Daily Fantasy Knockout: UFC 216 DraftKings Picks
UFC 216 is flying a bit under the radar, which is a shame, because I think it’s a very good card. Even though Ferguson isn’t fighting McGregor, Nurmagomedov, or Diaz, I’m glad we get to see his special brand of violence back in the cage. And Kevin Lee makes a worthy foil; if he wins it will cap a meteoric rise for the young Detroit native. And obviously getting the chance to see Demetrious Johnson show out once again while making history isn’t something I plan on missing. Wait, that fight is still on, right? *Checks Twitter* OK, we’re good. And there are several other awesome matchups, like the lightweight battle between Evan Dunham and Beneil Dariush. That fight is a gorgeous piece of matchmaking.
Keep in mind that the Will Brooks vs. Nik Lentz fight got scrapped on Friday after Lentz was not cleared to fight.
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 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
Interim Lightweight Championship: Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee
The Pick: Ferguson 2nd-round TKO.
Lee is a pretty great grappler; that is by far his best skill set. He’s a solid if unspectacular wrestler, but his top position and back-take are pretty nasty. But his standup is a liability against the upper echelon of the division. His striking can be dynamic (witness the head kick that set up his finish of Francisco Trinaldo), but his defense relies on him moving his feet and getting out of the way. He doesn’t block all that well or move his head at all. So in exchanges, he is constantly there to be hit. He flashes the jab and a 1-2 but it lacks pop and is easy to counter. Tony Ferguson is, therefore, a bad matchup for Lee. T-Ferg is tough as hell, has an awkward style that is difficult to figure out, is extremely aggressive, and hits like a truck. Lee has shown a decent ability to recover and fight through adversity, but he’s also getting badly hurt far too easily. Efrain Escudero was boxing him up and hurting him, so imagine what Ferguson will do to him. Lee is young and improving rapidly from fight to fight, but he hasn’t fought anyone on Ferguson’s level yet. Chiesa has maybe the most lethal RNC game at lightweight, but his standup is similarly defensively porous and his grappling defense isn’t on the level of his offense. I think Ferguson is better everywhere. I don’t see Lee being able to consistently take down or hold position on Ferguson, let alone submit him. If he gets the back, all bets are off, but I have a really hard time seeing him get there. And Ferguson is far too much for him on the feet. I think Ugly Tony rocks, drops, and finishes Lee inside the first half of the fight.
Prices and Odds:
Ferguson: $8900 (-220, -105 Inside Distance Prop)
Lee: $7300 (+180, +328 IDP)
I like Ferguson in any format. He might not land a lot of takedowns or grappling points on his own, but he strikes at a very high clip and will have up to five rounds to score. He could add in a knockdown and has a solid shot at a finish. I think Lee makes a good play in either format as well. Again, he potentially has the five rounds, and his path to victory lies in the wrestling. I might be 100% on this fight because I can’t really envision a scenario where the winner doesn’t score very well. I think the main event stack is definitely in play in cash, as well.
Flyweight Championship: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg
The Pick: Johnson by 3rd-round submission.
“Mighty Mouse” will finally get his crack at breaking Anderson Silva’s title defense record here. He currently has ten straight title defenses, and he has looked more and more complete and unbeatable as that streak has progressed. I have to agree with the general sentiment surrounding this fight: Borg is a very athletic and talented prospect, but he’s still young and growing, while DJ is the most complete fighter we’ve ever seen while also seeming to continue improving. Borg’s best phase is scrambling, but that also happens to be where DJ is the best in the world. DJ also pushes an incredible pace that doesn’t slow as the fight deepens. As Borg tires, Johnson will scramble to a dominant position and armbar or rear-naked choke the challenger in the second half of the fight.
Prices and Odds:
Johnson: $9700 (-1375, -148 Inside Distance Prop)
Borg: $6500 (+900, +1255 IDP)
Johnson is so safe – he’s virtually a lock for 100 points – so he’s a great cash play. If you can fit him in, he’s also good for gpps. That will be the trouble, of course. I think there are enough likely finishes that DJ might be pushed off the winning lineup because of how expensive he is. Borg might be OK as a cash punt but I can’t see playing him in tournaments because his chance of winning is so slim. After the success Tim Elliott had with his ability to scramble and go five rounds, I played too much of Wilson Reis, who got totally clowned and barely scored at all. Borg is a better wrestler than Reis, so he should have more success. I’ll think about him as a cash punt, probably in a cash stack with DJ.
Heavyweights Fabricio Werdum vs. Derrick Lewis
The Pick: Werdum by decision.
Lewis has had problems with dangerous strikers with power in his most recent fights. Travis Browne had length and kicks that gave Lewis all kinds of problems, and Hunt’s lethal punching made him hesitant as well. He’s backed himself into the fence often in his last two fights, exploding with lethal punches and kicks periodically, but at the expense of his gas tank. We’ve seen Lewis’ ceiling to some extent in these last few fights. He doesn’t have great takedown defense if you get in on his hips, he doesn’t have outstanding cardio if you put pressure on him, and his bottom game relies a lot on explosion. Werdum should be able to exploit all these holes. He may not shoot a ton, but Werdum has faster and more technical hands on the feet anyway. But Lewis can spark out anyone. And Werdum will have to seriously consider if pulling guard on Lewis is the wisest move, as “The Black Beast’s” ground and pound is among the most ferocious in the sport. But Werdum should be able to pick apart an increasingly stationary Lewis on his way to a decision or submission victory later in the fight.
Prices and Odds:
Werdum: $8700 (-255, +135 Inside Distance Prop)
Lewis: $7500 (+215, +315 IDP)
I’m not extremely interested in this fight as a play. I think the most likely outcome is something like Werdum’s fight with Overeem where both men respect each other a lot and don’t throw very much. There will be big moments that decide the rounds – and potentially the fight. I think the fight will be popular because of the names and the fact that it’s heavyweight. But if there isn’t an early finish, I don’t know that it pays off. I plan to be underweight to this one rather than putting myself in a position to desperately urge these big men into “swangin and bangin” in hopes of an early knockout.
Women’s Flyweights Mara Romero Borella vs. Kalindra Faria
The Pick: Faria by decision.
I think Faria has the advantage just about everywhere here. Both women look long and lean but also powerfully built. Both of their striking techniques are still a little wooden, but Faria gets the advantage because she doesn’t pull away or back herself into the cage so easily. Both women like trip takedowns from the clinch, a phase they are both willing to invite. I think Faria has the advantage in the wrestling as well. Both women like to work from top position and advance to mount or the back, but what they do once they’re there differs. Borella doesn’t strike much, instead preferring to go for submissions. Faria is more prone to just hammer the crap out of her foe with elbows and punches, and she can get some torque on them from her long frame. The X-Factor here is Borella’s guard, which looked good in the brief amount I saw of it against Salmimies. After getting tripped right into side control, she immediately reclaimed guard and then threatened with a leg lock to get back up. The grappling could be back and forth, but Faria looks more dangerous standing and on the mat. She takes a decision.
Prices and Odds:
Borella: $7300 (+175, +440 Inside Distance Prop)
Faria: $8900 (-210, +248 IDP)
I think I’ll have a bit of exposure on both sides of this bout. It could be really ugly and wind up as a stalemate, so I don’t want to go all in. But we should hopefully see a fair amount of grappling, raising the ceiling of both women. It may be hard to pay all the way up for someone as unproven as Faria, especially considering she costs the same as Ferguson, who I’m much higher on. But I’m going to try to work her in a little bit. Same with Borella, who’s in that bottom tier with Lee, Dunham, and Stamann. Her ceiling isn’t as high as any of them because she isn’t going to throw as much volume or wrestle as much, but she may have the best shot at winning.
Lightweights Beneil Dariush vs. Evan Dunham
The Pick: Dariush by decision.
This is a fight I’m really looking forward to between two action lightweights. Both men are southpaw BJJ black belts. Dariush, a Muay Thai black belt, is the faster, more dangerous striker, but his trademark body kick will not be as open on a fellow southpaw. Dunham is not a knockout artist, but he is relentless and can bury foes under an avalanche of strikes. He is on a four-fight winning streak, and if you take out his win over Ross Pearson in which he relied much more on his wrestling, he is averaging 141 significant strikes across the other three wins. Who tries to incorporate their takedowns into their gameplan will be an interesting dynamic here, but I’m not sure either man will be particularly successful. Dunham has a slight advantage in takedown ability and typically shoots a bit more often, but both ’55ers have pretty stout defense and underwhelming takedown accuracy stats. I think Dariush’s speed and kicking will make the difference and carry him to an entertaining decision victory. I hope this hits the mat at some point, though, because the grappling exchanges between these two would be very interesting.
Prices and Odds:
Dariush: $9000 (-230, +202 Inside Distance Prop)
Dunham: $7200 (+190, +705 IDP)
For their prices, I definitely prefer Dunham as a play. Dariush does have a decent finish prop, which makes him a bit more interesting. He should have opportunities to put a lot of volume on Dunham, but I don’t see him landing many takedowns. If he finishes, it would likely come from hurting Dunham on the feet or swinging around behind him in a tie-up on the fence, climbing to the back, and sinking in a choke. Both are possible but I don’t think particularly likely on the rugged Dunham. So if Dunham is going to be in a high-paced striking battle with a guy whose primary weapon will be stymied, I’m interested for only 7.2k. He’s a cash punt I like, and I’ll some exposure in gpps as well.
Featherweights Tom Duquesnoy vs. Cody Stamann
The Pick: Duquesnoy by 2nd-round TKO.
We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of picking the elite prospect without thinking or analyzing it more closely. But Duquesnoy still looks like the real deal after dispatching Patrick Williams. To be fair, Fire Kid got rocked by Williams, and the wrestler was returning from a two-year layoff and gassed badly after about three minutes (I’ve heard since he had his rib broken). Duquesnoy needs to shore up that defense, but his offense is dynamic and scary. He comes right at guys, cutting an intimidating figure for a bantamweight. He’s not quite Cody Garbrandt-level scary, but he’s near the top of the class in terms of ever-present danger. His clinch elbows already resemble Carlos Condit or Anthony Smith, and pack just as much of a wallop, even in a 135-pound body. The Frenchman has also shown off a slick ground game.
Stamann is a powerful wrestler with kickboxing that resembles teammate Daron Cruickshank in some ways. He doesn’t have the same dexterity or variety in his kicks, but he’s willing to throw them, in addition to his left hook and overhand right. But he’s not as fast or as powerful, and his defense is even more flawed than Duquesnoy. The Frenchman can forget himself in his thirst for blood, but generally slips and parries pretty well, especially for someone as young as he is. Stamann’s head is very stationary. If he can’t consistently out-wrestle Fire Kid, he’ll find himself in trouble. And he might be on the defensive even if he gets top position, as he’s not a guard passer and Duquesnoy is aggressive off his back. Duquesnoy should finish this around the halfway point via strikes.
Prices and Odds:
Duquesnoy: $9100 (-165, +185 Inside Distance Prop)
Stamann: $7100 (+145, +476 IDP)
I expect this fight to be popular on both sides, especially considering the line is much closer than I would have predicted. It even opened as a pick ’em! If Stamann manages to pull off the victory, it will be wrestling-based, giving him a good score. He’s also a big value in terms of his odds compared to his price, which puts him in play in cash games. Duquesnoy might be a bit more expensive than I think he should be, but I do think he deserves to be a more significant favorite. Stamann’s lack of head movement and propensity to back himself to the fence, where Duquesnoy is an absolute killer, make me believe in a finish. I’ll have exposure both ways, leaning in favor of Duquesnoy.
Flyweights Matt Schnell vs. Marco Beltran
The Pick: Schnell by 2nd-round submission.
I’m glad to see Schnell get another chance here and just wish that more of his fellow regional flyweight champions that competed on TUF 24 got a shot in the UFC. He made a short-notice debut fighting up a weight class against one of the best bantamweight prospects on the roster in Rob Font. Then he got knocked out again in his next bout by weird hammerfists while he tried setting up a triangle, but I think he was already badly hurt from bombs he absorbed on the feet. Either way, his chin doesn’t look very good. He does have an aggressive guard and willing striking. But his striking defense is obviously lacking, as he doesn’t move his head much and stays tall in the pocket. And his lack of wrestling makes it hard for him to work his aggressive submission game. But he gets a more favorable dance partner in Beltran, a similarly long, tall, and defensively lacking aggressor. This is Beltran’s second fight at flyweight, and he’ll have to look better than in his first effort, where he looked terrible making the cut. He
But he gets a more favorable dance partner in Beltran, a similarly long, tall, and defensively lacking aggressor. This is Beltran’s second fight at flyweight, and he’ll have to look better than in his first effort, where he looked terrible making the cut. He also had to fight a big-time prospect in his flyweight debut in Deiveson Alcantara and took a bad beating. Beltran’s wrestling is improving but still might be poor enough that even Schnell could take him down. Neither guy fights with a ton of process so it’s hard to predict what we’ll see out of them. I’ll favor Schnell because I don’t think Beltran has the power in his hands – he’s more of a kicker – to test Schnell’s chin, I think Schnell has the submission advantage, and Beltran looked terrible last time out at flyweight.
Prices and Odds:
Schnell: $8200 (-115, +231 Inside Distance Prop)
Beltran: $8000 (-105, +222 IDP)
This is definitely a fight to target both ways. It got moved up the lineup after the Brooks-Lentz fight fell out, which is a shame for us. This was the curtain-jerker and was thus primed to go lower-owned. There’s a good chance of a finish from either guy and we should see some wrestling and scrambles. I’ll favor Schnell but will have Beltran as well.
Lightweights Bobby Green vs. Lando Vannata
The Pick: Vannata by decision.
Green might be on the downturn of his career, or else he’s just been fighting a really high class of fighter. All of his recent losses have been to ranked (or nearly ranked in Rashid Magomedov’s case) foes. Vannata is flashy and exciting and still on the come-up. Both guys have wrestling backgrounds and have solid defense so I expect this to play out on the feet. Vannata can get a little wild and get himself tagged, but his unorthodox attack and better movement should frustrate Green, who likes to fight at a closer range. They both throw high volume, but Vannata throws at a higher clip. He’ll need to be careful of eating too many flush shots or wearing himself out with too many flashy kicks, but he should be able to take a striking match on points.
Prices and Odds:
Green: $7400 (+180, +550 Inside Distance Prop)
Vannata: $8800 (-220, +174 IDP)
I’m not all that interested in this fight as a play because I don’t see much wrestling. Vannata might be able to show out and do serious work on the feet and potentially get the finish. He has a better finish prop than Dariush, so I think I’d rather have him, especially for the possibility that Green is shot. I don’t have much interest in Green even though I think he’ll be around for the duration of a high-paced striking battle. He’s just too hard to trust at this point. He might end up trash-talking Vannata without really doing anything as Vannata bounces around the outside.
Strawweights Pearl Gonzalez vs. Poliana Botelho
The Pick: Gonzalez by decision.
Gonzalez makes her sophomore appearance here after getting submitted by fast-rising prospect Cynthia Calvillo in her debut. Her striking doesn’t look awesome, throwing long straight punches as she stays upright and doesn’t move her head much. She’s at her best aggressively hunting for submissions on the mat, but her defense can lack there as well. Fortunately for her, though, Botelho’s ground defense looks much worse. The newcomer is an aggressive pressure fighter on the feet, which could give Gonzalez a lot of problems, but Botelho gets planted on her back in a lot of her fights at some point, and she looks a bit like a fish out of water there. Gonzalez will seek to test her there and I expect her to get the opportunity a few times. She takes a decision.
Prices and Odds:
Gonzalez: $8400 (+125, +465 Inside Distance Prop)
Botelho: $7800 (-145, +375 IDP)
Right away we can see there is significant odds value on Botelho, which is something you want to target long-term. That puts her in play in either format. I think Gonzalez will be overlooked, which makes her an enticing play, especially coupled with her grappling-centric style. I’ll have some exposure to her in gpps.
Fight Pass Prelims
Heavyweights Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer
The Pick: Harris by 1st-round knockout.
Godbeer is not very good. Harris isn’t elite by any stretch, but he’s fast, reasonably durable, athletic, and hits hard. He should be better than Godbeer everywhere. This is heavyweight, so upsets are common, but Harris should get a finish here. He’s shown he can beat lower-level UFC heavyweights.
Prices and Odds:
Harris: $9200 (-330, -195 Inside Distance Prop)
Godbeer: $7000 (+270, +430 IDP)
As with most heavyweight fights, the usual caveats apply: the fight will be popular as a whole, don’t have too much exposure to the favorite, and you don’t want to go all in on the fight because there’s a good chance it could turn into a painfully slow-paced affair. I’ll have some shares of Harris because he’s in a good spot here, but I’ll be sweating. I’ll have some of Godbeer too, but not much.
Flyweights John Moraga vs. Magomed Bibulatov
The Pick: Bibulatov by decision.
After getting a dominant win over debutante Ashkan Mokhtarian to get back on the winning track following three straight losses, Moraga is getting thrown right back into the deep end here. Bibulatov, a henchman of psychotic Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, is one of the best flyweight prospects in the world and is getting pushed like it, despite his ties. In his debut, Bibulatov elected to stay safe and repeatedly ground and beat up power-puncher Janel Lausa. But Bibulatov is a flashy and dangerous striker in his own right. He takes on quintessential opportunist Moraga, who is always waiting for an opening to finish the fight. While he has a dangerous guillotine and power in his hands, the biggest knock on him is that he is often sitting back and waiting while being outpointed. He is reasonably well-rounded, coming out of the MMA Lab, but can be taken down by power wrestlers or outpointed by high-volume strikers. If Moraga doesn’t utterly outmatch his foe or find the finish, he often gives rounds away. Bibulatov should be able to avoid getting stopped and largely cruise to a decision victory.
Prices and Odds:
Moraga: $6900 (+450, +800 Inside Distance Prop)
Bibulatov: $9300 (-600, +243 IDP)
Bibulatov is in a weird position. He’s $400 cheaper than Johnson but isn’t nearly as safe or have as high of a floor. He may be able to land a punch of takedowns and passes in a dominant outing, but Johnson is almost guaranteed to do that. If you can’t quite fit in DJ, Bibulatov isn’t a bad play. But I’d try to go all the way up. If you’re making a lot of lineups, Moraga might be worth a dart-throw or two because if he wins, I think it would have to be by finish (despite how bad is IDP is). But I’m probably going to try to stay away from this one for the most part.
Middleweights Thales Leites vs. Brad Tavares
The Pick: Tavares by decision.
Tavares was just in a nailbiter with Elias Theodorou, while Leites was in a shockingly close fight with Sam Alvey his last time out. Leites hurt Alvey with the first leg kick he threw, compromising the Team Quest export for the rest of the fight. But he was never able to really take over, getting rocked and potentially dropping the second frame. After the resurgence that saw him crack the top ten, Leites looks to be coming back to Earth. We haven’t seen the aggressive power puncher who rocked Bisping on multiple occasions since, well, the Bisping fight. So if he’s not able to smother guys in the clinch and drag them to the mat to work his world-class jiu-jitsu, he’s forced to throw hard leg kicks from the outside. Tavares also hasn’t looked as good since he did in his best win over Lorenz Larkin, out-kickboxing the kickboxer. But I side with the Hawaiian here because I think he has the wrestling to at least stave off Leites, much like he did against Theodorou. And I trust his higher-volume striking over what’s become one-off power kicks for Leites. Regardless, I expect it to be a close fight with both men struggling to really put their stamp on it. Tavares wins another close decision.
Prices and Odds:
Leites: $7900 (+160, +344 Inside Distance Prop)
Tavares: $8300 (-185, +377 IDP)
This is another bout I’m not very interested in. I don’t see it scoring well as a slow-paced kickboxing battle where the wrestling is largely stalemated. Tavares might be an OK mid-range play with more safety than someone like Schnell, but I can’t invest much in this fight.