This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
The 11th installment of fights at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada features what promises to be an action-packed 15-fight card. This can be a difficult one to call, as several fights here can end quickly one way or another, which is why dogs dominate our selections in number (5). This will allow us to pay up for the surer things among all the variance.
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 Saturday, 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 Option: Khamzat Chimaev ($21)
Khamzat Chimaev will enter the cage for what will be his third fight in less than three months after picking up two dominant victories on Fight Island in July. The UFC clearly sees him as a star, already booking him to fight Demian Maia under the assumption that he beats Gerald Meerschaert. While it goes without saying that Meerschaert will be the toughest test Chimaev has faced in his UFC career, I must say I tend to agree with the top brass on this one. The problem is that Meerschaert generally lays back and has whatever kind of fight his opponent wants. While he can certainly handle himself on the ground, we've seen "GM3" struggle against stronger grapplers before and I see a similar story playing out here. It certainly isn't impossible for Meerschaert to catch an opportunistic sub in a scramble at some point, but failing that I expect this will be another dominant performance from Chimaev.
There is literally no logical basis for picking Tyron Woodley to beat Colby Covington. What we have seen from the former welterweight champ recently reminds me of a shot fighter, as it is said the inability to throw back is the first sign that something is wrong. He's still quick and explosive, but we've seen Woodley get outwrestled in two consecutive fights now, and Covington will work a rinse-and-repeat takedown game combined with pattering shots in boxing range, which should really help him rack up the points over five rounds. Woodley can still land the one big shot, but he's going to have to do exactly that, and there is no way to trust that he can find Covington's chin in his current form.
There are few fighting styles I dislike more than Darrick Minner's, as he basically just attempts to throw himself into grappling exchanges and look for opportunistic submissions that aren't really there. This seems like the worst possible game plan against someone like T.J. Laramie, who is a big, strong control grappler with a swarming power striking game. The chaos Minner looks to create could potentially catch Laramie off guard, but I like the debutante to get this fight where he wants it before finding a submission, potentially after fading a scare or two.
It took some convincing for me to go back to Donald Cerrone after four consecutive losses, but aside from Anthony Pettis (a fight he was competitive in), every other defeat came at the hands of fighters at the very top of the division. The main thing here is that we have seen Cerrone handle powerful pressure fighters who wade forward with abandon in the recent past (think Yancy Medeiros and Alexander Hernandez) and Niko Price gets hurt in almost every fight. Cerrone has used things like step-in knees and a stiff jab to counter said pressure, and I just feel like he will have more skills at the ready to get this done, particularly if the fight hits the ground. Make no mistake, Price can certainly swarm him and knock him out, but if he can survive some early blitzes, I think he can find the shots to take Price out.
Best Option: Mirsad Bektic ($22)
Mirsad Bektic will now fight UFC veteran Damon Jackson, as Eduardo Garagorri needed to be pulled after testing positive for COVID-19. Bektic has fallen on hard times recently, losing his last two fights, but I quite like this matchup for him. Jackson is a submission specialist with 13 of his 17 wins coming via tap out, but I very much doubt he will be able to employ a ground game against Mirsad, who is an accomplished grappler in his own right. I expect Bektic will win this fight wherever it goes, but the official prediction is a wrestling-based decision with upside for a KO/TKO.
Tyson Nam is patient to a fault but has absolute dynamite in his hands, as we saw when he got his first UFC finish against Zarrukh Adashev in June. He will take on a fighter in Jerome Rivera that has a decent kicking game, but backs up with his head straight in the air in the classic example of "tall-man defense." He's good at forcing clinches, but we've seen Nam with a fairly strong base in the UFC, as he has yet to be taken down in the promotion. While I like him to win here, it's tough to predict him to score well without a knockout, and since the volume isn't quite there, I'm putting him as a confident cash play to land the harder shots in each round. That may not sound particularly exciting, but the finishing upside is always present.
Andre Ewell profiles as a slick striker with good footwork and incredibly fast hands, which helps him generate power. Much like Nam, Ewell is also a counter striker, but that shouldn't be a problem in this matchup, as Irwin Rivera will look to crash forward with shots. I expect Ewell to angle off and use his footwork to sting Rivera when this happens. Some may point out Ewell's inability to stop a takedown. While this is a concern, Ewell has a good ability to stave off submission attempts and get back to his feet, and Rivera hasn't shown himself to be much of a control grappler to this point.
It strikes me that I'm not exactly sure what Mara Romero Borella does well inside The Octagon. She has an extremely hesitant and slow-paced kickboxing game that she uses to lead into wrestling and grappling, but was submitted rather easily while just sort of sitting in the guard of Courtney Casey during their fight in May. By contrast, Mayra Bueno Silva has a sharp Muay Thai game, complete with hard kicks and a vicious plum clinch attack. It should also be noted that she is no stranger on the ground, notching submissions in three of her five victories.
Best Option: Sarah Alpar ($12)
I liked what I saw from Sarah Alpar in her fight on The Contender Series. The 29-year-old has a swarming pressure game, which she uses to get to the clinch and find her takedowns. She also seems quite strong, with power in her hands despite the fact that she has finished just two of her nine fights via KO/TKO. Jessica-Rose Clark always finds herself a step behind in her boxing game and is too willing to let her opponent dictate the action. She also carries just a 62 percent takedown defense rate, having been brought to the mat twice each by the only two opponents she has faced that actively pursue takedowns. I think Alpar will get this fight where she wants it in short order, as Clark doesn't really have the power necessary to change the course of the bout with a shot.
It must be said that Kevin Holland showed a much more composed version of himself in his last fight against Joaquin Buckley, firing off a stiff jab and keeping range for his combinations. It is also the case that Buckley is nowhere near the kickboxing level of Darren Stewart and generally just threw big, looping shots that Holland could lean away from. I expect Stewart to work a much more controlled pressure striking game here to back Holland up and ultimately take the fight away by keeping his opponent behind the two black lines. It must always be said that Holland is explosive enough to finish a fight at any time, but he will face an opponent in Stewart who has never been finished by strikes.
I hate Mackenzie Dern fights. The reason being that I am forced to pick against her each time, knowing that the submission can come in an instant. That's what happened in her last outing against Hannah Cifers, in which Cifers shook her with a few hard shots and was doing a decent job denying the clinch but hung around on the ground for a second too long and ended up getting heel-hooked. My main problem is that Dern is a BJJ ace with no functional takedown game to speak of, and I simply don't trust her to keep finding herself in these perfect entanglements. Enter Randa Markos, who is a strong enough wrestler to dictate the clinch situations on her own terms and is a better boxer and overall striker. It's nerve-wracking to pick against Dern for the reasons outline above, but it's worth noting that Markos has only been subbed once in 18 professional fights.
Randy Costa is a high-energy kickboxer with a solid wrestling and grappling game to boot. Even in his lone loss to Brandon Davis, Costa was able to wobble him more than once and make a nice account of himself on short notice. Journey Newson is a boxer with power in his hands, but even in his Knockout win against Domingo Pillarte (later overturned due to a *sigh* positive marijuana test). Newson was kicked in the head and nearly knocked out before finding the shot that swung the fight in his favor. Costa isn't the hardest guy in the world to hit, but few leave their chin as open to being clocked as Pillarte, which has me balking at the idea that a hurt Newson would be able to turn the fight on a dime again.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
It would be difficult to name two fighters less trustworthy than Johnny Walker and Ryan Spann, so it only makes sense that they fight each other for our amusement. Spann is a fighter I thought had a great deal of promise when he first broke into the organization as an athletic, fundamental boxer who could wrestle and grapple, but he has shown himself more and more hesitant to let his hands go in recent fights, to the point where Sam Alvey ended up rocking him several times in what was ultimately a close split-decision. Walker came in with fireworks due to his size and athletic ability, but we soon learned that if he wasn't knocking someone out in spectacular fashion, there was very little substance to his game. The problem here is that Spann could be absent-minded enough to let Walker find that big shot, but this is a matchup in which Spann's obsession with grappling will actually benefit him, as we saw the Brazilian get controlled and beat up in a loss to Nikita Krylov in March. At the end of the day, I think Spann gets his takedown and simply works Walker over, but he'll need to be careful about how he does it, lest he becomes the next addition to Walker's highlight reel.
David Dvorak looks to have a functional game everywhere, complemented by hard kicks and the ability to wrestle. What he suffers from, in my view, is a complete willingness to let his opponent take the center of the cage, which sometimes works to stifle his offense. Jordan Espinosa is lightning fast inside The Octagon and can be a bit of a counter fighter himself, but we saw him take much more initiative in a dominant win over Mark De La Rosa in June, using leg kicks and a stiff jab to get his offense flowing. I expect the speed and crisp striking to simply be too much for Dvorak, resulting in another high-volume decision win for Espinoza.
Miguel Baeza will face Jeremiah Wells after Mickey Gall had to be pulled from the bout with an undisclosed injury. Wells is a powerful fighter who loves to haul off and throw bombs. So much so that it's a bit perplexing that he has only three KO/TKO's in his eight victories. While he can absolutely knock Baeza silly, I see him as the more well-rounded of the two fighters, with an excellent technical kickboxing game married with a strong penchant for defense. This should help Baeza slip the big shots of Wells and find his own to potentially hand the 33-year-old the first stoppage loss of his career.