DraftKings MMA: UFC Apex Preview

DraftKings MMA: UFC Apex Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

The fight capital of the world is now open for business, as the Nevada Athletic Commission has approved a run of events to be held at the UFC Apex Center in Las Vegas. Fight fans rejoice, as every Saturday up until July 4 has an event tentatively scheduled, starting with Saturday's Fight Night event.

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 $150,000 top prize in the MMA Throwdown Special, which features $600,000 in guaranteed prizes. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:

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 - Welterweight

Tyron Woodley (19-4-1) v. Gilbert Burns (18-3-0)
DK Salaries: Woodley ($8,800), Burns ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Woodley (-175), Burns (+155)
Odds to Finish: -210

Woodley's near three-year run as UFC Welterweight Champion ended in March 2019 when he was dominated by Kamaru Usman from bell to bell. Usman is elite, but Woodley looked terrible. He appeared to be completely overwhelmed and baffled, both offensively and defensively. It was Woodley's first loss in more than five years and he deserves the benefit of the doubt given him resume, but it's fair to wonder if Tyron is slipping. He turned 38 years of age last month and he needs to have this fight despite being one of the company's more effective fighters over the past half-decade.

If Woodley is the known commodity, Burns is the unknown up-and-comer. The Brazilian is 7-1 in his last eight fights dating back to September 2017, with three of those victories coming via knockout and one via submission. Burns' only loss in that time span came against the underrated Dan Hooker. He fights often and fights effectively. Like Woodley, Burns is a big, physical guy. He has legitimate power and has won multiple Jiu-Jitsu championships. He is going to have a significant edge on Woodley in terms of submission ability.

Woodley was scheduled to fight Leon Edwards before that card was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Edwards and Burns are different type of fighters. Edwards is long and lean and relies on his stand up, while Burns is shorter and stockier with more power. In theory, I think that helps Tyron, as he can manage to properly defend himself on the feet. Woodley was dominated in all areas of the fight by Usman, and it will be interesting to see what he feels his best path to victory is against Burns. 

As it stands right now, I'm chalking up Woodley's loss to Usman as nothing more than a rough night at the office. He's been so good for so long that I think it would be premature to write him off. That being said, Burns is clearly a live underdog in my view, and while I might not be picking him to win outright, he's one of my favorite value DraftKings plays on the entire card. I certainly don't see a $1400 gap in salaries between these two. I see this being an extended, close and competitive fight, with Woodley being overpriced and Burns under priced from a DK perspective. 

THE PICK: Woodley

Co-Main Event - Heavyweight

Blagoy Ivanov (18-3-0, 1NC) v. Augusto Sakai (14-1-1)
DK Salaries: Ivanov ($8,000), Sakai ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Ivanov (-105), Sakai (-115)
Odds to Finish: +120

Literally one of the toughest and most durable men on the face of this earth, Ivanov, a former WSOF/PFL Heavyweight Champion, will attempt to rebound from a split decision loss to Derrick Lewis last November. Ivanov had scored back-to-back unanimous decision wins over Tai Tuivasa and Ben Rothwell prior to the Lewis fight. Very little Ivanov does in the Octagon would be classified as "pretty". He is your prototypical brawler who is willing to eat a shot in order to land two of his own. Ivanov also possesses an underrated ground game, but he does the vast majority of his work on the feet.

A former mainstay on the Bellator roster for several years, Sakai earned his UFC opportunity with a knockout win on Dana White's Contender Series in August of 2018. Sakai is 3-0 since joining the company on a full-time basis just a month later. He has knockout wins over Marcin Tybura and Chase Sherman and a split decision win over Andrei Arlovski on his resume. Sakai is your prototypical power puncher. 11 of his 14 career victories have come via knockout. He does not have a submission victory. 

It will be extremely interesting to see how Ivanov handles the massive size edge Sakai possesses. Sakai enters with a four-inch edge in both the height and reach department, although at 5-foot-11, Ivanov is shorter than most any heavyweight on the UFC roster.

Sakai has been impressive to date and has youth on his side having just turned 29 years old, but he hasn't faced great competition to date and I have a difficult time picking against Ivanov in what figures to be a slow-paced brawl. Ivanov's toughness is legendary and I don't have complete confidence in Ivanov as of yet. Maybe I'll get there, but I'm not there yet. This is a close bout and both the DraftKings salaries and Vegas odds show that. I'm taking Ivanov.

THE PICK: Ivanov

Women's Strawweight

Mackenzie Dern (7-1-0) v. Hannah Cifers (10-4-0)
DK Salaries: Dern ($9,300), Cifers ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Dern (-430), Cifers (+345)
Odds to Finish: -190

Fresh off the first loss of her professional career (a lopsided unanimous decision setback to Amanda Ribas last October), I'm interested to see how Dern looks in a potential rebound spot here. Dern was on maternity leave for exactly 17 months prior to the Ribas fight. I doubt the time away played a factor in the bout's final result, but I can't imagine it helped matters. A highly decorated mat specialist, Dern is a black belt under the tutelage of "Megaton" Dias. She has won countless world BJJ titles, but MMA is a different sport entirely. Dern is physical at the point of attack, but her striking game – particularly her striking defense – is a real issue. 

Cifers is on a nice little run, having won seven of her past nine bouts. The issue is that all the wins came against nobodies and the only two setbacks came against the only legitimate fighters (Angela Hill, Maycee Barber) she faced during that time span. Cifers prefers to stand and trade if at all possible, and that probably goes double for this fight. Cifers is in big, big trouble if she ends up on the mat against Dern. Cifers is tough and has some pop in her hands, but I'm worried about her ability to consistently get inside against an opponent in Dern who is three inches taller. No competitor in the 115-pound women's division is large, but Cifers, at 5-foot-1, is one of the smallest.

I picked against Dern in the Ribas fight without hesitation. I'm going back to the well for a second helping here, but I'm lukewarm on Dern's long-term potential. Her stand-up game needs so much improvement that I think it's a real stretch to call her a future contender of any sorts right now. Yes, she's a big name, but Dern just turned 27 years of age and has all of eight professional MMA bouts under her belt. On the flip side, This skill set is not dissimilar to what Henry Cejudo brought to the table at the early stages of his career. Cejudo's strength was obviously wrestling instead of BJJ, but he, too, was a mediocre striker and eventually turned that into a strength of his game. We'll see if Dern can do the same. I'd never touch her at such an inflated price tag. 


Women's Flyweight

Katlyn Chookagian (13-3-0) v. Antonina Shevchenko (8-1-0)
DK Salaries: Chookagian ($7,700), Shevchenko ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Chookagian (+115), Shevchenko (-135)
Odds to Finish: +330

As one of the only "legitimate" options in the thinnest division in the history of the sport, Chookagian was "rewarded" for a 5-1 stretch of fighting with a title bout against UFC Women's Flyweight Championship Valentina Shevchenko in February. Let's just say it went as expected, and Katlyn did not walk out of Houston's Toyota Center with the gold. On Saturday, she gets her shot as Valentina's older sister, Antonina.

Chookagian is 6-3 through her first nine UFC bouts. Every single one of those victories have come via decision and nearly all of them have come against "fringe" fighters. Katlyn is in a tough spot. She offers little on the ground but doesn't possess the power to damage her opposition on the feet. She relies on her length (5-foot-9) and combinations to get the job done. The fact she is currently ranked No. 2 in the division tells you all you need to know about the state of the UFC's Women Flyweight proceedings these days.

Antonina is nearly four years the senior of her much-more-famous sister and will turn 36 years of age this coming November. Three fights into her brief UFC career, Shevchenko has looked.... inconsistent. Her record is 2-,1 and the one loss came via split decision, so it hasn't been all bad, but expectations were a bit out of hand to begin with due to the fact her sister is one of the very best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Antonina had a long, successful (39-1) career as a professional kickboxer, but she has just nine pro MMA fights under her belt. That's a serious issue given her advanced age. Her pedigree and athleticism alone will result in victories, but I'm not convinced her long-term ceiling is all that high.

This appears to be another abysmal match up for Chookagian. Yes, Shevchenko is getting up there in age, but I doubt her Muay Thai skills have deteriorated to the point in which she will have difficulty hitting Chookagian with regularity. Katlyn will also enter with just a one-inch advantage in both the height and reach department. I don't think it will be nearly enough to make up for the massive technical edge Shevchenko possesses. Chookagian isn't legitimately in the title conversation despite whatever her "ranking" is. She isn't going anywhere, nor should she, but to illustrate my point, I'd actually argue Chookagian is closer to being released than winning a belt in the UFC. Given that along with Antonina's age and limited MMA experience, I might skip this one, DFS wise. 

THE PICK: Shevchenko

Other Fights

Daniel Rodriguez (11-1-0) v. Gabriel Green (9-2-0)
DK Salaries: Rodriguez ($7,300), Green ($7,300)*
*This is a guess based on the situation with Giga Chikadze last week.
Vegas Odds: Rodriguez (-350), Green (+260)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Rodriguez

Roosevelt Roberts (9-1-0) v. Brok Weaver (15-4-0)
DK Salaries: Roberts ($9,200), Weaver ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Roberts (-335), Weaver (+275)
Odds to Finish: +130
THE PICK: Roberts

Catchweight (150 pounds)
Billy Quarantillo (13-2-0) v. Spike Carlyle (9-1-0)
DK Salaries: Quarantillo ($8,600), Carlyle ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Quarantillo (-145), Carlyle (+125)
Odds to Finish: -185
THE PICK: Quarantillo

Light Heavyweight
Jamahal Hill (7-0-0) v. Klidson Abreu (15-4-0)
DK Salaries: Hill ($8,400), Abreu ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Hill (-120), Abreu (+100)
Odds to Finish: +110

Tim Elliott (16-10-1) v. Brandon Royval (10-4-0)
DK Salaries: Elliott ($8,700), Royval ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Elliott (-165), Royval (+145)
Odds to Finish: -120
THE PICK: Elliott

Louis Smolka (16-6-0) v. Casey Kenney (13-2-1)
DK Salaries: Smolka ($7,100), Kenney ($9,100)
Vegas Odds: Smolka (+225), Kenney (-265)
Odds to Finish: +175
THE PICK: Kenney

Chris Gutierrez (14-3-0, 1NC) v. Vince Morales (9-4-0)
DK Salaries: Gutierrez ($8,300), Morales ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Gutierrez (-115), Morales (-105)
Odds to Finish: +220
THE PICK: Morales

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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