This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.Note (7/5): Since the posting of this article, the co-main event -- a featherweight title fight between Max Holloway and Brian Ortega -- has been pulled from the card, as Holloway is dealing with concussion symptoms. It appears unlikely a replacement opponent will be scheduled for Ortega.
Fight fans, International Fight Week is upon us. This year treats us to a similar schedule as past years, with a TUF 27 Finale card Friday, followed by the long-anticipated UFC 226 event Saturday. Below I'll break down the matchups on Saturday's pay-per-view card and offer my picks for the remainder of the biggest MMA DFS event of 2018.
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 six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings altered their scoring system in December 2016 to add a new fighter to the lineup and adjust scoring. The most recent point values are listed below.)
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 - Heavyweight Championship(C) Stipe Miocic (18-2-0) v. (LHC) Daniel Cormier (20-1-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Miocic ($8,900), Cormier ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Miocic (-240), Cormier (+220)
Odds to Finish: -130
This is hands down one of the best and most intriguing fights that the UFC could have possibly booked. The heavyweight division is lacking legitimate title contenders, and combined with the fact Cormier has openly talked about retiring in the near future, the time to make this bout was now.
Stipe recently did what many (myself included) thought was the near impossible, and that was defeat Francis Ngannou. Miocic hung on early until Ngannou's gas tank quickly drained and then dominated the fight the rest of the way. The win was Miocic's third straight successful title defense, a staggering number in a division in which the belt seemingly changes hands as often as the average person uses the restroom. Although he'll turn 36 years old next month, Stipe is built for the long haul. He keeps himself in terrific shape, he's an excellent athlete that displays consistent, strong footwork and he has shown the ability to fight you on the mat or on the feet.
Cormier's two losses to Jon Jones seem likely to tarnish his legacy a bit when his finally hangs up his gloves, but they shouldn't. Jones removed himself from that equation with multiple positive drug tests, and DC has since gone out and proven time and time again that he is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Outside of Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, the UFC has had a difficult time finding any light heavyweight that can give Cormier a decent fight. DC's most recent fight was an easy second-round KO win over a thoroughly overmatched Volkan Oezdemir in January. Despite giving up height and strength to most every opponent he faces, Cormier has still been able to grind his opposition into dust. Whether or not that continues on Saturday will determine if DC walks out of T-Mobile Arena on Saturday with two belts or just one.
DC generally deserves the benefit of the doubt in terms of beating bigger opponents, but I think Stipe will just be too much to handle. Cormier's wrestling is all-world, but Miocic has displayed solid takedown defense (75 percent) throughout the course of his time with the company. Furthermore, the size differential between the two men is going to make it difficult for Cormier to get the leverage he needs to get Stipe to the mat. When you add in the fact that Miocic has more power in his hands than DC, this is a fairly easy pick for me. It's not that I think Stipe is a better mixed martial artist than DC, I just feel Cormier is giving up too much in the size and strength department. That being said, DC is an exceptional DraftKings value play. There will probably never be another instance in which one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world is available at such a low salary. Owners with multiple lineups have to get a piece of Cormier somewhere.
THE PICK: Miocic
Co-Main Event - Featherweight Championship(C) Max Holloway (19-3-0) v. Brian Ortega (14-0-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Holloway ($8,300), Ortega ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Holloway (-145), Ortega (+135)
Odds to Finish: -135
THE PICK: Holloway
HeavyweightFrancis Ngannou (11-2-0) v. Derrick Lewis (19-5-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Ngannou ($9,300), Lewis ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Ngannou (-380), Lewis (+315)
Odds to Finish: -420
Ngannou got a rude awakening in his loss to Miocic. He learned that there is more to this sport than just knocking out your opponent in mere seconds. Ngannou's cardio betrayed him, and although he hung around to see the final bell, he was essentially finished after the first round came to a close. He is going to have to fix that issue if he ever wants to become UFC Heavyweight Champion, but I expect he wins on Saturday whether the problem has been rectified or not. Ngannou remains arguably the most dangerous finisher in the entire company, and an opponent like Lewis appears to be a tailor-made matchup for The Predator.
Lewis fights identically to Ngannou in the sense that his cardio is non-existent, and he spends the entirety of his fights trying to knock his opponent's head off. It often works. In fact, nine of Lewis' 10 UFC wins have come via knockout, and he has openly admitted that he has no plans on changing his style of fighting. It's darn entertaining and has resulted in Lewis already racking up four $50,000 post-fight bonuses, but it's a strategy that isn't going to pay off for him in long run.
Not only would I be shocked if this fight went the distance, I'll be surprised if it gets out of the first round. When you have two guys the size of Ngannou and Lewis throwing haymakers at each other, someone is going to sleep. DraftKings owners will have to evaluate the risk/reward factor of Ngannou the next time he goes up against an opponent that can make him work for an extended period of time, but Lewis isn't that type of fighter.
THE PICK: Ngannou
LightweightMichael Chiesa (14-3-0) v. Anthony Pettis (20-7-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Chiesa ($8,600), Pettis ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Chiesa (-165), Pettis (+145)
Odds to Finish: -110
These two were originally scheduled to battle at UFC 223 in April, but the antics of Conor McGregor and his crew resulted in Chiesa being cut by shards of glass and the cancellation of the fight. They will take another shot at it Saturday in Sin City.
A loss to Kevin Lee in his last fight in June 2017 snapped a three-bout win streak for Chiesa. Although it will be 13 months in between fights for Maverick, Chiesa has fought just once a year for the majority of his professional career and the extended layoff seems unlikely to impact his performance at all. Chiesa has a significant size advantage over Pettis (three inches in both height and reach), and given Showtime's recent struggles, I think Chiesa should be in good shape as long as he doesn't do anything foolish.
Pettis has been trending downwards for the past three years. Once viewed as one of the better pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, Showtime is 2-5 in his last five fights dating back to March 2015. I have spoken about this in the past, but Pettis looks as if he is overthinking inside the Octagon. Instead of just reacting to what his opposition throws his way, the former UFC Lightweight Champion appears hesitant and confused. It's amazing this is the same guy that was using world-class athleticism to overwhelm the best in the world not all that long ago.
Given where these two are at in their respective careers, I don't see how you can pick against Chiesa here. He's bigger, has looked far better of late, and has enough experience against high-level competition that he's highly unlikely to beat himself. Pettis may very well see the final bell, but I don't think he wins. I essentially refuse to pick Showtime against any half-way decent opponent until I see some improvement.
THE PICK: Chiesa
Light HeavyweightGokhan Saki (1-1-0) v. Khalil Rountree Jr. (7-3-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Saki ($8,400), Rountree Jr. ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Saki (-145), Rountree Jr. (+125)
Odds to Finish: -410
These two were also scheduled to fight at an earlier date. A Saki knee injury caused him to withdraw from a bout that was due to take place at UFC 219 in December.
A former Glory Kickboxing Light Heavyweight Champion, Saturday will be Saki's second appearance with the UFC. His debut was a first-round KO win over Henrique da Silva in September. While Saki's striking skills are obviously world-class, he is inexperienced in the world of mixed martial arts. This will be only his third professional fight and considering Saki will turn 35 years old in October, his athletic prime has long since passed.
Rountree's first five fights with the company (2-2, 1NC) have been up and down. The 28-year-old hits hard and is a terrific athlete, but his all-around game is also somewhat limited. Rountree should have a significant strength advantage over Saki and hopefully he is smart enough to realize that getting into a striking contest with a former two-time European Muay Thai Champion is a bad idea.
This fight has the potential to be highly entertaining, but I advocate avoiding it from a DraftKings perspective. We have limited data on both men and this is a deep enough card that you should easily be able to fill out your lineup with fighters who have a history with the company. I'm going with Rountree as the slight underdog value play, albeit with little confidence.
THE PICK: Rountree
MiddleweightUriah Hall (14-8-0) v. Paulo Costa (11-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Hall ($6,800), Costa ($9,400)
Vegas Odds: Hall (+345), Costa (-430)
Odds to Finish: -290
THE PICK: Costa
WelterweightPaul Felder (15-3-0) v. Mike Perry (11-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Felder ($7,400), Perry ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Felder (-145), Perry (+115)
Odds to Finish: -165
THE PICK: Felder
BantamweightRaphael Assuncao (26-5-0) v. Rob Font (15-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Assuncao ($9,100), Font ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Assuncao (-165), Font (+145)
Odds to Finish: +180
THE PICK: Assuncao
WelterweightCurtis Millender (15-3-0) v. Max Griffin (14-4-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Millender ($8,700), Griffin ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Millender (-160), Griffin (+140)
Odds to Finish: -120
THE PICK: Millender
LightweightDan Hooker (16-7-0) v. Gilbert Burns (14-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Hooker ($8,500), Burns ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Hooker (-135), Burns (+115)
Odds to Finish: -165
THE PICK: Hooker
LightweightLando Vannata (9-2-1) v. Drakkar Klose (8-1-1)
DraftKings Salaries: Vannata ($9,000), Klose ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Vannata (-185), Klose (+160)
Odds to Finish: +135
THE PICK: Vannata
Women's StraweightJamie Moyle (4-2-0) v. Emily Whitmire (2-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Moyle ($9,200), Whitmire ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Moyle (-230), Whitmire (+190)
Odds to Finish: +270
THE PICK: Whitmire