This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
A pair of veterans look to continue their push up their respective weight classes as the UFC returns to the APEX on Saturday in Las Vegas.
If you're hoping to turn the event into an opportunity to build your DFS bankroll, DraftKings.com has you covered with a full slate of contests, including a $400,000 MMA Throwdown with $100,000 to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Advance (ADVC): +3 PT
Takedown (TD): +5 PTS
Reversal/Sweep (REV): +5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +10 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses
1st Round Win (1rW+): +90 PTS
2nd Round Win (2rW+): +70 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rW+): +45 PTS
4th Round Win (4rW+): +40 PTS
5th Round Win (5rW+): +40 PTS
Decision Win (WBD+): +30 PTS
Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
Advances include: To Half Guard, To Side Control, To Mount, To Back Control
Now, on to the fights...
Main Event - Light Heavyweight
The fact Smith was released from the UFC back in 2013 and worked his way not only back to the company, but into a title shot at 205 pounds, should be talked about more frequently than it is. This is a fighter who rejoined the company in early 2016 with zero expectations and has since responded with an 8-4 record. Smith fought Jon Jones for the belt back in March 2019 and was dominated, dropping a unanimous decision. He got back in the Octagon less than three months later and quickly tapped out Alexander Gustafsson in Stockholm. Smith seemed to be in good shape in terms of making a run at another title shot, but he was knocked out by Glover Teixeira this past May. Smith looked good in the Glover fight early on before it quickly fell apart on him. His cardio looked poor and he was getting hit on the feet more than ever. I'm extremely interested in seeing if this will become an ongoing trend for Smith or if it will be noted as nothing more than a fluke. I remain undecided on my opinion there. Smith is approaching 50 professional fights – many of them wars – and it's entirely possible his body is starting to break down on him.
Rakic began his UFC career with four straight victories before dropping a split decision to Volkan Oezdemir in his last fight in December. I'm not a huge Oezdemir guy, but he's considerably better than the four fighters Rakic defeated previously (Francimar Barroso, Justin Ledet, Devin Clark, Jimi Manuwa), and I'm concerned his offensive arsenal won't play against better competition. Rakic averages a little over a takedown per 15 minutes, but he's essentially a one-dimensional brawler. If Smith is getting hit in this fight as much as he did in the Teixeira bout, Rakic definitely has the power to give him trouble.
Smith's toughness is legendary, but even he can only absorb so much punishment before he is forced to fold. If his cardio looks a bit better, and he's a bit smarter on the feet in terms of picking his spots offensively, I think he can win this fight.
It's difficult to pick him outright, but I think Smith is a reasonable underdog play. Ultimately, I just can't get over the feeling that his best days are behind him. Rakic doesn't interest me all that much at his inflated price tag. I'm still not entirely convinced he's a top-tier guy, but Smith's durability is a major question mark at the moment and Rakic definitely has power.
THE PICK: Rakic
Co-Main Event - Welterweight
This was originally scheduled to be Magny v. Geoff Neal, but Neal was forced to withdraw due to a case of pneumonia. It was a serious situation, but Neal is expected to fully recover.
The big news here is the return of Lawler. He was due to face Santiago Ponzinibbio last December before the latter was forced to withdraw. Robbie has been on the sidelines since being thoroughly dominated by Colby Covington about 13 months ago. It was Lawler's third defeat in a row. He has won just a single fight dating back to the very early days of 2016. All in all, it's not particularly surprising that Lawler's game has deteriorated. He's been a professional for nearly two decades. He has been in countless wars over the years, and it appears as if all the damage he has suffered is starting to add up. Robbie's punches are coming just a bit slower, and his footwork has all but evaporated. He's getting hit more than ever, and he will never be able to defeat anyone decent if his chin is starting to give way, even just a little bit.
I continue to pick against Magny and he continues to go out and get the job done more often than not. His most successful triumph was a unanimous decision win over Anthony Rocco Martin in June. Magny has long been one of the most active fighters on the UFC roster and unlike many of his counterparts – Lawler included – he has managed to avoid any prolonged losing streaks. Magny dropped his second and third UFC fights and hasn't dropped two in a row since. Magny is competent in all areas of the sport without being great in any single one. He is (and always has been) excellent at making in-fight adjustments. He tailors his game plan to his competition, and it works for him.
This seems like a lousy matchup for Lawler. Magny's cardio is exceptional, and Robbie hasn't fought much of late. Magny isn't going to allow Lawler to fight to his strengths, and that alone might be enough to beat Robbie at his advanced age. I actually like both guys from a DK perspective. Magny seems reasonably priced in a fight he should probably win, while Lawler represents reasonable salary relief if owners are stuck in a jam.
THE PICK: Magny
An underrated fighter who has struggled with consistency issues during her time with the UFC, Grasso will be looking to rebound from a majority decision, Fight-of-the-Night loss to Carla Esparza in her native Mexico last September. Grasso was undefeated in four fights with Invicta prior to joining the company, but she has since alternated wins and losses in her first six UFC bouts. Grasso is a striker by trade and is quite good at it, but her ceiling is lowered considerably by the lack of power in her hands. She has just four career victories via knockout and just one in the past six-plus years.
Kim has showed little through her first five UFC bouts. Her record is above .500 (3-2), but two of those victories have come via split decision. The other issue is that Kim has missed weight in each of her past two fights. I'm actually shocked the UFC is allowing her to continue to fight at flyweight (125 pounds), as opposed to bantamweight (135 pounds) where she spent the early portion of her career. Kim is two inches taller than Grasso and enters with a whopping six-inch reach edge, but I don't expect those numbers to matter much given the advantage Grasso figures to possess on the feet.
This sets up as a no-win proposition for Grasso. She should easily get by Kim, but her stock won't increase much regardless of the outcome. I'm also not crazy about Grasso as a heavy DraftKings play given her lack of power. She's going to have to win this fight with volume and that's always a risky proposition, especially at her astronomical price tag. Still, I expect her to emerge victorious.
THE PICK: Grasso
This is a rematch of a February bout which Ankalaev won via TKO in 38 seconds. It was an extremely controversial decision due to a baffling and foolish stoppage by referee Kevin MacDonald.
Cutelaba predictably appealed his defeat to the Virginia Athletic Commission (the fight took place in Norfolk), and his request was predictably denied. He was then due to face Ovince Saint Preux in late-April before that one was cancelled due to the pandemic. Cutelaba his 4-4 through his first eight UFC bouts. Three of his victories and three of his defeats have come via stoppage. Cutelaba is a pure power puncher, with 12 of his career victories coming via knockout. The first fight with Ankalaev was the only time in Cutelaba's pro career that he has been stopped via strikes. He's young (26 years old) and generally durable, so it's possible the Moldovan could make some strides moving forward.
Ankalaev was submitted by Paul Craig with exactly one second left in Round 3 in his company debut back in March 2018, but has run off four straight victories since. The competition level he has faced has been lousy (Cutelaba, Dalcha Lungiambula, Klidson Abreu, Marcin Prachnio), but Ankalaev's power is legitimate. He has no ground game to speak off, and that will become more apparent when he goes up against better competition, but it hasn't really hurt Ankalaev to date.
Cutelaba averages 2.59 takedowns per 15 minutes, and while Ankalaev has little in terms of an offensive ground game, his takedown defense is a very solid 85 percent. I'd give Ankalaev the edge on the feet in a prolonged kickboxing match, as I am far more confident in his ability to defend himself.
Ultimately there is really no reason to believe this fight will end any differently than the first – other than the poor stoppage – and that makes Ankalaev an easy pick.
THE PICK: Ankalaev
Alessio Di Chirico (12-4-0) v. Zak Cummings (23-7-0)
DK Salaries: Di Chirico ($7,800), Cummings ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Di Chirico (-120), Cummings (+100)
Odds to Finish: +155
THE PICK: Di Chirico
Alex Caceres (16-12-0, 1NC) v. Austin Springer
DK Salaries: Caceres ($7,400), Springer (TBD)
Vegas Odds: Caceres (TBD), Springer (TBD)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: TBD