This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The UFC heads to Mexico City on Saturday for the first time since 2017, where selecting the winning fighters often requires determining who has been training at altitude and is prepared to compete at elevation more than 7,000 feet above sea level. Who can forget UFC 188 in June of 2015, where "Cardio" Cain Velasquez fell as the heavy favorite to Fabricio Werdum after appearing to gas out in the third round. This was profiled in detail in a recent Marc Raimondi piece on ESPN, but it's far from a complete list. We'll do our best to keep subscribers posted on any new developments their via our Discord channel.
In another new development at UFC Mexico City, DraftKings is offering a "Rambo" mode, which is similar to the showdown/captain modes in other sports. Users select one fight to earn 1.5 times their point total before filling out their lineup with five other fighters. The salary discrepancies are much higher in Rambo mode, which means being bold and selecting an underdog as your captain allows you to plug in primarily favorites to fill out a lineup. It's currently only being offered as a free roll as part of the promotion for the movie Rambo: Last Blood, but who knows what offerings could be on the horizon f the game type receives a warm reception.
Note: Intro added after submission by MMA Editor Jake Letarski. Analysis and picks below are courtesy of Jon Litterine, as usual.
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 - Featherweight
Yair Rodriguez (11-2-0) v. Jeremy Stephens (28-16-0)
DK Salaries: Rodriguez ($8,200), Stephens ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Rodriguez (-110), Stephens (-110)
Odds to Finish: -220
Coming off a fight in which he scored the most improbable victory in the history of the company – a blind elbow with one second remaining in a fight he was certainly to lose to Chan Sung Jung on the judge's scorecards – Rodriguez gets a main event slot in his native Mexico. It's not a stretch to say that Yair is one of the most innovative offensive minds in the sport today, and to see him going up against a true knockout artist in Stephens should make for entertaining television. Rodriguez has lost just once in his past 10 fights and that came via doctor's stoppage against Frankie Edgar. He's been around seemingly forever, but Rodriguez won't turn 27 years old until next month.
Stephens is in need of a victory in the worst way following back-to-back losses to Jose Aldo and Zabit Magomedsharipov. Stephens has been on the fringes of title contention for years, but he has come up short in virtually every big fight in his career. He has plenty of impressive wins on his resume – Josh Emmett, Renan Barao, Dennis Bermudez, Rafael dos Anjos – but that one career-defining victory has always eluded him. Stephens' biggest issue is that he's a one-dimensional power puncher. He hits as hard as any fighter in the division and is ridiculously tough, but the very best opponents can negate a fighter who only does one thing well. Stephens will probably have a job after Saturday even if he loses because he is so entertaining to watch, but his chances of ever entering the title picture once again at 145 pounds will have evaporated.
Rodriguez is impossible to train for because no one in the sport fights like he does, but it's not as if Stephens is a big "game planner" anyway. All he does is walk across the cage and throw bombs over and over. It works more often than not, but I don't think it's going to work here. I'm far more willing to be on Yair's creativity over the pure power of Stephens. That being said, Stephens have definite value as an underdog. He can turn your lights out in an instant and that's awfully attractive for just $8,000. I expect a close, competitive fight, and I also expected a Rodriguez win.
THE PICK: Rodriguez
Co-Main Event - Women's Strawweight
Carla Esparza (14-6-0) v. Alexa Grasso (11-2-0)
DK Salaries: Esparza ($7,800), Grasso ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Esparza (+100), Grasso (-120)
Odds to Finish: +240
The picture of inconsistency throughout the course of her brief five-fight UFC run, Grasso has alternated wins and losses in each of her bouts. The good news is that she is coming off by far the most impressive performance of her career – a dominant unanimous decision victory over Karolina Kowalkiewicz in June. Karolina is an excellent fighter and Muay Thai specialist, and Grasso ripped her apart on the feet. It was the breakout performance many were waiting for from a young woman who was viewed as one of the division's very best prospects not all that long ago.
Esparza snapped a two-fight losing streak with a unanimous decision victory over Virna Jandiroba in April. Esparza, a wrestler by trade, looks just fine when her takedowns are landing (she averages 3.47 per 15 minutes), but she is in a whole heap of trouble if forced to stand and trade for any significant length of time. Esparza's striking is well below-average and it really hasn't improved at all in her near five years with the UFC. It's difficult to win fights when you land just 2.14 significant strikes per minute. Grasso, for example, averages 5.79 per minute.
Another thing working against Esparza is the fact Grasso is firmly in her prime having just turned 26 years old in August, while Esparza will turn 32 years old in October. Add in the fact this fight is taking place in Grasso's home country of Mexico, and Carla has a big task ahead of her. Esparza's wrestling gives her a clear path to victory, but Grasso's takedown defense is respectable (63 percent), and she is shockingly strong and sturdy for a woman who is only 5-foot-5. I don't see how Esparza could ever win an extended kickboxing match after watching what Grasso did to Kowalkiewicz. I'm taking Alexa via decision.
THE PICK: Grasso
Irene Aldana (10-5-0) v. Vanessa Melo (9-5-0)
DK Salaries: Aldana ($9,400), Melo ($6,800)
Vegas Odds: Aldana (-500), Melo (+400)
Odds to Finish: +130
This was originally supposed to be Aldana vs. Marion Reneau, but Reneau was forced to withdraw just over a week ago. For the record, I was giving serious, serious consideration to picking Reneau in that fight.
Aldana had a three-fight win streak snapped in July when she dropped a split decision to Raquel Pennington. She has a terrific frame for the division at 5-foot-8 and is very good at stringing together combinations, but her stopping power has evaporated since joining the UFC in December 2016 and her defensive footwork is poor. I thought Aldana would have a very difficult time dealing with the upper-body strength of Reneau, but I imagine that will be far less of an issue against Melo.
Melo will have spent her entire career prior to Saturday fighting for smaller promotions, many in her native Brazil. She took a unanimous decision from Molly McCann back in November 2015, but has no other notable victories on her ledger. Melo also doesn't have a single knockout victory in 14 career bouts.
This has the look of the UFC adding an inferior fighter to their roster in order to keep Aldana on this card. I'm not high on Aldana, but all available evidence tells us she should be able to dispatch the debuting Melo with no issue.
THE PICK: Aldana
Sijara Eubanks (4-3-0) v. Bethe Correia (10-4-1)
DK Salaries: Eubanks ($9,100), Correia ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Eubanks (-250), Correia (+210)
Odds to Finish: +160
Eubanks and Correia have combined to win just three times in their past 10 bouts, so to say they both need to emerge from this fight victorious is an understatement.
Correia is in far worse shape than Eubanks. It's scary to think she actually fought for a UFC Championship at one point. Dreadful defensively and with limited power, Correia built up her reputation by beating lesser opponents and immediately struggled when the competition level increased. I know the UFC needs depth in every division because they run an event almost every week, but I'm a little surprised they have released her yet. She is legitimately one of the worst fighters on the roster.
Eubanks isn't all that much better, but at least she's big and strong and can grind her way to a victory. Eubanks' fights are generally slow-paced affairs that are far from visually pleasing. I don't trust her cardio and she's missed weight in the past, but that was at 125 pounds. I'm highly pessimistic about Eubanks moving forward, but it doesn't take much to beat Correia these days.
Bethe's takedown defense throughout the course of her UFC run is an excellent 85 percent, but she's giving up so much upper-body strength to Eubanks that I think she will find herself on the mat on multiple occasions. A win over Correia means nothing these days, so it's hard to get excited about Eubanks even if she wins impressively. The most likely scenario is she handles Bethe without issue then goes right back to her losing ways her next time out.
THE PICK: Eubanks
Brandon Moreno (15-5-0) v. Askar Askarov (10-0-0)
DK Salaries: Moreno ($7,400), Askarov ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Moreno (+145), Askarov (-165)
Odds to Finish: -135
THE PICK: Askarov
Martin Bravo (12-2-0) v. Steven Peterson (17-9-0)
DK Salaries: Bravo ($8,100), Peterson ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Bravo (-115), Peterson (-105)
Odds to Finish: +155
THE PICK: Peterson
Jose Quinonez (8-3-0) v. Carlos Huachin (10-4-1)
DK Salaries: Quinonez ($8,700), Huachin ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Quinonez (-145), Huachin (+125)
Odds to Finish: +135
THE PICK: Huachin
Polo Reyes (8-7-0) v. Kyle Nelson (12-3-0)
DK Salaries: Reyes ($7,600), Nelson ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Reyes (-105), Nelson (-115)
Odds to Finish: -265
THE PICK: Nelson
Angela Hill (9-7-0) v. Ariane Carnelossi (12-1-0)
DK Salaries: Hill ($8,500), Carnelossi ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Hill (-150), Carnelossi (+130)
Odds to Finish: +245
THE PICK: Hill
Sergio Pettis (17-5-0) v. Tyson Nam (18-9-1)
DK Salaries: Pettis ($9,300), Nam ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Pettis (-360), Nam (+300)
Odds to Finish: +230
THE PICK: Pettis
Vinicius Moreira (9-3-0) v. Paul Craig (11-4-0)
DK Salaries: Moreira ($8,300), Craig ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Moreira (-120), Craig (+100)
Odds to Finish: -230
THE PICK: Craig
Claudio Puelles (9-2-0) v. Marcos Mariano (6-5-0)
DK Salaries: Puelles ($9,000), Mariano ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Puelles (-280), Mariano (+240)
Odds to Finish: -245
THE PICK: Puelles