This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
I hope everyone in the MMA DFS space enjoyed their holiday break, because the UFC is putting on three cards in the space of seven days between January 16 and January 23. We will be here to guide you through every one of them, beginning with an 11-fight card that kicks off on Saturday at 12 PM EST. While we don't have too many official dogs here, I've made sure to keep them interesting, including an endorsement of a fighter who shares the cheapest salary on the slate.
One final note before we begin: 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: Max Holloway ($21)
I will open this article's analysis section with a fun fact about Max Holloway: he has eclipsed 100 significant strikes landed in eight of his last nine fights dating back to June of 2016. I expect another volume-filled performance against Calvin Kattar, a boxer who wants to stand at range and throw hands. Why am I picking Holloway to come away with the victory? Kattar has been something of a slow starter in his UFC career, having to work himself into fights against Zabit Magomedsharipov and Jeremy Stephens. Holloway will be on the gas pedal from the opening bell, and I have concerns that Kattar won't be able to wrestle the momentum back from someone who applies as much pressure as the former champion. The other thing to note is we saw Holloway utilize a lot of leg kicks in his second fight with Alexander Volkanovski, something that should come in handy here, as Kattar stands very heavy on his lead leg. To be clear, either fighter could end up on an optimal lineup, but I have to favor Max's unrelenting style to take this home.
Dusko Todorovic has shown himself to be an absolute force of nature inside the cage in his bouts with Teddy Ash (on the Contender Series) and Dequan Townsend. He will pressure, throw in combinations with power and wear on his opponents in the clinch. What you may not expect from someone with that fighting style is the level of defense he showed in the Townsend fight, as his opponent landed just 31 percent of significant strikes thrown. Anyone who watched Puna Soriano send Oskar Piechota to the land of wind and ghosts knows he has big power, but the 28-year-old tends to swing wild haymakers, which should allow ample opportunity for Dusko to counter. It's also notable that he seemed to slow down at various points after his initial explosion in the Piechota fight, and Todorovic appears to have an unyielding gas tank.
Joaquin Buckley followed up his incredible spin-kick knockout of Impa Kasanganay in October with a brutal second-round finish of Jordan Wright less than a month later. Buckley's ability to take the center of the cage and smother opponents allows him to unload with flurries of quick, powerful strikes. This is quite different from the approach of Alessio Di Chirico, who will largely stand on the outside of the pocket and try to leap in with big, singular shots. Di Chirico has turned to his wrestling a bit more of late, which could present problems for Buckley, but I think the physical advantages and overall depth of technique will be too much for the Italian fighter here.
When we first met Phil Hawes, it was as the wrong end of a highlight reel, having been viciously knocked out by a head kick on the Contender Series in 2017. The 32-year-old has stormed back since then, having won five bouts in a row ahead of his upcoming fight with Nassourdine Imavov. Both men are potent first-round finishers, but I am giving the nod to Hawes here because of how stationary Imavov becomes when entering the pocket. He was clipped hard more than once in his fight with Jordan Williams, and I seriously doubt he will be able to survive if he shows that kind of carelessness against Hawes. He may slow down a bit if he is forced to wrestle, but I think Imavov will be too willing to trade in what looks like a dangerous matchup for him.
I am full of interesting facts this week, like that Matt Brown's last seven bouts have finished inside the distance. To say Carlos Condit has had trouble finding his sea legs after his return to the Octagon in December of 2017 would be an understatement, but we saw in his fight with Court McGee that the "Natural Born Killer" is as slick on the feet as ever, which was illustrated best by a beautiful hook/uppercut that floored McGee at the end of Round 1. Brown is always up for a scrap, but throws while keeping his head on the center line. I think the awkward movement and timing of Condit will make things extremely difficult for "The Immortal" one here. It's possible that we see Brown wrestle as a result, as he did against Ben Saunders, but Condit's defensive BJJ is extremely sharp and should be enough to at least help him return to his feet if necessary.
Best Option: Austin Lingo ($20)
Austin Lingo didn't fare incredibly well against the movement-heavy style of Youssef Zalal in his UFC debut, but he steps in the cage Saturday against a much lesser opponent in Jacob Kilburn. Kilburn can hardly be blamed for being swallowed up by the grappling tornado that is Billy Quarantillo in his UFC debut, but tape on Kilburn outside the UFC doesn't reveal much of a structure or form to his game, as he mixes uncoordinated looking spinning attacks with wild flurries in the pocket and occasional wrestling. The problem for Kilburn is that he doesn't have the athleticism or footwork of someone like Zalal, which should make him a sitting target for the big shots thrown by Lingo.
David Zawada may be relatively new to the UFC, but the 22-fight veteran has shown himself to be a powerful range kickboxer who does a bit of everything inside the cage. As he heads into a matchup with Ramazan Emeev, however, it's tough to forget how he was out-grappled by both Danny Roberts and Li Jingliang, two fighters not known for their ground prowess. Of particular note in the Jingliang fight is how badly Zawada slowed down in Round 3, which likely contributed to him being TKO'd. Emeev is a smothering top control player and cardio machine, and I have my doubts that Zawada will be able to find a submission off his back as he did against Abubakar Nurmagomedov.
Injury-related inactivity may be the reason why some don't recognize the top-tier talent of Santiago Ponzinibbio, but the Argentinian fighter is currently on a seven-fight win streak dating back to 2015. Hallmarks of his game include a stinging jab, hard leg kicks and a penchant for finding angles to land strikes. He also possesses a functional wrestling game when he decides to employ it. I think the use of the jab, as well as a general athleticism advantage, will pay huge dividends for Ponzinibbio against Li Jingliang, who is far too willing to brawl and was quite easily dismantled by range tools in his bout with Neil Magny. "The Leech" can put anyone down with a shot, but after seeing him hurt in bouts against Daichi Abe, David Zawada and Bobby Nash (to name a few), I find it hard to trust that he will be able to withstand a barrage from a clean and accurate puncher like Ponzinibbio.
Best Option: Justin Tafa ($11)
At 4-1 (including two UFC fights that lasted a grand total of 4:09) it's tough to know exactly what to expect from Justin Tafa. We know from the limited amount of footage we have seen that the "Bad Man" has a good jab, utilizes hard, chopping low kicks and is powerful and aggressive in the clinch. I think this will be enough to defeat Carlos Felipe, who has fast hands and a pressuring style, but tends to simply shell up when getting hit, which isn't advisable against someone as powerful as Tafa. It should also be pointed out that we saw a tired Yorgan de Castro push Felipe up against the cage whenever he wanted in the third round of their fight, which leads me to believe that Tafa will be able to control this fight in the clinch as well as at distance.
It's difficult to project a positive outcome for Vanessa Melo, as she will come into this fight having lost her first three UFC bouts, but I think she could finally find success in a matchup against Sarah Moras. Moras' fighting style generally involves getting her opponents in the clinch and wearing on them. She will be unable to do this against Melo, however, who should have a clear strength advantage here. Melo is very foot slow, but she has power for the weight class and Moras stands straight up while in space. There is still a danger that Moras simply dances around her, but I believe this is Melo's most forgiving matchup in the UFC to date.
Her takedown defense may need work, but I like a lot of what I've seen from Joselyne Edwards, who will make her UFC debut against Wu Yanan. Specifically, that she uses her length well, keeping opponents on the end of her punches. Yanan's physicality remains a bit of a concern, but her tendency to throw herself into the pocket unprotected is enough for me to take a flier here, particularly when considering the lanky frame of Edwards.