UFC 279 underwent a major shakeup today, with planned headliner Khamzat Chimaev missing weight by almost eight pounds. As a result, three fights have been shuffled, with the new main event featuring Nate Diaz and Tony Ferguson. DraftKings kept salaries the same for all fighters, so sorting out those three fights will be key to the slate.
Also of note, there are now two five-round fights, as the co-main event between Khamzat Chimaev and Kevin Holland is now also scheduled for five rounds.
We have built out a full player-projection model using the FantasyLabs Tools and Player Models to help put together some winning DFS lineups in UFC. You can use our optimizer to build optimal lineups using these projections.
The model, created by our own Sean Koerner, is based on 10,000 simulations of all the fights. He then pulled the DraftKings score from each bout to create floor, median and ceiling projections for every fighter. Here is how he defined each projection:
- Floor: Fighter has an 80% chance of going over this score, 20% chance of going under
- Median: Fighter has a 50% chance of going over this score, 50% chance of going under
- Ceiling: Fighter has a 20% chance of going over this score, 80% chance of going under
These should give us a better sense of which fighters we should target based on the game type – maximizing ceiling in GPPs, for example.
You can check out the projections for every fighter on Saturday’s card in our UFC Models.
Tony Ferguson ($7,200) vs. Nate Diaz ($6,600)
On most weeks, there’s value to be found with five-round fighters due to the pricing. DraftKings prices all fights at $16,200 between the two fighters, so getting two potential extra rounds from a matchup or two is a bargain, particularly in cash games.
That effect is amplified tremendously this week. Both Ferguson and Diaz were underdogs – a massive one in Diaz’s case – in their original bout. Now, this one is roughly a pick ’em, with Ferguson a slight -125 favorite on Friday night.
Both fighters’ DFS stocks have gone up stylistically as well. Ferguson and Diaz are among the faster-paced fighters in the sport, and both have tremendous cardio. Ferguson’s chin is somewhat suspect, but the younger Diaz brother has never been known for his one-shot power.
We’re far more likely to see this one go the full 25 minutes, with DraftKings setting the over 4.5 rounds prop at -130. That gives me an interest in playing both fighters in GPPs. It’s not a stretch to see a tournament-winning score out of the losing fighter if this one lasts 25 minutes at their salaries. Rostering at least one of them is a must, though.
For cash games, there’s absolutely no reason not to roster both men. They should both put up cash game-worthy scores in this one relative to their salary, and the risk of missing out on the (very cheap) winner is tremendous.
The Easy Chalk
Khamzat Chimaev ($9,600)
I still expect Chimaev to be chalky here despite the change in opponents. He’s been around -550 since his bout with Kevin Holland ($8,700) was made official, and depending on where the line settles, he could still end up as the slate’s heaviest favorite.
On the other hand, he’s much less appealing now against Holland than he was as a -900 or better favorite against Diaz. The matchup itself is tougher, with Holland a former middleweight who was set to fight in a 180-pound catchweight fight before the shuffle.
Additionally, Chimaev’s struggles on the scale, and the attribution of a “medical issue” as the problem aren’t a great sign. Holland asked for this one to be five rounds, with Chimaev’s camp allegedly preferring it to be set for three. That’s another red flag since Chimaev was training for a five-round fight originally and Holland wasn’t.
Still, those value considerations are more or less out the window with the savings available on Ferguson and Diaz. You can fit almost whomever you want on your roster if you play them together.
Holland’s appeal is obviously diminished, as a fairly large underdog at $8,700 doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’s a sneaky GPP play, though. If the concerns about Chimaev’s health or preparedness for the bout are legitimate, playing a low-owned Holland could be the key to tournaments on Saturday.
Jailton Almeida ($9,500)
Almeida’s bout is mercifully unchanged, leaving him to feel like one of the safest picks on the slate. He’s now (at least as of Friday night) the heaviest favorite on the slate, as he welcomes Anton Turkalj ($7,200) to the Octagon.
Almeida is off to a great start to his UFC career, picking up first-round stoppages in each of his first two fights. He debuted as a light heavyweight, before moving up to heavyweight against Parker Porter in his last fight. This bout is at a 220-pound catchweight, but Turkalj fights at 205, and did so roughly six weeks ago on Dana White’s Contender Series.
That means Almeida is likely to be the bigger, stronger fighter here. He’ll also have a massive grappling advantage, as arguably the best grapper in either of the divisions he competes in. He’s -110 at DraftKings to win this one in the opening round.
The two things we look for in DFS options are grappling upside and early finishes. Almeida brings both, making him an obvious strong choice tonight. His cardio has shown holes in the past, though, so Turkalj has some upside himself if he can survive the initial onslaught.
The Upside Plays
Jake Collier ($9,100)
Collier is another heavy favorite who indirectly benefits from all of the value being created on this card. He opened the week at -360 against Chris Barnett ($7,100) but has been bet all the way down to -450 by Friday night.
He’s the rare heavyweight fighter who racks up points through volume and not big power, with a below-average (irrespective of division) knockdown rate, and the highest strikes attempted per round of any male fighter. He’s alternated wins and losses in his 11-fight UFC career, but his last four wins have all produced at least 80 DraftKings points.
Coupling that volume with his knockout upside in this bout gives him a clear path to a big night. He’s even-money at DraftKings to finish this one early.
Barnett also missed weight, a shocking turn for a 5-foot-9 heavyweight. That’s not a great sign about his conditioning or preparedness for the fight. Barnett’s had some fun moments in the UFC, but he could be thoroughly outclassed by the taller, longer Collier.
I’m not making finding the salary for Collier a priority on Saturday, but he’s a strong option in the likely scenario that you have some to spare.
The Value Plays
Daniel Rodriguez ($7,500)
Outside of the main event, Rodriguez is the strongest value on the card. He’s a -150 or so favorite against Li Jiangliang ($9,000), despite being the cheaper of the two. That’s because Rodriguez was originally slated to face Kevin Holland as an underdog before the bouts were shuffled up.
Rodriguez also weighed in at 179 pounds for this fight, as his fight with Holland was at a 180-pound catchweight. Jiangliang made the welterweight limit. On the flip side, Jiangliang is a fairly big welterweight, so they should be pretty close come fight time. Of course, Jiangliang had to deplete himself a lot more to get there.
Rodriguez is 6-1 in his UFC tenure, scoring 85 or more DraftKings points in all of his wins, and more than 100 in four of them. He’s a significant stylistic change for Li, as the southpaw Rodriguez is a vastly different fighter than the undersized Tony Ferguson.
Rodriguez is a bit too obvious here – and should thus be very highly owned – but he’s a very strong play on paper. He’s effectively a lock for cash games, but I may sprinkle some Jiangliang lineups into GPPs as a leverage play.
The Contrarian Approach
Danyelle Wolf ($7,000)
Wolf is a former boxing champion and Olympic qualifier (though her weight class was later removed). She has just a 1-0 MMA record, though, making her professional debut last year on Dana White’s Contender Series. She looked fine in that one, defeating current Invicta FC bantamweight champion Taneisha Tennant in a close decision win.
This time she’s fighting Norma Dumont ($9,200), who’s 3-2 in the UFC, mostly as a featherweight. Both of her losses came against women who have five inches in reach over Dumont. All three of her wins came against women within an inch of Dumont’s reach. Wolf has a three-to-four (depending on source) inch edge.
One of those losses for Dumont was a knockout to Megan Anderson. Wolf is clearly a better boxer than Anderson, and anyone else in the women’s featherweight division. That gives her a clear path to a stoppage. Even if that’s not in the cards, she should throw a high volume of strikes for as long as this one remains standing, giving her a path to a big score.
Dumont averages just 1.02 takedowns per 15 minutes, with a mediocre 45% success rate. She’s about as ideal of a matchup for Wolf as exists on the UFC’s roster. While that still might not be enough, Wolf is likely to be extremely low-owned in GPPs, making her an appealing option.
While my interest in her is lower now thanks to Diaz and Ferguson being in the same price range, I’ll still be trying to find a way to get to her in GPPS.
The Swing Fight
Darian Weeks ($8,200) vs. Yohan Lainesse ($8,000)
Lost in the craziness that is UFC 279 is an extremely fun fight between Darian Weeks and Yohan Lainesse. This bout has the closest moneyline odds on the slate, and at -205 some of the best odds to end inside the distance.
Weeks is 0-2 in the UFC, with two tough bouts against Ian Garry and Bryan Barbarena to open his career. While they didn’t go his way, he showed a clear path toward fantasy production, particularly against Barbarena. He scored 75 points in that one despite the loss, thanks to four takedowns and 118 significant strikes landed.
Lainesse is similarly winless in the UFC, suffering a knockout loss in a brawl with Gabe Green in his debut. Lainesse picked up two takedowns and a knockdown before being caught in that one. Prior to that, he was very impressive in his DWCS bout, scoring a first-round knockout victory.
Lainesse is the slight underdog here, but I prefer his side. He has a well-rounded skill set and was winning in fairly dominant fashion before being caught by Green. He’d likely be coming off as a much heavier favorite were it not for Green’s comeback here.
Still, mixing in some Weeks lineups if multi-entering is also a good option. His activity rate keeps him in the running for the optimal lineup, especially at a reasonable salary.