This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Despite some shuffling on this card, Saturday's main event is still very much expected to bring us the next top contender for Kamaru Usman in the welterweight division.
If you're hoping to turn the event into an opportunity to build your DFS bankroll, DraftKings.com has you covered with a full slate of contests, including a $350k MMA Throwdown with $100k to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
Note: Scoring has been updated as of early-2021! Please review the scoring changes below.
Strikes: +0.2 PTS
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Control Time: +0.03 PTS/SECOND
Takedown (TD): +5 PTS
Reversal/Sweep (REV): +5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +10 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses
1st Round Win (1rW+): +90 PTS
2nd Round Win (2rW+): +70 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rW+): +45 PTS
4th Round Win (4rW+): +40 PTS
5th Round Win (5rW+): +40 PTS
Decision Win (WBD+): +30 PTS
Quick Win Bonus: +25 PTS
(fight is finished in 60 seconds or less)
- Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
- A Significant Strike will count as both a strike and a significant strike and will be worth a total of 0.4 Pts
- Control Time is the time spent in the dominant position on the ground or in the clinch. +0.03 points are awarded per second.
- A Knockdown is awarded to a fighter who knocks his/her opponent down due to debilitation for what the official scorers consider an appreciable amount of time.
- A Quick Win Bonus is awarded to the winning fighter if they win in the first round in 60 seconds or less.
Main Event - Welterweight
The UFC attempted to book Edwards and rising star Khamzat Chimaev on countless occasions over the course of the past six months or so, but both men tested positive for COVID-19 at one point, and Chimaev is still having issues as a result. Edwards opted to remain on this card, and Muhammad jumped in to face him.
Edwards has won eight fights in a row. Included in that stretch are victories over Rafael dos Anjos, Gunnar Nelson, Donald Cerrone and Vicente Luque. His last loss came in December 2015 against current UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman. Edwards is very good, but he also hasn't fought since July 2019. The pandemic has seemingly impacted Edwards' ability to find a fight more so than any other competitor on the roster. We'll have to see how he looks after the time away, but there's no doubt that on the surface, facing Muhammad would appear to be a much more favorable match up than going up against the ruthless Chimaev.
Muhammad jumped at this opportunity, and wisely so. He just fought a month ago, taking an easy unanimous decision from Dhiego Lima. I actually didn't think Muhammad looked all that good in that fight, but the gap in talent and natural ability between the two was clearly evident, and Muhammad had an easy night at the office as a result. Belal is 8-1 in his past nine fights dating back to February 2017, with the only setback being a unanimous decision loss to Geoff Neal, so he has earned this opportunity.
Neither of these men have had much success whatsoever putting their competition away, so expect this one to see the final bell despite the fact it's scheduled for five rounds. I have concerns regarding both men. My main concern with Edwards is all the time off. Of course he's been training, but there's no way to mimic actually being inside the Octagon during camp. On the flip side, Muhammad just fought, so he will have nothing approaching a full training camp here.
I'm going with Edwards despite my concerns for three reasons. First is the fact Muhammad, despite his recent strong run, hasn't beaten anyone particularly good. His best victory in that 8-1 stretch I mentioned is over Lyman Good. Second is the fact Edwards is the bigger man. He's three inches taller and has a two-inch reach edge. Third, and most importantly, is the fact I trust Edwards' ability to capitalize on Muhammad's mistakes. Belal is a very aggressive fighter and leaves openings for his opposition to pick him apart. Lima wasn't able to do that last month, but Edwards is infinitely more talented.
THE PICK: Edwards
Co-Main Event - Light Heavyweight
Cirkunov and Spann were originally scheduled to fight in December before Cirkunov pulled out due to injury, and the bout had to be rescheduled.
It's feels like we haven't seen Cirkunov in forever, which is kind of true since he's been on the sidelines since scoring an impressive submission win over Jimmy Crute in September 2019. To the best of me recollection, Misha didn't have a single fight scheduled during his time off. A native of Latvia now living in Canada, Cirkunov is an above-average athlete with surprisingly little stopping power in his hands (four career knockout wins) considering the explosiveness we see from him at times. Cirkunov is an excellent submission specialist, but a glass chin has lead to plenty of inconsistency over the course of his run with the company. Misha is 2-3 in his last five fights dating back to May 2017, with all three losses coming via knockout.
Spann is considerably taller and lankier than Cirkunov, although he too generates virtually all of his offense through his ground game. Spann had an eight-fight winning streak snapped this past September after being knocked out by Johnny Walker in just under three minutes. Spann (like Cirkunov), looks the part of a potential contender at 205 pounds, but he's made a living beating up fringe competition, and there's nothing in his background to suggest that's going to change any time soon.
Although Spann has displayed little power, I expect Cirkunov to attempt to lean on his wrestling to pick up the win here. He averages 4.42 takedowns per 15 minutes, while Spann defends them at just a 60 percent clip. Cirkunov will have to be aware of Spann's 6-foot-5 frame if he finds himself in top position, but I guarantee Misha would take his chances there as opposed to getting punched in the face given the ongoing concerns surrounding his chin.
I want to take Spann because I think he's a decent DraftKings value given the fact this is essentially a pick 'em, but I'm worried Cirkunov is going to control him on the mat for the entire fight.
THE PICK: Cirkunov
Editor's Note: Shortly after publication of this column, this scheduled heavyweight matchup was postponed due to an unspecified injury. It's expected to be rescheduled for a date in the near future.
This one was originally scheduled to be Ige v. Ryan Hall. That would have been awesome considering Hall rarely fights, but he was forced to withdraw, giving Tucker a massive opportunity.
A 34-year-old Canadian, Tucker is off to a quick start in the UFC, sporting a 4-1 record, with a unanimous-decision defeat at the hands of Rick Glenn his only setback. The Glenn fight is the only loss of Tucker's decade-plus long MMA career, and he appears to be genuinely improving each time we see him. Tucker is very stout and strong despite being just 5-foot-6. He's probably a tad bit better on the mat than on the feet, but his southpaw striking stance often gives his opposition trouble, and his cardio has looked good recently. I'm generally dubious of a soon-to-be 35-year-old who has never really faced any high-level opposition, but Tucker is unquestionably trending in the right direction.
Ige's UFC run has been an overwhelming success. He joined the company in mid-2017 as nothing more than roster depth and has since picked up wins over names like Edson Barboza and Mirsad Bektic. Ige is very, very quick in terms of his striking and does an excellent job of stringing together combinations. There's not a ton here in terms of knockout power, but Ige excels at fighting to his strengths and has never been stopped in his pro career. There's a realistic chance we have already seen the best Ige has to offer, but even that would make him an easy top-15 featherweight with a realistic case to be ranked in the back half of the top-10.
This pick of Tucker is being made from a pure value perspective. Ige is probably better, but if we generally believe we have already seen the best he has to offer, then Tucker makes sense given the $1000 discount he provides. I expect this to be close and competitive.
THE PICK: Tucker
Hill and Yoder were scheduled to fight a couple weeks ago in a bout that came together on just days notice, but one of Yoder's trainers tested positive for COVID-19 and the bout had to be pushed back a bit.
Coming off back-to-back, split-decision losses to Claudia Gadelha and Michelle Waterson, Hill needs a victory here. Hill's career UFC record is just 6-7 over the course of two stints with the company, but she's fought better than that number would indicate and has far more talent than her below-.500 mark would lead you to believe. Hill is an excellent striker. She also has excellent cardio and is deceptively strong. In short, despite being on the wrong side of some questionable judges decisions, there is no real reason for her mediocre record. I'm a fan, but it's difficult to believe Hill is going to go on some sort of prolonged winning streak given the fact she turned 36 years of age last month.
Like Hill, Yoder is below .500 with the UFC, sporting a 3-5 mark. She likely would have been cut had she lost to Miranda Granger this past November, but Yoder took unanimous decision to snap a two-fight losing streak. The exact opposite of Hill, Yoder generates all her offense off the mat. She has four career wins via submission and four via decision. She has no power and her striking is awkward. Yoder's greatest attributes are her ground game, durability (she's never been knocked out) and large frame (5-foot-7) for the division.
Neither woman has an edge as far as training given the fact both learned about this fight at the same time. Although Hill is a boxer, she also boasts an impressive 77 percent takedown defense and I see no chance Yoder remains competitive here in a kickboxing match. The hand speed and the technique of Hill appear to be far too much for Yoder to overcome. Anyone betting on Yoder as an underdog or using her in their DK lineup is simply hoping for an unforeseen submission.
THE PICK: Hill
Jinh Yu Frey (9-6-0) v. Gloria de Paula (4-2-0)
DK Salaries: Frey ($7,400), de Paula ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Frey (+165), de Paula (-185)
Odds to Finish: +245
THE PICK: de Paula