DraftKings MMA: UFC 221 Preview
DraftKings MMA: UFC 221 Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

Though Saturday's pay-per-view card might not bring much clarity to the UFC's middleweight division, there are several standout fantasy plays that make it worth putting together a few DraftKings lineups for.

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.)

Moves Scoring
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

Scoring Notes
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 Middleweight Championship

Yoel Romero (12-2-0) v. Luke Rockhold (16-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Romero ($7,900), Rockhold ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Romero (+130), Rockhold (-140)
Odds to Finish: -285

The UFC's middleweight division is a complete tire fire at the moment. From Michael Bisping's stunning upset of Rockhold, to Georges St-Pierre vacating the belt, to Robert Whittaker being forced to withdraw from this card due to an illness/injury, nothing is going right for the UFC these days at 185 pounds. This should be a good fight nonetheless, but the end result here is another interim title being created that few care about.

Whittaker's withdrawal hurts Rockhold far more than Romero. Luke would have been champion had he beat Whittaker, but now he has to defeat a tough customer in Romero and then go on to face Whittaker in a unification bout if he gets that far. Rockhold bounced back from his loss to Bisping to defeat David Branch via TKO (submission to punches) in September. It was a far from dominant performance prior to the finish, and a case can certainly be made that Branch was winning the fight before Rockhold was able to earn the stoppage in Round 2. Rockhold is an exceptional mat wrestler that is at his best when he is able to use his striking to set up his ground attacks. The 33-year-old will also have a three-inch height and four-inch reach advantage over Yoel. He has been getting hit more than ever of late, although his skills don't appear to be the least bit diminished.

Romero lost to Whittaker in an interim title fight last July and his reward is........ another interim title fight! In all seriousness, it was a typical Romero performance. The American Top Team product generally looks brilliant for the first two rounds or so before fading as the fight progresses. He certainly had his chances to stop Whittaker, but he was unable to do so, and the bout was essentially over once it reached Rounds 4 and 5. The "Soldier of God" is 40 years old, though it's obvious from his physique that he keeps himself in tremendous shape. However, the large amount of muscle he carries is directly responsible for his cardio struggles. He is as dangerous as any man in the sport for the first ten minutes and then it's all downhill.

The Whittaker/Romero fight played out exactly as I expected. I expect something similar here, although I'm worried about the punishment that Rockhold has sustained of late. All it will take from Romero is one well placed flurry to end this fight. I went back and forth on my pick here several times. Rockhold is the better fighter, but I haven't liked what I have seen from him in his last two fights, and the window Romero needs to finish a fight is disturbingly small. I'm taking Romero, which means I'm predicting an early finish – the best-case scenario for a DraftKings lineup. Any fight that goes past Round 2 clearly favors Rockhold, so it's understandable to see him favored.

THE PICK: Romero

Co-Main Event - Heavyweight

Mark Hunt (13-11-1, 1NC) v. Curtis Blaydes (8-1-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Hunt ($7,800), Blaydes ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Hunt (+135), Blaydes (-155)
Odds to Finish: -155

All due respect goes to Hunt and Blaydes, but this is a lousy co-main event. The UFC is hoping that Hunt's popularity in Australia helps drive ratings, but I'm not optimistic. Hunt was scheduled to fight Marcin Tybura in November before the company yanked him because they felt he wasn't fit to fight. Hunt strongly disagreed and after agreeing to additional medical tests (which he passed), here he is against Blaydes. It's a bad matchup for The Super Samoan. Hunt, as has been the case for years, continues to absorb a ton of punishment nearly every time he fights, and any wins he secures is the result of sheer toughness and will power. Facing a bigger, stronger, more athletic opponent in Blaydes is a recipe for disaster.

Blaydes will enter with a six-inch height advantage and eight-inch reach advantage. He is also 17 years younger than the 43-year-old Hunt and will have a considerable edge in the footwork department. All but one of Blaydes' eight career wins have come via knockout, and while Hunt is extremely difficult to put away, "Razor" Blaydes has the power to end this fight.

The only way I think Blaydes loses is if either gets popped with one huge shot or if he gets reckless and allows Hunt to take control of the pace of the fight. I have all the respect in the world for Hunt and I respect the fact that he wants to continue to fight, but the UFC has to be smarter about who they book him against if they want to keep running him out there. I don't think he has much value at all as a underdog play.

THE PICK: Blaydes


Tui Tuivasa (8-0-0) v. Cyril Asker (9-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Tuivasa ($9,300), Asker ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Tuivasa (-300), Asker (+250)
Odds to Finish: -675

Did I mention this isn't the deepest card the UFC has ever run? Tuivasa destroyed an overmatched Rashad Coulter in November en route to earning a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus for the first-round knockout in his company debut. A former professional boxer, all eight of Tuivasa's career wins are via first-round KO/TKO. Granted, he hasn't exactly gone up against top end competition, but that's still a pretty impressive stat. He now gets a spot on a pay-per-view main card in his home country. The win over Coulter, while extremely impressive, means little in the long run.

Asker, who is coming off a win over "Hu Yaozong" in November, has alternated wins and losses in his four UFC bouts. He has averaged just over five takedowns per fight and he looks far more comfortable on the mat than the feet. He is big enough and strong enough to score with strikes now and then, but if this turns into a kickboxing match for any length of time, Asker is in trouble.

This card is full of fighters with whom we have little information about. You are going to have to make a stand somewhere in regards to your DraftKings lineups, but mine won't be with Asker. His two UFC losses have come via first round KO and he is facing a guy that specializes in racking those up. Taking any of these lesser known fighters is risky but Tuivasa deserves the benefit of the doubt in this one.

THE PICK: Tuivasa


Jake Matthews (12-3-0) v. Li Jingliang (14-4-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Matthews ($7,400), Li ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Matthews (+165), Li (-190)
Odds to Finish: -180

Long viewed as one of the brightest prospects in the entire sport, Matthews has been up and down in his UFC career. His record is just 5-3 and his struggles have been manifested when he is tasked with facing better competition. Matthews also was having difficulty making the 156-pound lightweight limit, which led to a move up to welterweight for his last fight against the underrated Bojan Velickovic in November (which he won via split decision). Matthews is a good athlete, a terrific mat wrestler, and strong for his size. All in all, it's not difficult to see why many were predicting future greatness for the young Australian. It's just a matter of putting it all together on a consistent basis.

Viewed as nothing more than an afterthought when he entered the company in 2014, Li is now riding a four-fight winning streak, three of which have come via knockout. The victories came against nobodies (Zak Ottow, Frank Camacho, Bobby Nash, Anton Zafir), but the 30-year-old (next month) is suddenly flashing power than he never possessed earlier in his career. Li can also wrestler and hold his own on the mat when necessary.

This has the potential to be quite the entertaining fight. When you combine his skill level with the fact he is fighting in his home country, Matthews should win, but Li has proven time and time again of late that he can turn your lights out if you don't come ready to fight. Regardless, I'm shocked by both the salaries and Vegas odds for this one. The numbers would lead you to believe that Li is a well above-average fighter and that Matthews is nothing more than roster depth. I don't believe either of those stories to be true and thus this is an easy pick.

THE PICK: Matthews

Light Heavyweight

Tyson Pedro (6-1-0) v. Saparbek Safarov (8-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Pedro ($9,100), Safarov ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Pedro (-275), Safarov (+235)
Odds to Finish: -260

Pedro entered the UFC with back-to-back stoppage wins over Khalil Rountree and Paul Craig before he was put in his place in a clear unanimous decision loss to Ilir Latifi in his last fight in September. Pedro had no answer for Latifi's brute strength, as he allowed four takedowns en route to the loss. For a tall fighter (6-foot-3) with a boxing base, Pedro doesn't get a whole heck of a lot done on the feet and his current status with the company (and on this card) is enhanced by the fact he competes in arguably the thinnest division in the sport.

The biggest compliment I can pay Safarov after his first UFC fight (a TKO loss) against Gian Villante is that he is stupidly tough. The amount of damage he absorbed in that bout was insane and it actually gave him an opportunity to score with a bunch of shots of his own. Safarov puts everything he has into every punch and he is willing to get hit in order to land. It's an admirable strategy, albeit one that isn't going to lead to long-term success.

I have little hope for Pedro moving forward, but I have even less for Safarov. The 31-year-old Russian simply doesn't move well enough to be a true threat for any extended period of time. It might be best to avoid this fight all together, but Pedro seems like the better DraftKings play given how often Safarov gets hit.


Other Bouts


Damien Brown (17-11-0) v. Dong Hyun Kim (15-8-3)
DraftKings Salaries: Brown ($7,700), Kim ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Brown (+135), Kim (-155)
Odds to Finish: +125


Rob Wilkinson (11-1-0) v. Israel Adesanya (11-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Wilkinson ($7,000), Adesanya ($9,200)
Vegas Odds: Wilkinson (+255), Adesanya (-310)
Odds to Finish: -350
THE PICK: Adesanya


Alexander Volkanovski (16-1-0) v. Jeremy Kennedy (11-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Volkanovski ($8,900), Kennedy ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Volkanovski (-185), Kennedy (+165)
Odds to Finish: +145
THE PICK: Volkanovski


Jussier Formiga (20-5-0) v. Ben Nguyen (17-6-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Formiga ($8,100), Nguyen ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Formiga (-120), Nguyen (+100)
Odds to Finish: -105
THE PICK: Formiga


Ross Pearson (21-12-0, 1NC) v. Mizuto Hirota (19-8-2)
DraftKings Salaries: Pearson ($8,600), Hirota ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Pearson (-150), Hirota (+130)
Odds to Finish: +170
THE PICK: Pearson


Teruto Ishihara (11-4-2) v. Jose Quinonez (7-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Ishihara ($7,500), Quinonez ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Ishihara (+190), Quinonez (-230)
Odds to Finish: +115
THE PICK: Quinonez


Luke Jumeau (12-4-0) v. Daichi Abe (6-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Jumeau ($8,000), Abe ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Jumeau (+120), Abe (-140)
Odds to Finish: +155
THE PICK: Jumeau

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Jon Litterine plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: JLitterine.
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Jon Litterine
Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.
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