This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The UFC makes a rare pay-per-view appearance on a Friday, where Ronda Rousey will make her long-anticipated return to the Octagon.
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. Players get a $50,000 budget to select five fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings has altered their scoring system. The new point values are listed below and the rosters will now expand from 5 to 6 fighters).
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Advance (ADVC): +3 PT
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
Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
Advances include: To Half Guard, To Side Control, To Mount, To Back Control
Now, on to the fights...
Main Event - Women's Bantamweight Championship(C) Amanda Nunes (13-4-0) v. Ronda Rousey (12-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Nunes ($8,000), Rousey ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Nunes (+115), Rousey (-135)
In her three-and-a-half years with the company, Nunes has gone from roster depth to the UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion. She has a 6-1 record in the UFC, including wins over Germaine de Randamie, Sara McMann, Valentina Shevchenko, and Miesha Tate -- whom she beat for the title at UFC 200 in July. Nunes deserves more credit than she's gotten, but it's not surprising that the entire buildup of this fight has focused on Rousey.
Ronda was by far the most popular mainstream star in the company when she last fought in November 2015, although Conor McGregor may have since passed her in that category. Rousey's striking defense was so poor in her loss to Holly Holm that I'm not entirely convinced that she can improve to an acceptable level without switching to a different camp, a change that she has not been willing to make up to this point. I liked the idea of Rousey taking extended time off, but the truth of the matter is that we have no idea what her mindset is coming off the first loss of her career. She can beat anyone in a grappling match, but Nunes has a lot of power. If Ronda is going to stand around and let the champ unload on her with combinations, she's going to get walloped.
Nunes has legitimate knockout power. She is physically strong and has the ability to win grinding fights along the fence. I obviously don't love her chances if she lets Ronda grab a hold of a limb on the mat, but she has the ability to outmuscle the former champion in multiple different areas. Every single time Nunes has been presented with a challenge, she has passed it with flying colors. Nunes isn't going to be overwhelmed by the moment and certainly isn't going to beat herself. It's a massive advantage against Rousey, who seemingly has defeated many of her opponents before they step into the cage.
If this fight took place 14 or 15 months ago, I would wager that Rousey would have been somewhere in the area of a -750 favorite. All you have to do is look at the Vegas odds for this fight to tell you how far we have come. I think Nunes is a bad matchup for her. Rousey is far better off facing grappling-based opponents such as Tate or McMann. I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm taking Nunes. The biggest reason being that considering how poor Rousey's striking looked against Holm, I'm terrified that she isn't capable of making enough significant improvement to defeated a power-puncher like Nunes.
THE PICK: Nunes
Co-Main Event - Bantamweight Championship(C) Dominick Cruz (22-1-0) v. Cody Garbrandt (10-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Cruz ($8,700), Garbrandt ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Cruz (-220), Garbrandt (+180)
His body of work isn't large and there are probably more deserving contenders, but it's the correct time for the UFC to push the 25-year-old Garbrandt into a title fight. Unfortunately, his opportunity comes against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of the modern generation.
The only thing that has ever been able to derail Cruz is a persistent string of injuries. The only loss of his career came in a WEC fight against Urijah Faber in March 2007. This will be his third fight of 2016, which is mind boggling when taking into account that he fought just once from October 2011 to January of this year. Arguably the most conditioned fighter on the roster, Cruz is the only fighter in the world whose footwork can compare to that of Demetrious Johnson. T.J. Dillashaw has as much power as any fighter in the division, and his hands are as quick as any fighter in the division, but he couldn't come close to hitting Cruz on a regular basis during their striking exchanges in their title fight last January.
Garbrandt is 5-0 in the UFC and he has scored three consecutive first-round KO victories. This will be his fourth fight of 2016, but he's absorbed so little damage over the previous three fights that all the activity shouldn't impact his game in the least. Everyone knows about Garbrandt's power, but he's also an underrated wrestler. The issue in this fight is that the last thing any competitor wants to do is get into a grappling match with Cruz. I imagine that "No Love" will lean on his striking skills, and I can't see that ending well either. We have never seen anyone who has been able to consistently connect on Cruz. His ability to slide out of the way of shots where he appears to be cornered is magical. Garbrandt has the power to connect with one shot that starts a sequence that ends the fight, but the odds of it happening are slim.
I like Garbrandt, but I'm not convinced he's a future title-holder. Furthermore, there isn't a bantamweight fighter on the roster that I would pick over The Dominator. I know Garbrandt has good cardio, but I doubt he can match Cruz in that area. Cruz has an advantage in the championship rounds against every single fighter he faces. I see no reason why Friday would be any different. Someone will probably beat Cruz eventually -- that's the nature of this sport -- but other than an injury, I can't envision a scenario where it actually happens.
THE PICK: Cruz
NOTE: A heavyweight matchup between Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum has been cancelled, as Velasquez was forced to withdraw due to a problem with his medicals. Velasquez is scheduled to undergo surgery Jan. 4.
BantamweightT.J. Dillashaw (14-3-0) v. John Lineker (29-7-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Dillashaw ($8,800), Lineker ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Dillashaw (-250), Lineker (+210)
It's a shame in some ways that this fight is happening on a deep card such as this one, because it is getting entirely overlooked. Much like the Velasquez/Werdum fight (that was ultimately scrapped), it's hard to see a scenario in which the winner here doesn't emerge with a title shot.
Dillashaw was more than competitive in his loss to Cruz in January, and he rebounded from that setback with an easy, unanimous-decision win over the very talented Rafael Assuncao in July. T.J's quickness is the key to his success. His fast feet allow him to rip combinations and not get hit in return. He had trouble hitting Cruz, but everyone has problems hitting Cruz. I don't expect him to have issued landing against Lineker. I wouldn't be shocked if Dillashaw, knowing Lineker's power, leans on his wrestling in this fight. Agreeing to stand and trade with Lineker is only playing to Lineker's strengths.
Lineker was never a realistic threat at flyweight because he couldn't make weight on a regular basis, but he is a legitimate title contender at 135 pounds. He has so much power in his hands that he can finish opponents with shots that appear, on the surface, to do little damage. The Brazilian has won six fights in a row including back-to-back victories over top-flight opponents in John Dodson and Michael McDonald. I imagine that Lineker is going to have to outwork T.J. to win this fight because I think Dillashaw will land with more regularity on the feet. Lineker's big advantage is the fact that his power makes him a threat to end a fight at any instant.
Dillashaw deserves to be the favorite, heck, he fought Cruz to a split decision less than a year ago, but I think Lineker is being undervalued in this fight. His body was depleted when he tried to make the 126-pound flyweight limit, but he looks like a different guy at bantamweight. I hate the fact that this fight is going to seemingly burn one of the two best contenders to the title, but it was one that needed to happen. Give me T.J. to win in a close, competitive bout.
THE PICK: Dillashaw
FlyweightLouis Smolka (11-2-0) v. Ray Borg (9-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Smolka ($8,300), Borg ($7.900)
Vegas Odds: Smolka (-105), Borg (-115)
This fight should probably be on the prelims because crowds are generally dead for flyweight contests, but this is a good battle between two talented competitors.
Smolka saw his four-fight winning streaked snapped in October by late-notice replacement Brandon Moreno. He looked so strong prior to that contest that I'm willing to chalk up the first-round submission loss to Moreno to a fluke. Smolka is amongst the tallest fighters in the division (5-foot-9) and he has a massive height and reach edge on just about everyone he faces. He is going to have a five-inch advantage in both categories over Borg. Smolka's long limbs are a great asset in the submission game and he generally does a decent job on the feet, although his technique isn't the greatest at times.
All of Borg's striking numbers are skewed because he spends the vast majority of all his fights on the mat. If Borg can consistently land takedowns, he stands a good chance of winning. If he doesn't, which was the case in his last fight against Justin Scoggins when he went just 1-for-8, he is done. You have to be able to at least threaten your opposition on the feet if you hope of beating better opponents.
Smolka's takedown defense has been lousy over the course of his UFC career (36 percent), but his size advantage is going to come into play in this fight. I'm not entirely sure that Borg can get him to the mat and I'd easily take Smolka in a kickboxing match between the two men. I think there's a decent chance this fight goes the distance which makes both men poor DraftKings plays.
THE PICK: Smolka
WelterweightJohny Hendricks (17-5-0) v. Neil Magny (18-6-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Hendricks ($8,000), Magny ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Hendricks (-105), Magny (-115)
THE PICK: Hendricks
WelterweightDong Hyun Kim (21-3-1, 1NC) v. Tarec Saffiedine (16-5-0)
Note: This fight has been bumped up to the pay-per-view portion of Friday's card following the cancellation of the Velasquez/Werdum fight.
DraftKings Salaries: Kim ($8,500), Saffiedine ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Kim (-135), Saffiedine (+115)
THE PICK: Saffiedine
MiddleweightAntonio Carlos Junior (7-2-0, 1NC) v. Marvin Vettori (11-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Carlos Junior ($8,100), Vettori ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Carlos Junior (-135), Vettori (+115)
THE PICK: Carlos Junior
WelterweightMike Pyle (27-12-1) v. Alex Garcia (13-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Pyle ($7,600), Garcia ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Pyle (+140), Garcia (-160)
THE PICK: Garcia
WelterweightAlex Oliveira (15-3-1, 1NC) v. Tim Means (26-7-1)
DraftKings Salaries: Oliveira ($7,800), Means ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Oliveira (-105), Means (-115)
THE PICK: Means
WelterweightBrandon Thatch (11-4-0) v. Niko Price (8-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Thatch ($9,000), Price ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Thatch (-230), Price (+190)
THE PICK: Thatch