This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
It might not be the most star-studded pay-per-view in history, but UFC 250 is full of interesting and exciting fights for us to analyze. Buried within the 12-fight slate are quite a few dogs I think can be leveraged to find an edge, as well as at least one captain play that may not get as much attention as necessary thanks to some more expensive options. We are once again at the UFC Apex, which means a smaller cage. As I pointed out last week, research suggests more finishes occur in smaller cages like the one the fighters will occupy on June 6th, which should encourage players to look at fights that may not otherwise be thought of as good targets for finishes. As always, fighters will be listed in order from most to least desirable among the given choices.
One final note before we begin: here's a refresher on the scoring. If you're looking for general strategy tips, I wrote a FanDuel 101 article prior to UFC Brasilia on March 14, though there have been a few minor scoring changes since then that I've noted below.
Moves Scoring (MVP 1.5X)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.9 PTS
Takedown (TD): +9 PTS
Takedown Defense (TDEF): +4.5 PTS
Submission Attempt (SA): +7.5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +18 PTS
Moves Scoring (Standard)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.6 PTS
Takedown (TD): +6 PTS
Takedown Defense (TDEF): 3
Submission Attempt (SA): 5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +12 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses (MVP 1.5X)
1st Round Win (1stW): +150 PTS
2nd Round Win (2ndW): +112.5 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rdW): +75 PTS
4th Round Win (4thW): +52.5 PTS
5th Round Win (5thW): +37.5 PTS
Decision Win (DecW): +30 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses (Standard)
1st Round Win (1stW): +100 PTS
2nd Round Win (2ndW): +75 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rdW): +50 PTS
4th Round Win (4thW): +35 PTS
5th Round Win (5thW): +25 PTS
Decision Win (DecW): +20 PTS
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Best Play: Amanda Nunes ($23)
I have generally shied away from using the most expensive fighter on the roster as a "best play" in this series, but I can't refrain from eating the chalk in this instance, as Amanda Nunes should have every conceivable advantage against title challenger Felicia Spencer. Nunes is powerful, has great shot selection, is good at keeping opponents at the end of her punches, and she can wrestle when she needs to in order to compliment her BJJ black belt. By contrast, Spencer looks like she is moving underwater on the feet, throwing slow, sloppy shots until she can move in range for a takedown. Unless I am very wrong, this sets up to be one of the most one-sided title fights we have seen in some time, to be compared with the last few title defenses of Valentina Shevchenko at flyweight.
Chase Hooper gets hit far too much and doesn't seem to have a cohesive striking game of his own, but much like Brandon Royval last week, his warts shouldn't be too much of a factor in the matchup against Alex Caceres. Even in his last fight (which he largely controlled) against Steven Peterson, Caceres found himself nearly choked after one takedown led to an easy back take for the opponent. Caceres has struggled with wrestler/grapplers his entire career, and Hooper has a much more fluid and dangerous ground game than someone like Peterson. He should also do a much better job at cutting off the cage, lessening the opportunities for Caceres to escape via his footwork.
There was a time when I could see Sean O'Malley having a tough time with an opponent like Eddie Wineland, as some of his early fights showed a difficulty dealing with pressure fighters. Many of those concerns were assuaged after his fight with Jose Quinonez in March, in which he was able to use his footwork and range kicking game to keep his opponent at bay and ultimately find the finish. Wineland took home a hard-fought victory against Grigorii Popov in his last bout, but Popov had an awful lot of success before its conclusion, and O'Malley has a far deeper skillset than the 35-year-old.
Best Play: Devin Clark ($11)
Devin Clark's striking isn't much to write home about (though he has a quick and powerful overhand right), but he showed in his last fight with Dequan Townsend that he can hit a reactive double-leg takedown on an overeager opponent. Alonzo Menifield has had a fairly easy schedule thus far in his UFC career but was arguably losing his fight against Daniel Jolly (who took him down twice) on the Contender Series before Jolly opted out, citing difficulty seeing due to a bruised eye. Menifield is powerful and explosive, but tends to over-swing on his opponents, leaving himself open to be taken down in the same way Townsend was. As long as he doesn't get rocked early, I think Clark has a very clear path to victory here, and that's saying a lot for the least expensive fighter on the slate.
Brian Kelleher is facing a quick turnaround after a beautiful counter hook led to a knockout of Hunter Azure just three weeks ago. Much of what led to his success in that fight should work well against Cody Stamann, who can swing explosive single shots but marries much of his game to his wrestling. Kelleher enters this fight with a stellar 84 percent takedown defense rate in his eight UFC fights, owing to his movement and clinch defense. Stamann had trouble dealing with the pressure striking and movement of Yadong Song for parts of their last bout, and Kelleher will be bearing down from the opening bell, giving him a great chance to simply outwork his 30-year-old opponent.
Few fighters are more underrated than Anthony Rocco Martin in my judgment, as he has been the underdog five times in his last eight contests. He has won three of those bouts. Neil Magny looked like a new man in his fight against Li Jingliang after more than a year's hiatus, but I am not ready to say he beats a fighter like Martin just yet. One thing I think will work wonders for Martin here is his tendency to use an effective low-calf kick. We saw this most recently in his bout with Ramazan Emeev, and Magny has been susceptible to low kicks in the past, having literally been taken off his feet in his matchup with Rafael dos Anjos in 2017. While his jab may be improved, I don't think Magny's has the same sting nor is it thrown with the same frequency as Martin's, and the 32-year-old should find it difficult to compete with Rocco on the ground.
Herbert Burns stormed onto the scene with an impressive knockout of Nate Landwehr in his UFC debut. While he is undoubtedly quick and explosive, I see a lot of frantic energy and sloppiness in Burns' game, not unlike Tim Elliott, who competed at the UFC Apex last week. Evan Dunham may not be the most talented fighter on the roster, but he has a solid pressure striking game and can wrestle and grapple competently enough that I trust him to keep safe in those exchanges. It's true that Dunham has been massively hurt to the body in his last two fights, but I just don't trust Burns to put together a gameplan in order to exploit this weakness.
Best Play: Charles Byrd ($19)
My great wish for Charles Byrd is that he learns to trust his striking. The Fortis MMA product is lightning fast inside the cage and has enough power to surprise opponents, but tends to try to lean on a wrestling game as soon as he gets touched, which cost him dearly in his matchup against Edmen Shahbazyan. There should be no such worries against Maki Pitolo, however, who is a decent variety/combination striker but hasn't shown any ability to slip a shot or stop a takedown. Pitolo is incredibly tough and Byrd is priced up despite the back-to-back losses, which has this play firmly in the "cash" rather than "captain" column.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for how Gerald Meerschaert uses the tools he has available to him to pick up wins and make fights tremendously competitive. The problem here is that Ian Heinisch is a quick, powerful striker, who should give "GM3" all kinds of problems on the feet. There is no doubt that Meerschaert will try to take this fight to the ground as a result, but we have seen him struggle massively on the mat when his opponent is stronger than him (think Jack Marshman and Thiago Santos), and Heinisch isn't that far removed from out-grappling a strong opponent in Cezar Ferreira.
Alex Perez is a fan's fighter through and through, using tremendous pressure, combination striking, and slick wrestling to put on shows in the Octagon. Jussier Formiga's boxing has improved somewhat, but his response to pressure has generally been to throw one big counter, or try and hit one-off shots like spinning backfists. I also believe that Perez will be able to keep up with Formiga in scrambles, which is what ultimately led to losses for the Brazillian in fights against Brandon Moreno and Joseph Benavidez.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
It is almost impossible to know what to expect from Cody Garbrandt ($17) at this point in the career, as he has looked strong in each of his last three fights before being drawn into brawls and getting himself knocked out. Raphael Assuncao ($15) has shown himself more than willing to sit back and wait for counter shots and could use the leg kick that was so successful for Pedro Munhoz in his fight against Garbrandt. Ultimately, my inability to trust Garbrandt has me picking the old pro here, but the Alpha Male product is fast and powerful enough to get the job done if he can stay within himself.
Cory Sandhagen ($15) vs. Aljamain Sterling ($17) is one of the most fascinating fights on the card. Sandhagen has stormed up the rankings using his pressure, wrestling, and ability to mix up his strikes, while "Aljo" has weaponized his length, explosiveness, and wrestling of his own to hit a career resurgence that has seen him win his last three fights. A big key to this fight will be who can win the scrambles on the ground, and while Sandhagen has been able to come out on top in these exchanges so far, he has never faced a long fighter who is able to use that length in top position.