This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
We remain on Fight Island for a jam-packed 13-fight card this Saturday, which begins at 5:00 PM EDT. While I tend to look for dogs on every card, this slate features a handful of sizeable plus-money plays that have very clear paths to victory, making it an interesting one to dive into. 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 Play: Cory Sandhagen ($21)
I had a difficult time picking a winner for the main event between Cory Sandhagen and Marlon Moraes. On the one hand, I can see the speed and power of Moraes paying big dividends, as Sandhagen absorbs over four strikes per minute. On the other, it's totally plausible that Sandhagen's pace and pressure will be enough to drain the gas tank of Moraes, as we have seen him get tired in recent fights. I'm going with the latter here, while also noting Sandhagen's creativity, wrestling ability and body work. He may have to weather an early storm, but we've never seen Sandhagen rocked on the feet, and I don't expect Moraes will lean on wrestling and grappling in the same way Aljamain Sterling did.
Alan Baudot has beaten more than one fighter who is winless in their professional MMA career and hasn't always looked great doing it. His one loss came against current UFC fighter Dalcha Lungiambula, in which he basically charged at "Champion" throwing wide and stiff hooks until he got knocked out by a counter shot. All of this is to say that I don't give Baudot much chance of beating Tom Aspinall, a strong and skilled grappler who has taken major steps to round out his boxing game. We saw a good sense of range and sharp 1-2 combinations from Aspinall in his UFC debut against Jake Collier, and I expect to see a few more style points here, as the rudimentary takedown defense that has worked for Baudot on the regional scene is unlikely to be effective against someone like Aspinall. In other words, the 27-year-old should basically be able to do whatever he wants in this matchup. Here's hoping he gets a worthy opponent next time around.
I have not been a big fan of Ben Rothwell since his return. I think he looks as slow as he ever has, with footwork that seems to have lost a step as well. I still think he probably finishes Marcin Tybura, though, just based on Tybura's penchant for getting backed up and how tired he has gotten when pushed by opponents. The Polish fighter has leaned on his wrestling more and more in recent bouts, but Rothwell hasn't been taken down in a fight since 2013 and should have a strength advantage in this contest. What's more, Tybura will have to worry about an underrated series of chokes from Rothwell as he tries to secure takedowns. As with most of Rothwell's fights, this will probably be a staring match for the first few minutes, but it shouldn't be long before "Big Ben' corrals Tybura against the fence and knocks him out.
Tony Kelley showed some good things on the regional scene, but no one was quite sure what to expect before his short-notice fight with Kai Kamaka, as he had logged just one fight since 2016. The 33-year-old showed himself to be a fluid kickboxer with good footwork who can throw in combination in the loss. The problem for the matchup with Ali Al Qaisi is that Kelley has shown himself to be susceptible to takedowns, and Al Qaisi is a strong wrestler. I'm not convinced that he will be able to control fighters at this level, however, as he was unable to hold down Irwin Rivera for any length of time, and Kelley loves to scramble and look for submissions. If Al Qaisi can't win this fight wrestling, I expect him to get eaten up in space, as he is a wooden striker who generally opts to just throw single power shots. Kelley will likely overwhelm his opponent here, resulting in a finish or a very high-scoring decision.
Impa Kasanganay showed a wrestle-heavy approach in his matchup on the Contender Series, but we saw new wrinkles from him in his UFC debut against Maki Pitolo, as he opened up with pressuring combinations that stung the Hawaiian more than once. Joaquin Buckley couldn't quite negotiate the distance against the longer and taller Kevin Holland in his first matchup with the organization, but he should be able to work his game much better in this fight, which is to get on the inside and throw big shots at his opponent. If Kasanganay goes back to his wrestling game, Buckley might be in trouble, but I'm picking Buckley because I don't like the way "Tshilobo" reacts to strikes. We saw him duck his head far too often in responses to flurries against Pitolo and I can't help but see Buckley clocking him with an uppercut if he continues down the same path. Whichever way it plays out, prospective owners will want to have one of these two in their lineups, as this figures to be a high-scoring affair no matter who wins.
Best option: Youssef Zalal ($17)
I may say this every time I'm tasked with writing about Youssef Zalal, but the Moroccan is one of the more well-rounded prospects we have seen of late. Zalal is fast, shows excellent footwork, a nice, stiff jab and the ability to wrestle when needed. He likely won't want to go to the ground with Ilia Topuria, who primarily wants to get takedowns and work his submission game. We've seen him stay on his feet and pressure with combinations as well, but he ate several head kicks and was shooting for his life before finding the kill shot on a longer opponent in Steven Goncalves, and I think Yousef's sense of range and ability to circle off the fence is such that Topuira will have to deal with his three-inch reach advantage for the majority of the fight. He may be tough enough to avoid being finished, but Topuira will carry too many disadvantages into this matchup for me to do anything else but pick Zalal.
In fairness to Stephanie Egger, her quality of completion is quite high for someone with just six professional fights, but it seems pretty clear from watching tape that much of her game just relies on being bigger and stronger than her opponents. That won't be the case against Tracy Cortez, and if she can't ground this fight, she's going to have a hard time dealing with her standup game. I expect Cortez to use her combination striking and sense of distance to pick Egger off in the pocket, resulting in a comfortable decision win.
Despite being the most decorated fighter on this list, Tagir Ulanbekov is the last one I will mention, as I think the line against Bruno Silva is a bit too wide. Silva had trouble tracking down David Dvorak in his last fight, but Ulanbekov stands more flat-footed in the cage, which should let him work his boxing game. The problem here is that Ulanbekov is an incredibly strong grappler, which should negate the wrestling that is integral to Silva's game. This should lead to Ulanbekov trapping Silva against the fence and hitting him with big shots while working his own grappling game. Silva is a decent athlete and understands range quite well, which is why I think this fight is a bit closer than the pricing indicates.
Best option: Makwan Amirkhani ($13)
I'll get right to the point: when was the last time Edson Barboza has looked good against a committed wrestler? Even when we throw out the loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov (which is only fair) you need to go back to Beneil Dariush in 2016 for his last win against a mat rat, and he was losing that fight handily until a flying knee closed the show in Round 2. Barboza simply needs space to execute the kicks and spinning attacks that have become his hallmark, and while his boxing is somewhat underrated, I think Makwan Amirkhani is tough enough to walk through the fire to get the fight to the floor if need be. Amirkhani has an improving, but rudimentary, striking game, meaning this fight won't be close if it stays on the feet, but I need to learn the lessons of history, and that means picking the wrestler here.
Chris Daukaus looked phenomenal in his UFC debut in August, showcasing fast hands, good skills in the clinch, and accuracy in his knockout of Parker Porter. Rodrigo Nascimento is a high-level BJJ player who uses a rigid, powerful standup game to try and work his way into the clinch. My issue here is Nascimento looked to powerhouse all the takedowns he got against Don'Tale Mayes, and Daukaus should be strong enough to keep himself upright in these exchanges. If that proves true, then the quick hands I mentioned earlier will light Nascimento up in space. Since he is upright in the clinch, Daukus can use his short punches and elbows to make hay when the two link up. This fight may be something of a binary, but that's good enough for me to take a sizeable dog who has shown off some promising skills.
Recent tape on K.B. Bhullar is a bit hard to come by, but what does exist shows an athletic fighter with an excellent kicking game who likes to pressure his opponents. It's almost impossible to know what to expect from Tom Breese these days, as aside from a quick submission loss to Brendan Allen earlier this year, he hasn't had a fight since May of 2018. Breese has been plenty active during his injury layoffs competing in grappling competitions, but with so little cage time of late, I think it will be hard for him to keep up with the pace of someone like Bhullar. The other thing to note here is Breese stands incredibly heavy on his lead leg, which should give the debuting fighter plenty of joy with his kicking game.
I was ready to hop off the Markus Perez hype train for what I considered to be a tough matchup against Eric Spicely, but I quite like the dynamics at play against newcomer Dricus Du Plessis. Du Plessis is bricked up and powerful but hangs out on the backfoot far too often, allowing his opponent to take control of the fight. Of particular interest here is that Du Plessis gets absolutely stung with body kicks even in fights he eventually wins, and "Maluko" loves to push a pace and throw hard kicks at his opponents. He should also be able to match strength with his opponent as a grappler, which will negate any kind of wrestling game that Du Plessis might elect to use. Perez is so wild he often tires himself out if he can't finish his opponent. While that remains a concern here, I just can't shake the feeling that Du Plessis will give him the exact kind of fight he can win on the feet.
I'm a bit surprised to see Giga Chikadze as the (small) dog here. It's true that he's shown problems with his gas tank in fights, but those fears have been assuaged (at least for me) by his fight against Irwin Rivera, in which Rivera forced him to fight at a frantic pace for three rounds. Omar Morales will pressure as a kickboxer, but we saw him get stung hard multiple times leaping into the pocket against Gabriel Benitez, and Chikadze likes nothing more than to counter overzealous opponents. The threat of a wrestling attack is always on the table when one faces Chikadze, but Morales hasn't shown a desire to wrestle in either of his fights with the organization, with his only takedown coming off a caught kick. He's more than welcome to try and catch the kicks of Chikadze, but I think Morales will hang around on the feet long enough to get cracked here, which could lead to a stoppage.