This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The UFC heads to Chicago on Saturday, where we've got $150,000 up for grabs in this weeks $15 MMA Throwdown – which features a $30,000 top prize. Additionally, DraftKings is offering both $10 and $100 qualifiers to win a trip to UFC 239 in Las Vegas.
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 - UFC Bantamweight Championship
(Flyweight C) Henry Cejudo (14-2-0) v. Marlon Moraes (22-5-1)
DK Salaries: Cejudo ($7,900), Moraes ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Cejudo (+100), Moraes (-120)
Odds to Finish: -190
T.J. Dillashaw's decision to relinquish the UFC Bantamweight Championship (in lieu of eventually being stripped) in March following a failed drug test sent shockwaves through the world of MMA. It also opened the door for Cejudo and Moraes to earn the title opportunity that they both richly deserve.
While fighting for Cejudo's UFC Flyweight Championship in January in Brooklyn, Cejudo knocked Dillashaw out in 32 seconds. It was a shocking result and one that displayed Henry's vastly improved striking technique. Cejudo is a former Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, so his striking will never be on par with his grappling, but he has made significant strides on the feet over the past couple years to the point that he can at least threaten his opposition in that area. Cejudo had all kinds of issues making the 126-pound flyweight limit early in his career, and he has to be salivating at the thought of competing at 135 pounds. The only two losses of Cejudo's career have come against former flyweight king Demetrious Johnson, which he later avenged, and perennial title contender Joseph Benavidez (in a split decision which Cejudo should have won).
Moraes has been everything the UFC could have hoped for and more since making his company debut in June 2017. His run began with a controversial (and quite frankly, embarrassing) split decision loss to Raphael Assuncao, but he has run off four straight wins since. The victories have come against some of the best the division has to offer in Jimmie Rivera, Aljamain Sterling, John Dodson, and a rematch against Assuncao. A former WSOF (now PFL) Bantamweight Champion, Moraes is an all-around threat. He has a black belt in BJJ and 10 career wins via knockout. His two-inch height and three-inch reach advantage could come into play, especially in a bout where Cejudo is expected to constantly attempt to close the distance between the two men.
While Moraes's takedown defense during his UFC tenure hasn't been great (60 percent), he's so athletic and has such as high fight IQ that I am considerably less worried about that number moving forward than I normally would be. This should be a terrific fight, and while I hate to pick against either guy given how good they have looked of late, I think Moraes's size and physicality edge will be just a bit too much for Cejudo to overcome. Henry absolutely has DraftKings value from an underdog perspective. Fighters of his ability should not be priced as low as Cejudo is for this one.
THE PICK: Moraes
Co-Main Event - Women's Flyweight Championship
(C) Valentina Shevchenko (16-3-0) v. Jessica Eye (14-6-0)
DK Salaries: Shevchenko ($9,600), Eye ($6,600)
Vegas Odds: Shevchenko (-1400), Eye (+925)
Odds to Finish: -185
The UFC's women's flyweight division has been a disaster from the get-go and as a result, you are left with a matchup like this one. A bout in which the champion is a monumental favorite and the challenger is gifted an opportunity she hasn't earned. There are no less than a half dozen other fights on this card that I am looking forward to more than this one.
Shevchenko is legitimately good. Let's start with that. She pounded Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a unanimous decision victory to win the vacant title in December, and given the total lack of competition in the division, there's no reason she can't hold onto the belt for an extended period of time. Valentina has a Soviet Master of Sport in Muay Thai, boxing, kickboxing, and judo. In other words, she's not a one-trick pony and will beat you up in a variety of different ways. She lands a ton of significant strikes per minute (3.36) and she rarely gets hit (2.53 significant strikes per minute). Throw in the fact she lands north of two takedowns (2.06) per 15 minutes, and you have a clear recipe for long-term success.
From July 2015 until September 2016, Eye lost four fights in a row. She could have easily been released after that run and no one would have batted an eye. She then moved up to flyweight where she has won three straight. The three-fight win streak sounds good on the surface, but when you dig a bit deeper, you find all three wins came via decision (two of the "split" variety) and the competition (Katlyn Chookagian, Jessica-Rose Clark, Kalindra Faria) was nothing to write home about. That's a long way of saying that nothing regarding Eye has changed and she doesn't deserve a title shot in any weight class. Eye is brash, opinionated and legitimately tough, but she has terrible striking defense and virtually no stopping power in her hands. I understand that Eye might very well have been the best option here, but that doesn't mean she deserves the opportunity.
Seemingly every fight Eye is involved in turns into a senseless brawl. I am as certain as certain can be that Shevchenko will batter the holy heck out of her if that's where this fight ends up. Upsets happen all the time in this sport, but Eye is a massive underdog for a reason. I have no interest in her as a DraftKings option in any situation, even though she is the cheapest fighter available on the card. As I have mentioned before – here and on our RW pod – if a fighter is a -1000 favorite or more in a title fight, said title fight shouldn't be happening. Yet, this is where we are with the UFC's 125-pound women's division in 2019. I see no reason for improvement over the course of the year and into 2020.
THE PICK: Shevchenko
Tony Ferguson (24-3-0) v. Donald Cerrone (36-11-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Ferguson ($8,600), Cerrone ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Ferguson (-155), Cerrone (+135)
Odds to Finish: -150
This barn burner came out of nowhere, and it makes what was already a stacked card undoubtedly one of the best of the year.
Cerrone headlined a card in Ottawa just a month ago. After a pair of back-and-forth rounds, Cowboy finally found his range and smashed a very talented Al Iaquinta over the course of the final three frames en route to a clear unanimous decision victory. Cerrone has won three straight. His footwork has been a bit better during that stretch and his offense has obviously been on point. Cowboy is never one to turn down any fight, and this one would figure to earn him a shot at the UFC Lightweight Championship, or at a minimum, possibly a fight against Conor McGregor down the line.
We haven't seen Ferguson since October. A winner of 11 straight fights and without a loss in nearly six years, Tony finally got a shot at the interim UFC Lightweight Championship in October 2017 and won the belt by submitting Kevin Lee. He was later stripped due to injury. Ferguson, now 35 years old, has legitimately gotten better as he has aged. He has a remarkably well-rounded offensive game and is insanely durable. It's ridiculous to think that Tony has never been knocked out given the amount of abuse he has absorbed over the years.
This is the right fight at the right time. It's two uber-aggressive competitors who love getting in there and throwing down. Ferguson has had some things going on in his personal life since his last bout. It seems unlikely to be an issue given the fact the UFC offered Tony this bout and he accepted, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind.
Both the Vegas odds and DraftKings salaries here seem about right. I think it's impossible to pick against "El Cucuy" given his long run of success against world-class competition (Lee, Anthony Pettis, Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, etc), that being said, I have all sorts of interest in Cowboy as an underdog. He's looked exceptional of late and Ferguson's willingness to engage in brawls should allow Cerrone to land more than his fair share of offense. Actually emerging victorious is another thing entirely.
THE PICK: Ferguson
Jimmie Rivera (22-3-0) v. Peter Yan (12-1-0)
DK Salaries: Rivera ($6,900), Yan ($9,300)
Vegas Odds: Rivera (+295), Yan (-355)
Odds to Finish: -120
Rivera needs this one badly. He no-showed his most recent fight against Aljamain Sterling in February, and there is far too much depth at 135 pounds for any man who considers himself a contender to drop three of four, which is what Rivera will be staring at if he comes up short on Saturday. Rivera is a pure striker. He trusts both his hands (perhaps too much) and has the ability to string together combinations and get out of dodge before his opposition can return fire. He's displayed very little finishing power during his time with the UFC, so he needs to ensure he lands a ton of volume or else it figures to be a long night at the office for the 29-year-old.
Most casual MMA fans don't know Yan yet, but they will in the near future. The Russian announced his arrival with a dominant unanimous decision victory over John Dodson in February. Prior to that, he knocked out the underrated Douglas Silva de Andrade. Yan enters riding a seven-fight win streak and without a loss in more than three years. Although the sample size is small, everything I've seen from Yan leads me to believe that he is totally legit. He has averaged a ridiculous 6.46 significant strikes landed per minute while getting hit at a clip of just 2.92 per minute. He's also a solid grappler.
I like Rivera, I really do, but Yan may very well be a future world championship contender. He's that good. Rivera's style leads me to believe that he would be more than happy turning this into a kickboxing match, and I think Yan wins that all day long. The Vegas line on Yan seems a bit high to me and I think Rivera has some underdog DraftKings value if you're making multiple lineups, but the pick here is quite clear. Yan is one of a handful of fighters that I'm currently all-in on.
THE PICK: Yan
Tai Tuivasa (8-1-0) v. Blagoy Ivanov (17-2-0)
DK Salaries: Tuivasa ($8,700), Ivanov ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Tuivasa (-145), Ivanov (+125)
Odds to Finish: -165
Gift wrapped an opportunity to immediately insert himself in the title picture at heavyweight, Tuivasa suffered his first career loss after being knocked out by Junior Dos Santos in his native Australia in December. The result was disappointing, but Tuivasa is still just 26 years old and he'll continue to get big fights such as this one.
Tuivasa's power is legitimate. Seven of his eight career wins have come via knockout. He may not have the legendary knockout ability of a guy like Francis Ngannou, but it doesn't take too many shots from the Aussie to turn your lights out. I'm a tad worried about his ability to compete in something other than a kickboxing match, but he's good at what he does.
Ivanov was decisioned by Dos Santos in his company debut last July before rebounding to take a unanimous decision from a returning Ben Rothwell in March. Ivanov's backstory is legendary and has been discussed in this column on multiple occasions. Blagoy is the very definition of durable, both in the cage, and in real life. Ivanov picked up a slew of submission victories early in his career, but he's essentially a stand-up guy at age 32. Ivanov's ability to dish out and receive punishment give him a chance in every single fight in which he competes. The next time you see Ivanov get run out of the building will be the first.
The DraftKings salaries and Vegas odds aside, this sets up as a pick 'em for me. It's Tuivasa's knockout power and youth against Ivanov's durability and well-rounded game. I'm going to take Tuivasa, but I think Ivanov is the better fantasy play. I trust his durability, and it's undoubtedly a poor idea to bet against a man who has overcome some of the things Blagoy has seen during his lifetime.
THE PICK: Tuivasa
Tatiana Suarez (7-0-0) v. Nina Ansaroff (10-5-0)
DK Salaries: Suarez ($9,500), Ansaroff ($6,700)
Vegas Odds: Suarez (-900), Ansaroff (+600)
Odds to Finish: -180
THE PICK: Suarez
Aljamain Sterling (17-3-0) v. Pedro Munhoz (18-3-0)
DK Salaries: Sterling ($8,500), Munhoz ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Sterling (-135), Munhoz (+115)
Odds to Finish: +125
THE PICK: Sterling
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (12-4-0) v. Alexa Grasso (10-2-0)
DK Salaries: Kowalkiewicz ($8,400), Grasso ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Kowalkiewicz (-140), Grasso (+120)
Odds to Finish: +220
THE PICK: Kowalkiewicz
Ricardo Lamas (19-7-0) v. Calvin Kattar (19-3-0)
DK Salaries: Lamas ($7,400), Kattar ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Lamas (+150), Kattar (-170)
Odds to Finish: -105
THE PICK: Lamas
Angela Hill (9-6-0) v. Xiaonan Yan (10-1-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Hill ($7,100), Yan ($9,100)
Vegas Odds: Hill (+175), Yan (-210)
Odds to Finish: +280
THE PICK: Yan
Bevon Lewis (6-1-0) v. Darren Stewart (9-4-0)
DK Salaries: Lewis ($9,000), Stewart ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Lewis (-235), Stewart (+195)
Odds to Finish: -185
THE PICK: Lewis
Katlyn Chookagian (11-2-0) v. Joanne Calderwood (13-3-0)
DK Salaries: Chookagian ($8,100), Calderwood ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Chookagian (-110), Calderwood (-110)
Odds to Finish: +220
THE PICK: Calderwood
Eddie Wineland (23-13-1) v. Grigory Popov (13-1-0)
DK Salaries: Wineland ($8,200), Popov ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Wineland (-120), Popov (+100)
Odds to Finish: +125
THE PICK: Popov