This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Two lightweight contenders will put winning streaks on the line Saturday, but will the hometown favorite prevail? Jon Litterine makes his picks and breaks down the key fights below.
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, including a $100,000 top prize in the UFC 246 special. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
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 - Lightweight
This should be a highly entertaining lightweight bout, albeit one that appears to set up poorly for Felder on paper. Recently signed to a new multi-fight deal following a controversial split decision win over Edson Barboza in September, Felder is sporting a 5-1 record in his last six fights dating back to February 2017. Felder – who has the ability to fight in multiple weight classes – is always among the most active fighters in the company. Felder is a straight-ahead striker who relies upon aggressiveness and volume to succeed. Although he is a purple belt in BJJ, Felder has just one career submission win. He's a pure striker at this point in his career, and I don't expect that to change at age 34.
Hooker is fresh off a highly impressive unanimous decision win over Al Iaquinta in October. Al is one of the toughest guys in the division and Hooker battered him from pillar to post. Prior to that, Hooker scored a one-punch knockout over James Vick last July. Hooker is legit. His only setback in his last seven bouts came against Barboza. That was a fight in which Hooker looked off from the start, but he has rebounded nicely since then and the performance against Iaquinta was highly, highly encouraging.
Best I can tell, the issue for Felder in this fight is that while he and Hooker have an eerily similar skill set, Hooker does everything just a tad bit better than Paul. Felder is big for the division at 5-foot-11, but this is the rare fight in which he will be looking up at his opposition. Hooker checks in a six-foot and he is going to have a five-inch reach advantage. It's a massive edge and could very well prove to be a crucial point in a fight which may very well be entirely contested on the feet.
I also think Hooker has a bit more power. I think he varies his combinations a bit better than Felder does and offers just a tad more unpredictability. Both men are exceedingly durable. Hooker and Felder have both been knocked out just once in their respective careers, and Hooker took an insane amount of punishment in the Barboza fight before he was finally stopped. Quite frankly, that one was uncomfortable to watch.
This fight makes sense from both a ranking and entertainment standpoint, but I simply don't trust Felder against elite competition. I didn't think he won the Barboza fight and other than a knockout win over Charles Oliveira, doesn't really have a victory over a real "name" opponent in his five-plus-year UFC run. Felder's toughness makes me think he may very well see the final bell, but I don't think he wins.
THE PICK: Hooker
Co-Main Event - Light Heavyweight
Jim Crute (10-1-0) v. Michel Oleksiejczuk (14-3-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Crute ($8,000), Oleksiejczuk ($8,200)
Betting Odds: Crute (+115), Oleksiejczuk (-135)
Odds to Finish: -245
A 2018 product of Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series, Crute racked up a pair of impressive stoppage wins to begin his UFC run. After submitting Paul Craig and knocking out Sam Alvey, Crute was submitted by Misha Cirkunov in September in under four minutes. Cirkunov is considerably better than both Craig and Alvey, so the fact Crute struggled when tasked with facing better competition is definitely a concern moving forward. Crute is pretty calm and composed inside the Octagon for a kid who won't turn 23 years of age until next month. He has some pop in his hands and he's solid on the mat. Crute's youth alone makes him worth keeping an eye on, but he's not a top-tier prospect.
Oleksiejczuk will also try to rebound from his first UFC setback. After knocking out by Gian Villante and Gadzhimurad Antigulov in a combined 2:18, Oleksiejczuk also returned to the Octagon last September and was submitted by Ovince Saint Preuix. Oleksiejczuk is a pure power puncher. He's most comfortable on the feet and most comfortable in a brawl. His chin has generally held up (one career KO loss), which is a must for any fighter who prefers to stand and bang. Oleksiejczuk will turn 25 years of age the day before the event.
This is actually a pretty interesting fight. Both of these men are young, and although they haven't had success against top-flight opposition, both have shown an ability to finish fights. There seems to be a solid chance this one won't see the final bell and that makes both men worth a look from a DraftKings perspective. I went back and forth on this one before settling on Oleksiejczuk. Yes, Oleksiejczuk is a brawler, but Crute is borderline reckless at times inside the Octagon and that worries me. I expect this to be an entertaining bout.
THE PICK: Oleksiejczuk
Let me start this off by saying I feel bad for Karolina. There is most definitely a scenario in which she is handed her walking papers if she loses on Saturday, and I think that will be a mistake. That being said, she has lost three fights in a row and it's nearly impossible in today's day and age of MMA to recover from a four-fight losing streak. A former challenger for the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship, Kowalkiewicz has been fighting the best the sport has to offer since her arrival in the company back in December 2015. She has wins over former champion Rose Namajunas and Felice Herrig on her record, but has also lost to Joanna Jedrzejczyk (title fight), Michelle Waterson, Claudia Gadelha, Jessica Andrade and Alexa Grasso. Karolina is an excellent stand-up fighter who has been limited by both her lack of stopping power and her struggles in other areas of the sport. Unfortunately, she's also too old (34) to expect any significant improvement in those areas.
Yan has been with the UFC for more than two years now and has won her first four fights with the company. All have come via decision and other than her last bout against Angela Hill, the first three came against sub-par competition in Syuri Kondo, Viviane Pereira, and Kailin Curran. Kondo has lost her last three fights and Pereira and Curran have since been released. She made waves as the first Chinese female fighter ever since by the company, but she has the look of nothing more than roster depth. Her five knockout victories all came early in her career.
Being that Yan has no ground game to speak of, this seems like a prime rebound spot for Karolina and is particularly attractive given her surprising underdog status. Kowalkiewicz is a Muay Thai specialist and should be able to overwhelm Yan with volume. That generally doesn't work against high-end competition, but there's nothing to suggest than Yan falls into that category. Karolina has been hurt by the lack of depth in the division because there are very few women for her left to fight. She has to figure out a way to emerge victorious in this one. Her job is likely on the line. I think she gets it done.
THE PICK: Kowalkiewicz
Matthews has fought in either his native Australia or New Zealand for 17 of his first 19 pro fights and that streak will continue on Saturday. In fact, his only appearance stateside came at The Ultimate Fighter finale back in July 2016. Matthews has turned into a serviceable fighter, but he was viewed by many as a future champion at one point and simply has not reached that level. "The Celtic Kid" is sporting a 4-1 record in his last five fights, but the wins have come against sub par competition (Rostem Akman, Shinsho Anzai, Li Jingliang, Bojan Velickovic) and he now faces another fringe opponent in Meek. Many fights on these overseas cards are of the "depth" variety and it's surprising that Matthews – at age 25 – hasn't made a concerted effort to seek out more "name" opponents.
Meek has lost back-to-back fights following a win over Jordan Mein in his UFC debut in December 2016. The first loss came against Kamaru Usman, so we won't hold that against him. Although the sample size is small, Meek has the look of a pure brawler. He goes in there and swings for the fences with most every shot he throws and can be beaten by an opponent who changes up the game plan. Meek does have power, so Matthews would be foolish to engage him in the brawl that he is seeking. Meek spent his entire career prior to his arrival in the UFC on the European regional circuit.
Matthews would seem to have a significant advantage on the mat, so I expect him (and his 1.99 takedowns per 15 minutes) to continuously shoot on Meek considering the later defends takedowns at just a 46 percent clip.
This would seem to be another fight in which Matthews has little to gain. A win over Meek isn't going to do much for him in terms of the rankings and a loss would be a setback in which it could take years to recover come. Perhaps Matthews thinks youth is still on his side – and it many ways, it is – but he can only continue to accept these fights for so long. I think he shows well here and gets a better opponent his next time out.
THE PICK: Matthews
Ben Sosoli (7-2-0, 2NC) v. Marcos Rogerio de Lima (16-7-1)
DK Salaries: Sosoli ($7,700), Rogerio de Lima ($8,500)
Betting Odds: Sosoli (+130), Rogerio de Lima (-150)
Odds to Finish: -195
THE PICK: Rogerio de Lima