This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
With potentially the best card of 2018 on tap (not to mention huge prizes up for grabs on DraftKings), we decided to roll out an extended preview for Saturday's UFC 225.
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.)
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 - Middlweight Championship(C) Robert Whittaker (20-4-0) v. Yoel Romero (13-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Whittaker ($9,100), Romero ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Whittaker (-240), Romero (+200)
Odds to Finish: -180
It was 11 months ago that Whittaker and Romero fought for the first time. That was for the interim UFC Middleweight Championship. This is for the real thing.
An injury to his left knee has kept Whittaker out since the last time these two met. It was widely assumed that Whittaker would face Georges St-Pierre after GSP defeated Michael Bisping for the belt last November, but St-Pierre decided to vacate his title, thus making Whittaker the undisputed champion. Whittaker's move up to middleweight in November 2014 saved his career and turned him into one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport. He hasn't lost since he made the move. The Reaper looks far fresher with the extra 15 pounds on his frame and he has more than enough power in his hands to succeed in the higher division.
Romero's loss to Whittaker in the first fight is his only setback in six and a half years. Some of his victims in that time span include former champions Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold, as well as Jacare Souza, Derek Brunson and Tim Kennedy. GSP's decision to vacate the title gave Romero a second opportunity at the interim title in February against Rockhold. Unfortunately, Romero missed weight by nearly three pounds and was thus ineligible to win the belt despite the fact he starched Rockhold with a huge combination early in Round 3. You should be penalized for missing weight, not rewarded, but the UFC didn't have another realistic option for this spot and thus Romero gets his rematch immediately.
Romero is fighting smarter than ever before. His gas tank will always be an issue and he seems to realize it. He is fighting at a slower, more deliberate pace, and is picking his spots better. In the first fight between the two, Romero went for broke early and nearly finished Whittaker, but The Reaper somehow survived and easily controlled the championship rounds en route to the unanimous decision win.
The fact Romero turned 41 years old in late April is irrelevant because he possesses an explosiveness that no one else in the division can match. The way he moves would be astonishing for a 20-year-old, let alone a guy that is north of 40. Long-time readers know that I have been on the Whittaker bandwagon from the start. He's well-conditioned, hits hard, and has shown an ability to adjust as a fight progresses. I'm sticking with Bobby Knuckles, but I'm less confident about it than I was the first time around. In fact, I think Romero is the much better DraftKings play of the two, especially when hunting a big KO bonus in GPPs. The fact Romero has seemingly learned how to manage his energy makes him far more dangerous than he was 11 months ago.
THE PICK: Whittaker
Co-Main Event - Interim Welterweight ChampionshipRafael Dos Anjos (28-9-0) v. Colby Covington (13-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Dos Anjos ($8,200), Covington ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Dos Anjos (-120), Covington (+100)
Odds to Finish: +125
UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley last fought roughly 11 months ago. The fact the company is making an interim title here is an absolute joke, but the UFC does whatever is necessary to sell tickets and attempt to drum up interest in a fight. That aside, this is an excellent bout and a highly intriguing matchup.
Since moving up to welterweight almost exactly a year ago, RDA has run off victories over Tarec Saffiedine, Neil Magny, and most recently, Robbie Lawler. Dos Anjos, who spent well over a decade at lightweight prior to the move, is undersized for the 170-pound division. That's the bad news. The good news is that he has more than enough power to compete in the higher weight class, and that he is one of just a handful of fighters in the division that is a legitimate threat to end a fight at any time in a variety of different ways. RDA is going to be giving up size and strength to Covington, and it's imperative that he, at the very minimum, slows down Covington's takedown attempts. Dos Anjos will have no chance to win if he spends this entire fight on his back.
Covington has a bit of the Conor McGregor thing going on now, and by that, I mean that he is becoming just as well known for his antics outside of the cage as his fighting in it. Covington has a brash, abrasive personality, and his mouth (and his current five-fight winning streak) has earned him a title shot. A former two-time Pac 10 Champion and All-American wrestler at Oregon State University, Covington's entire game is centered around his takedown attempts. He connects on over 50 percent (53.9) of his attempts and he defends takedowns at close to 90 (88.2) percent. While it often leads to boring, grinding fights, Covington can eliminate his opponent's offensive arsenal if he gets them to the mat. I'm not crazy about the fact Covington has had issues stopping his opponents via strikes (he has just two career knockouts), but his game plan has worked so well thus far that there is little reason to change it up at this point.
While I'm confident RDA is the better all-around mixed martial artist, that might not matter given the size advantage and wrestling ability of Covington. I rarely do this, but I'm going with Colby based on nothing more than a gut feeling. Dos Anjos deserves to be favored given his body of work, but I have real concerns about his ability to stay off his back given Covington's size advantage.
THE PICK: Covington
Women's FeatherweightHolly Holm (11-4-0) v. Megan Anderson (8-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Holm ($8,900), Anderson ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Holm (-250), Anderson (+210)
Odds to Finish: +205
The UFC created their women's featherweight division with the intention of Cris Cyborg being its dominant champion. That's exactly how it has worked out, and as a result, the company is now left with few legitimate challengers for Cyborg's gold.
Holm fought Cyborg in her last bout in July, dropping a unanimous decision. She hung around for 25 minutes and did a decent amount of damage, but she clearly lost and never had the champion in any significant trouble. All in all, it was a promising showing from the 36-year-old Holm, but there is no reason to believe she will be able to upend Cyborg in the future. Holm is a former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion, so it's not as if you can say her MMA career has been a disappointment, but she is sporting a 4-4 career record with the company and there have been as many shaky moments as good during her run.
Scheduled to fight Cyborg last July, Anderson withdrew due to personal reasons. She returned to Invicta and earned a pair of knockout victories and the interim Invicta Featherweight Championship. She hasn't lost a fight in nearly three years, although she has never faced any opponent that is remotely in Holm's class. Anderson is six feet tall with extremely long limbs. Much like Jon Jones, she is at her best when she stands away from her opponents and peppers them with a ton of kicks. She's a good prospect and worth keeping an eye on, but I don't think she's a future superstar.
The problem for Anderson is that her biggest strength, her striking, plays right into what Holm does well. I'm not the biggest Holm supporter, but she is a multi-time world boxing champion and Anderson's last four fights have come against opponents named Charmaine Tweet, Peggy Morgan, Amanda Bell, and Amber Leibrock. I'll believe Anderson's skills will translate to the Octagon when I see it. This is a poor matchup for her. The UFC would have been better off putting Anderson in there with a lesser opponent in hopes of building her confidence. She's just 28 years old and has a long road ahead of her.
THE PICK: Holm
HeavyweightAndrei Arlovski (27-15-0, 1NC) v. Tai Tuivasa (9-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Arlovski ($6,900), Tuivasa ($9,300)
Vegas Odds: Arlovski (+245), Tuivasa (-290)
Odds to Finish: -320
On a card loaded with high-level fights, it's mind boggling that the UFC continues to feature Arlovski in a prominent role. The 39-year-old has taken back-to-back unanimous decisions over Stefan Struve and Junior Albini on the heels of a five-fight losing streak. The Pit Bull looked thoroughly mediocre in both fights despite emerging victorious, and it's abundantly clear to anyone watching that his best days have come and gone. Despite the fact he still retains some of his trademark power, Arlovski doesn't possess the speed or footwork to get into position to land those type of shots anymore. And as his movements have slowed, he is taking more punishment on the feet than ever before. He's not a top-15 heavyweight for me at this point, let alone top-10.
Tuivasa is the big winner in this scenario. He gets a fight he should win with ease on the main card of a pay-per-view against an opponent that still has some name recognition. He has provided some much-needed youth to a division that is badly in search of it. A hard-hitting striking specialist, Tuivasa has won all his fights by first round knockout. Now while wins over names such as Cyril Asker and Rashad Coulter mean zero, it's not as if Arlovski is providing all that much resistance these days in his own right.
Sooner or later, Tuivasa will have to do something other than knock his opponent out immediately, but that day of reckoning doesn't figure to come on Saturday. He's a legitimate talent and Arlovski is completely washed up. Even fighting in his adopted hometown of Chicago seems unlikely to help the former UFC Heavyweight Champion in this one.
THE PICK: Tuivasa
WelterweightCM Punk (0-1-0) v. Mike Jackson (0-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Punk ($7,600), Jackson ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Punk (+195), Jackson (-235)
Odds to Finish: -230
Belfort (age 41) and Machida (age 39) should both retire, but if they insist on continuing to fight, the UFC needs to book them in fights such as this one: fights against older, aging veterans that aren't going to overwhelm them with athleticism.
It's clobberin time! Come to think of it, it probably isn't. One thing I do know is that two fighters that don't have a professional victory under their belt between them shouldn't be fighting on the main card of a Pay-Per-View. This is a lose-lose situation for the UFC. If Punk gets demolished then they look like a fool for giving him another opportunity. If he wins, he faces a reasonable opponent his next time out and gets destroyed. I refuse to pick Punk in any fight until I see significant improvement, and probably not even then. I admire Punk's desire and dedication to the sport at age 39, but this has the potential to end badly. There isn't a single DraftKings lineup construction strategy in which I would use either of these two. The unknown factor is far too great.
THE PICK: Jackson
HeavyweightAlistair Overeem (43-16-0, 1NC) v. Curtis Blaydes (9-1-0, NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Overeem ($7,700), Blaydes ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Overeem (+155), Blaydes (-175)
Odds to Finish: -245
Last time we saw The Reem, he was nearly decapitated by Francis Ngannou at UFC 218 in December. The KO loss essentially ended any slim chance Overeem had to ever compete for the UFC Heavyweight Championship again. Overeem, who turned 38 years old last month, is still the same fighter he has been for the last decade plus – a power puncher with a questionable chin. Overeem still has value due to his name recognition, but the fact he's currently ranked as the No. 2 heavyweight by the company is both inaccurate and a joke.
Blaydes got a co-main event slot against Mark Hunt in February and was nearly knocked out on multiple occasions before smothering an exhausted Hunt on the way to an easy, unanimous-decision victory. Blaydes landed 10 takedowns in the fight, although he seemed to be laboring nearly as badly as his opponent for most of the contest. Blaydes' only professional loss came against Ngannou in his UFC debut. He is an above-average athlete with better-than-average power. While Blaydes has a background in wrestling, no one is going to confuse him with Khabib Nurmagomedov when it comes to racking up takedowns.
I don't think Blaydes has quite the power Overeem does, but when you get two guys this big going up against each other, the guy with the better chin (that would be Blaydes) is often the guy that wins the fight. The Reem is a threat simply because he could end a fight in an instant, but he is giving up a bunch of speed and athleticism to an opponent that is more than 11 years his junior. Any bet on Overeem as an underdog is banking on him earning a quick finish. It's not impossible, but it's unlikely.
THE PICK: Blaydes
Women's StrawweightClaudia Gadelha (15-3-0) v. Carla Esparza (14-4-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Gadelha ($9,400), Esparza ($6,800)
Vegas Odds: Gadelha (-550), Esparza (+425)
Odds to Finish: +205
Due to the fact the UFC Women's Strawweight division has only six or seven fighters that could realistically be labeled as title contenders, every fight is a big one and this is no exception. It's especially important for Gadelha given that she is coming off a loss to Jessica Andrade in September.
The Andrade fight was the first time that we saw Gadelha go up against a stronger, more physical opponent and she paid the price. Her usual tactics of bullying her opposition didn't work and Gadelha was unable to get on track throughout the course of the 15-minute bout. She landed just 41 total strikes compared to 141 from Andrade. Gadelha's best asset is her ground game, but she has the brute upper-body strength to connect on takedowns with regularity. Her positioning isn't always the best, but she generally gets the job done regardless.
Esparza was the first ever UFC Women's Strawweight Champion, but she's been up and down since then. Her style is like that of Gadelha, although Esparza has more of a classically-trained wrestling based attack. Esparza's striking is awkward and she has little power in her hands. She will also be giving up three inches in height to Gadelha.
This is a fight that Gadelha should win, although it could be one that easily goes the distance. She is bigger, stronger, a better striker (barely) and has a better submission game. The victor seems likely to be the woman that can get her opponent to the mat to win a slow paced, grinding fight. On paper, that should be Gadelha, but she looked so bad in the Andrade fight that I'm a little hesitant to use her in DK lineups in general and extremely hesitant given her massive salary. I don't think Esparza has much value as an underdog play.
THE PICK: Gadelha
FeatherweightRicardo Lamas (18-6-0) v. Mirsad Bektic (12-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Lamas ($7,400), Bektic ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Lamas (+170), Bektic (-200)
Odds to Finish: -120
THE PICK: Lamas
HeavyweightRashad Coulter (8-3-0) v. Chris De La Rocha (4-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Coulter ($8,700) ,De La Rocha ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Coulter (-175), De La Rocha (+155)
Odds to Finish: -420
THE PICK: Coulter
Light HeavyweightRashad Evans (24-7-1) v. Anthony Smith (28-13-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Evans ($7,000), Smith ($9,200)
Vegas Odds: Evans (+275), Smith (-335)
Odds to Finish: -105
THE PICK: Smith
FlyweightJoseph Benavidez (25-4-0) v. Sergio Pettis (16-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Benavidez ($9,000), Pettis ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Benavidez (-245), Pettis (+205)
Odds to Finish: +180
THE PICK: Benavidez
LightweightClay Guida (34-14-0) v. Charles Oliveira (22-8-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Guida ($7,800), Oliveira ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Guida (+135), Oliveira (-155)
Odds to Finish: -190
THE PICK: Oliveira
FeatherweightMike Santiago (21-11-0) v. Dan Ige (8-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Santiago ($7,900), Ige ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Santiago (+120), Ige (-140)
Odds to Finish: +135
THE PICK: Santiago