This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
Fight fans lamented the fact that Gilbert Burns needed to be pulled from his title fight at UFC 251 after testing positive for COVID-19, but the good news is that Jorge Masvidal has agreed to step in on less than a week's notice to challenge Kamaru Usman, meaning we still have three five-round bouts and a 13-fight card to sink our teeth into as the UFC puts on its first event at Fight Island. It must be noted that we are back to a standard cage after weeks at the UFC Apex, which could pull some of the advantages away from wrestlers, as well as tamp down on some of the action in general. As always, fighters in this article will be listed in order from most to least desirable among the given choices.
One final note before we begin: 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 1.5X)
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: Kamaru Usman ($22)
Jorge Masvidal deserves our gratitude for taking this fight on such short notice, but this seems like a terrible style matchup for "Gamebred." While he has tremendous body kicks and sharp boxing, Masvidal allows opponents to push his back to the cage in basically every fight. It must also be said that anyone who has been intent on taking him down has succeeded, including Demian Maia. Masvidal is a good scrambler, and we saw Rafael dos Anjos have some success with defensive jujitsu against Usman, but it seems likely to me that Usman will be able to work his game to the letter in this matchup.
Danny Henry doesn't look like someone who should be fighting in the UFC. That may seem like a bold statement, as Henry has two wins to his credit, but one of those was against a (then) 6-0 kickboxer who got tired after beating him up for a round and a half, while the other ended after one well-placed counter shot early in the first round. Why do I have such a low opinion of Henry? He is a plodding kickboxer on the feet who keeps his hands low and fires glacially slow punches, which should allow Makwan Amirkhani to find counters with his fast hands and ever-improving standup game. I also think Amirkhani is the better grappler here, and while he has been known to get tired as well, he is a 19-fight veteran with 11 finishes on his record, which gives me confidence that he will be able to put a hurt Henry away.
Leonardo Santos doesn't grace us with his presence very often, but when he does, he makes sure to put on a show. That was the case when he stepped in the cage against Stevie Ray in 2019 (his first fight in three years) and absolutely flattened him with a counter right hand. Along with those sniper-like counters, Santos has an excellent kicking and BJJ game. The latter of these skills should make things especially difficult for Roman Bogatov, who wants to do nothing more than take the fight to the ground. Bogatov has shown good control grappling in spots, but often loses position when trying to advance, which should allow Santos to shine on the mat. Bogatov displays a traditional wrestler's pressure striking game while standing, which could also make him vulnerable to a fighter like Santos, who has shown excellent command of range.
Karoline Rosa is a bit off the beaten track as far as "captain plays" go, but I really think she has a chance to do damage against Vanessa Melo, who doesn't use much footwork, has exceptionally slow hands, and was taken down multiple times in her last bout against Tracy Cortez. Rosa is a fluid boxer who has a nice, snapping jab and tends to throw a high volume of strikes. It's interesting to note the price discrepancy here as well, as Rosa is the third-highest priced fighter on DraftKings, but will cost players a moderate amount on FanDuel by comparison.
Best Option: Amanda Ribas ($20)
Price is the only thing keeping me from making Amanda Ribas a "captain play," as she should have every imaginable advantage in her matchup against Paige VanZant. Paige is making her first trip to The Octagon since her bout with Rachael Ostavich in January of 2019, and while she did come away with a win in that bout, her striking still leaves a lot to be desired, as she swings wildly while throwing herself into the pocket. Ribas, by contrast, looks to be a slick kickboxer who controls range well and fires a stinging jab to boot. In past matchups, VanZant could look to her grappling as a parachute, but that is unlikely to work against Ribas, who is a black belt in BJJ.
It seems strange to pass on someone like Max Holloway at such a cheap price, so why am I picking Alexander Volkanovski to make it 2-0 against one of the best featherweights of this era? The first thing to focus on is the leg kicks, which stopped Holloway in his tracks repeatedly in the first bout. Perhaps more important, though, is the way Volkanovski explodes in and out of range with power. This prevented Max from ever getting into a rhythm in the first encounter, and I think we will see similar results the second time around. Holloway had trouble with the power of Dustin Poirier in their matchup, so it's worth wondering if that disparity will always stop him from applying smothering pressure in fights like this.
I wasn't sure what to make of Volkan Oezdemir in his first few UFC fights simply because he ended them so quickly. Now that he has more cage time under his belt, we can see that Oezdimir primarily wants to be a pressure counter striker who is adept at firing hard leg kicks. Those kicks should come in handy against Jiri Prochazka, who stands incredibly heavy on his lead leg and has been stung by leg kicks quite often in the past. Prochazka is a quick striker with power, but his wins of late have been against fighters who are well past their primes, and I don't really see Prochazka overwhelming Oezdimir as he did opponents like "King" Muhammed Lawal in Rizin.
Raulian Paiva has defensive liabilities that make him vulnerable in certain matchups, but Zhalgas Zhamagulov hasn't shown himself to be particularly lethal, having finished just six of his 13 wins via strikes. While he is a pressure fighter, Zhamagulov seems to get taken down by just about everyone he fights, and Piava has shown himself willing to grapple of late. I expect Paiva will mix his striking and wresting in order to notch a fairly clear decision in this one.
Best Option: Jessica Andrade ($13)
Given how dominant Rose Namajunas looked in Round 1 of her first fight with Jessica Andrade, it's easy to see why the public likes "Thug Rose" so much ahead of the rematch. But while most seem to consider Andrade's slam KO a fluke occurrence, I saw it as a pretty typical Andrade fight. While it's clear that Rose is the more dynamic athlete and striker, the concern from those who picked against her was that she would not be able to keep Andrade off of her for 25 minutes. Rose did a good job blocking early takedown attempts with a kimura trap (which worked until Andrade figured out how to beat it) but in the second round Jessica was closing her down with more frequency and landing shots. It seems likely that she will have to weather a storm again, but as I alluded to earlier, Andrade isn't really a stranger to this, as she beat Claudia Gadelha in a three-round fight after clearly dropping the first frame.
Martin Day is a long, athletic fighter who does excellent work to the body, but he is far too accepting when opponents attempt to crowd him to negate his reach advantage. This results in him being hit as well as taken down. Davey Grant stormed back into the win column in his bout with Grigorii Popov after two consecutive losses, and I think he has the tools to get this done as well. Grant showed off a strong wrestling game in the aforementioned matchup with Popov and can put combinations together off of a nice pressure striking game. I think that should be enough to stifle Day and allow Grant to take home the victory.
I imagine my selection of Jose Aldo will raise a few eyebrows here, and I'm not naïve enough to think this fight carries no risk for the all-time great. Namely, that we have seen Aldo fade hard in recent five-round fights. That concern comes before we even talk about how his opponent, Petr Yan, has been laying waste to the division with his relentless pressure and shot selection. Yan is worth all the hype he has received and more, but I can't watch him get hit over and over again by Jimmy Rivera and think that he won't struggle with another fast, powerful bantamweight. I also think that Aldo will win the pressuring game against Yan early, which should prevent him from meeting Rivera's fate when trapped against the cage. The longer this fight goes, the worse it gets for Aldo, but can he surprise Yan with explosiveness in the first two or three rounds and hit him hard enough to change the course of the fight? I think the answer is "yes."
Neither Fish nor Fowl
Muslim Salikhov ($16) vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos ($15) will be a battle of flashy spin kicks, but we can find an edge here that may help us navigate through the chaos. For all of the movement Zaleski dos Santos brings, his game becomes much more manageable when opponents are simply able to crowd his kicks. This turns him into a sort of blitz counter fighter in a matchup where he will not have an obvious speed advantage. I like Salikhov to take those kicks away and impose his will, but this should be a fun battle between two dynamic athletes.
In what I hope will be the final late replacement this card has to endure, Marcin Tybura ($14) will now face Maxim Grishin ($16) after Alexander Romanov withdrew from the bout for undisclosed reasons. I quite liked the initial matchup for Tybura, but Grishin couldn't be more different than Romanov as a long, athletic striker with good cardio. I think Tybura's striking has regressed somewhat in recent years, but he remains a decent kickboxer for this division who will also work in a wrestling game. I tend to think Grishin will be too quick and powerful for Tybura, but he has let his opponents set the pace in recent fights, which could result in the 36-year-old simply getting outworked.