This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Two title fights headline the UFC's return to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. This means the long run in Las Vegas is temporarily over, and we're back to the regular, 30-foot Octagon overseas.
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 $500k UFC 253 Special with $100k going to first place. 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 - Middleweight Championship
This is the only fight that makes sense at the moment at 185 pounds, and it's great to see the UFC get it done following some back-and-forth and posturing from both sides.
Adesanya won the UFC Middleweight Championship from Robert Whittaker last October. He looked brilliant in battering one of the toughest guys in the sport. Israel returned in March to make his first title defense, taking a unanimous decision from Yoel Romero. It was one of the worst title fighters in UFC history. Adesanya definitely won, but neither man did much of anything in what was expected to be an action-packed bout. Adesanya is a perfect 19-0 as a pro, with eight of those wins coming in the UFC. Israel's calling card is obviously his striking, but he's deceptively strong and able to defend takedowns to avoid going to the mat. He's also still just 31 years old.
Also undefeated as a pro, Costa is a perfect 5-0 in the UFC. He began his UFC run with four straight knockout wins before taking a unanimous decision from Romero in his most recent fight in August 2019. Like Romero, Costa looks like a real-life super hero. His power is truly ridiculous. Although he fights at middleweight, the Brazilian probably walks around at well north of 225 pounds. The concerns surrounding Costa are his all-around game, in addition to his gas tank. Any guy who carries around that much muscle on his frame is going to tire out quickly. Adesanya, on the other hand, is tall and lean.
I'm highly, highly intrigued to see how this one plays out. Adesanya is three inches taller than Costa and enters with a whopping eight-inch reach edge. As I mentioned earlier, he also should have a substantial edge in the cardio department during a five-round fight. Knowing how much he's giving up to Costa in the pure power department, I wonder if Israel will spend the first couple of rounds playing defense. He can try to tire Costa out before picking up the pace as the fight progresses.
I went back and forth on this one. I wanted to pick Adesanya due to his massive technical edge, but couldn't get past Costa's power and the salary relief he provides. I would feel a heck of a lot better about Israel if he was more like $8200 or $8300 as opposed to $8500. The longer this fight goes, the more it favors him, so expect Costa to push the pace early in hopes of securing a quick stoppage. I expect this to be highly entertaining.
THE PICK: Costa
Co-Main Event - Vacant Light Heavyweight Championship
Reyes and Blachowicz will battle for the vacant UFC Light Heavyweight Championship following Jon Jones' decision to relinquish the title in August, presumably to make a run at heavyweight.
Speaking of Jones, he and Reyes fought this past February, with Jones taking a unanimous decision. The end result doesn't tell the whole story. Reyes looked exceptional in that fight. He was more than competitive in a stand-up battle against arguably the greatest fighter of all time and showed he is clearly a top-tier light heavyweight. Reyes is an exceptional kickboxer. He throws a ton of kicks and has legitimate power. He's tall and possesses excellent technique on the feet. Quite honestly, it's difficult to believe he has been a professional for less than six years and has all of 13 professional fights under his belt. Reyes offers little on the mat from an offensive standpoint, but his takedown defense up to this point has been exceptional (82 percent). Assuming Jones has truly moved on, Reyes is probably the best striker in the division.
Regular readers of this column know I haven't been Blachowicz's biggest supporter of the years, but there is no denying the results. He's 7-1 in his past eight fights dating back to October 2017, with victories over Jared Cannonier, Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo Souza, and Corey Anderson during that span. Blachowicz has been so good over the past few years that he has been rewarded with four $50,000 Performance of the Night bonuses (and five total bonuses) in his last eight fights.
Blachowicz isn't a sexy fighter. He tends to be slow and methodical inside the Octagon, preferring to pick his spots as opposed to firing off consistent combinations. On the surface, that sounds like a bad game plan against Reyes, but it's worked for Blachowicz so far.
Win or lose, it's remarkable Blachowicz even made it this far. This is a guy who lost four of five fights from April 2015 to April 2017 and appeared to be on the verge of being released. Three and a half years later, he will fight for UFC gold.
I don't see how you can pick him given the respective skill sets of the two men and what we have seen from Reyes since his debut, but Blachowicz continues to defy the odds and there are definitely worse ways to spend $7200. I think Reyes wins via decision.
THE PICK: Reyes
A member of the UFC roster for about two years now, Kara-France is sporting a 4-1 mark with the company. While the record is perfectly fine, a deeper dig reveals some concerns. All four of KKF's victories (and his one defeat) have come via decision. The one loss also came against by far the best opponent he has faced to date in Brandon Moreno. Kara-France is a pure striker, a fact that shouldn't come as a surprise considering he trains with the same City Kickboxing team as Adesanya, UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski and Dan Hooker. I'm confident in KKF's ability to compete on the feet, but I have concerns about his all-around game.
Making his UFC debut this past May on about a week's notice, Royval submitted veteran Tim Elliott midway through Round 2. The end result was terrific, but Royval looked pretty bad throughout the early portion of the fight. Elliott was in firm control until he gassed out and allowed Royval an opening to finish the bout. Royval is the exact opposite of Kara-France in the sense that virtually all of his offensive is generated on the mat. He has seven career wins via submission and has yet to be knocked out.
Our sample size regarding both these fighters are small, but this card gets pretty thin pretty quickly and DraftKings players will have to make a stand somewhere. I'm just not sure this is the place. Kara-France is an easy straight-up pick, but he's overpriced and I'd look elsewhere if I were spending that much money. Same goes for Royval as an underdog.
THE PICK: Kara-France
This was scheduled to be Vieira v. Marion Reneau before the latter was forced to withdraw due to an undisclosed injury.
Vieira was viewed as a highly regarded prospect following four straight wins to begin her UFC run. Included in that stretch were victories over Cat Zingano (split decision) and Sara McMann (submission). Vieira appeared to be on the fringes of title contention heading into a fight against Irene Aldana last December before being knocked out with nine seconds remaining in Round 1. The eye test with Vieira never quite matched her results. She's reasonably athletic and solid on the mat, but she doesn't have much power and has spent the vast majority of her MMA career beating up on lower-end opposition. I imagine she will has enough gas in the tank to get my Eubanks, but it's a stretch to label her as any type of legitimate contender.
Eubanks will be fighting for the second time in the past three weeks. Entering as a very significant +250 underdog, Eubanks went out and took a 29-27 x3 unanimous decision from Julia Avila at the UFC Apex in Vegas on September 12. Eubanks is extremely limited from an athletic standpoint but was able to turn the Avila fight into an ugly, physical brawl and managed to emerge victorious. Eubanks' ceiling is extremely limited due to both her age (36 next April) and the previously-mentioned lack of athleticism, but she just managed to win a fight in which I gave her little-to-no chance. Perhaps she can pull another upset, but I don't see how you can predict that.
THE PICK: Vieira
It's not getting any publicity, but this is probably the best fight on the entire card other than the two title bouts.
Dawodu has proven to be must-see TV over the course of his first five UFC bouts. He was submitted by Danny Henry in 39 seconds in his company debut in March 2018 but has since run off four straight wins, including a knockout and pair of split decisions. Dawodu -- an eight-fight WSOF/PFL veteran and former kickboxer -- is a pure striker and reckless brawler. His power is legitimate, but Dawodu is the type of fighter who will eat a punch to land two of his own and that style of fighting rarely works against better competition. Tukhugov isn't a top-tier featherweight, but he's clearly the best opponent Dawodu has seen to date.
"The Warrior" is 4-1-1 in his first half dozen UFC bouts. He's barely fought despite being in the company for nearly seven years. During that span, Tukhugov served a two-year USADA suspension, in addition to being suspended for being involved in the Conor McGregor/Khabib Nurmagomedov post-fight fiasco following their UFC 229 bout in October 2018. His lone defeat with the company was a split decision setback to Renato Moicano. We all know how good Moicano has become, but that fight came nearly 3.5 ago. Tukhugov seems more than likely to engage Dawodu in the brawl he is seeking, and thus this is shaping up to be an entertaining fight.
I'd feel better about Tukhugov if he fought a bit more often, but Dawodu's brawling tendencies scare me. Guys can only fight that way for so long before a talent opponent steps up and stops them. It might not happen here, but it's a decent bet considering both men have virtually the same DraftKings salary.
THE PICK: Tukhugov
Juan Espino (10-1-0) v. Jeff Hughes (10-3-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Espino ($9,100), Hughes ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Espino (-290), Hughes (+245)
Odds to Finish: -265
THE PICK: Espino
Khadis Ibragimov (8-3-0) v. Danilo Marques (9-2-0)
DK Salaries: Ibragimov ($8,700), Marques ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Ibragimov (-170), Marques (+150)
Odds to Finish: -150
THE PICK: Ibragimov