This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Two title fights and a long-time fan favorite headline one of the most anticipated cards of 2021, with DFS sites collectively upping their game for the high-profile affair.
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 $750k UFC 263 Special with$200k 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 - Middleweight Championship
This is a rematch of an April 2018 fight which Adesanya won via split decision. It was his second UFC bout, and oddly enough, took place at the Gila River Arena which will host Saturday's card.
Israel failed in his quest to become a two-division champion, suffering his first professional loss in a setback to Jan Blachowicz in early-March. Adesanya fought reasonably well in the fight, with the size difference between he and Blachowicz being his main impediment to securing a victory. It was difficult to watch that fight and not think Israel was the more talented mixed martial artist, but they have weight classes for a reason.
Vettori is undefeated since the first fight between the two, sporting a perfect 5-0 record. Four of the five wins came via unanimous decision, with one being a submission. None of the fights were close. Vettori remains a virtual unknown among casual fans, but he's really, really good, and I expect a strong performance from him here. The fact he torched Jack Hermansson in terms of both cardio and pace in his most recent bout was highly impressive. I expect Vettori to have a conditioning advantage should this fight see the championship rounds.
Vettori is the more likely of the two to try to wrestle (2.22 takedowns per 15 minute), but Israel's takedown defense is an excellent 82 percent, and I expect this to be a kickboxing match.
If that is indeed the case, the striking numbers are virtually identical in all areas. Vettori lands 4.14 significant strikes per minute, while Adesanya lands 3.93. Vettori absorbs 2.90 significant strikes per minute, while Israel eats 2.63. The main advantage for Adesanya is that he's four inches taller and enters with a whopping six-inch reach edge. We've seen Israel stand and distance and fire off a bunch of kicks to keep his opposition guessing. The smaller Vettori is going to have figure out a way to consistently get inside against a bigger opponent.
I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm going to take Vettori in an upset. He's fought Israel before, so he should have some idea how to deal with the size, and I know he's the better grappler. Vettori is a massive underdog and I think there's a ton of value on him whether you think he wins outright or not. I think he can match Adesanya's pace and win with volume.
It's nearly impossible to see Vettori winning in a rout, and that's what worries me the most. Close decisions tend to favor the champion and if you told me one fighter is going to dominate the other, I would assume Izzy retains. Still, I've been impressed enough with Vettori to roll the dice here.
THE PICK: Vettori
Co-Main Event - UFC Flyweight Championship
A December fight between these two was expected to be a routine victory for Figueiredo, but it ended up being one of the most entertaining bouts of the year and ended in a majority draw. Figueiredo may very well have deserved to win anyway, and he certainly would have won was he not (correctly) docked a point in Round 3 by referee Jason Herzog for a low blow. These two will run it back a little over six months later.
Figueiredo is the most explosive fighter in the division. He has the knockout power that very few 125-pounders possess and is a wizard on the mat. He was named 2020 Fighter of the Year by multiple online publications and appears to be improving with age. Figueiredo is a perfect 5-0-1 in his past half-dozen bouts and has just one pro loss in his career – a unanimous decision setback to Jussier Formiga back in March 2019.
Moreno was universally praised for his performance in the first bout. Very few gave him a chance of competing, let alone winning, and he proved everyone wrong. The most impressive aspect of Moreno's effort was his toughness. He ate dozens and dozens of shots from Figueiredo that easily would have stopped other fighters in the division. Moreno was also the better conditioned athlete. Figueiredo got lazy at times, and Moreno was in good enough shape to make him pay for it.
There is a clear physical advantage for Figueiredo. The power gap between the two is massive. Moreno can't come close to matching the Brazilian's explosiveness, especially in short bursts.
In short, I don't see how Moreno wins the rematch unless Figueiredo makes a mistake or enters the cage in poor shape. For starters, Moreno would have lost the first fight had Figueiredo not been docked the point I mentioned. Secondly, if Figueiredo is landing with regularity once again, what are the odds of Moreno being able to absorb all that punishment a second time without breaking?
Moreno surprised everyone once before and for that, he theoretically has some value as a punt DK play, but I don't think this fight will be anywhere near as competitive as the first one. You have to bet on skill and athleticism in this sport, and there is an overwhelming gap in those areas between these two, regardless of what we saw in the past.
THE PICK: Figueiredo
Few saw this one coming, but it's here and it's going to be the first non-title, five-round co-main event in UFC history.
This is a definitely a bigger fight for Edwards than Diaz. Leon is on the verge of earning a title shot at 170 pounds, while Nate is more of an attraction at this point. Edwards has been impacted by the COVID pandemic as much as any man on the roster. He was scheduled to fight Khamzat Chimaev multiple times, including this past March, before Chimaev was forced to again withdraw and Belal Muhammad stepped in. It was Leon's first fight since July 2019, and he looked very good while it lasted. Unfortunately, a vicious accidental eye poke early in Round 2 left Muhammad unable to continue, and the fight was ruled a no-contest. I do like the fact that Edwards is getting back into the Octagon quickly, because he may only be a fight or two away from his shot at gold considering his last loss came in December 2015 against current UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman.
Diaz has been on the sidelines for more than a year and a half, with his last fight being a loss to Jorge Masvidal in November 2019. Prior to that, he defeated Anthony Pettis and split back-to-back fights against Conor McGregor. Nate remains very popular. He recently turned 36 years of age, and I have always maintained that both Diaz brothers enjoy training and the competition portion of a fight. Nate is never going to step into the Octagon without a massive payday, and he obviously can't stand the media obligations, but I firmly believe he's all-in training-wise if he accepts a fight. I think he's going to show up ready to go on Saturday.
Edwards is two inches taller, but Diaz has a two-inch reach edge. Both men can mix in a takedown here and there, but the difference is that Edwards is a much better defensive wrestler. He defends the takedown at 70 percent, while Nate defends them at a woeful 42 percent clip. If Edwards has difficulty with the length of Diaz, I think he can successfully lean on his wrestling to rack up control time.
The only attraction to Diaz as an underdog option is his legendary durability. Literally everything else points to this being an easy win for Edwards. I'm not overthinking this one.
THE PICK: Edwards
Now 43 years old, Maia remains a top-10 welterweight at this point, which is an achievement in its own right considering he appeared to be completely done as recently as the middle of 2018. The BJJ wizard had a three-fight winning streak snapped with a first-round knockout loss to Gilbert Burns in March 2020. The knockout defeat was just the second of Maia's career and the first since August 2009. It's a stretch to think Demian can hang with the top guys in the division, but he should be able to remain plenty competitive as long as his chin holds up, and there's zero evidence of it fading right now.
Muhammad is fresh off his first main event showcase, a fight against Edwards this past March. Belal dropped the opening round before a vicious and accidental eye poke left him unable to continue early in Round 2. The fight was ruled a no-contest. It was a terrible break for Muhammad even if it came in a bout in which he appeared unlikely to win. The 32-year-old will enter having won eight of his last nine decisions.
Muhammad is the more fluent striker of the two, although neither man offers much in the way of stopping power. Maia is going to struggle in a prolonged kickboxing match against most anybody, but Muhammad leans on volume in the striking game.
The big question here is which man will be able to get his grappling game going. Maia is obviously a much more talented submission specialist, but Muhammad averages nearly two takedowns per 15 minutes (1.97), while Maia defends them at just a 61 percent clip. For comparison's sake, Muhammad defends the takedown at a stellar 85 percent.
Then we have to take into account the fact Muhammad is more than a decade younger. I don't love Muhammad given his price tag, but I still think he wins. Maia is going to have a ton of difficulty in anything other than a prolonged ground battle.
THE PICK: Muhammad
This is about a direct a breakdown as you will ever see. It's a classic striker vs. grappler matchup, and the result of this fight figures to be wholly dictated by where it takes place. It was also scheduled to take place three months ago before Hill tested positive for COVID-19.
Hill is a perfect 3-0 since earning his contract on Dana White's Contender Series. One of those wins was changed to a no-contest after Hill tested positive for marijuana in his post-fight screening, but he won that bout. Although the sample size is very small, Hill is averaging a whopping (and unsustainable) 7.90 significant strikes landed per minute. That number is going to drop over time, but to give you an idea of how ridiculous it is, Craig averages 2.40 landed per minute.
All 14 of Craig's career wins have come via stoppage, with two coming via knockout (including his most recent fight against Shogun Rua) and 12 via submission. He's a big (6-foot-3), strong guy, although he is giving up an inch in height and three inches in reach to Hill. Craig's striking numbers are extremely suppressed due to the fact that he spends the vast majority of his bouts on the mat. Craig may not be Maia on the mat, but he's really good and when you combine those skills with his strong cardio. It's an interesting package.
Common sense would dictate that the longer this fight goes, the more it favors Craig. That said, Craig is also at risk of being thoroughly overwhelmed every single second it remains standing. The gap between the two on the feet is that large.
Craig is plenty crafty and I wouldn't be the least bit shocked if he can keep this competitive if he can somehow avoid the early stoppage. For that reason, I don't love Hill at $9400 despite the fact I like him to win. That's a massive chunk of your budget on a fighter we don't have a ton of background on.
THE PICK: Hill
Lauren Murphy (14-4-0) v. Joanne Calderwood (15-5-0)
DK Salaries: Murphy ($8,000), Calderwood ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Murphy (+125), Calderwood (-145)
Odds to Finish: +225
THE PICK: Calderwood