This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
Simply put, the third installment of fights at the UFC Apex is a bit of a mess. We have an 11-fight slate, which includes three late replacement bouts, along with several debuting fighters. It should be noted right away that the short card puts an incredible amount of emphasis on the captain's spot as a way of differentiating yourself from the field. As per usual, this article is designed to cut through the muck and deliver DFS players the best possible advice and strategy to take home the gold. As I will continue to point out as long as we are at The Apex, research suggests more finishes occur in smaller cages like the one the fighters will occupy on June 13th, 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
Jordan Griffin ($19) At first glance, Jordan Griffin vs. Darrick Minner is kind of a weird fight to call. Both of these men tend to sell out for submission attempts and aren't afraid to put themselves in bad positions in the process. Minner's game is just so formless and unstructured everywhere that I question whether he will be able to get anything done, even if he does manage to get Griffin to the mat. By contrast, Griffin is a long grappler, and he knows how to use that length to get leverage on submission attempts we might not expect to work. I also think Griffin has the semblance of a functional kickboxing game, which is just nowhere to be seen from Minner. To be clear, I don't think it's impossible that he snatches a sub here, but watching him try to work guillotines that weren't even close over and over again in his UFC debut against Grant Dawson (before getting subbed himself) has me pretty comfortable in thinking that Minner will hand Griffin good positions on the ground.
Even in his loss to Sodiq Yusuff, Andre Fili continued to show the improved striking that he has been building on for at least the past two years. This version of Fili uses a crisp, stinging jab liberally, fires low-kicks at will, and seamlessly integrates wrestling into his striking game. This should be a tremendous problem for Charles Jourdain, who did well exploding into the pocket against Doo Ho Choi, but Choi doesn't have the length or the range striking tools of someone like Fili. I expect Jourdain to get stung hard here about as often as he did in that fight, but Fili should be able to deny him the opportunity to get back into the bout.
I never imagined I would advocate for captaining Jessica Eye, but the Strong Style Fight Team product showed a much cleaner, power striking game in her win against Viviane Araujo. Flurries in the pocket were replaced with well placed (and timed) single shots, including work to both the body and head. Cynthia Calvillo is a wizard on the mat, but her striking remains unpolished and largely non-threatening, which could put her in significant trouble if she can't get the fight to the floor. It's true that Eye's takedown defense rate (49 percent) is less than stellar, but she will be the bigger fighter in this matchup, and Calvillo went 0-for-6 in attempts against Cortney Casey (38 percent takedown defense rate) when she was the smaller fighter in that bout.
Best Play: Merab Dvalishvili ($20)
There has never been a more apt nickname for a fighter than "The Machine" for Merab Dvalishvili. The Georgian fighter seemingly never gets tired in a fight, despite always coming forward and scoring an average of nearly eight(!) takedowns per 15 minutes of cage time. New opponent Gustavo Lopez is a light-on-experience wrestler who likes to fight a slow-paced, power-counter game on the feet, but will explode into combinations when he finds his opportunities. Put simply, I don't really see much in Lopez's game that can threaten Merab. His wrestling seems lacking (though he is a decent control grappler) and the fact that one of his four losses came in the form of a KO in the first round against Andre Ewell makes me think he may not respond well to fighters who are able to push a pace. Ultimately, I don't think Merab gets bumped to a captain as a result of the swap. If anything, the fact that this fight will move at a slower pace could hurt his value somewhat. Aside from a puncher's chance, though, I don't see Lopez with much of a viable path to victory.
It's hard to watch Gina Mazany get stifled against the cage by Lina Lansberg for fifteen minutes and conclude that Julia Avila won't be able to replicate that success. While there may be a point to be made that Avila isn't quite as strong as Lansburg, she comes with the same pressuring, grinding style, and is able to throw her weight around effectively. Mazany is a game fighter, so a finish might not be in the offing here, but I expect the constant pressure to wear on her, perhaps with a takedown or two thrown in for good measure.
Kevin Aguilar got beat soundly by Dan Ige in his last outing, but much like the situation above with Jordian, Charles Rosa is not anywhere near the level of striker that Ige is, making it unlikely that he will be able to put Aguilar in uncomfortable spots. For this reason, I expect Aguilar's power counter-striking game to pay big dividends here against the wild, looping shots of Rosa. His lack of output is really the only thing keeping this from being a captain play, but I wouldn't be surprised if Aguilar finds a finish here.
Best Play: Karl Roberson ($12)
I chose Karl Roberson the last time this fight was booked in May. The only thing that has changed since then is we get an even better dog price. Marvin Vettori has slick hands and can throw in combination, but I think the adage of "kickboxer the boxer" will ring true here, as Roberson not only has more lethal weapons than his opponent but is likely also a hair faster. He should be able to make Vettori pay for his blitzes into the pocket with his sharp counter work.
Much has been made about Hannah Cifers moving up a weight class to take on Mariya Agapova, but Cifers has shown herself to be strong enough at strawweight that I don't see this as much of a concern. As far as the matchup goes, Cifers has already beaten a tall, upright fighter with a range kicking game in Polyana Viana, and I expect this fight to play out much the same way, It's true that Agapova is much more movement-heavy than Viana, but that movement is largely superficial, as she leaves her head on the center line when she enters the pocket to throw strikes (think Chase Sherman). As I said prior to her May 30th bout against Mackenzie Dern, Cifers has heavy hands in the pocket, can throw in combination, and should be able to find Agapova's chin if/when she leaves it stationary during attacks. It's a sneaky spot that is unlikely to be popular, but I like Cifers a fair bit here.
Zarrukh Adashev has yet to be added to the player pool as of the publication of this article, but I've been assured that he will be added Thursday morning, so I put him here due to the fact that he will be a dog play when he is selectable. It's not that I dislike Tyson Nam. In fact, I think his power counter-striking style can be effective in certain matchups, but watching him get outworked in two consecutive fights has me coming back to the idea that it will happen again here. It might seem strange to pick someone with a 3-1 record coming in on such short notice, but Adashev is 16-3 (10 KOs) under the Glory kickboxing banner, and Nam isn't likely to try and wrestle. It may seem bold, but we need to find dogs we can sink our teeth into on a slate like this, and Adashev's crisp striking is sure to go overlooked.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
The Anthony Ivy ($16) vs. Christian Aguilera ($14) matchup has the same basic dynamics as the first fight I discussed in the captain's section, except this time, both fighters' games are formless and unstructured. I am taking Ivy here for what I see as an edge in athleticism, and his length as a grappler. I also think his relentlessness in pursuing takedowns and the pace he keeps should serve Ivy well here. However, Aguilera has shown himself as a bit more of a control grappler, whereas Ivy tends to lose position. Needless to say, things will get interesting once the fight hits the floor.
There is so much to like about Jordan Espinosa's ($16) game: he's lightning fast, has a good range kicking game, and can mix in a functional wrestling game. The problem is he's been subbed in two consecutive fights, and Mark De La Rosa ($15) has shown a tricky guard game in the past, with six of his 11 wins coming by submission. If I could be sure this fight stays on the feet, I feel like I'd have a fairly easy decision in Espinosa. While I am still picking him to win here, the fact that he can't seem to keep himself safe on the ground gives me pause to put him in a specific category above.