This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
The seventh installment of fights at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada features four dogs to take a strong look at in 11 bouts, including a veteran priced as the least expensive combatant on the slate. Plus, I give a tearful goodbye to a legend whom I feel will be looking up at the lights for the third consecutive time. All of that leads to a tough, but ultimately decisive pick in the heavyweight main event.
Since we are back at the Apex, I will once again point out that 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
Best Play: Stipe Miocic ($20)
I had been going back and forth as to what to do with this main event, with the full intention of sliding whomever I chose into my "best play" spot at captain. I ultimately settled on Stipe for a few reasons. The first thing is that I don't think Daniel Cormier has the power to replicate the knockout that he found in their first meeting. Secondly, while Cormier took Stipe down and controlled him for a good chunk of time early in the rematch, all of the other grappling exchanges basically consisted of Stipe using his frame to lean on the former champion in the clinch. If I'm not worried about the power or wrestling of DC this becomes a much easier call, as Stipe throws crisper shots with better combinations in the pocket. We also can't forget about the body shots of Miocic, and how DC seemed utterly unsure how to deal with them. If he has not devised a plan to do so, that's just one more point in favor of this trilogy swinging in the current champ's favor.
Sean O'Malley really does seem to get better every time he steps in the cage. Against Eddie Wineland, "Sugar" was able to evade his pressuring opponent while keeping his range with hard body kicks until finally landing the knockout right hand. Vera and Wineland are on different career trajectories, but I actually think this is a better matchup for O'Malley, as not only will the kicking game be put to full use, but Vera's propensity to hang back and let his opponent dictate the action early could spell disaster against someone this creative and powerful. Vera has used his wrestling more of late, which could make this a bit more interesting, but I would never trust "Chito" to stick to a dedicated wrestling game plan.
As a big Junior Dos Santos fan, this is a little hard to accept, but I fully expect him to get knocked out by Jair Rozenstruik. The main reason for this comes from what I can only describe as an inexplicable breakdown in technique and decision making from JDS of late. We saw it first in the fight against Francis Ngannou when he threw an overhand right so wildly he practically fell over, leaving "The Predator" all day to land the big counter shot. The next head-scratching moment came against Curtis Blaydes, where he insisted on throwing lead rear-uppercuts, which, again, left him wide open to get cracked with a counter shot. Rozenstruik is a fighter who will wait for his opportunity to counter even if it means giving large moments of the fight away, and while I usually don't like to bank on someone finding a perfect shot, I just feel that JDS will give far too many opportunities to a very powerful kickboxer.
Best Option: Merab Dvalishvili ($18)
I wavered on whether or not Merab Dvalishvili could get it done against John Dodson, as we've never really seen Dodson controlled on the ground, and he rarely gets there due to a strong takedown defense rate (80 percent). It then occurred to me that Dodson has been taken down at least once in four of his last five fights, which coincides pretty strongly with his move to bantamweight, where he is more likely to face a strength disadvantage. The thing about this matchup is Merab is very quick and athletic in his own right, which makes me wonder how much success Dodson will be able to have with his style of backing himself to the fence before blitzing in with a barrage of strikes. Cornering yourself is nothing short of a nightmare against Merab, who has scored an unbelievable 25 takedowns in his last two fights.
I see some in the Twittersphere picking Daniel Pineda to score the upset over Herbert Burns here, but I just don't see it happening. It's true that Pineda has scored 18 of his 26 wins by submission, but it's also true that nearly half (six of 13) of his professional losses have come via tap out. This tells me that Pineda is comfortable playing on the ground, and you can see in his footage that he's perfectly willing to risk a position in order to lock in a submission. This seems like a terrible strategy against Burns, who has never been submitted in his career. An offshoot of this is that Pineda is willing to be backed up and accepts the clinch, both of which don't bode well for this kind of matchup.
Vinc Pichel is the underdog as far as DFS pricing goes, but I decided to stick him here, as he is the slight favorite according to the betting line. This should make him popular, and for good reason. Pichel comes into the contest averaging four takedowns per 15 minutes of cage time, while Miller's takedown defense comes in at a paltry 46 percent. Add in the fact that Miller lets his opponent take the center of the cage, and you have a recipe for a solid scoring decision. We saw in his last fight against Roosevelt Roberts that Miller is tricky once the fight hits the ground, but a sub off his back against someone as experienced against Pichel isn't something I'm willing to bet on.
Best Option: Chris Daukaus ($14)
I love to torture myself, so I've decided to mark the dog in what is essentially a regional heavyweight fight as my "best play" here. The brother of recent UFC debutante Kyle Daukaus, Chris comes into this contest with sharper boxing than you might expect from someone making his debut in a big promotion. He also has decent footwork for his size and can pull a wrestling game out of his back pocket when he needs it. Meanwhile, Parker Porter is much more of a plodding heavyweight. He has shown good leg kicks, but I like Daukus as the more agile man here, even if the power edge may not be on his side.
It was tough to find tape on Danny Chavez initially, but I liked what I saw when I finally sunk my teeth in. What we have here is a very quick athlete with a nice kicking game and a little bit of wrestling. He definitely stands a bit too upright, but I like so little of what I see from T.J. Brown that I really think this is worth a shot. Brown is a dedicated wrestler with powerful leg kicks and a decent counter overhand, but he is incredibly open to be hit and isn't mindful of where he sticks his neck in scrambles. This is part of the reason he was submitted by Jordan Griffin in February. The play carries risks, to be sure, but I think there is enough raw talent in Chavez to give him a spin.
I was a bit surprised to see Felice Herrig priced so low against Virna Jandiroba. Obviously Jandiroba comes in as a credentialed BJJ specialist, but Herrig is no slouch on the mat herself, as she boasts a purple belt under Jeff Curran. It should also be noted that she has never been submitted in 22 professional MMA fights. As long as I feel comfortable that she won't get tapped, I see no reason not to pick her against Jandiroba, who looks utterly lost on her feet and is capable of getting tagged. There isn't much nuance to Herrig's standup game, but she comes forward and throws in combination. One thing we should also say in closing is that Jandiroba was extremely comfortable putting her neck in a few reasonably tight guillotines while going for takedowns against Mallory Martin. She may not be able to work her way out of those spots against an experienced grappler like Herrig.
The dynamic is kind of similar in the matchup between Ashley Yoder and Livinha Souza, with notable differences being that Sousa has a nice kicking game, and doesn't go for takedowns nearly as often. I suspect Yoder will also be able to keep herself safe on the ground and use a come-forward style while throwing good, crisp shots. Souza tends to get backed up by pressure quite a bit and has only beaten the very bottom of the division so far in her UFC career, which makes me think this line is a bit off.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
Rather than try and find a replacement for Ion Cutelaba after he tested positive for Covid-19, the matchup between he and Magomed Ankalaev was scrapped. We get a matchup of two newcomers in its stead in Kai Kamaka (TBD) and Tony Kelley (TBD). While this isn't the fight we wanted, it should be a fun scrap between two dynamic athletes. Kamaka features a strong kicking game as well as a bit of wrestling, and we have seen Kelley be susceptible to takedowns in previous fights. I'm going to take Kamaka to outwork Kelley here as he waits for counter opportunities, but this is a close, well-matched fight.