This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
Just when you thought you couldn't get enough DFS action, the UFC comes back with a jam-packed 15-fight slate, which is scheduled to take place on Fight Island in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, July 25. The card features a few incredibly heavy favorites, some of whom may not be quite so deserving of that status. One thing that patrons of both of the major MMA DFS sites will notice is that DraftKings has some of its larger favorites listed at exorbitant prices, while FanDuel has kept its price range fairly static. This makes some of our decisions far easier in terms of where to place certain fighters (lucky us).
As always, fighters in this article 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 Option: Khamzat Chimaev ($20)
It's not every day that you see someone express supreme confidence in a new fighter who is getting back in The Octagon on a seven-day turnaround, but that's exactly where I find myself in the case of Khamzat Chimaev. Chimaev dispatched John Phillips in dominating fashion at the last Fight Island card on July 15, and now sets his sites on Cage Warriors alum Rhys McKee. It's not as though McKee brings nothing to the table, as he is a long kickboxer who can do a bit of grappling in his own right, but he doesn't seem to have anything like one-punch fight-ending power, despite having a number of KO/TKOs on his record. He also reacts poorly to strikes, simply shelling up and allowing his opponent to fire. This seems like the exact wrong strategy against Chimaev, who is a capable boxer as well as someone who wants to push his opponent against the fence to eventually work his smothering top game.
Hard counter punching became Robert Whittaker's undoing as he crashed the pocket against Israel Adesanya, but this is a very different matchup for "The Reaper" against Darren Till. Aside from not being nearly as agile as Adesayna, Till has a bad habit of backing up in straight lines and pulling his head back while being attacked, which should allow Whittaker to get a lot of purchase out of his pressure game and combination striking. This, as well as the variety in Whittaker's striking, should allow him to win the day.
Alexander Gustafsson retired briefly after a somewhat surprising submission loss to Anthony Smith, but "The Mauler" will return on Saturday to take on Fabricio Werdum for his first fight in a little over a year (and first at heavyweight in the UFC). Some may look at that loss to Smith and think Gustafsson is a shot fighter, but he was still quick as ever in that bout, showed nice footwork and really started to use his length and boxing combinations in the second round. Werdum doesn't fight as long as someone like "Lionheart" and seemed as though he was fighting underwater in his return bout against Aleksei Oleinik after being away from the cage due to a USADA violation. The last time Werdum fought a long, rangy opponent, he decided to go to his takedown game. This could work in theory, but there's a real question as to whether he will have the conditioning to commit to that strategy.
If you don't follow MMA all that closely, you could be forgiven for not entirely grasping how good Movsar Evloev is at fighting. While he's always been a slick wrestler who can find the opponent's back at a moment's notice, Evloev showed a nice stinging jab and some good combination punching in his last bout, which could be the result of the work he is getting as a training partner of Petr Yan. It's not even that I dislike Mike Grundy as a fighter – he has an excellent wrestling game himself and can throw crisp shots with power. The problem is he won't be able to outgrapple Evloev, and he was getting hit (and sometimes, rocked) by every second punch in combination from Nad Narimani before getting that finish.
Tom Aspinall is another fighter who is a strong wrestler/grappler by trade but has put significant time and energy into improving his striking, as we can see by the fact that he trained with heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury before the pandemic. This seems to have improved his sense of range, which should be a key component in his matchup with Jake Collier. Collier presents as sort of a lumbering heavyweight, who likes to leap into the pocket with strikes unprotected. I don't think Collier will be able to get the better of Aspinall on the mat, as I expect him to have a strength advantage.
Best Option: Nathaniel Wood ($19)
Nathaniel Wood got a bit reckless and paid for it in his last bout against John Dodson, but the mechanics of his game remain as sound as ever. The 26-year-old is an expert at pressuring his opponent and cutting off the cage in service of landing hammering shots. He also has a competent wrestling/grappling game for good measure. John Castaneda looks like a decently fast kickboxer with his own wrestling and grappling game, but he tends to put himself on the back foot fairly often, which seems like a terrible habit to have for this sort of matchup. Castaneda looks tough enough to avoid being finished, but it's hard to imagine Wood loses this kind of fight very often.
I was very close to making it a whopping six "captain plays" with the addition of Tanner Boser. Despite how good he looked in his last fight, however, I don't exactly trust him to finish, as he still holds a stoppage rate far below the average for heavyweights. Still, his speed, combination striking, and shot selection make him a safe bet against Raphael Pessoa. Pessoa is a fighter who stands incredibly heavy on his lead leg, making him a prime candidate to be eaten alive with the leg kicks we have seen Boser throw in previous fights. Pessoa throws incredibly hard but flails so wildly that Boser should be able to evade.
What on earth can we make of Mauricio Rua versus Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in 2020? This is actually the third fight between these two. Rua has taken the previous two meetings, the last of which came in 2015. I guess the question we really have to ask ourselves is "who looks less shot?" To me, the answer is clearly Rua, who can still come forward and push a bit of a pace, and retains some quickness n his hands. Little Nog, on the other hand, simply plods forward and attempts to corner his opponents before striking. This worked against Sam Alvey, a man who is slower (somehow) than Nog is, but I think the athleticism that Rua still possesses is enough to pick him here. Nog can still put together combinations when given the opportunity, but it seems unlikely he gets that opportunity in this spot
Interestingly, Marina Rodriguez has gone to draws with the two strongest wrestlers she's faced in the UFC. She'll take on another one in Carla Esparza on Saturday. Esparza has notably improved her striking over the past few years, but I doubt her janky boxing will do much to threaten someone who is as good at keeping range and staying safe as Rodriguez. The 33-year-old boasts a 70 percent takedown defense rate in her four fights, and did a fantastic job defending and getting to her feet when she was taken down by Cynthia Calvillo, who is a much stronger jiujitsu player and control grappler than Esparza. I think Rodriguez keeps this on the feet and uses her height and reach to her advantage, specifically her knees from the clinch position.
Best Option: Jesse Ronson ($11)
I noted two dog plays last week (Brett Johns and Jack Hermansson) where the lines just didn't feel right to me. Both of those plays turned out to be winners. I get a similar feeling when I look at Nicolas Dalby versus Jesse Ronson, as Dalby is marked as a sizeable favorite after beating an increasingly diminished looking Alex Oliveira (we'll talk about him in a second), which marked a return after three years away from the organization. But I didn't see a great performance from Dalby in that fight. To be sure, the way he outwrestled Oliveira was impressive, but that's been happening more and more as of late, and Dalby seemed to be having a hard time finding his range when the two were striking. Ronson sets a frantic pace as a pressure striker, mixes his targets well, and can wrestle/grapple both offensively and defensively. In short, I just feel like Ronson has the more developed game overall here and I expect that to pay dividends.
It's not the first time I've said this during my review, but it must be noted that Peter Sobotta is a fantastic grappler whose hands have made a lot of progress in recent years. I am thinking specifically of the stinging jab and leg kicks he showed off in fights against Ben Saunders and Leon Edwards. In the previous paragraph, I noted that Oliveira has been getting outwrestled more frequently, as was the case with Dalby and, ultimately, Gunnar Nelson. I think Sobotta will be the better grappler by a wide margin here, even if the strength disadvantage puts him in bad spots early. We have also seen "Cowboy" gas out and look for places to rest in recent fights, and I don't think he will get those chances against Sobotta.
I have always considered Bethe Correia to be underrated as a boxer, and she showed that acumen in a nice underdog win against Sijara Eubanks in her last bout. Correia won that fight primarily by mixing her targets and working off the counter, as she has enough pop in her hands to make an opponent wary of pulling the trigger. I think that power will be a factor here against Pannie Kianzad, who likes to push her own pressure game but isn't always the most defensively responsible fighter.
Two of Francisco Trinaldo's last three bouts have been low-output sweat fests. I chalk this up to Trinaldo not doing a good enough job of cutting off the cage, which allowed opponents to circle out and reset. Jai Herbert is a quick and agile kickboxer who can cut the cage fairly well, and should be able to use his length to keep Trinaldo at the end of his punches. I expect Herbert will really start to pull away with this one as Trinaldo tires down the stretch.
Maybe it's the deep regret I feel for not picking Joel Alvarez last week despite noting Joe Duffy's problems with the specific matchup, but I think another big underdog in Niklas Stolze gets it done here. Stolze comes equipped with a lightning-fast kicking game, good footwork, and some wrestling chops. While the wrestling won't do much offensively against someone like Ramazan Emeev, it should be enough to keep him on his feet and use the leg kicks that gave the Sambo champion fits in his matchup against Anthony Rocco Martin. Emeev tends to let his opponents control the pace, which makes me think he can be outworked here.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
Gadzhimurad Antigulov ($17) versus Paul Craig ($15) will be one big blur until it's over. I honestly still have a hard time picking a winner here. Antigulov's fights in the UFC have mainly consisted of him rushing headlong into a clinch and either getting a stoppage or being stopped, while Craig has actually shown a bit of striking development in his time with the organization, including a solid kicking game. So why am I struggling so mightily on the pick? Craig doesn't have the kind of striking that can keep people off of him or make them pay for being reckless just yet, and while he is an accomplished submission grappler, it's not all that long ago that he was completely blown apart on the ground by Jimmy Crute. I suppose I'll take Craig for the more diverse skill set against the unbridled mess that is Antigulov's game, but I won't be surprised if he gets caught in the storm.