This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
UFC 256 has lost a few more fights than we are accustomed to for a Fight Island card, but what remains is a competitive 11-fight slate, featuring more than one that may be too close to call. Still, we put our foot in the ground and make solid predictions for all 11 fights, including five (yes, five) underdogs.
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: Ciryl Gane ($22)
As a fan of slick boxing in the Octagon, I've always enjoyed watching Junior dos Santos fight. The reality, though, is the man with the best jab in the heavyweight division has never learned to keep his back off the fence, a flaw that is directly responsible for his last two knockout losses. Moreover, he no longer has the speed to recover after throwing big, winging shots, which is the sole reason he was finished by Francis Ngannou. Ciryl Gane will likely take advantage of both of these deficiencies. He will also be the much quicker man in the cage and will be able to use more weapons as the active kickboxer. I expect "JDS" will look good early here (as he often does), but it should only be a matter of time before he suffers his fourth consecutive stoppage loss.
Billy Quarantillo is a DFS player's dream, as he not only is a committed grappler but puts a pace on opponents with his striking. He will enter this matchup against Gavin Tucker with a four-inch advantage in both height and reach. This should allow him to pick Tucker off on the way in before grabbing the clinch as the 34-year-old attempts to get on the inside. Some may bristle at "Billy Q's" inclusion here, as Tucker has never been finished, but he needed to lean heavily on his grappling in fights with both Seungwoo Choi and Justin Jaynes (a fight in which he was very nearly finished). That option will not be available for him here as a path to success.
It's only natural that prospective owners feel a bit uncomfortable with Chase Hooper after a one-sided loss to Alex Caceres in his last fight, but Caceres has always been a movement heavy fighter, who has made real strides in his defensive wrestling in recent years. Peter Barrett, by contrast, is a fighter who relies on making fights physical and incorporating his own wrestling game, which should play right into the hands of someone like Hooper. There are still a few concerns about Hooper, but Barrett has been finished in three of his last four losses (two by submission) and had his back taken by Youssef Zalal in his UFC debut. All of this amounts to a good style matchup for Hooper, one I expect him to capitalize on.
There's a high probability that someone from the Charles Oliveira vs. Tony Ferguson bout will be on the optimal lineup. Both of these fighters like to pressure, throw strikes, and work at a tremendous pace. It should also be noted that they have a combined 47 finishes in 54 professional wins. Now that we have established that the fight should score well, whom do we pick? Ferguson has always pressured his opponent with reckless abandon, having no fear that they might take him down. He won't have that luxury with "Do Bronx" who features relentless jiujitsu when the fight hits the floor. This should allow him to work every facet of his game on the feet as the more agile kickboxer who can also get physical in the clinch. The other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that Tony was absolutely taken apart and stopped by Justin Gaethje just seven months ago in a fight that was legitimately hard to watch at times. This raises the question of whether his durability will be compromised. I think Oliveira can use his speed and angles to keep Fergeson from fighting his typical phone-booth brawl, but if he can't, I have zero concerns about Oliveira's ability to handle himself on the mat.
Best Option: Tecia Torres ($TBD)
Tecia Torres gets a tremendous step down in competition after Angela Hill had to be removed from the card due to testing positive for COVID-19. Instead, 5-1 LFA fighter Sam Hughes will take the bout on less than a week's notice. Hughes seems like a decent pressure fighter with a nice range-striking and counter game, but I see nothing that tells me that she'll be able to keep up with the speed or pace of "Tiny Tornado." We don't see it very often, but Torres may opt to use her wrestling game as well, as she will be giving up four inches of height in the matchup. In short, Torres' weapons, experience and relentlessness should be more than enough to get the win over Hughes, who looks to be taking on too much far too soon.
A flash knockout took Rafael Fiziev out of his UFC debut against Magomed Mustafaev, but the 27-year-old has been able to show the full complement of his skills in his next two bouts, combining fierce striking with almost otherworldly defense in wins over Alex White and Marc Diakiese. Specifically, in the fight against Diakiese, we saw Fiziev employ thunderous body kicks and an ability to mix targets in general. Renato Moicano has shown a nice leg-kicking game to go along with a piston-like jab in the past but has been far too hittable in fights against Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung. We have seen the Brazilian work his wrestling game more in recent fights, but Fiziev looks like a slick scrambler on the mat and is hard to take down in general. While the fight may be competitive early, Fiziev appears to be the far more fluid and technical striker and should be able to keep his back off the mat long enough to notch the decision victory.
A nine-inch reach disadvantage would be hard for any fighter to overcome, but it will be an especially tough hill to climb for the aging Ronaldo Souza. This is particularly true since the BJJ blackbelt is currently 0-for-8 in takedown attempts over his last two fights and hasn't had a submission win since Tim Boetsch in 2017. We also need to remember that the last time "Jacare" got a takedown in the Kelvin Gastelum fight, he was unable to finish, despite taking mount in the exchange. All this is to say that I think the MMA mainstay will have a hard time getting this fight where he needs it and may no longer have a surefire win if it ends up there. If that is the case, then Kevin Holland should simply batter "Jacare" with strikes from range for the better part of 15 minutes. "Jacare" is tough enough to ride the wave and not get finished, but Holland should fire off enough output to bank a high-scoring decision.
Best Option: Brandon Moreno ($18)
I picked against Deiveson Figueiredo for his November 21 bout against Alex Perez, and while he did retain his belt after the opponent recklessly threw himself into a choke, there was nothing that I saw in the bout that told me Figueiredo is any better at dealing with the attributes of someone like Perez than I initially thought. Brandon Moreno may bring a bit less wrestling compared to someone like Perez, but he retains the speed and boxing advantages I liked so much in that matchup. Perhaps the biggest thing he has that Perez didn't however, is a solid BJJ game. That is to say, I don't have to worry about him giving the champion his neck in ground exchanges. Moreno also showed off a fantastic ability to scramble on the ground in his recent win over Brandon Royval, another big advantage I think he has here. As ever, Figueiredo maintains his power and size advantage, but I want to see what the Perez fight would have looked like if went on for a bit longer. I think Moreno will be able to use the same weapons as Perez while keeping himself safe in precarious situations.
Sergey Spivak showcased a slick boxing game and some improved wrestling in his fight against Carlos Felipe. I expect him to have an even sharper boxing advantage in this fight, but we saw in Spivak's fight with Marcin Tybura that big, physical wrestlers can give him problems. Using his physicality and being committed to takedowns are the basics of what drives Jared Vanderaa's game, married with a good gas tank for someone his size. Spivak will likely land good shots as Vanderaa looks for slow counters in the opening minutes, but this is the kind of fight where I think size will win the day.
I didn't expect to pick Cub Swanson before looking at the tape here, but one tends to forget how agile and defensively sound the veteran remains in the cage (61 percent significant strike defense rate). That movement should be key against Daniel Pineda, who stands up tall in the pocket and is far too hittable for me to trust against someone who can control range as well as Swanson. Some may talk about Swanson's losses by submission, but it should be noted that those losses tend to come when he is exhausted, hurt, or by surprise, as in the Brian Ortega fight. There is no part of me that is afraid of Pineda simply taking Cub down and subbing him, and I don't think Pineda has a great chance of hurting him for reasons previously mentioned. It may be a bit of a slugfest at points, but Swanson should have enough tricks left to take the decision here.
I suppose I am cursed to pick the wrong side of Mackenzie Dern fights forever. I accept this charge, as I just can't find myself clear to pick a pure BJJ fighter who has no real way of getting the fight to the ground. In the fight with Randa Markos, the Canadian fighter actually entered Dern's guard after a slip, a decision I am still trying to comprehend. This doesn't mean that no fighter can tangle on the ground with Dern, however, as skilled jujitsu players like Ashley Yoder and Amanda Ribas did just fine against her in top position. I expect something similar from Virna Jandiroba, a high-level BJJ black belt with active wrestling and a smothering top game. Jandiroba can be taken down as well, but since Dern has no takedown game to speak of, I think we will see a lot of Dern being stuck on bottom here, looking for leg locks and sweeps that simply won't work against such high-level competition.