This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
After what some might describe as a down year for the UFC in 2017, the promotion starts off hot by offering two title fights on the first pay-per-view of 2018 – one of which will crown the new "Baddest Man on the Planet."
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. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings altered their scoring system in December 2016 to add a new fighter to the lineup and adjust scoring. The most recent point values are listed below.)
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
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 (17-2-0) v. Francis Ngannou (11-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Miocic ($7,300), Ngannou ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Miocic (+165), Ngannou (-175)
Odds to Finish: -1050
This is the fight in the heavyweight division that everyone is looking forward to and the UFC deserves credit for figuring out a way to get it done. It is by far the most intriguing matchup that can be put together at the moment.
Miocic, who won the UFC Heavyweight Championship from Fabricio Werdum in May 2016, will be making his third title defense. He scored first round KO wins over Alistair Overeem and Junior Dos Santos in the previous two fights. Stipe possess strong cardio for such a big man and although he hasn't had to fight for long stretches recently, I am confident that he could go 25 minutes if needed. Miocic possesses some of the best footwork in the entire division and it will have to be on point Saturday if he has any prayer of beating the most frightening man in the entire sport. Stipe is a terrific athlete and he has a chin on him, but I don't see how anyone can beat Ngannou unless you are constantly moving and thus don't provide a stationary target for him to obliterate. Ngannou needs so little room to end a fight that Stipe might be best served to try and push the pace and get a quick stoppage. Roll the dice and hope you can land a big combination early.
Regular readers know that I have been all-in on Ngannou for more than a year. His speed, power, and the rate in which he has picked up new skills is truly remarkable. Ngannou's knockout of Overeem in early December was so violent that it's a minor miracle that The Reem's head wasn't separated from his body. Because he has shown an ability to close the distance on his opponents so quickly, the only way I think Ngannou can lose is if he gets caught with one lucky punch (which can happen to any fighter) or if he goes crazy inside the Octagon and disregards the defensive aspect of the sport. I have seen no inclination that either is about to take place.
This has all the makings of Ngannou's coronation and it pains me to pick against Miocic because I think he is right there with a healthy Cain Velasquez as one of the two best heavyweights in the world. At least he was until Francis came calling. With Ronda Rousey having moved on, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones suspended and Conor McGregor MIA, both the UFC and the sport as a whole is looking for new stars. Ngannou has both the talent and charisma to fill one of those voids. It's his time. Miocic makes some sense as a dart throw DraftKings play because it's rare a talented champion finds himself such a big underdog, but I wouldn't want to be betting against The Predator these (or any) days.
THE PICK: Ngannou
Co-Main Event - Light Heavyweight Championship(C) Daniel Cormier (19-1-0, 1NC) v. Volkan Oezdemir (15-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Cormier ($9,200), Oezedmir ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Cormier (-320), Oezdemir (+260)
Odds to Finish: -285
MMA is just about the only sport on earth where you can go from an unknown, last-minute replacement to battling for a world championship in a mere 11 months. Yet this is the opportunity that Oezdemir has in front of him on Saturday.
After earning a split decision over Ovince Saint Preux in his debut, Oezdemir has since earned first-round knockout wins over Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa. An underdog in both of those fights, Oezdemir has shown insane power. Shots that don't even land cleanly are finishing world class fighters. Volkan has been terrific and he's earned his opportunity, but he has an awfully tall task on his hands here.
Cormier lost his title to Jon Jones in July only to get it back after Jones was once again dinged for a PED violation. Jones is better than DC (he's proven it twice), but since Jones is ineligible both now and likely for several years to come, there is no doubt that Cormier is the top light heavyweight on the planet. A master of fighting in tight spaces because of his short stature, DC struggled in that area in both fights against Jones. He is giving up two inches in height and three inches in reach to Oezdemir, but Volkan isn't Bones.
The key to this fight will be Oezdemir's takedown defense. He is relatively untested in that area during his time in the UFC, and he has never faced someone with the wrestling pedigree of Cormier. His power will be useless if DC spends 25 minutes grinding him into submission from top position. On the other hand, Cormier could be in trouble if he stands in front of Volkan for any real length of time. I'm banking on a veteran like DC realizing that and implementing a smart game plan. Oezdemir's best chance of winning is another one-punch knockout. I don't see it happening. Cormier is legitimately one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet despite his issues with Jones. Volkan's story is great, but I think the good times end here.
THE PICK: Cormier
FeatherweightCalvin Kattar (17-2-0) v. Shane Burgos (10-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Kattar ($7,800), Burgos ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Kattar (+140), Burgos (-160)
Odds to Finish: +140
The UFC didn't exactly stack this card outside of the two title fights, and that gives up and coming fighters such as Kattar and Burgos a chance to perform on a big stage.
Kattar, a Massachusetts native, took a unanimous decision from Andre Fili in his company debut in July. It was a solid, if unspectacular performance. Currently riding a 10-fight winning streak and with eight first-round finishes under his belt, Kattar relies on his striking and ending fights early. The fact he wasn't able to finish a struggling Fili is a concern, but the truth of the matter is that we can't judge him on his one fight with the UFC.
Burgos entered the company a little over a year ago and has won all three of his bouts. A product of the growing Tiger Schulmann's team in New York, Burgos throws a lot and he lands a lot. His striking defense can get sloppy at times, but that tends to be the case for most fighters that throw a lot on the feet. Burgos has also displayed some great conditioning thus far. There's a lot to like from the 26-year-old.
I really like what I've seen from Burgos thus far. He moves well and excels at putting together combinations. I think he wins this one if he remains calm and composed.
THE PICK: Burgos
Light HeavyweightGian Villante (15-8-0) v. Francimar Barroso (19-5-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Villante ($8,800), Barroso ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Villante (-175), Barroso (+155)
Odds to Finish: -135
We'll begin with Villante and the news isn't good. He has lost back-to-back fights and three of his last four. Conditioning has always been his downfall and nothing has changed in that regard. He is extremely dangerous in Round 1 and struggles immensely there after. His striking defense is also non existent. Villante is big enough, strong enough, and moves well enough that he always remains a threat inside the Octagon, but every single opponent he faces should be trying to drag him to the later rounds. Usually at that point, his production disappears.
The 37-year-old Barroso hasn't exactly had a standout UFC career in his own right. His record is barely over .500 (4-3, 1NC) and there haven't been any signs that sudden improvement is on the way. The exact opposite of Villante, Barroso rarely gets hit because he prefers to grapple. That's all well and good and even though his opponent prefers not to grapple, Villante was an All-American wrestler at Hofstra University. He is also the bigger of the two men. Barroso is going to have a difficult time getting him to the mat with regularity.
I've been burned by Villante more times than I can count, but this fight sets up well for him. He has proven that he can take a beating and is facing a guy that has yet to finish a fight via strikes in his UFC career. His cardio doesn't have to be exceptional. If he is even able to get it to somewhere near average he should win here. Barroso's underdog value comes from the fact that Villante gets smashed in every single fight he's in, win or lose, and that makes the Brazilian a solid DraftKings play no matter what you're lineup looks like. He should put up a modest point total via significant strikes, even in a setback. Overall though, Villante is bigger, faster, and I know he can take a pounding. If he doesn't win he is likely finished with the company.
THE PICK: Villante
BantamweightThomas Almeida (22-2-0) v. Rob Font (14-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Almeida ($8,200), Font ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Almeida (-125), Font (+105)
Odds to Finish: -170
Outside of the two title fights, this is easily the most compelling bout on the entire card. Once touted as a future champion by UFC President Dana White, Almeida has lost two of his last three. Granted, the setbacks came against elite competition in Cody Garbrandt and Jimmie Rivera, but the Brazilian needs to emerge victorious on Saturday. Almeida's massive power is somewhat cancelled out by the fact that he absorbs too much punishment on the feet. He will disregard his own well being at times in order to land, and that strategy isn't going to work against the best fighters in the world. His talent is undeniable and he would be best served to try to slow himself down inside the Octagon now and then.
Font is no pushover and he will have the crowd behind him in his native Massachusetts. An athletic fighter than moves well, Font has an impressive all-around game and is more than talented enough to pull an upset if Almeida takes him lightly. He would likely be best served to try to tire Almeida out in hopes of controlling the later stages of the fight.
This fight is essentially what the odds would lead you to believe - one that slightly favors Almeida but could go either way. So while he is my selection, the longer the fight lasts, the more it should favor Font. Expect an entertaining, competitive contest.
THE PICK: Almeida
FeatherweightKyle Bochniak (7-2-0) v. Brandon Davis (8-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Bochniak ($8,100), Davis ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Bochniak (+100), Davis (-120)
Odds to Finish: +150
THE PICK: Bochniak
WelterweightSabah Homasi (11-7-0) v. Abdul Razak Alhassan (8-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Homasi ($7,200), Alhassan ($9,000)
Vegas Odds: Homasi (+170), Alhassan (-200)
Odds to Finish: -350
THE PICK: Alhassan
FlyweightDustin Ortiz (17-7-0) v. Alexandre Pantoja (18-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Ortiz ($7,700), Pantoja ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Ortiz (+150), Pantoja (-170)
Odds to Finish: +150
THE PICK: Pantoja
FeatherweightDan Ige (8-1-0) v. Julio Arce (13-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Ige ($7,600), Arce ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Ige (+130), Arce (-150)
Odds to Finish: +140
THE PICK: Arce
FeatherweightMatt Bessette (22-7-0) v. Enrique Barzola (14-3-1)
DraftKings Salaries: Bessette ($7,500), Barzola ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Bessette (+180), Barzola (-220)
Odds to Finish: +175
THE PICK: Barzola
Women's StrawweightMaryna Moroz (8-2-0) v. Jamie Moyle (4-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Moroz ($8,300), Moyle ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Moroz (-130), Moyle (+110)
Odds to Finish: +190
THE PICK: Moyle
LightweightIslam Makhachev (14-1-0) v. Gleison Tibau (41-11-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Makhachev ($9,100), Tibau ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Makhachev (-200), Tibau (+170)
Odds to Finish: +170
THE PICK: Makhachev