This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
MMA action is coming fast and furious after a two-month hiatus, as UFC Fight Night 171 is set to take place in Jacksonville, Florida on May 13th, just four days after the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena hosted UFC 249. This card features 11 fights instead of the usual 12-bout slate, but there is no shortage of potential plays to discuss. As was the case last week, all fighters will be listed in order from most to least desirable among the given choices.
First, here's a refresher on the scoring. If you're looking for general strategy tips, I wrote a FanDuel 101 article prior to UFC Brasilia on March 14, though there have been a few minor scoring changes since then that I've noted below.
Moves Scoring (MVP 1.5X)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.9 PTS
Takedown (TD): +9 PTS
Takedown Defense (TDEF): +4.5 PTS
Submission Attempt (SA): +7.5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +18 PTS
Moves Scoring (standard)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.6 PTS
Takedown (TD): +6 PTS
Takedown Defense (TDEF): 3
Submission Attempt (SA): 5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +12 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses (MVP 1.5 X)
1st Round Win (1stW): +150 PTS
2nd Round Win (2ndW): +112.5 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rdW): +75 PTS
4th Round Win (4thW): +52.5 PTS
5th Round Win (5thW): +37.5 PTS
Decision Win (DecW): +30 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses (Standard)
1st Round Win (1stW): +100 PTS
2nd Round Win (2ndW): +75 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rdW): +50 PTS
4th Round Win (4thW): +35 PTS
5th Round Win (5thW): +25 PTS
Decision Win (DecW): +20 PTS
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Oh Captain My Captain
Best Play: Ovince Saint Preux ($17)
Some of you who follow my work may already be aware that I am a huge fan of fighters moving from light-heavyweight up to heavyweight. This is because they almost always bring a natural speed advantage to go along with a deeper, more well-rounded skill set. This is certainly the case for OSP, who should be able to (literally) run circles around the plodding Ben Rothwell if he chooses to do so. One of the things I really like about this matchup, in particular, is that OSP will retain a two-inch reach advantage, while only forfeiting an inch in height. Rothwell can crack if he is allowed in range, but we saw him beaten to a bloody mess against a quick heavyweight in Andrei Arlovski in July, and Saint Preux is much quicker and more agile than Arlovski. He likely carries more power, as well.
An unusual suspect gets the distinction of the most expensive fighter for the second consecutive week, but there is a lot to like about Sijara Eubanks in her matchup against Sarah Moras. To put it simply, Eubanks should have the advantage literally everywhere this fight goes. She is the far better boxer and jiujitsu player and should have a marked strength advantage as well. While it is true that Eubanks faded in her last fight, Moras doesn't have the power or boxing prowess of someone like Bethe Correia, making Eubanks not only a good cash play but a good option for the top spot.
I generally like the idea of paying up in the Captain's spot, but there's something about Glover Teixeira's matchup against Anthony Smith that really appeals to me. The first thing to note is, despite his age, Texiera remains legendarily tough, often walking through heavy strikes before finding a finish. It is also the case that Smith often allows himself to be backed up by the smaller fighter. Finally, "Lionheart" enters this matchup with just a 51 percent takedown defense rate. This should allow Glover to work his high-level BJJ game and perhaps close the show against a fighter who can be dangerous in specific moments, but has rarely shown the ability to be lethal during long stretches of a fight.
Best play: Glover Teixeira ($15)
Ray Borg's fight with Ricky Simon promises to be filled with takedowns and scrambles, and while the lack of points for transitions on FanDuel has me hesitant to pay up for Simon as a captain play, I am more than happy to take the shot with Borg, who has notched a whopping 23 takedowns in his last three fights. In my mind, Simon has a bit of an advantage when it comes to pace and striking, but Borg is a bit more of a control/submission grappler than Simon, who tends to get a bit manic on the ground. That and the cheaper price makes Borg an attractive dog play.
Brian Kelleher takes on a promising prospect in Hunter Azure. While there is no question that Azure is talented, I have my doubts that he will be able to handle the forward pressure of Kelleher, and though Azure is almost certainly the better pure wrestler, I believe Kelleher will have an edge as the submission grappler if the fight hits the mat.
Gabriel Benitez may have been knocked out in the first round of his last fight against Sodiq Yusuff, but what really stood out to me was how well he handled the pressure of his opponent, hurting him once before the unfortunate end. Omar Morales throws hard and likes to counter in combination, but Benitez appears to be the more well-rounded mixed martial artist here, and could potentially make his young opponent pay for recklessly flurrying in the pocket.
Next, we have Karl Roberson in what promises to be an exciting matchup against Marvin Vettori. Vettori has slick hands in his own right, but I think the adage of "kickboxer the boxer" will ring true here, as Roberson not only has more lethal weapons than his opponent but is likely also a hair faster. He should be able to make Vettori pay for his blitzes into the pocket with his sharp counter work.
Finally, we take a look at newcomer Ike Villanueva, who will take on a fighter embarking on his second stint in the UFC in Chase Sherman. To say Sherman had an underwhelming first tour in the organization would be a bit of an understatement, as he compiled a 2-5 record before moving on to bare-knuckle fighting. Villanueva isn't exactly trustworthy, as he carries a nine-loss record on the regional scene, but he is patient, can wrestle a bit, and throws nice combinations with power. That should be enough against Sherman, who doesn't move his head in the pocket and has trouble finding his range.
Best Play: Sijara Eubanks ($20)
Eubanks and OSP both double as two of my most confident/secure plays on the card, but on a slate that features only one fighter who is more than a 2:1 favorite (Eubanks), and with most of the bigger favorites being unproven fighters against skillful veterans, there simply isn't much room to find reliable cash plays.
One fighter I do like for cash, however, is Michael Johnson ($15). Johnson has been spinning his wheels with wins and losses for a lot of his UFC career, but his hands are still as fast as ever, and he should find joy countering Thiago Moises, who generally likes to throw one strike at a time. Johnson has had trouble with wrestlers in recent fights, but his takedown defense still stands at 78 percent in the UFC, and Moises has shown a desire to stand with his opponents more often than not.
I mentioned Ray Borg as a dog play earlier, and while Simon may not be quite as good in the scrambles as his opponent, he keeps a ferocious, active pace that allows him to pile up the points. The 27-year-old will enter this contest having averaged an absolutely silly 6.5 takedowns per 15 minutes of Octagon time, and seems to be the more comfortable (and powerful) striker on the feet.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
As with last week, this section is reserved for any fights on the card I don't think fit neatly into the categories above. The first such fight here is Andrei Arlovski ($14) vs. Philipe Lins ($16). It's a bit difficult to predict what kind of Arlovski we will get these days. While we saw an energetic combination striker in the Rothwell fight, it seems more often than not we see a fighter who tries to simply rely on a jab and right hand to win the day. Meanwhile, Philipe Lins is a combination counter striker who is good at keeping range and firing that low-calf kick. The nature of the styles here seem to suggest a low-scoring decision one way or the other, but I am going to pick Lins to edge this out by landing the harder shots.
Drew Dober versus Alexander Hernandez should be a fantastic fight, but there are liabilities for both fighters that make it difficult to categorize. Hernandez looked to be ready to set the world on fire before being knocked out by Donald Cerrone. He went on to land a whopping 26 significant strikes in an extremely tentative win in his next fight. This might suggest that Dober has the green light, but we saw Hernandez outwrestle and grapple Olivier Aubin-Mercier, who is no slouch on the ground. This could pay big dividends for Alexander, as Dober has had trouble keeping his feet against dedicated wresters. I'm going to take Dober here, as I think the Muay Thai striker can pressure his opponent and land big shots, but Hernandez certainly has paths to victory.