. That’s how I see it playing out.
Prices and Odds:
Cormier: $7300 (+240, +455 Inside Distance Prop)
Jones: $8900 (-260, +220 IDP)
As most main events are, I expect this to be very highly targeted. I think Jones will be popular across the board while Cormier is popular in cash. I do think Cormier is a safe cash punt. He’s safer to go deep into the fight than anyone else priced around him (Maia, Oezdemir, Burkman, Kattar, Evinger), and he’ll likely have five rounds to wrack up points instead of just three. Jones is safe by the same token. But light heavyweight fights don’t see the same output as those in the lighter weight classes and both these guys have iron chins. For example, Jones largely dominated the first fight after the second round, but only scored 91 points (92 sig strikes, 3 TDs, 1 dec win). That’s not bad by any means, but I don’t think you have to target him. If he gets the finish, he’ll obviously score well, but he seems content to just beat people up and stay safe rather than take a risk and go for the kill. So in tournaments, I think I’m going to look elsewhere for the most part.
Welterweight Championship: Tyron Woodley vs. Demian Maia
The Pick: Woodley by 1st-round knockout.
This should be Woodley’s fight, but I do have some reservations. We all know the book on Maia at this point: he pressures forward with a lot of feints, shoots once his man has his back to the cage, chain-wrestles the fight to the floor, and works relentlessly to the back for the choke. And Woodley does have a worrying tendency to back himself to the cage so he has plenty of space to explode through when he decides to pull the trigger. But Woodley’s strength, takedown defense, and giant power on the feet should be enough to get the job done. He knows he needs to stay out of tie-ups at all costs, and I think he’s smart enough to do that. He touches Maia’s chin inside the first two rounds to retain his title.
Prices and Odds:
Woodley: $8700 (-210, -124 Inside Distance Prop)
Maia: $7500 (+175, +285 IDP)
This is a fight worth targeting on both sides a bit. Woodley has big upside obviously. And if Maia wins, it will be through takedowns and passes, so he would score well. I don’t necessarily want to go “all in”, though, because Woodley is low output. His last two performances were pretty terrible. If he doesn’t get the early knockout but still stuffs Maia’s takedowns, this fight could become very low scoring. Still, I think Woodley makes a solid play and I’ll have exposure.
Women’s Featherweight Championship: Cris Cyborg vs. Tonya Evinger
The Pick: Justino by 2nd-round TKO.
Cyborg gonna Cyborg. Going into tape study, I thought Evinger’s toughness, wrestling, and don’t-give-a-f*** mentality would her give the best shot anyone’s had against Cyborg in years. But after watching them, I have little hope. Evinger likes to bull-rush her way into the clinch, where she can work trips and throws or drop down for a double. But Cyborg is just otherworldly strong in tie-ups. She was rag-dolling Marloes Coenen, throwing her around effortlessly, and Coenen is more of a natural featherweight than Evinger. “Triple Threat” is a good scrambler, aggressive with submissions, and can be suffocating on top as she advances position. She’ll then pound away from mount while intermittently hunting for armbars or rear-naked chokes. If she can get on top, things will get interesting, but there is little reason to think she’ll be able to. The most I can say is that Evinger’s grit might carry her past the first round or two. Cyborg by 2nd-round TKO is the pick.
Prices and Odds:
Justino: $9600 (-1200, -632 Inside Distance Prop)
Evinger: $6600 (+660-900, +1120 IDP)
Cyborg is as safe as it gets for 100+ points, so if you can fit her in, by all means. That’s going to be the only issue. Evinger’s toughness could actually help Cyborg wrack up even more points. Despite being the most expensive fighter, there is still value on her price compared to her odds. I think she makes a strong cash play, but fitting her in might leave you with too many dogs or guys in toss-up fights. I usually like to pick one or two dogs I think can get the win and/or have high floors and then get four heavy favorites with upside. You might not be able to do that with Cyborg.
Welterweights Robbie Lawler vs. Donald Cerrone
The Pick: Lawler by 2nd-round TKO.
This is a tough fight to call because both guys are so offensively dynamic, but you also have to think that their chins are fading at this point. I like the fact that they’ve taken time off since their last fights. It’s been over a year since Lawler lost his title by first-round KO to Woodley, but he also had several wars with Rory MacDonald, Carlos Condit, and Johny Hendricks before that. Cerrone was knocked out six months ago by Jorge Masvidal and was in a war with Matt Brown before that. Cowboy has also been battling a blood infection that postponed this fight. With the frenetic schedule that Cerrone keeps, he’s rarely fighting at 100%, so something that forces him out of a fight must be pretty serious. And it wasn’t that long ago that he couldn’t fight because of it. I have to favor Lawler for his power and takedown defense. If Cerrone comes out and makes use of his jab and leg kicks, he could really help himself out. That could open the door for his patented head kick. And if the fight hits the ground, Cerrone will have a definite grappling advantage, as Lawler has been submitted several times. But Cerrone’s tendency to get tagged early spells his doom here. Lawler by knockout is the pick.
Prices and Odds:
Lawler: $8500 (-160, +174 Inside Distance Prop)
Cerrone: $7700 (+140, +273 IDP)
This is a tournament play all the way. I will probably have a bit more exposure to Cerrone because the underdog pickings are pretty slim. Cerrone and Oezdemir are two of the few guys with upside below 8k. I’ll have exposure to Lawler, but where I can, I think I’m going to want to try to move up to safer plays in Brooks, Woodley, and Manuwa.
Light Heavyweights Jimi Manuwa vs. Volkan Oezdemir
The Pick: Manuwa by 2nd-round KO.
Manuwa is the bigger name (obviously) and I think he should rightly be favored, but Oezdemir keeps coming out here and beating people he’s not supposed to. Volkan has a heck of a chin, which is a huge asset at the higher weight classes. Both men like to move forward and throw with power. Manuwa is a bit more measured and not quite so willing to take a shot, possibly because he’s already been KO’ed twice. He’s also probably got the power advantage, as he’s slept his last two opponents with basically one shot. Volkan did the trick to Misha Cirkunov as well (though how that little punch knocked him out, I’ll never know). So while this is a firefight between two hitters (so anything could happen), you have to side with the guy who hits harder and has the cleaner technique and defense. Manuwa by 2nd-round KO is the pick.
Prices and Odds:
Manuwa: $8800 (-180, -115 Inside Distance Prop)
Oezdemir: $7400 (+158, +195 IDP)
I want to play Manuwa in cash for the upside, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pull the trigger. This is definitely a fight I would target heavily in tournaments, on both sides. Other than the Cyborg-Evinger fight (obviously), this is the bout most likely to end inside the distance. Other than Cerrone, Oezdemir is one of the few below 8k with a real shot of finishing the fight.
Featherweights Ricardo Lamas vs. Jason Knight
The Pick: Knight by decision.
Knight has been stringing some nice wins together in back-and-forth fights that his aggression and well-roundedness just keep carrying him through. He last KO’ed Chas Skelly, which I think bodes well for him here. His one Octagon loss came in his short-notice debut to Tatsuya Kawajiri, who wrestled him the whole time. Knight has a dangerous guard and is a talented grappler overall, but he has also shown much more urgency about stuffing takedowns in recent fights. His boxing is also aggressive and low-key powerful. Lamas is a dangerous opportunist, capable of snatching a victory in an instant, usually with his submissions. And he’s a solid kickboxer and wrestler. I think Knight’s volume and constant aggression will help him win rounds while his solid submission game ensures he doesn’t get tapped. Knight takes a decision.
Prices and Odds:
Lamas: $8100 (+100, +397 Inside Distance Prop)
Knight: $8100 (-120, +314 IDP)
There’s a little bit of value on Knight, which is something you generally want to target long-term, especially in cash games. As previously mentioned, Lamas is an opportunistic finisher, and Knight can get guys out of there as well, so these guys warrant some exposure in tournaments too. I expect there to be some takedowns and scrambles, so there’s a decent floor on both guys.
Catchweight (140 lbs) Aljamain Sterling vs. Renan Barao
The Pick: Sterling by decision.
Sterling has always frustrated me because he doesn’t want to get in a firefight, but he doesn’t have the offensive firepower to get guys out of there either. So when his fights are on the feet, you get a lot of boring, long-range kickboxing. Sterling’s long-range kicks aren’t bad and his hands are improving slowly, but his real skill is as a grappler. The problem here is that Barao has near impenetrable takedown defense. Barao can wrestle a bit himself, and he’s probably even more lethal on the mat than Sterling. But I don’t see either guy being able to get consistent takedowns, so we’ll get one of those ugly kickboxing battles. Sterling rarely runs away with those kinds of fights. Barao has better, more dangerous hands, but he wants to slug it out in boxing range. Sterling isn’t going to give him that chance, but instead pick away with kicks from the outside. Sterling sticks and moves less as the fight goes on, which might give Barao the chance to put hands on him more often. But Sterling is hard to corral and Barao has never been much of a pressure fighter. Plus they’re on opposite sides of the aging curve. I go with Sterling by lackluster decision.
Prices and Odds:
Sterling: $8400 (-125, +340 Inside Distance Prop)
Barao: $7800 (+105, +535 IDP)
I’m probably going to fade this fight entirely. Barao is one of the rare guys under 8k who I think can win, so he might make a couple lineups. But his upside just doesn’t make it an attractive option. I don’t see enough wrestling/grappling/finish potential to target this fight.
Featherweights Brian Ortega vs. Renato Moicano
The Pick: Moicano by decision.
I favor Moicano because he has superior striking technique: good use of his reach, excellent counters, and great hand speed. Both men are really, really good BJJ practitioners but I think they’re mostly going to end up fighting on the feet. Ortega has some impressive victories, but he’s needed to pull out late stoppage wins to make up for floating through early rounds. He’s not much of a round winner on the feet, but Ortega’s guard is awesome. He hit a couple of elbows on Guida from bottom that were perfectly timed – got his head off-line while bringing up the elbow to meet Guida’s face as he tried to rain down punches. It was beautiful. But his wrestling isn’t great, and as already mentioned, Moicano is very good on the ground as well. The Brazilian takes a decision.
Prices and Odds:
Ortega: $8000 (+130, +398 Inside Distance Prop)
Moicano: $8200 (-150, +472 IDP)
Neither man has a good IDP, so unless we see a lot of scrambles – possible, I suppose – there’s a cap on this fight’s upside. Still, I think it’s worth targeting a little bit. I like Moicano because there is a little bit of value on his price relative to his odds and he throws out a good amount of volume.
Featherweights Andre Fili vs. Calvin Kattar
The Pick: Fili by 1st-round TKO.
I expect Fili to be better everywhere. Kattar is a decent boxer with some pop in his hands, but his defense and footwork are not good. He’s got some offensive wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills, but Fili should be better than him there as well. Fili is no defensive genius, but he moves out of the way of shots, while Kattar either eats it or covers up. Fili also looks faster and definitely moves better. He should eat Kattar up and finish him in the first half of the fight.
Prices and Odds:
Fili: $9200 (-380, +100 Inside Distance Prop)
Kattar: $7000 (+315, +475 IDP)
Kattar should be very low owned, so if Fili’s unreliability intrigues you, you could take a shot on Kattar. I won’t be, though. Fili has gone win-loss-win-loss in the UFC, but he’s beaten Hacran Dias and Felipe Arantes while losing to studs like Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez. Kattar isn’t on the level of any of them. Fili is a good play everywhere for me, but he’s not as safe nor possesses the ridiculous upside of Cyborg. If you can’t quite squeeze her in, though, Fili is an OK stand-in.
Fight Pass Prelims
Strawweights Kailin Curran vs. Alexandra Albu
Albu is a former body builder and is very athletic, but she’s coming off a two-year layoff. Curran is an athletic, rangy striker, but one who doesn’t use her jab very well. Instead, she pushes into the clinch too much, which leads to takedowns. That will be a mistake here. She’s also very hittable. Albu has high-level skills in the clinch with dirty boxing, knees, and throws. I see Albu getting top position, working g&p, and fishing for subs. She has a heavy top game.
Prices and Odds:
Curran: $7900 (+140, +428 Inside Distance Prop)
Albu: $8300 (-160, +198 IDP)
I’m not really interested in Curran. The odds are fairly close, but her IDP isn’t very good. Perhaps she could wrack up points in the scrambles, but Albu seems to be strong there. Albu has a decent IDP and isn’t too expensive, so I’m more interested in her. My interest in Albu is increased by the fact that Curran has been finished in three of her four UFC losses. The layoff might scare you off Albu in cash, since we can’t be certain of what we’re going to get, but I think she makes a good gpp play.
Flyweights Eric Shelton vs. Jarred Brooks
The Pick: Shelton by decision.
I was initially going to go with Brooks because he’s a power puncher and wrestler, and Shelton has shown porous takedown defense in the past. But Brooks is a former strawweight, so he’s not going to have much if any, strength advantage (despite being pretty bricked up). More importantly, Shelton’s defense off his back has been much better of late. He’s been able to reverse a lot of positions and prevent better grapplers than Brooks from subbing him. On the feet, the advantage has to go to Shelton, who is a smooth boxer. But I expect most of this fight to be played out on the ground and in the scrambles and for Shelton to get the better of those, along with the standup. Shelton wins by decision.
Prices and Odds:
Shelton: $7600 (+130, +455 Inside Distance Prop)
Brooks: $8600 (-150, +490 IDP)
I think both guys are in play, particularly in cash. Neither has a great finish prop, so Shelton isn’t super attractive in tournaments. But he is one of the few dogs and fighters below 8k I think can win, so maybe that’s enough. Brooks is definitely the guy with the higher upside, and he still might score OK even in a loss. He will be going for takedowns, and I expect him to land a few. If he wins, he should score well enough to work on your tournament lineup, so he’s still a great play.
Lightweights Josh Burkman vs. Drew Dober
The Pick: Dober by decision.
Burkman looks shot at this point. Since returning to the UFC, he’s either been outgunned or floated haphazardly through his fights, and his cut to lightweight hasn’t helped him in any demonstrable way. The one thing I will say is that I’m not sure he’s so shot that he’s definitely going to get finished by Drew Dober. The fight opened at pretty close odds but Dober quickly shot out to become a giant favorite, so I, like some sharps who jumped at that early line, am pretty confident Dober wins. He’s trained as a kickboxer but showed in a recent win over Scott Holtzman that he can wrestle too. Burkman’s lack of urgency and lack of a focused gameplan are my biggest worries. He should be able to outwrestle Dober, but I’m not confident that he pursues that avenue. I like Dober to outwork Burkman everywhere for a decision.
Prices and Odds:
Burkman: $7200 (+285, +585 Inside Distance Prop)
Dober: $9000 (-345, +151 IDP)
Dober could be a good way to differentiate your lineups because he shouldn’t be very highly owned. His finish prop is the fifth-best on the card, though, so he has some upside. But I don’t know that I can personally invest a ton in him because, however shot and on his way out Burkman looks, Dober just isn’t that great a fighter. For that reason, if you’re making a lot of lineups, taking a flier or two on Burkman wouldn’t be crazy to me.