This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
There may not be a belt on the line at UFC 246, but the event features the sport's most recognizable name in Conor McGregor as he begins his journey to get back into the title conversation. Standing in his way is a seemingly-overlooked Cowboy Cerrone, owner of the most wins in UFC history.
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, including a $100,000 top prize in the UFC 246 special. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
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 - Welterweight
This is a good fight, obviously, and smart matchmaking by the UFC. You can't insert McGregor directly into the title picture given how badly he was beaten by Khabib Nurmagomedov in his last fight in October 2018, so Conor's popularity combined with the popularity of Cowboy should help drive ratings.
Conor is looking at more than 15 months on the sidelines by the time he steps into the Octagon on Saturday. He wasn't the least bit competitive against Khabib in a fight in which many people, myself included, gave him very little chance of winning. Khabib is the worst possible match up for McGregor, so I'm certainly not inclined to write Conor off for one poor effort. The obvious question here is how will Conor look after all the time away. He's had long layoffs before, but never following a loss. McGregor is 2-2 in his last four bouts dating back to the first Nate Diaz bout (March 2015) and really needs this fight to remain relevant in terms of the title conversation. Of course, McGregor's immense popularity combined with the fact he can fight in multiple divisions will continue to earn him main event slots for as long as he wants to keep doing this.
Cerrone enters on a two-fight losing streak. He looked like the Cowboy of old in defeating Mike Perry, Alexander Hernandez and Al Iaquinta in a seven-month span from November 2018 to May 2019, but Cerrone has since been knocked out by both Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. Cerrone remains perfectly capable of inflicting plenty of offensive damage, but his defense – and by extension, his chin – have all but vanished. It's a massive, massive concern against a power-puncher such as McGregor.
Given what Khabib just did to Conor, I don't see how Cerrone can enter this fight with the game plan of doing anything other than grappling. Getting in a slug fest with McGregor is a recipe for potential disaster. Cowboy has been doing this long enough that I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this is a guy who just stepped into the Octagon against Gaethje and didn't go for a single takedown in the 4:18 that the bout lasted. If he decides he wants to stand and bang with McGregor, he's going to lose.
The one clear advantage Cerrone has – other than his wrestling and ground game – is his cardio. He figures to have the energy to outpoint McGregor late if he is able to survive the onslaught that is most certainly coming early. I trust McGregor's cardio in a 25-minute kickboxing match, but that all changes if he is forced to spend time on the mat and constantly defend takedowns.
To summarize: I don't think the layoff is going to affect McGregor. His antics are obviously over the top and he talks too much at times, but he's a legitimate world-class athlete who loves competition. He is also more than five years Cerrone's junior. I don't see how you can pick Cowboy here given his durability issues and McGregor's power. Any Cerrone victory will likely have to be a grinding affair in which a good portion of the fight is spent on the mat. It's certainly possible, but I wouldn't bet on it.
McGregor's massive (and quite frankly, unwarranted) DraftKings salary is almost certainly due to the fact casual fans will be using him in their lineups. I would have had him projected in the area of $8600 or so and I think Cerrone is the considerably better DraftKings play despite entering as a significant underdog.
THE PICK: McGregor
Co-Main Event - Women's Bantamweight
This is a rematch of a February 2015 fight which Holm won via split decision. It was her company debut and a bout in which Pennington did far better than most anyone could/would have ever imagined. The two were then scheduled to fight this past September before Holm was forced to withdraw due to injury.
For the life of me I can't understand why Holm continues to get high-profile bouts. Sure, Pennington isn't a high-level opponent, but Holm is being featured in the co-main event of a pay-per-view headlined by the most popular fighter in the sport in McGregor. Holly has now had 10 fights with the UFC and exactly half of them have been for a championship. All this despite the fact her record with the company is .500 (5-5). We have seen Holm struggle time and time again with power punchers. Her background is in kickboxing, but Holly relies on volume and placement as opposed to sheer power. The rest of her game has never developed all that much and it has gotten to the point where I view her as a one-dimensional fighter with a chin I don't entirely trust. It's only going to get worse for her at age 38.
The good news for Holm is that Pennington isn't the type of opponent who will walk across the Octagon and blast her with one punch. While I would term Holm's UFC career a disappointment despite her title win over Ronda Rousey, Pennington's has to be considered a success considering how little was expected of her. She's won five of seven fights since the first bout between the two and fought Amanda Nunes for the UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship in May 2018. That fight, as expected, was a disaster from the get go, but it's a miracle Pennington was even able to put herself in a position for a title shot. "Rocky" gets by on grit and determination and not much else. She's durable and she's not going to be overwhelmed, but she's limited athletically and doesn't move particularly well.
I guess I'll take Holm, but I don't feel confident about it. Her offensive game is so limited that I don't see how you could realistically pick her to win against any legitimate well-rounded opponent, but Pennington doesn't fall into that category. I feel comfortable saying this fight will go the distance given the lack of explosiveness both women possess. I'd never touch Holm at her salary and have zero idea as to why she is priced so highly.
THE PICK: Holm
Oleinik continues to chug along despite the fact he is 42 years of age and has more than 70 fights in to his pro career. It's been a wild ride for a man who has fought all over the world and made his professional debut way back on November 10, 1996. Oleinik has been a one-dimensional submission specialists for years. His chin is poor and he struggles with athletic competition. Each of Oleinik's last four bouts – two knockout losses, two submission wins – have ended in the first round. A loser of back-to-back fights, Oleinik could conceivably be fighting for his job here.
A former Ultimate Fighter competitor, Greene won his first three UFC bouts before being knocked out by Sergey Pavlovich in October. That fight barely lasted two minutes and added further fuel to the fire for those who believe Greene's quick start was the result of nothing more than facing poor competition. To say Greene is a massive man is an understatement. He stands 6-foot-7 but somehow has just two knockout victories in 12 career pro bouts. He also has the same exact reach as Oleinik despite being five inches taller.
This is a fight which I advocate staying away from. The range of possible outcomes appears to be enormous. Oleinik is old and essentially limited to picking up submission victories at this point of his career. Greene has an excellent frame for the division but is far less interesting given the fact he has never competed against anyone of note. I'll take Oleinik as an extremely minor value play, but the gap here appears to be small.
THE PICK: Oleinik
Having alternated wins and losses in her past five fights dating back to June 2017, Gadelha cannot afford another setback in this one. Once viewed as one of the division's most dominant competitors, Gadelha has struggled for the better part of the past two years. Even the majority of her wins have been mediocre performances. Claudia has zero stopping power in her hands – she doesn't have a knockout win over her prolonged time with the company – and she struggles in fights in which her takedowns aren't landing. She's very physically strong and has the ability to win fights from in tight, but I'd wager her next ten fights will look worse than the previous ten.
Grasso had seemingly found her stride following a dominant unanimous decision win over the talented Karolina Kowalkiewicz in June, but she went back out there in September and dropped a majority decision to Carla Esparza. The poor performance in the Esparza fight is concerning because Esparza and Gadelha fight very similarly. Grasso is an excellent striker and is going to have a major edge as long as this fight stays on the feet, but she's toast the minute it hits the mat. She doesn't possesses the ability to defend herself on the ground, nor the ability to work her way back to her feet against the very strong Gadelha.
The breakdown of this fight is simple: an extended kickboxing match favors Grasso while any slow, grinding mat battle seriously favors Gadelha. Grasso's takedown defense is just 63 percent, but she's stronger and more athletic than she appears at first glance. Her balance is good and her foot work is impressive. That being said, she isn't going to be able to match Gadelha's upper-body strength in tight. I really want to take Grasso but I can't get past the poor takedown defense. I think Gadelha muscles her way to a win.
THE PICK: Gadelha
Unable to decide which weight class he wishes to compete in, Pettis returns to lightweight on Saturday following a brief two-fight stint at welterweight. Pettis began his run at 170 pounds by shockingly knocking out Stephen Thompson in March before being dominated in a unanimous decision loss to Nate Diaz in August.
Pettis has been inconsistent for the better part of the past five years. He is sporting a 4-7 record dating back to March 2015. I think a major reason for his poor run is the fact he has been facing elite competition during much of that time period, but it's consistently been one step forward and two steps back for "Showtime." His athleticism has visibly deteriorated from his prime and I still think he appears to be thinking too much inside the Octagon as opposed to just reacting. His raw abilities will allow him to continue to be competitive in many fights, but I think the days of Pettis impacting the title picture in any division have come and gone.
Pettis better show up ready to go in this one because his opponent has been rolling through guys for nearly four years. Unbeaten in his past five bouts, Ferreira continues to receiving virtually no mainstream recognition. I've been a fan of the Brazilian for quite a while. He's brilliant on the mat (a 3rd degree black belt in BJJ) and has enough power in his hands to keep his opposition honest. Combine that with the fact Ferreira is durable and it's easy to see why he is getting a "name" opponent here.
One concern for Diego is the fact he missed weight two fights ago. He rebounded to make weight his last time out in September, but that's something to keep an eye on. Ferreira turns 35 years of age the day of the event, so the UFC should be aggressive in pushing him to see what they have. I like this match up for him. Pettis remains a recognizable face but this has the feel of a fight Ferreira could most definitely win.
I've all but given up on Pettis is terms of using him in DraftKings lineups. He is simply too inconsistent and you never have any idea what type of effort to expect from him. There's still enough here for Pettis to take care of fringe fighters, but Ferreira doesn't fit into that category. He is legitimately talented. As long as Ferreira makes weight on Friday without issue, I think he wins.
THE PICK: Ferreira
This fight may not have a huge impact in terms of the rankings at 145 pounds, but it should be an action-packed bout and makes for an ideal undercard fight to get the crowd going.
A product of Dana White's Contender Series, Yusuff has quickly established himself as must-see TV during his brief three-fight run with the company. He remains undefeated with two of those victories coming via knockout. Yusuff is a true knockout artist. He swings for the bleachers with every shot he throws and has legitimate thunder in his hands. I'm worried about his all-around game and how he will fair in anything other than an all-out brawl, but he has a shot against any opponent who is foolish enough to engage him in the war in which he is seeking.
A winner of four of his last five, I imagine Fili is more than willing to step up to the plate here. A long time member of Team Alpha Male, it's rarely pretty with Fili but he generally gets the job done. Although he will mix in a submission here and there, I wouldn't call characterize Fili as much of a threat on the mat. That being said, he should have an edge in that area, so it will be interesting to see if he attempts to forgo the stand up in hopes of submitting Yusuff.
Yusuff's striking defense is pretty lousy (4.39 significant strikes absorbed per minute) but he has gotten away with it up to this point because he is landing a whopping 6.61 significant strikes per minute. I'm concerned about that moving forward, but I'm not entirely convinced Fili has the pure power to take advantage of the opening. Plus, Yusuff has displayed an ability to handle anything thrown his way up to this point.
If a fight figures to develop into an all-out brawl, it's generally a good idea to take the fighter with much more power. That's Yusuff, but Fili is no pushover.
THE PICK: Yusuff
Tim Elliott (16-9-1) v. Askar Asakrov (10-0-1)
DK Salaries: Elliott ($7,500), Askarov ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Elliott (+105), Askarov (-125)
Odds to Finish: -115
THE PICK: Askarov