This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
Saturday's 12-fight card for the UFC Apex is interesting for many different reasons. The main thing I am focused on for DFS purposes is how tightly grouped these prices seem to be, with multiple favorites separated by just one or two dollars from their dog counterparts. This has me eyeing leverage in a few different spots, as I don't view some of those fights to be quite so close.
Oh, Captain my Captain
Best Play Nasrat Haqparast ($19)
Nasrat Haqparast has quick, powerful hands, sharp counters and a proficient wrestling game. He does tend to take a few minutes to work his way into the fight, however, which may be why he was able to be surprised by a powerful counter shot from Drew Dober to end his night in January. I don't foresee any similar problems from Alex Munoz, who has just two KO/TKO stoppages on his 6-0 record. Munoz is probably best known for his win over Nick Newell on the Contender Series in 2018, but even in that fight, Newell was pressuring and landing well until Munoz was able to find a takedown. Haqparast's takedown defense has been rock solid in his five UFC fights (78 percent), which should mean that the debutante will need to stand with a fast, powerful kickboxer for as long as this one lasts.
There was almost no tape to be found on Laureano Staropoli before he made his Octagon debut, but once the cage door closed what we saw was a slick kickboxer who was defensively responsible and carried a bit of pop in his hands. Tim Means is a legendary scrapper but tends to hang out in the pocket for too long while throwing combinations, leaving his head on the center line the whole way. It seems like every time he goes out there it really is "kill or be killed" for Means, and I'm opting for the latter here.
Omari Akhmedov seems like the exact wrong fight for Chris Weidman as he looks to build his way back into title contention at middleweight. Akhmedov hasn't had a UFC finish in five years, but it's not for lack of trying, as the 32-year-old blitzes into the pocket with big strikes in order to get his wrestling game going. Wrestling is just about all Weidman has going for him these days, but Akhmedov is no easy mat return, which may force "The All-American" to stand with his opponent for far longer than he wants. It may be a bit of a bold call, but I think that Weidman's chin is suspect, and Akhmedov won't be shy about throwing big shots in its direction. It must also be noted that Weidman has lost five of his last six fights, all of them by KO/TKO.
Those of you who have ever heard me speak for more than 10 consecutive seconds know of my undying love for Aleksei Oleinik, but the pick here is based on more than just fandom. Sure, he will need to wade past the big shots of Lewis, but "The Black Beast" hasn't been much of a knockout artist of late, having taken decisions in three of his last four victories. Beyond that, though, is the simple fact that anyone who has tried to wrestle with Derrick Lewis has had some measure of success. Leaving aside the elite wrestling of Daniel Cormier, we see that Ilir Latifi, Shamil Abdurakhimov, and Marcin Tybura (to name a few) all scored multiple takedowns against Lewis (Tybura took his back in their fight). Lewis has a knack for simply powering his way out of positions on the ground, but I question whether that will work with a grappler as experienced and strong as Oleinik. I would also point out that Lewis is generally only threatening in small bursts, which should leave Oleinik with windows to get his game going.
Best Option: Youssef Zalal ($19)
Youssef Zalal will take the quick turnaround to face debutante Peter Barrett after claiming a decision victory from Jordan Griffin on July 27. As mentioned in that writeup, Zalal is something of a complete fighter, featuring a nasty jab, quick footwork and a developed wrestling game. His takedown defense has also held up pretty well, as evidenced by the 66 percent rate he has logged in his two UFC fights. This will come in handy against Barrett, who will occasionally blitz forward with strikes but is ultimately looking to get the fight to the floor. What's more, he tended to lose position quite often against Song Hoon Yoo, and Zalal has shown himself to be a strong opportunistic grappler in his own right.
Scott Holtzman's kickboxing has come a long way recently, but he remains a fighter who primarily wants to close you down and use his physicality to wear you out against the cage. It's difficult to remember a time when Beneil Dariush was bullied in such a manner, as he is very good at hitting a reactive shot when an opponent attempts to pressure him. He will also come into this fight with a three-inch reach advantage, which should be helpful in the kickboxing exchanges.
Irwin Rivera captured the imagination of fight fans after he took the call to fight on 24 hours' notice against Giga Chikadze in May. While he never came close to winning the fight, Rivera didn't take a backward step and ate all the shots that were coming his way while landing what he could of his own. Ali Qaisi has three guillotine chokes among his eight wins, which seems to speak more to the low level of competition he has been facing than his competency with the choke. The 29-year-old is a very plod-heavy fighter who seems to want to throw himself into clinch situations, but it's hard for me to give too much of a green light on Rivera after one short-notice fight.
Darren Stewart's kickboxing has looked incredibly sharp in recent bouts, which works as a compliment for his hand speed and power. Maki Pitolo does good body work and punches well in combination, but is a bit too easy to draw into a firefight, and doesn't always move his head in the pocket. This is where I expect the athleticism and power of Stewart to pay dividends.
Best Option: Aleksei Oleinik ($17)
Oliniek takes a "best play" as part of a double-dip, so we move on to discuss Justin Jaynes in his matchup against the returning Gavin Tucker. Jaynes was another fighter who lit the crowd on fire on short notice, but he did it by getting a standing TKO against Frank Camacho in June. There is no doubt the speed and boxing advantage will go to Tucker, but the Firas Zahabi prospect used an awful lot of wrestling in his last fight against Seungwoo Choi, and Jaynes is an excellent wrestler and grappler with big power. I expect Tucker to get ahead early on, but if Jaynes can apply some pressure, then we could see a fading Tucker get picked apart yet again.
I wouldn't normally pick a fighter like Julija Stoliarenko in a spot like this, but I think her come-forward style to throw big right hands might be enough on the feet against Yana Kunitskaya, who stands straight up with her head on the center line. Once in the pocket, Stoliarenko likes to try to take the fight to the ground and hunt for an armbar, the submission that accounts for eight of her nine wins. As I alluded to above, Stoliarenko is a bit one-dimensional but can at least function on the feet if she can't get the fight to the ground. The fact that Kunitskaya has logged just a 20 percent takedown defense in her four UFC fights doesn't hurt, either.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
Wellington Turman ($17) is surprisingly agile for someone his size and is a decent boxer as well. My worry in the fight with Andrew Sanchez ($15) is that Turman will give him the wrestling match he needs to win. It is notable that we have seen Sanchez improve his gas tank in recent fights, which should come in handy if he gets into grappling exchanges. I think I will take Sanchez as a result of this dynamic, but Turman has the power and agility to keep picking him off on the feet if he so chooses.
The Kevin Holland (TBD) versus Joaquin Buckley (TBD) fight is unique in that it pits someone who was supposed to fight last week against someone who fought for a different organization last week. Yes, really. Buckley will take this bout after appearing on the LFA 87 card on August 1. The oddsmakers have this as a rout for Holland (likely largely based on this fact), but I see a lot to like about Buckley from a skills perspective. Buckley kind of resembles an infinitely more athletic version of a previous Holland opponent: John Phillips. I make this comparison due to the fact that what Buckley wants to do is trap his opponent up against the fence, and throw hooks at them until they fall over. Even in the fight Holland largely dominated against Phillips, he had moments where he was backed to the cage absorbing shots, which makes this more interesting than meets the eye. Ultimately, though, I think the reach and wrestling of Holland, combined with his kicking game, should be a bit too much for Buckley this soon. Buckley has a chance to turn out the lights, however, which makes this an exciting one to watch.