Daily Fantasy Knockout: UFC 215 DraftKings Picks

We break down all the fights from UFC 215: Nunes vs. Shevchenko and who to target in your DraftKings lineups now that the main event fell out.

Well, this is a bummer.

An already scoffed-at pay-per-view card just lost its headliner, as challenger Ray Borg was forced to pull out of his title shot against Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson early Friday morning. What was once a championship doubleheader – albeit with two champions UFC prez Dana White had recently thrown under the bus – now only claims the Nunes-Shevchenko rematch atop it. As good as that scrap is, many have soured on it after Nunes abruptly pulled out of UFC 213 two months ago the day of the fight. And this bill also lost its heavyweight slugfest pitting former kingpin Junior dos Santos against up-and-coming killer Francis Ngannou.

But there is still intrigue on this card. Sara McMann seeks to win her fourth straight and possibly set up a fight with the main event winner. Gilbert Melendez returns from another lengthy hiatus and drops down to 145 pounds for the first time in nearly a decade to take on the always-entertaining Jeremy Stephens. And Tyson Pedro looks to crash the light heavyweight top ten with a victory over the stout and powerful Ilir Latifi. And there is always intrigue for us MMA DFS players.

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. Differentiating yourself from the pack is important.

Before we dive in, let me shamelessly plug my MMA DFS podcast, Daily Fantasy Knockout, which you can find on YouTubeSoundcloud, 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

Flyweight Championship: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg – CANCELLED

The Pick: Johnson by 4th-round submission.

To put it simply, outside of a Tim Elliott D’Arce choke that looked dangerous, DJ has looked nigh-on untouchable. Two of his last three fights have been flawless victories over Wilson Reis and Henry Cejudo, coincidentally duking it out on the undercard. I’ve seen it pointed it out – though not as a serious threat – that Borg has a similar power wrestling game as that used by Brad Pickett and Dominick Cruz to defeat DJ before he ascended to the flyweight throne. While Elliott’s seemingly close sub attempt shows that not even DJ is completely bulletproof, it’s still hard to imagine anyone seriously threatening “Mighty Mouse”. Borg will have to catch an opportunistic submission in a similar situation to close the show because nobody is going to consistently take rounds from the champ. He’s too well-rounded and too good a scrambler. DJ works Borg over and disheartens the prospect until the wheels fall off and the submission presents itself.

Prices and Odds: 

Johnson: $9600 (-1250, -117 Inside Distance Prop)

Borg: $6600 (+800, +1260 IDP)

The Play:

DJ is obviously the most expensive fighter on the card, but he’s worth it in cash. He’s basically a lock for 100+ points, even in a decision victory. The other fighters above 9k, Martins, and Cejudo don’t have a floor anywhere near that. Martins is live for a first-round finish, which could potentially put him in the mix in gpps. But if I can, again, I’d rather just go up to DJ. I punted in cash with Reis against DJ and that didn’t work out so well. The champ was so untouchable Reis got nothing done and scored very little. I think there’s more hope that Borg is able to put some points up with takedowns, but not enough that I think you need to play him in cash or have any gpp exposure. There are enough other value plays on this card that you can make work with DJ in your lineup.

Women’s Bantamweight Championship: Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko

The Pick: Shevchenko by 4th-round submission.

I think I hold the same view as much of the public where this fight is concerned: the third round of their first fight showed that only one of these women is built to go the five-round distance. But it is still close to an even fight in my eyes. Nunes is capable of burying people with a quickness, or hurting them to the point that even if she gases, they are unable to mount a comeback. She smacked down Shevchenko in round two, got the back, and was closing in on the choke. So “The Lioness” is more than capable of putting away Shevchenko if she spends significant time in top position early. On the feet, I give the technical edge to “Bullet”, who is one of the best counter punchers in MMA. Nunes obviously holds the power edge. But the Brazilian’s ferocious style is tailor-made to drain her cardio, something I’m not sure she can hold herself back from. If Shevchenko survives the first two frames, the fight will become more and more one-sided as Nunes becomes more and more helpless. Shevchenko is not an offensive dynamo capable of blasting foes to smithereens, but she can work takedowns and submissions. That’s where she eventually finishes this.

Prices and Odds: 

Nunes: $8100 (+110, +180 Inside Distance Prop)

Shevchenko: $8100 (130-, +174 IDP)

The Play:

Fighters priced in the mid-range with five rounds to work and finish upside need to be targeted. I’m thinking I would rather stack this fight in cash than the main event. Shevchenko worries me a bit with her lack of output. Her counter-punching style means she throws very little, especially early. But if she wins, I think she scores decently well by wracking up takedowns and volume on a gassed Nunes in the later rounds. And Nunes is obviously capable of first-round stoppages, putting her in play in gpps as well.

Welterweights Neil Magny vs. Rafael dos Anjos

The Pick: Dos Anjos by decision.

Magny is a really solid fighter and well-rounded, but he isn’t particularly dangerous. His is an attritive game, based on putting volume on guys on the feet and on the mat. He’s not a guy to take out opponents with one big shot. Dos Anjos is more dangerous and powerful. The question for Magny is if he can stay in space, avoid big shots, and stay off his back. If he has a distinct wrestling, cardio, or striking advantage, he can usually make that tell, but I’m not sure he has any distinct edge against RDA. He might have better cardio and throw more volume, but in a three-round fight, he’ll struggle to make those work. RDA’s harder shots, (likely) better wrestling, and suffocating top game give him the edge. I don’t think the Brazilian consistently has his way – he’ll get stuffed a few times and eat his share of long-range shots – but RDA by decision is the pick in a competitive fight.

Prices and Odds: 

Magny: $7600 (+165, +560 Inside Distance Prop)

RDA: $8600 (-190, +300 IDP)

The Play:

I’m not all that interested in targeting this fight heavily. I think their wrestling largely nullify each other and this turns into mostly a battle fought in the clinch and at distance. Neither has a good finish prop, so that’s not a recipe for a high-scoring affair. I favor RDA to win, but his price is too steep. Magny has shown to be durable, so I don’t see RDA getting him out of there.

Light Heavyweights Ilir Latifi vs. Tyson Pedro

The Pick: Latifi by 2nd-round TKO.

I like Latifi here. Sure, Tyson Pedro has the ability to finish Latifi, but I look at the competition level. Latifi has fought better talent, has the better wrestling, and also hits like a truck. I want to see Pedro leave the first round and see how he looks. I think the even line is just…both have big KO power. Pedro has shown that he is dangerous in the clinch, which is also where he gets his takedowns. And he’s vicious from top position. But getting it there or having success against someone of Latifi’s caliber is a tall order. Pedro has beaten two guys who are dangerous in one area – Rountree with striking and Craig with grappling – but who were woefully underdeveloped in other facets. Latifi should finish this fight inside the distance, probably with a knockdown and g&p.

Prices and Odds: 

Latifi: $8500 (+120, +175 Inside Distance Prop)

Pedro: $7700 (-140, +110 IDP)

The Play:

The fact that the line on this fight has flipped between Wednesday and Thursday makes this interesting. I wouldn’t hate either in GPPs, but I still side with Latifi. Pedro’s newfound value relative to his price should push a ton of people onto him

Featherweights Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez

The Pick: Melendez by decision.

This should be a good fight that mostly takes place on the feet in boxing range. Both men will likely respect the other’s power, so I don’t think we’ll see a ton of volume necessarily. I think Gil has slightly better hands and wrestling, but he barely kicks. Stephens will kick a fair amount. Neither is an outstanding wrestler and they both have pretty solid takedown defense, which is why this should be mostly a kickboxing affair. That should result in a very close fight where a late takedown or a big moment or two could swing the round. I think I’ll side very slightly with Gil, but if Stephens really commits to the kicks, he’ll be able to wrack up points and slow down Melendez. The X-Factor is how “El Nino” looks dropping down to featherweight at 35 years old and only one fight in each of the last three calendar years.

Prices and Odds: 

Stephens: $8200 (-110, +370 Inside Distance Prop)

Melendez: $8000 (-110, +420 IDP)

The Play:

This is another fight I don’t have much interest in. A low-medium volume kickboxing fight without much chance of a finish? I’ll take one of the women in the co-main for basically the same price over either of these guys.

FS1 Prelims

Women’s Bantamweights Sara McMann vs. Ketlen Vieira

The Pick: McMann by 2nd-round submission.

I like McMann here. We haven’t seen the takedown defense really of Vieira, especially against an Olympic wrestler. The Brazilian just fought another wrestling in Ashlee Evans-Smith (who is further down this card, incidentally) and completely shut down her takedown game with strikes. Long, straight punches prevented AES from ever really getting into a position to shoot, and by the later rounds, she was largely reduced to being an easy target. My concern here is that McMann goes back to her old ways and is tentative with her striking, which helps set up her takedowns. She obviously has a greater pedigree than AES, is a more powerful striker, and more explosive athlete. She should continue to have confidence in her strikes and shoot for takedowns, securing a submission victory along the way.

Prices and Odds: 

McMann: $8900 (-270, +247 Inside Distance Prop)

Vieira: $7300 (+230, +650 IDP)

The Play:

Vieira impressed in her last fight, pretty much owning a good fighter in AES. Maybe she’s the real deal. She’s dirt cheap, so if you side with her, you could plug her in. But otherwise, there doesn’t feel like a lot of reason to roster her. McMann is obviously going to be the one going for takedowns, so Vieira’s floor is very low. And she doesn’t have a good chance of finishing either. I like McMann a bit for the grappling upside, but her IDP isn’t great so she’s not a must-play.

Flyweights Henry Cejudo vs. Wilson Reis

The Pick: Cejudo by decision.

Reis is an explosive fighter, but he relies on his wrestling and grappling to win a lot of fights. His striking output and defense are generally not up to the elite of the division. Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist wrestler, which I think is often overblown as it impacts his MMA game. But it must be said that he has 100% takedown defense. That doesn’t bode well for Reis. Cejudo also uses his striking primarily to win fights; his wrestling is more defensive or change-of-pace. He hits hard and has a better chin than the somewhat glass-jawed Reis. Cejudo showed some nice aggression against Benavidez – important because he can tend to coast. Cejudo by decision is the pick.

Prices and Odds: 

Cejudo: $9100 (-330, +362 Inside Distance Prop)

Reis: $7100 (+270, +499 IDP)

The Play:

This isn’t a fight I’m all that interested in targeting because Cejudo is too pricey and I don’t think is super likely to score well. Despite his wrestling pedigree, he doesn’t shoot all that often and his IDP isn’t good for how big a favorite he is. You could sprinkle him in in tournaments in case he’s able to put the hurtable Reis away early. I don’t have much interest in Reis because I don’t see a path to him scoring well.

Women’s Bantamweights Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Sarah Moras

The Pick: Evans-Smith by decision.

I like AES here. Her wrestling is the difference-maker. She got tuned up by Vieira on the feet in her last fight, unable to match the Brazilian’s speed and power. But Moras isn’t going to present those kinds of problems. Moras has shown a lack of takedown ability, and I think AES can use her wrestling to score takedowns if she chooses to. Because Moras’s grappling skill is really her only plus skill set, I don’t see AES finishing the fight once it hits the floor. “Rebel Girl” takes a decision.

Prices and Odds: 

AES: $8700 (-25o, +271 Inside Distance Prop)

Moras: $7500 (+210, +480 IDP)

The Play:

Moras has a puncher’s chance to make it a brawl and catch AES, but I won’t rely on that. It’s AES for me, but there is limited upside. The best case scenario would be for her to score takedowns and get a ground and pound stoppage, something I think she is capable of. But if not, I’m not sure she scores a ton of takedowns, passes, or strikes in a decision.

Featherweights Gavin Tucker vs. Rick Glenn

The Pick: Tucker by decision.

Glenn’s last fight against Nover was telling about how I see this fight going a bit. Glenn is a BJJ brown belt but wasn’t able to take Nover down and thus had to engage in a standup battle with a guy who wants to stick and move and pot-shot. That’s exactly the kind of gameplan Tucker used against Sicilia in his debut, but Tucker is much faster than Nover. Or he at least had a much greater sense of urgency about not getting corralled on the fence. He would kick hard and get out. Glenn is long and a decent counterpuncher, so he might find a home for his counter left hand. But he’s also pretty slow of foot, so I see Tucker largely dancing circles around him for a decision victory.

Prices and Odds: 

Tucker: $8400 (-260, +248 Inside Distance Prop)

Glenn: $7800 (+210, +480 IDP)

The Play:

I don’t see much wrestling/grappling in this fight, which limits its upside, but I think it will be a high output striking battle. That might be enough to score well. I prefer Tucker and think he’s an OK play in any format. Glenn is more experienced and has beaten someone in Georgi Karakhanyan who is much better than anyone Tucker has ever fought, so perhaps his crafty striking will be enough. But I think there are a few other better dog plays with more upside and better chances to win.

Fight Pass Prelims

Lightweights Mitch Clarke vs. Alex White

The Pick: White by decision.

I think Mitch Clarke is a tomato can, so I’m on Alex White here. He struggled in his recent (short notice) fight with the takedowns of Tony Martin and struggled even more off his back. But I don’t think Clarke is as good a wrestler as Martin. He’ll struggle to get this fight to the ground, where his crafty submission game flourishes. I see this fight staying standing and White getting to show off his underrated power. He takes a tidy decision or late TKO.

Prices and Odds: 

Clarke: $8800 (+165, +353 Inside Distance Prop)

White: $7400 (-190, +160 IDP)

The Play:

White is far and away the best value on the card. That’s a double-edged sword. He’ll be one of the most popular fighters taken, but he’s such a value, can you really pass him up? There is some value to having a few shares of Clarke as a contrarian play. If he’s able to spring the upset, likely by submission, much of the field will be sunk and any Clarke lineups will be sitting pretty. But Clarke can’t be more than a contrarian play you have in a few lineups if you’re making 20+. If you’re only making a few, I think you have to roll with White. You might also pass on this fight altogether. If much of the field is on White and he scores a lackluster decision, you’ll be in good shape as well.

Heavyweights Arjan Bhullar vs. Luis Henrique

The Pick: Henrique by decision.

Bhullar enters the UFC with a world class wrestling pedigree, having medaled at two world championships. He’s taking on Henrique, himself a Brazilian national wrestling champion. Despite his 2-2 record, I like Henrique as a prospect. He’s still only 24 years old and his losses are to Francis Ngannou (knocking on the door of a title shot, and Henrique gave him a tough fight when they were both rawer) and Marcin Tybura (also quickly climbing the rankings). The non-UFC level talent he’s beaten he’s handled pretty easily. Henrique has good cardio for a heavyweight, solid wrestling chops (though, they’re obviously not at Bhullar’s level), and improving striking. That’s where he’ll hold the greatest advantage over Bhullar. There is very little out there on the UFC’s first Indian fighter (though living and training in Canada). If he were fighting one of the basement-level heavyweights, I would pick him in a heartbeat, but I think Henrique is better than that. Until I see a little more from Bhullar (which, admittedly, could come in this very fight), I can’t yet pick him over a guy I think is talented with upside. Henrique takes a decision or late TKO with superior striking and cardio and holding his own in the wrestling.

Prices and Odds: 

Bhullar: $7900 (-190, +250 Inside Distance Prop)

Henrique: $8300 (+165, +236 IDP)

The Play:

This is a good fight to target on both sides. It’s at heavyweight (solid chance of a finish) and both guys like to wrestle. Despite making his debut, Bhullar is the favorite because of his Olympic wrestling pedigree. If he’s able to make that work on Henrique, he’ll score well. And if the Brazilian can stay off his back, punish the Canadian inside, and make his experience tell, he has a good chance of doing the same. I’ll probably be pretty split on this fight. Though I slightly favor Henrique to win because Bhullar is still a bit of an unknown, his slight price savings compared to Henrique, his undeniable value compared to his odds, and his upside put him solidly in play.

Lightweights Kajan Johnson vs. Adriano Martins

The Pick: 

I like Martins here. Kajan is most likely going to have to fight at range and keep Martins at bay. The more time they spend in the cage together, though, the more likely I think it is Martins finds a home for a kill-shot. A BJJ black belt, he’s also a dangerous and quality striker, but with the Achilles heel of throwing painfully few strikes per round. So Kajan does have an avenue to win here. He is similar to Leonardo Santos and should copy his gameplan by fighting at long range and avoiding the Brazilian’s counterstriking. Kajan has been improving each fight out and could steal one here, although I think it is unlikely.

Prices and Odds: 

Johnson: $7200 (+350, +644 Inside Distance Prop)

Martins: $9000 (-440, -130 IDP)

The Play:

Martins’ low output concerns me on DK since he will probably need an early finish to pay off his salary. Because of that, I won’t have overwhelming exposure. But he warrants some. His power coupled with Johnson’s obviously suspect chin give him a high ceiling. And his IDP says he has a great chance of that. Johnson intrigues me, though, as a punt play. If he doesn’t get starched, he could steal rounds with output as Martins throws maddeningly little volume.

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IPAs, brunch, and punch-face. Husband, teacher, MMA writer and analyst. Half of @DailyFantasyKO podcast