DraftKings MMA: UFC 288 Preview

DraftKings MMA: UFC 288 Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

UFC 288 takes place Saturday, and Jon Litterine is back to break down the top fights, plus offer his DFS picks and predictions for the key matchups on the card.

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 $600k UFC 288 Special with $200k to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring rules are noted at the bottom of the column. Let's get to the action...

Main Event - Bantamweight Championship

(C) Aljamain Sterling (22-3-0) v. Henry Cejudo (16-2-0)
DK Salaries: Sterling ($8,100), Cejudo ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Sterling (-105), Cejudo (-115)
Odds to Finish: +100

Sterling has gotten a lot of flack in recent years, mostly due to the fact he originally won the title as the result of eating an illegal knee from Petr Yan in March 2021. His detractors fail to mention he defeated Yan in a rematch a year later before knocking out an overmatched (and injured) TJ Dillashaw last October. Aljo has won eight fights in a row dating back to April 2018. He's legitimate.

The big story in this fight is the return of Cejudo. Now 36 years of age, we haven't seen Henry since May 2020. A former multi-divisional champion at both bantamweight and flyweight, Cejudo hasn't lost a fight since December 2016. Henry had been outspoken about his contract situation in the past and it's a safe bet he's being well compensated to return here, and deservedly so.

It's well known Cejudo won a Gold Medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in freestyle wrestling, but his MMA never really took off until he improved his striking. Once a weakness, by the time he stepped aside, Cejudo's stand-up had turned into a strength. His last three wins, over Dominick Cruz, Marlon Moraes and Dillashaw, all came via knockout. It's also important to note those three victories came at a time each of those men were widely considered among the best in the world in the weight class.

The time off is a concern, as is Cejudo's age. Yet, my main concern regarding Henry is how he will go about negating Sterling's massive size advantage. Aljo will enter with a three-inch edge in height and a massive seven-inch edge in reach. He's big for the division, and he fights with physicality, so while the technical and pedigree edge in terms of wrestling is clearly on Cejudo's side, it's not as simple as him pushing forward and throwing a guy with a woeful 41 percent takedown defense to the mat. 

This is a pick 'em in every sense of the word. Maybe it's happened before, but this is the first time I can't remember two main event fighters entering with the exact same DK salary.

When push comes to shove, as great as Cejudo has been in the past, I see just too many risks backing an aging fighter that has spent so long on the sidelines. Henry spent a long time competing at flyweight, while Sterling is prepping for a run at featherweight. It's most definitely something else to consider if you are having a hard time making a pick for this fight. The size differential is real. 

THE PICK: Sterling
 

Co-Main Event - Welterweight

Belal Muhammad (22-3-0, 1NC) v. Gilbert Burns (22-5-0)
DK Salaries: Muhammad ($8,000), Burns ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Muhammad (+110), Burns (-135)
Odds to Finish: +100

This card was left without a co-main event following the cancellation of the scheduled Charles Oliveira v. Beneil Dariush bout. Remarkably, Burns and Muhammad agreed to a five-round co-headliner just a few weeks ago in what projected as a title eliminator at 170 pounds. Both men deserve major kudos for accepting such a high-stakes fight on such short notice. 

We saw Burns just last month, at which point he was blowing through Jorge Masvidal in a lopsided unanimous decision win. Gilbert is 9-2 in his last 11 bouts, although those two losses came in his most important fights, a championship bout with Kamaru Usman and a fight against Khamzat Chimaev. It should be noted that although Burns came up short, he had his moments in both fights.

One of the hottest fighters in the sport today, Muhammad enters having won eight straight and unbeaten in his last nine (8-0, 1NC). He has just a single defeat datng back to November 2016. Belal is one of the rare competitors that has gotten legitimately better as he has aged. The same can be said for Burns. 

Both of these men are big, thick fighters that rely on physicality to be successful. We all know about Burns' grappling exploits. A third degree BJJ black belt, Gilbert has won countless grappling competitions over the years. He's the last guy in the welterweight division you want to be rolling around on the mat with.

Muhammad's success has been based around toughness, durability and some timely wrestling. He's been knocked out just once in his professional career. Belal averages 2.19 takedowns per 15 minutes, but defends the takedown at a remarkable 92 percent clip. For comparison's sake, Burns averages 2.16 takedowns per 15 minutes, but his takedown defense is a woeful 47 percent. Belal should be content with simply remaining upright in this fight. That will take away Gilbert's greatest weapon and should give him an opening to potentially win this in the stand-up.  

I went back and forth here many times, but I just think Muhammad has more to offer if he is able to remain upright, and everything we have seen from him in the past suggests he will be able to do so. I also trust Belal's cardio a bit more if this fight goes the distance. It should be close and competitive throughout.

THE PICK: Muhammad
 

Women's Strawweight

Jessica Andrade (24-10-0) v. Yan Xiaonan (16-3-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Andrade ($8,800), Yan ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Andrade (-200), Yan (+160)
Odds to Finish: +100

Never one to turn down a fight, Andrade agreed to face unknown yet-highly-talented prospect Erin Blanchfield on extremely short notice this past February and paid for it. She wasn't the least bit competitive before being submitted via rear-naked choke early in Round 2. Of course, it may just be that Blanchfield is really, really good. After all, Andrade's four prior setbacks all came against former UFC champions (Valentina Shevchenko, Rose Namajunas, Zhang Weili, Joanna Jedrzejczyk). 

Yan's UFC run has been a strange one. Her 7-2 record is perfectly fine, but a deeper dive reveals some concerns. For starters, all seven of those wins have come via decision. Sooner or later, you're going to have to stop your opposition. Second, her two losses came against her two best opponents to date, Carla Esparza and Marina Rodriguez. Set to turn 34 years of age in mid-July, Yan looks like a competent top-10 strawweight with little ceiling beyond that.

I'm slightly worried Andrade is stepping back into the Octagon a bit too soon given how poorly the Blanchfield fight went, but other than that, this sets up as an excellent matchup for her.

Yan is vulnerable on the feet, and there's zero doubt which fighter has the power advantage. Jessica can be reckless in the stand-up at times and that's concerning, but Yan's complete inability thus far to get finishes helps negate those concerns some.

Not only is Andrade better in the stand-up, but she also should have a significant strength advantage. Jessica isn't a wrestler in the traditional sense, but she's so damn strong she can power in for takedowns regardless.

Assuming the Blanchfield defeat was simply a blip on the radar as opposed to the start of a potential downfall, I expected Andrade to handle Yan with little issue. I have no interest in the latter as a DK savings option.

THE PICK: Andrade
 

Featherweight

Kron Gracie (5-1-0) v. Charles Jourdain (13-6-1)
DK Salaries: Gracie ($7,500), Jourdain ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Gracie (+165), Jourdain (-200)
Odds to Finish: -250

This is a strange fight for a pay-per-view main card opener and a particularly difficult fight to break down from a technical standpoint.

Yes, Gracie comes from the most famous BJJ family in the history of the sport. He's won countless grappling tournaments and can certainly submit any man on earth if given the chance. He also will be 35 years of age in early-July, has all of six professional MMA fights under his belt and has competed in the sport since October 2019. There's no way to predict with any confidence whatsoever the type of effort we will get from Gracie on Saturday.

Jourdain, on the other hand, has been very active, fighting three times in both 2021 and 2022. He had won three of his prior four before recent back-to-back decision defeats to Nathaniel Wood and Shane Burgos, leaving Jourdain in a must-win situation here. Charles is one of those guys with the ability to look good in defeat, and his action-packed style is a ton of fun to watch, so maybe he can beat the odds even with a loss and stick around, but it would be a major risk. 

The last time we saw Gracie, he was dropping a unanimous decision to Cub Swanson. Cub is no pushover, but Kron's fight IQ appeared to be severely lacking in that bout. He attempted just two takedowns, failing on both. He decided to try and go punch-for-punch with a seasoned veteran and paid for it. He would be looking at a similar outcome should he employ such a game plan against Jourdain. 

Charles is reckless on the feet and can be sucked into brawls, but oddly enough, that would be a best-case scenario for him against a one-dimensional mat specialist in Gracie. 

Jourdain has been submitted once in 20 professional fights, so I certainly wouldn't say that's a weakness of his. He is certainly well aware of Gracie's skill set and should be fine as long as he can stay upright. The fact Charles has been taken down in five straight fights is highly concerning, but it's not as if Gracie is a seasoned wrestler.

The bottom line is that it's impossible to pick a soon-to-be 35-year-old with six professional fights under his belt who hasn't competed in 3.5 years. There are fringe-roster fighters Gracie could probably overwhelm based on sheer talent alone, but Jourdain isn't one of those guys. He's a legitimately skilled featherweight.

THE PICK: Jourdain
 

Other Bouts

Featherweight
Movsar Evloev (16-0-0) v. Diego Lopes (21-5-0)
DK Salaries: Evloev ($9,400), Lopes ($6,800)
Vegas Odds: Evloev (-900), Lopes (+550)
Odds to Finish: TBD
UFC 288 PICK: Evloev

Lightweight
Drew Dober (26-11-0, 1NC) v. Matt Frevola (10-3-1)
DK Salaries: Dober ($9,200), Frevola ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Dober (-225), Frevola (+180)
Odds to Finish: -250
THE PICK: Dober

Light Heavyweight
Kennedy Nzechukwu (11-3-0) v. Devin Clark (14-7-0)
DK Salaries: Nzechukwu ($9,000), Clark ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Nzechukwu (-200), Clark (+165)
Odds to Finish: -130
THE PICK: Nzechukwu

Welterweight
Khaos Williams (13-3-0) v. Rolando Bedoya (14-1-0)
DK Salaries: Williams ($9,500), Bedoya ($6,700)
Vegas Odds: Williams (-300), Bedoya (+250)
Odds to Finish: -280
THE PICK: Williams

Women's Strawweight
Marina Rodriguez (16-2-2) v. Virna Jandiroba (18-3-0)
DK Salaries: Rodriguez ($8,500), Jandiroba ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Rodriguez (-140), Jandiroba (+115)
Odds to Finish: +150
THE PICK: Jandiroba

Heavyweight
Braxton Smith (5-1-0) v. Parker Porter (13-8-0)
DK Salaries: Smith ($7,600), Porter ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Smith (+145), Porter (-175)
Odds to Finish: -500
THE PICK: Smith

Middleweight
Phil Hawes (12-4-0) v. Ikram Aliskerov (13-1-0)
DK Salaries: Hawes ($7,100), Aliskerov ($9,100)
Vegas Odds: Hawes (+175), Aliskerov (-225)
Odds to Finish: -275
THE PICK: Aliskerov

Flyweight
Rafael Estevam (11-0-0) v. Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-8-0)
DK Salaries: Estevam ($8,300), Zhumagulov ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Estevam (-200), Zhumagulov (+160)
Odds to Finish: +120
THE PICK: Estevam

Middleweight
Joseph Holmes (8-3-0) v. Claudio Ribeiro (10-3-0)
DK Salaries: Holmes ($7,300), Ribeiro ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Holmes (+155), Ribeiro (-190)
Odds to Finish: -350
THE PICK: Ribeiro

Bantamweight
Daniel Santos (11-2-0) v. Johnny Munoz (12-2-0)
DK Salaries: Santos ($8,400), Munoz ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Santos (-185), Munoz (+150)
Odds to Finish: -180
THE PICK: Santos

Note: All odds accurate as of time of posting, and taken from the DraftKings Sportsbook, if available, before searching elsewhere. Stay up to date for UFC Kansas City with more MMA betting content.

DraftKings MMA Scoring

Note: Scoring has been updated as of early-2021! Please review the scoring changes below.

Moves Scoring
Strikes: +0.2 PTS
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.2 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)

Scoring Notes

  • 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.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Jon Litterine plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: JLitterine.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Litterine
Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.
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