Daily Fantasy Knockout: UFC Pittsburgh DraftKings Picks
It might be strange to say, but I’m excited about this card. But that’s because I went to school in Pittsburgh, so I’m going up for it. It’s a very different experience than watching on TV, in some good ways and some not as good, but I recommend you try it at least once if you’re a combat sports fan. Despite my anticipation of this event, I can’t help but be disappointed that we’re down to ten fights. There are some fun ones – I’m really looking forward to Lombard-Smith – and there are prospects to look forward to, but I’m still mourning the loss of Perry-Alves and Arantes-Sanders. The ten-fight card also makes it a weird one on DraftKings. Fewer fights means fewer distinct lineup options and more ties. But I think there is still an edge to be had in a few spots, as I have some takes that I don’t think a lot of other people will be on.
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.
FS1 Main Card
Middleweights Luke Rockhold vs. David Branch
The Pick: Rockhold by 2nd-round TKO.
It’s tough to see Branch posing many problems to Rockhold. Branch is at his best when he can either grind against the fence or work his submission game from top position. But Rockhold is difficult to hold down and is an outstanding grappler in his own right. He’s also going to hold strength and athleticism advantages in this fight, along with a significant power edge on the feet. Both guys mostly pot-shot while striking, but Rockhold is much more dangerous, particularly with his left kick. Rockhold’s defensive wrestling isn’t bulletproof, but he’s very hard to control and works back to his feet quickly against all but the best top-control artists. If Branch threw more volume, he could try to outpoint Rockhold. Unable to outstrike or consistently outwrestle Rockhold, Branch is in for a rough night. Rockhold by TKO in the second or third is the pick.
Prices and Odds:
Rockhold: $9300 (-550, -155 Inside Distance Prop)
Branch: $6900 (+425, +655 IDP)
Rockhold will be popular, and for that reason I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to be underweight to him. I see him finishing this fight, but if he can’t do it until the third or later, he might not score very well. Branch is going to try to nullify him as best he can and Rockhold is coming off a 15-month layoff, so it might take him some time to get warmed up. I don’t think he lands a ton of volume, takedowns, or passes on the BJJ black belt Branch. I think the most likely outcome is a “club and sub” or a knockdown followed by a TKO. If that happens in the first two rounds, he’s good, but if not, he’s not going to score 100 points. I think I’d rather have Gillespie if I’m going all the way up, and maybe Ledet as well. Branch might be a guy you punt with in either format. In theory, he could hit a few takedowns and last until the later rounds or even go to a decision.
Welterweights Mike Perry vs. Alex Reyes
The Pick: Perry by first-round knockout.
This is an impossible situation for Reyes, so I really hope he got a good deal with the UFC. He hasn’t fought in two years, is moving up from lightweight, and is fighting one of the most vicious finishers in the promotion on three days’ notice. It’s absurd. I can’t believe he took this, but good on him for doing it and I hope he gets taken care of. I can’t think of a reason not to pick Perry. Reyes is mostly a grappler with good reactive takedowns, so that’s what he’ll look to do. But Perry is very strong and has decent defense. He blows up Reyes in the first.
Prices and Odds:
Perry: $8500 (-470, + Inside Distance Prop)
Reyeses: $7700 (+375, + IDP)
With the late replacement, it’s very hard for me to not to plug Perry into my lineups, especially at his price. He’s easily the most popular fighter on the card and for good reason. I normally hate to eat the chalk in tournaments, but I think you have to here. And he’s a free square in cash games. Stranger things have happened in MMA and this card smells like it, but I’m confident in Perry to end this fight early.
Middleweights Hector Lombard vs. Anthony Smith
The Pick: Smith by 3rd-round TKO.
This fight makes me nervous for Smith, but it’s a winnable one for him. His biggest issue I think is going to be hand speed. Smith is at his best at long punching or kicking range where he can use his full reach and still hit with power. But he has a worrying tendency to overrun his best range and lunge into the pocket. On his way in, he’s open to being countered because he doesn’t have the fastest hands or great head movement. He’s a devastating clinch fighter, with some of the most vicious standing elbows I’ve ever seen. But his height means his long legs are big takedown targets, so he sometimes runs himself into takedowns. Wrestling has never been his strong suit. But he still seems to be improving. He lowered his level against Andrew Sanchez to help thwart the wrestling. His Achilles heel in a lot of fights is spending too much time on his back, particularly when he gets stuck up against the fence. He likes to work half guard sweeps and submissions rather than wall-walking, and those are harder to do with limited space. He showed a good sense of urgency about getting his back off the cage and stuffing some shots against Sanchez before wiping him out late.
Lombard has the Olympic judo credentials, but he’s not much of a threat on top unless it’s in a dominant position. He still has insanely fast hands and hits like a truck, but his stamina and chin are fading, so his work rate is diminishing. If he doesn’t get a stoppage in the first half of the fight, Smith’s volume and power are going to start taking their toll. But he’s perfectly capable of wiping Smith out with a barrage; I’m not sure if Smith’s chin can hold up to many. Because I think they’re trending in opposite directions, I’ll take Smith by 3rd-round TKO.
Prices and Odds:
Smith: $8100 (-110, +155 Inside Distance Prop)
Lombard: $8100 (-110, +172 IDP)
This is the first mid-range fight on a card that is very top-heavy. You’ll need some mid-range fighters to save some cash, and this is a great one to target on both sides. I wouldn’t touch this bout in cash games, but you should play both sides of it in tournaments for sure. I will lean slightly toward Smith because of my pick but also his slightly better IDP. But Lombard is definitely capable of a first-round finish, so play him as well.
Lightweight Gregor Gillespie vs. Jason Gonzalez
The Pick: Gillespie by 2nd-round submission.
Gillespie is a blue-chip prospect as a former four-time All-American and national champion at Edinboro University. This is a puzzling mismatch as Gonzalez is coming off a first-round submission, but he has looked anything but impressive in his two UFC fights. This should be a showcase for Gillespie to take down the tall and lanky Gonzalez and put on a grappling clinic. Gillespie also showed his hands are coming along when he starched Andrew Holbrook in his last outing. Gillespie cruises to a stoppage in the second.
Prices and Odds:
Gillespie: $9400 (-450,-112+ Inside Distance Prop)
Gonzalez: $6800 (+360, +490 IDP)
I like Gillespie here. I think it comes down to the wrestling and grappling advantage that Gillespie has. We’ve seen Gonzalez taken down by lesser wrestlers before. I think Gillespie gets him to the mat a few times and racks up the passes. If it stays on the feet, which I don’t think it does, Gonzalez could use his reach advantage, but I won’t count on it. Gillespie is a low output striker so far in the UFC, but if he adds 4 TDs, a few passes and 40 strikes, I could see him paying off. I like Gillespie in all formats.
Welterweights Kamaru Usman vs. Sergio Moraes
The Pick: Usman by decision.
This should look something like Usman’s fight with Warlley Alves, but probably slower paced. Moraes doesn’t throw everything into the first round and then gas badly, letting his foes pour it on late. Usman didn’t use his usual suffocating wrestling and top game against BJJ black belt Alves, trying to avoid his guillotine in particular. Moraes has fast hands, but he devolves into wide hooks much of the time. Usman isn’t an awesome striker, leaving his head on the centerline as he throws. But he throws more volume than Usman, who relies on big single strikes. Moraes won’t be able to take Usman down, so barring a Hail Mary haymaker or submission in one of their few ground exchanges, Usman should outstrike Moraes and outmuscle him in the clinch for another decision victory.
Prices and Odds:
Usman: $9200 (-800, +253 Inside Distance Prop)
Moraes: $7000 (+550, +750 IDP)
Maybe this is a hot take, but Usman might be my fade of the card, particularly in tournaments. The odds have gotten crazy, as some sharps are probably seeing that Moraes really has no reasonable path to victory here. Yes, Usman is safe to win, and so if you want to plug him into your cash games as a sure-fire win, I won’t blame you. But in tournaments, I want more upside. People might look Usman’s way expecting a ton of grappling because that is his usual MO, but I don’t think he wants to tangle with Moraes overmuch on the ground. I don’t think Usman pays off his price and gets outscored by everyone else in the top tier. Moraes might be a punt for me, especially in cash games. I want to get at least two in that top tier, so I need to pay down big somewhere. He’s not going to score well – he’ll be getting grinded on and he doesn’t throw a lot of volume in the first place – so maybe you just want to go down to Branch.
Heavyweights Justin Ledet vs. Azunna Anyanwu
The Pick: Ledet by second-round TKO.
Ledet has been fun to watch and is starting to make a name for himself. He proved he’s not just a boxer when he subbed Mark Godbeer in his last tilt, and he thoroughly boxed up Chase Sherman in his debut. Anyanwu is a short-notice replacement coming off a knockout on DWTNCS. He is OK, but his ceiling is probably as a lower-level UFC heavyweight. Ledet has already smashed up a couple of guys who fit that description. His tight boxing and superior all-around game should carry him here.
Prices and Odds:
Ledet: $9100 (-440, -116 Inside Distance Prop)
Anyanwu: $7100 (+350, +490 IDP)
I love Ledet here. He may be one of my favorite plays this weekend. The usual heavyweight caveat applies, but I’m down with Ledet in all formats. I don’t know that he goes overlooked necessarily, but I would much rather have him than Usman, despite “The Nigerian Nightmare” probably being safer for a victory. I won’t have much Anyanwu. People like to grab dog heavyweights because they always have first-round KO upside, but I just don’t see it here. Look for Hall or a big underdog that should go the distance like Moraes.
Lightweights Tony Martin vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
The Pick: Aubin-Mercier by decision.
Both OAS and Martin are grapplers by trade but are developing their striking to be a dangerous part of their arsenal. They’ve both outstruck opponents in recent fights who were primarily strikers. OAS did Dober and Gouti, Martin Johnny Case. But they are both hittable as their defense continues to catch up. The Canadian is unquestionably the better athlete, able to move and cover distance much better than Martin, who is pretty stationary. OAS is also the better wrestler, both offensively and defensively. His takedown accuracy stat is an unimpressive 32%, but he still manages three takedowns per fight, which speaks to his relentlessness. I think he’ll be willing to tangle with Martin on the mat despite the midwesterner being a BJJ black belt to OAS’s brown belt (to go along with a black belt in judo). OAS was reluctant to shoot on Carlos Diego Ferreira, started getting beat up on the feet, was forced to shoot, and wound up getting reversed. Martin may be a black belt, but he’s not world class and has been subbed by two such men in the UFC. So with the wrestling advantage and the submission game probably being pretty close to a wash, OAS should be better able to dictate where the fight goes and not be in terrible danger on the mat. I’ll pick him to win a decision, but I think it will be a closely contested fight everywhere.
Prices and Odds:
OAM: $8400 (-120, +315 Inside Distance Prop)
Martin: $7800 (+100, +443 IDP)
This is the second fight priced in the mid-range that is sound to target. I like both sides a bit, OAM for his wrestling advantage and Martin for his odds value. At just +100, he should be priced at 8-8.1k, so you can save a bit on him. For that reason, I may look his way in cash games. But I still like OAM if you can fit him in because he should be in top position and winning the scrambles more often than not.
Heavyweights Anthony Hamilton vs. Daniel Spitz
The Pick: Hamilton by 2nd-round knockout.
Despite his crushing loss to Marcel Fortuna – a grappler who could fight as low as middleweight who had never before knocked anyone out – I like Hamilton here. He should have the advantage on the feet and definitely will have the wrestling advantage. I’m not sure if he finishes because, well….its Anthony Hamilton and we never know what we’re going to get. But there’s no reason to think Spitz is ready for UFC competition, as he was beaten on by a mediocre Mark Godbeer in his debut. The Sikjitsu rep is long, tall, athletic, and tough, but that’s about all he brings to the table. Outside of another fluky KO, Hamilton should take him apart.
Prices and Odds:
Hamilton: $8800 (-220, +120 Inside Distance Prop)
Spitz: $7400 (+180, +271 IDP)
I have interest in both in GPPs, but more Hamilton for me. It’s a weird card, and it is hard to say this, but I think Hamilton should be safe. Safe enough for cash even. You can target Spitz a bit as well because heavyweight. And Hamilton.
Middleweights Krzysztof Jotko vs. Uriah Hall
The Pick: Jotko by decision.
There are a lot of people on the Jotko bandwagon. I was ready to join them after his impressive victory over Thales Leites in which he largely out-grappled and outwrestled the former BJJ world champion, sweeping him and countering his trip takedowns to wind up on top. He’s very well-rounded, but despite his 1-minute knockout of Tamden McCrory, he’s not exceptionally dangerous. But he’s still a bad matchup for the always-dangerous but perpetually disappointing Hall. Hall is capable of brilliant acts of violence but is so inconsistent. He struggles when foes don’t give him respect and stay in his face. Hall is obviously a fantastic kicker, though he has a hard time finding the right distance and timing for his impressive spinning attacks. And his hands aren’t great. In addition to forward pressure, lateral movement, slick counter-boxing, and output give him problems. That describes Jotko to a T. He’ll also have an advantage on the ground if he can manage to drag Hall there. “Primetime” has yet to be submitted in the UFC, but he doesn’t offer much from his back. Jotko takes a moderately paced decision.
Prices and Odds:
Jotko: $8900 (-200, +450 Inside Distance Prop)
Hall: $7300 (+170, +319 IDP)
Hall is in play in tournaments for his bargain price. You’re going to need to pay down somewhere and other than Spitz lamping the inconsistent Hamilton, Hall has the best chance of anyone below 7.8k of pulling off a win. I can’t recommend having heavy exposure to him, but I’ll definitely have shares. I’m not sure I’ll have much of Jotko. If he really pushes the clinch and the wrestling, he could score well. But I don’t think he really presses that advantage enough to score highly, and his finish prop is straight bad. I’ll probably go with Ledet or Hamilton more. So will the rest of the field, though, so a low-owned Jotko is worth a look if you’re making a lot of lineups.
Lightweights Jason Saggo vs. Gilbert Burns
The Pick: Burns by decision.
It’s hard to see a consistent path to victory for Saggo here. He isn’t a great striker or wrestler, just tough and dogged more than anything. He’s a grappler by trade, but he’s taking on a four-time BJJ world champion in Burns, so his usual avenue is blocked. Burns is not all that consistent himself, as he didn’t have an answer for the wrestling and pressure of Michel Prazeres (also a decorated black belt) or the high-volume striking and takedown defense of Rashid Magomedov. He’s not necessarily a super complete fighter himself, but he does train at Combat Club under Henri Hooft, which will only help his striking. And he tends to go after guys, which should hopefully prevent this from devolving into a crappy kickboxing match. Burns has slight advantages in just about every area to take a decision.
Prices and Odds:
Burns: $8300 (-140, +295 Inside Distance Prop)
Saggo: $7900 (+110, +500 IDP)
This is another of the few fights priced in the mid-range, so it is worth targeting a bit on both sides. This one hopefully features a decent amount of grappling, but without either guy having a huge advantage in the wrestling, I don’t know that we see a ton of scoring. But it should do reasonably well. I obviously prefer Burns, but with the dearth of decent dogs, I will probably end up with some of Saggo as well. I think Burns is decent in cash because, again, I have a hard time seeing how Saggo consistently beats him, and he’s not expensive.