This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.A new UFC Interim Featherweight Champion will emerge from Saturday's main event in Toronto, setting the stage for a unification bout against Jose Aldo.
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 five fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings has altered their scoring system. The new point values are listed below and the rosters will now expand from 5 to 6 fighters).
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 - Interim Featherweight ChampionshipMax Holloway (16-3-0) v. Anthony Pettis (19-5-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Holloway ($8,800), Pettis ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Holloway (-190), Pettis (+165)
The UFC made the right decision in their call to strip Conor McGregor of the UFC Featherweight Championship. Although their choice made plenty of sense, this fight really shouldn't be for the Interim Championship. The withdrawal of Daniel Cormier from his scheduled main event fight against Rumble Johnson forced the company to stick the interim tag on this in hopes of raising Pay-Per-View buys.
Holloway, however, does deserve some type of title opportunity. The Hawaii native has won nine fights in a row, including victories over Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, Charles Oliveira, and Cub Swanson. The evolution of Holloway's striking game has been the key to his recent success. He has a unique ability to throw shots from different angles, and he has shown a constant ability to handle all different types of opponents. Holloway is very tall (5-foot-11) for the featherweight division, and he uses his long limbs to his advantage. The most important thing for a young fighter is for him to improve every single time he steps into the cage, and that's what we have seen from the 24-year-old Holloway.
Pettis was widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport less than two years ago, but he hasn't been the same since he lost his UFC Lightweight Championship to Rafael dos Anjos in March of last year. Pettis went through an unthinkable three-fight losing streak before submitting Charles Oliveira in his featherweight debut in August. Despite the win in the Oliveira fight, Pettis didn't look all that much better than he did in any of his three losses. He appears to be tentative in the cage. It's almost as if he's overthinking every move he makes. A fighter with the natural athletic ability of Showtime should simply be reacting to whatever his opponents throw his way each fight.
Holloway is my pick to win this fight and I didn't second-guess it for a single second. Pettis has been getting hit so frequently of late that I think he is going to have serious problems with the pinpoint striking of Holloway. The downfall of Pettis has been shocking. He is only 29 years of age, so he should still be in his athletic prime. There was no evidence prior to the dos Anjos fight that any type of slump would be forthcoming. I think his struggles are more mental at this point than anything else. Pettis is so talented that I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he put forth one of his trademark dominant performances, but considering how he has looked over the past 24 months or so, Holloway clearly deserves to be favored in this fight.
THE PICK: Holloway
Co-Main Event - WelterweightDonald Cerrone (31-7-0, 1NC) v. Matt Brown (22-15-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Cerrone ($9,300), Brown ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Cerrone (-265), Brown (+225)
This fight is going to get a lot of publicity because it features two of the most action-packed fighters in the sport, but the truth of the matter is that the bout features one very good fighter (Cerrone) and one very average fighter (Brown).
Cowboy Cerrone was supposed to fight Kelvin Gastelum at Madison Square Garden last month, but those plans were scrapped when Gastelum badly missed weight. Cerrone, being the type of guy that he is, was willing to fight a different opponent on three weeks notice. Cowboy is 3-0 since moving up to 170 pounds, having scored stoppage wins over Rick Story, Patrick Cote, and Alex Oliveira. I'd be willing to listen to an argument that Brown isn't as good as any of those fighters at this point in his career. Cowboy's skills remain as sharp as ever, despite the fact he fights as often as any man on the roster. Few, if any, fighters are going to outwork Cerrone over the course of a fight.
Brown looked like a potential contender when he ran off a seven-fight winning streak from February 2012 to May 2014 that included a victory over recent title challenger Stephen Thompson, but as soon as Brown was forced to face high-end competition on a regular basis, his flaws were massively exposed. Brown is 1-4 in his last five fights, and his most recent contest was a brutal KO loss at the hands of the washed-up Jake Ellenberger in July. Brown has power, and he's been extremely durable over the course of his career (the loss to Elllenberger was the first and only time he's ever been knocked out), but he is a well below-average athlete and that is a huge issue for a fighter who is as aggressive as The Immortal one is.
I planned on picking Gastelum over Cowboy before that fight was cancelled, but there's no way in heck that I think Brown can beat him. Cerrone figures to be able to neutralize the two things Brown does well - conditioning and striking placement. I don't see a path to victory for Brown in this fight.
THE PICK: Cerrone
FeatherweightCub Swanson (23-7-0) v. Dooho Choi (14-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Swanson ($7,300), Choi ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Swanson (+180), Choi (-220)
He has flown under the radar for the vast majority of his career, but Swanson has been one of the best featherweights in the world for years. Cub has won eight of his last ten fights, and included in that stretch are victories over Dustin Poirier, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens and Hacran Dias. Swanson really struggled in the two losses against Frankie Edgar and Holloway, and while he isn't quite on the level of the top fighters in the division, he is just one tier below those guys. Cub needs to push the pace on the feet if he is to win. He keeps a good pace and he tends to throw a lot of strikes. He was baffled and off-balance in both the Edgar and Holloway fights, and as a result was unable to get into a rhythm. He can't afford to get off to a slow start against a hard hitter like Choi
The 25-year-old Choi is 3-0 in the UFC and has scored first-round knockout finishes in all of his fights. He has earned Performance of the Night bonuses for his last two wins over Thiago Tavares and Sam Sicilia. Overall, Choi has won 12 fights in a row and he has eight first-round finishes over the course of his career. So the question becomes what happens if Choi doesn't score a quick finish? Swanson has been knocked out just once in his entire career, so the odds aren't in Choi's favor. I understand that he has looked unstoppable of late, but Swanson is a considerable step up for anyone Choi has faced in his entire career.
I understand why everyone is excited about Choi, but I'm going to bet on Swanson's durability in this fight. I need to see how Choi responds in a fight against a good opponent where he doesn't get a quick finish before I start picking him against top-five fighters in the featherweight division. Swanson is more of a gatekeeper than a title threat at this point, but he's a darn good gatekeeper. Choi is going to get a huge fight if he gets by Cub, but I need to see it before I believe it.
THE PICK: Swanson
MiddleweightTim Kennedy (18-5-0) v. Kelvin Gastelum (13-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Kennedy ($8,300), Gastelum ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Kennedy (-155), Gastelum (+135)
Both Gastelum (against Cerrone) and Kennedy (against Rashad Evans) had fights scheduled at MSG last month before they fell through. Instead, the two men will meet each other in Toronto on Saturday.
Gastelum has a bad history of missing weight, and his inability to cut down for the Cowboy fight pretty much ensures that we will never see him fight at 170 pounds again. His power played very well in the welterweight division, but his body simply couldn't handle the cut. Gastelum easily battered former UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks in a unanimous-decision win in his last fight in July, although that was preceded by a poor split-decision loss in a fight against Neil Magny. Gastelum isn't much of a submission artist, but the rest of his game is solid. At age 25 and under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA, it's reasonable to expect consistent, constant improvement from the former Ultimate Fighter winner.
One of the most vocal critics of PED use in MMA, Kennedy has been on the sideline for more than two years. He is heavily involved in the Mixed Martial Arts Athletic Association (MMAAA) that was announced last week and has long been pushing for change in the sport. Kennedy has long been one of the best middleweights in the world, but he has been off for more than two years and he is now 37 years old. Kennedy is going to be giving away plenty of power to Gastelum, but he is two inches taller and he has a three-inch reach advantage. He can negate some of Gastelum's advantage by standing to the outside during striking exchanges.
Kennedy is a likable guy and I think he would have handled Evans with ease, but a fight against Gastelum is a different story entirely. It's a lot to ask of a 37-year-old who has been off for so long to take on a talented all-around fighter who is just entering the prime of his career. Any Kennedy victory would likely be a grinding decision and that alone makes him a poor DraftKings play.
THE PICK: Gastelum
WelterweightJordan Mein (29-10-0) v. Emil Meek (8-2-1, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Mein ($9,000), Meek ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Mein (-160), Meek (+140)
Mein shockingly announced his retirement last August at age 25. It lasted a little over a year, and he will make his return to action on Saturday. A mixed martial artist since he was young, Mein has fought the likes of Tyron Woodley, Rory MacDonald, and Matt Brown. Mein is quick on his feet and he rarely gets hit during striking exchanges. He also has an underrated submission game. He hasn't fought since January 2015, but he is young enough and athletic enough that he shouldn't have any problem bouncing back if he is truly committed to returning.
Meek's UFC debut is going to come on the main card of a pay-per-view, which is a rarity for a relatively unheralded fighter. A native of Norway, Meek obliterated long time UFC veteran Rousimar Palhares in his last fight in May. Seven of Meek's eight career wins have come via knockout. Five of them have come in Round 1. I expect Meek to come out aggressively in hopes of a quick finish, but Mein's striking defense has always been well above average (71.5 percent) and I think that could make the difference in this fight.
So, to recap: We have a fighter who hasn't fought in nearly two years taking on a guy who has never fought for the company before. The best course of action may be to stay away from this fight completely, but I'm taking Mein to win because I've seen his skills before and I know what he is capable of.
THE PICK: Mein
Light HeavyweightNikita Krylov (21-4-0) v. Misha Cirkunov (12-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Krylov ($8,100), Cirkunov ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Krylov (-105), Cirkunov (-115)
THE PICK: Cirkunov
LightweightOlivier Aubin-Mercier (9-2-0) v. Drew Dober (17-7-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Aubin-Mercier ($8,200), Dober ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Aubin-Mercier (-165), Dober (+145)
THE PICK: Aubin-Mercier
Women's StrawweightValerie Letourneau (8-5-0) v. Viviane Pereira (11-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Letourneau ($8,400), Pereira ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Letourneau (-175), Pereira (+155)
THE PICK: Pereira
BantamweightMitch Gagnon (12-3-0) v. Matthew Lopez (8-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Gagnon ($8,600), Lopez ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Gagnon (-160), Lopez (+140)
THE PICK: Gagnon
LightweightJohn Makdessi (14-5-0) v. Lando Vannata (8-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Makdessi ($7,500), Vannata ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Makdessi (+145), Vannata (-165)
THE PICK: Vannata
LightweightJason Saggo (12-2-0) v. Rustam Khabilov (20-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Saggo ($7,100), Khabilov ($9,100)
Vegas Odds: Saggo (+170), Khabilov (-200)
THE PICK: Khabilov
FlyweightZach Makovsky (19-7-0) v. Dustin Ortiz (15-6-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Makovsky ($8,500), Ortiz ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Makovsky (-160), Ortiz (+140)
THE PICK: Makovsky