This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The UFC again attempted to make a fight between Ferguson and current UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, but the current COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to that dream. Instead, Justin Gaethje will step in for the rare interim title fight that actually makes some sense.
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 $200,000 top prize in the MMA Million, which features $1,000,000 in guaranteed prizes. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
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 - Interim Lightweight Championship
Ferguson is the rare fighter who has gotten considerably better as he has aged. He has won a dozen fights in a row and is without a loss dating back to May 2012. Included in that streak are victories over Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Kevin Lee, Rafael dos Anjos and Edson Barboza. Ferguson is an unorthodox offensive wizard with legitimate power and an excellent ground game. He has no weaknesses. He has a much more well-rounded offensive arsenal than Gaethje and has displayed a willingness to use it. Ferguson clearly wants Khabib, but this is another big fight that he will be well compensated for, and I guarantee you he shows up ready to go.
Gaethje has had a more successful run in the UFC (4-2) than I expected, but he's still the same guy he has always been. And by that, I mean a pure one-dimensional brawler who pays zero attention to defense and refuses to use his secondary skills. Gaethje is a former Division I All-American wrestler, but since he never uses his abilities, he might as well not have them. Gaethje has a ton of power and is arguably the toughest and most entertaining fighter on the roster, so his success is somewhat understandable. Simply put, Gaethje can absorb whatever his opposition throws his way until he lands some bombs of his own.
Gaethje has won three-straight fights against quality opposition (Cerrone, Edson Barboza, James Vick), but Ferguson and Khabib are the consensus top two 155-pounders on the planet right now, and I think it's impossible to pick Gaethje against either of them. We always talk about Gaethje's toughness and rightfully so, but Ferguson has yet to be knocked out in his dozen years as a pro. He's shown a distinct ability to absorb a ton of punishment in his own right .
It's easier said than done, but Ferguson should be fine as long as he turns this into something other than a senseless brawl. Gaethje thrives when his opposition throws their game plan out the window and agrees to stand-and-bang with him. That's not Ferguson's strength to begin with, and I have to assume a fighter of his ability recognizes that.
Gaethje's durability makes him an intriguing underdog play given how cheap his DraftKings salary is here, but he's facing an opponent in Ferguson who is clearly a better all-around fighter and has proven to be just as durable over the course of his career. It's a big ask from Gaethje and a big ask from anyone in the division not named Khabib. A Ferguson v. Khabib fight remains arguably the biggest one the company can produce, so you know the result they're hoping for here. I think they get their wish.
THE PICK: Ferguson
Co-Main Event - UFC Bantamweight Championship
Cejudo was originally scheduled to defend his Bantamweight Championship against Jose Aldo at what was originally scheduled to be UFC 250 before the COVID-19 crisis forced the company to rearrange (and rename) their events. That would have been a compelling fight, but this matchup is better.
Cejudo continues to go about his business. The two-division champ won the bantamweight crown last July with a dominant knockout with over Marlon Moraes. His wrestling has obviously always been elite, but the improvements in both his striking and his cardio have been the main reasons for this epic run. I often said Cejudo could be one of the top fighters in the sport if he got his striking game to just solid average and I'd argue that area of his game is now a strength. I thought Cejudo would struggle with the size and physicality of the much bigger Moraes but he rolled through him without issue. Cejudo's quick and powerful for his size. He's going to need all that and then some against Cruz.
It will be more than 3.5 years by the time Cruz steps into the Octagon on Saturday. His most recent bout was a fight against Cody Garbrandt in December 2016 in which he lost his UFC Bantamweight Championship. Cruz had at least two fights scheduled since then and was forced to withdraw from both due to injury. His latest ailment was an arm issue. Cruz is undoubtedly one of the best 135 pounder's in the history of the sport, but what he has left in the tank is anyone's guess. Octagon rust is a very real thing regardless of what Cruz will tell you and this is a guy who has fought a grand total of three times since September 2014.
If he's in peak form, Cruz has the foot speed and cardio to potentially give Cejudo issues. That being said, Henry is a fairly easy pick for me here. He's been dominant of late and it's simply impossible to guess what type of effort we will get from Cruz. This is a match up I've been waiting to see for a long time and while we may not be getting Cruz at his best, it still should be a terrific fight. Fighters of Cruz's caliber rarely come in at $7400 so I advocate getting a piece of him somewhere in the (possible) event he pulls the upset.
THE PICK: Cejudo
Ask and you shall receive. Following his shocking win over Alistair Overeem in early December, Rozenstruik requested a fight against Ngannou and got his wish.
The Overeem win was shocking because Rozenstruik was four seconds away from dropping a clear cut unanimous decision. While the fight was fairly competitive, Rozenstruik was definitely getting the worse of it. Yet one big combination later, Jairzinho had picked up his fourth consecutive knockout win under the UFC banner. The concern entering this fight was that Rozenstruik might be nothing more than a one-punch knockout artist, and I think the Overeem fight confirmed that in many ways. His cardio isn't great, and his all-around game is poor. It's doesn't take much to defeat Overeem these days, and it took a miracle finish for Rozenstruik to do so.
Ngannou is chugging back towards a title shot following consecutive knockout wins over Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, and Junior dos Santos. The man I still contend to be the most terrifying fighter in the sport, no fighter around can turn an opponent's lights out as quickly and as viciously as Ngannou. Many of the concerns regarding Rozenstruik apply to Francis. His output tends to drop as fights progress, and as we saw in his loss to Stipe Miocic, he has issues against legitimate wrestlers. That's all well and good and an issue moving forward, but Ngannou has the power in his hands to make up the difference in most occasions.
Give Rozenstruik props for shooting his shot, but this seems like a terrible matchup for him. There's no reason to believe Rozenstruik will not engage Ngannou in a brawl and there is no way in the world I am picking any heavyweight in the world over Francis in a stand up bout. It's going to take something unforeseen for Rozenstruik to win this fight. Whether it be a wrestling/submission performance we don't expect from Rozenstruik, or Ngannou's chin folding, it's going to take something.
I wouldn't overthink this one. I think Ngannou wins this easily and fights for the title again at some point within the next 12 months. I remain sky high on his long-term potential despite some tough performances.
THE PICK: Ngannou
Winless in his past four fights and without a victory in well over two years, Stephens is fighting to retain a thin grip on featherweight relevance. At least all four of those previously-mentioned losses came against elite competition (Yair Rodriguez x2, Jose Aldo, Zabit Magomedsharipov). Stephens has never been one to turn down a bout and that needs to be taken into consideration when taking his recent struggles into account, but that excuse only works for so long.
Kattar is only 2-2 in his last four bouts, with his setbacks coming against Zabit Magomedsharipov and Renato Moicano. The victories came over Ricardo Lamas and Chris Fishgold. Kattar's 4-2 record with the company is quite impressive considering he was viewed as nothing more than roster depth upon his arrival back in July 2017.
This fight is extremely intriguing from a technical standpoint because these are two guys who stand toe-to-toe with their opposition and throw bombs. Stephens is known as one of the hardest hitters in the division, but Kattar's power is severely underrated. Kattar also owns a two-inch height and one-inch reach advantage here. Stephens probably has more one-punch knockout power, but Kattar possesses better footwork. Stephens is extremely stubborn and refuses to engage in anything other than all-out brawls with his opposition. It's really hard to win when you're so one-dimensional.
Stephens' power always makes him a worthy underdog DraftKings play. He's extremely cheap here, and I'd have no issues with getting a piece of him if you're someone who makes multiple lineups. MMA is really a MME sport when it comes to DFS. Still, I find it pretty difficult to pick him here. Kattar moves better, he's two years younger, has far less MMA miles on his body, and I trust his durability a bit more than Stephens'.
THE PICK: Kattar
A natural atomweight (105 pounds), Waterson continues to spin her wheels at 115 pounds, unable to get on any sort of roll and limited by the lack of physicality in which she fights with. Waterson had won back-to-back fights before being run out of the building by Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a main event spot in her most recent fight last October. Waterson was only able to get Joanna to the mat once, and she never had a prayer of winning against Jedrzejczyk in an extended kickboxing match. Waterson turned 34 years of age this past January, and I don't expect a ton from her moving forward.
Esparza is fresh off a majority decision victory and Fight of the Night performance against Alexa Grasso in September. Esparza is actually an inch shorter than Waterson, but she fights much more physically. Esparza lands more than 3.5 takedowns per 15 minutes worth of action. Her takedown accuracy is lousy (36 percent), and her takedown defense is atrocious (48 percent), so Esparza's path to victory against a talented submission specialist like Waterson isn't as straight forward as her skill set would lead you to believe.
I'm not crazy about either fighter here. I don't think Waterson fights physically enough to consistently succeed at 115 pounds, and Esparza's offensive game is all but non-existent if she isn't landing takedowns. Something is going to have to give here. I think Waterson is the more naturally talented fighter but I'm not entirely convinced that's going to be enough here.
Regular readers know I'm no great supporter of Esparza, but my guess is that she takes a boring, grinding decision here. I'm just really having a difficult time getting behind Waterson given her recent struggles and slight frame.
THE PICK: Esparza
Uriah Hall (16-9-0) v. Jacare Souza (26-8-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Hall ($7,900), Souza ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Hall (+120), Souza (-120)
Odds to Finish: -140
THE PICK: Souza