This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
Wrestlers fill the slate for the 11-fight card at the UFC Apex on Saturday, which could put us in line for some high-scoring affairs in the small cage. We run through all of it here, including an intriguing main event that features two top-tier middleweights.
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: Marvin Vettori ($23)
It may surprise some that I am putting Marvin Vettori in the big seat, as he is taking the fight with Jack Hermansson on a week's notice, but it's worth pointing out that Vettori was already training for a fight with Ronaldo Souza that was scheduled to take place on Dec. 12. A different opponent generally means a different kind of challenge, but I see enough similarities between "Jacare" and "The Joker" to make me believe that Vettori shouldn't have too steep of a learning curve. Like "Jacare," Hermansson is a physically strong fighter who has power in his hands but ultimately likes to get the fight on the ground to work his submission game. The problem is that Hermansson's wrestling game is based almost entirely on strength and Vettori should be able to more than compete in terms of raw power. The fact that the Italian is a strong ground fighter in his own right (nine submissions in 15 wins) is a good indication that Hermansson won't be able to simply steamroll him on the mat, as he has done to so many other opponents. Once we cancel out the ground attack, what's left is Vettori as the better boxer with faster hands who will push a pace. We saw Hermansson left on an island when the takedowns didn't materialize against Jared Cannonier, and I think we will see something similar develop in this bout.
Jimmy Flick and Cody Durden are both committed wrestlers in the Octagon, but while Durden may be slightly better at controlling position, I very much doubt that he will be able to keep up with the transitions and scrambles Flick will bring to this fight. Durden strikes me as a fighter who likes to take his time and work through positions, but he will get no cooperation from Flick in that department, as he will look to push a furious pace from the start. Either one of these fighters could potentially score well, as both men are dedicated finishers, but Durden has a submission loss on his record from the far less dangerous Ryan Hollis, which has to be a factor when one considers Flick's skill set.
The first thing to say about Jamahal Hill is he's just fun to watch. The 6-foot-4 fighter knows how to use his length in the cage, works the body well and can get creative when he is in the flow of his pressure striking. Thus far, there appear to be two major drawbacks associated with the 29-year-old: he stands too tall in the pocket and can be outwrestled. The first of these deficiencies could certainly be a problem against Ovince Saint Preux, who has tremendous power, but I'm reminded of another eminently hittable fighter in Jimi Manuwa who was able to knock "OSP" out simply by using pressure to keep his back against the fence. Getting taken down by Darko Stosic six times certainly isn't the best look, but Hill's getups were always technical, as he used head pressure to stifle Stosic's movement and get back to his feet. We saw "OSP" exhaust himself trying to takedown Nikita Krylov over and over again, and Hill's gas tank has looked phenomenal so far in the UFC. To be clear, "OSP" has the ability to finish anyone at any time, but without the physical advantages he generally possesses, I don't see him getting the better of an opponent with this many offensive weapons.
Ilia Topuria is an absolute hurricane inside the cage. While he's not the first dedicated wrestler/grappler we've covered today, he is the one most likely to threaten his opponent on the feet, as he marches forward and throws big shots before ultimately trying to get the fight to the ground. Once there he cuts through his opponents like butter, which has led to seven submissions among nine professional MMA victories. Damon Jackson uses his length well on the feet and is a formidable grappler in his own right, but I expect him to be several steps behind in the exchanges with Toupuria here and he won't have the luxury of his opponent getting so tired they can barely move by Round 3, as was the case in his fight with Mirsad Bektic. In short, I expect Toupuria to essentially do what Bektic did, but with enough gas in the tank to see it through to the end.
I thought about making Gabriel Benitez a cash play here, but it struck me that the amount of action Justin Jaynes brings to the small cage all but guarantees a big score no matter who wins. Jaynes comes forward and varies his targets such that he seems to land big shots even when he loses a fight, but Benitez is almost certainly the best defensive fighter the Xtreme Couture product has ever faced, which should lead to even more swinging and missing than we saw in his bout with Gavin Tucker. This, in turn, means more hard counter shots and debilitating body and leg kicks. Unless he lands a hammer early I expect Jaynes to be something of a punching bag in this bout until the much more skilled Benitez is able to close the show.
Best Option: Movsar Evloev ($23)
Movsar Evloev probably doesn't deserve to be the (-600) favorite we are seeing on some sportsbooks, but he has a very well-rounded, complete game for a prospect. This is marked primary by his ability to throw crisp combinations in the pocket and transition seamlessly to a wrestling game which has resulted in a perfect 13-0 record to begin his professional MMA career. The only issue here is that Evloev isn't really a finisher. Not just in the UFC (where all three of his fights have gone to decision), but among those aforementioned 13 fights, six have seen the final bell. If there is anyone who might force a finish, it could be Nate Landwehr, who comes forward and throws strikes without offering much in the way of defense. He also will be one of the only fighters Evloev has faced in the organization without a strong wrestling game, which should allow us to see more of his skills. Still, I think this is likely to be a high-scoring decision, even with such an open target as Landwehr.
I don't quite understand why the UFC keeps booking Matt Wiman against strong wrestlers. This will be the third consecutive fight against a mat rat for the veteran and, like the previous two bouts, I expect Wiman to get stuck on bottom for the majority of the fight. Jordan Leavitt is probably the lowest-output striker of all the wrestlers we've reviewed so far, but Wiman always seems content to play on his back in these exchanges. This leaves us in DFS purgatory, as he is too skilled to get submitted, but no longer sharp enough to gain the advantage. All of that adds up to Leviatt being one of the safer plays on the card.
We saw a bit of a different Montana De La Rosa in her last fight against Viviane Araujo, in which she was content to hang back and counter rather than force a wrestling game. That strategy would be doomed to fail against Taila Santos, who is a much more diverse striker than Araujo, and much more willing to press the advantage when she has it. If De la Rosa does try to push her wrestling game this time, she will have to contend with an opponent who I believe is physically stronger than her. This should lead to the fight being contested on the feet, which will allow Santos to work her striking and beat up the lead leg of De La Rosa as part of a holistic drubbing.
Best Option: John Allan ($14)
John Allan had his debut win against Mike Rodriguez overturned after he failed a drug test, but I see enough in his game that tells me he can be successful as a clean fighter as well. The first thing that jumps out to me is slick boxing combinations and the ability to counter effectively. He also features a wrestling/jiujitsu game that he can go to as needed. Roman Dolidze looks like an athletic specimen, but so much of his offensive attack relies on winging big, single shots that I wonder how he will respond to a fighter he won't be able to simply scare out of exchanging with him. Dolidze has an active power wrestling game, which could be effective here if he decides to turn to it, but he may not want to contend with Allan on the ground. At the end of the day, I expect Allan's experience and depth of skill to carry, as I just don't think Dolidze wins this kind of fight without landing some kind of big shot.
Jake Collier was unceremoniously welcomed to the heavyweight division with a quick knockout at the hands of Tom Aspinall, but he draws perhaps the slowest former light heavyweight on the roster in Gian Villante. Villante had one of the more embarrassing losses in recent memory in his heavyweight debut against Maurice Greene, losing via exhaustion choke. Even if we assume for the sake of covering bases that Villante comes to the cage in better shape this time, Collier should be the more athletic fighter here, while also being the one more willing to push the pace. This is difficult to say with certainty, as we haven't seen Collier in a fight that lasted longer than a minute since 2017, but we've seen enough of Villante to know that he doesn't offer much outside of overhand rights and occasional low kicks, and Collier has always had a nice counter-punching game to go along with good general pressure striking. This should work to drain the gas tank of Villante yet again, who is nowhere near as fast as Aspinall with his hands.
I'm cheating a little bit here, as Jose Quinonez and Louis Smolka are both $15, but Smolka is as high as a (-140) favorite in some books, which makes me more comfortable labeling Quinonez an underdog here. It's tough to know what to make of Smolka. His re-entrance into the UFC in 2018 saw him use a bit more wrestling to compliment his scramble-and-sub style, but we saw him go back to his boxing shortly thereafter, which ultimately led to him being picked apart and submitted in his last fight against Casey Kenney. Jose Quinonez has been something of an underachiever in the UFC but keeps range well and is far more agile and athletic than Smolka on the feet, which should allow him to be a step ahead in the striking exchanges. While we haven't seen him play on the ground much since his submission victory against Leonardo Morales in 2014, I trust Quinonez to keep himself safe on the ground against Smolka until he is able to get this fight back in the realm where he wins it.