The UFC returns to London, this time with hometown hero Leon Edwards defending his belt against former champion Kamaru Usman. There’s a stacked 15-fight card on offer, with a special early start time of 1:00 p.m. EST.
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. We’ve also added ownership projections by yours truly, to help find leverage spots for GPPs.
You can check out the projections for every fighter on Saturday’s card in our UFC Models.
Kamaru Usman ($8,900) vs. Leon Edwards ($7,300)
Usman was one of the most dominant champions in UFC history, rattling off 15 consecutive wins — six of them title fights — after winning season 21 of The Ultimate Fighter. The reason that says “was” and not “is,” though, is because of the man in front of him on Saturday — Leon Edwards.
The pair met in December 2015, with Usman winning a decision. Following that, both fighters went on lengthy win streaks, culminating in their second meeting last August. That fight was playing out nearly identically to their first — until Edwards landed a hail-mary head kick that knocked Usman out with less than a minute left on the clock.
Thanks to that stunning victory, Usman’s line and salary are discounted compared to the last meeting. In fact, this is the first time since DraftKings started offering UFC DFS that Usman is under $9,000. He’s perhaps the most productive DFS fighter ever — he scored 98 points in his loss to Edwards.
That makes Usman the better play here since his high-volume wrestling attack leads to big scores. Prior to the Edwards loss, he’d topped 100 points in seven straight, with three of those going for more than 150. Unless Edwards totally stymies his wrestling or secures a quick finish — neither of which is likely — Usman should, at the very least, have a high floor.
Edwards is a tougher DFS option, as he doesn’t provide a ton of volume with his striking, and he’s clearly the inferior grappler. If you are rostering him, you’re banking on a knockout. Even then, he was outscored by Usman in their last meeting — though an earlier knockout would obviously give Edwards the better score.
Either way, they should combine for enough points to be more than worth stacking in cash. In GPPs, I’ll be taking advantage of the cost saving on Usman. He could theoretically still make the optimal lineup in a loss and is very unlikely to totally ruin your lineup.
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Rafael Fiziev ($8.800) vs. Justin Gaethje ($7,400)
Unlike most PPVs, there’s only one title fight on UFC 286. That means the co-main event is a three-rounder between Rafael Fiziev and Justin Gaethje. This is still a great matchup, though, with former interim champion Gaethje looking to hold off the streaking Fiziev.
This one should be a slugfest, with neither man looking to wrestle. Gaethje is a decorated wrestler but doesn’t use it offensively — he’s officially 0-1 on takedowns in 10 UFC fights. Fiziev is a muay thai based fighter who was formerly the striking coach for Tiger Muay Thai.
Gaethje is known as a brawler, willing to take a punch to give one. Fiziev is more technical with his striking but has still managed to knock out three of his last four opponents. Gaethje’s all-action style should leave openings for Fiziev here, making him my preferred option.
Still, I won’t be prioritizing this fight in cash. The lack of wrestling means a fairly low floor for whichever fighter loses, and Gaethje’s style should lead to somebody getting knocked out. I like Fiziev as a GPP option, though.
Both Sean Zerillo and I are expecting him to win inside the distance — as we discussed on the latest episode of our Action Network UFC Betting Preview:
The Easy Chalk
Muhammad Mokaev ($9,700)
Mokaev is the requisite massive favorite of UFC 285, with betting odds approaching -1000. That explains his pricey DFS salary. Fortunately, Mokaev has the style to pay that price tag off. He’s a world-class wrestler who landed a ridiculous 18 takedowns across his last two fights. All three of his UFC bouts have produced at least 120 DraftKings points.
The UFC is bringing Mokaev along slowly, with another lower-level opponent on tap in Jafel Filho ($6,500). Expect a similar game plan — and result — from Mokaev this time around. He’ll continue to put up huge scores until he’s matched up with a fellow high-level wrestler, and that’s not the case this time around.
The Value Play
Casey O’Neill ($8,500)
Normally we look for cheaper options for the “value play” section of this column. Not this time, though, as O’Neill’s Pts/Sal projection is simply too much to ignore.
O’Neill has finished three of her four UFC wins — a rarity in the women’s flyweight division — en route to her perfect 9-0 professional record. The lone exception was a split decision win over Roxanne Modaferri, which should’ve been a clear win for “King” Casey on the scorecards.
This time, she’s taking a step up in competition against Jennifer Maia ($7,700), a former title challenger with a 5-5 UFC record. On the one hand, Maia has a longer track record against stiffer competition than O’Neill. On the other hand, O’Neill is almost ten years younger, fighting in her backyard, and is clearly the fighter the UFC is trying to build up.
O’Neill is another fighter with an awesome style for DFS, attempting more than double the UFC average strikes per round. That gives her a huge floor here, as this fight is +200 to end inside the distance, which is the longest odds on the card. Maia is primarily a striker as well, so O’Neill shouldn’t have her voluminous striking limited by extended grappling exchanges.
O’Neill has at least 110 DraftKings points in all of her UFC bouts. Even if we removed the winning bonus from each of those, she would’ve topped 60 points in every fight. She’s an ideal cash game play with a ton of upside for GPPs if she pulls out the win.
The Upside Plays
Roman Dolidze ($7,100)
Dolidze is yet another streaking fighter taking on a former title challenger at UFC 286. Like the other fighters fitting that criterion (Fiziev and Maia), this is a big step up in competition for Dolidze against Marvin Vettori ($9,100). Unlike those two, though, Dolidze is the underdog in his matchup.
Dolidze is a former no-gi grappling world champion who made the switch to MMA later in life. He’s added extremely heavy hands to his high-level grappling, though, with a knockdown rate nearly three times the UFC average. That’s a huge benefit against Vettori, a technical striker with limited power.
Additionally, Vettori has used his solid wrestling to find success in the past. That won’t be an option for him against Dolidze, as “The Caucasian” is far too much of a threat on the ground. He mauled Jack Hermansson — another high-level grappler — in his last matchup and would likely do the same to Vettori on the ground.
Provided this one stays standing, Vettori has an edge in technical striking. However, all it takes is one big moment from Dolidze — either a takedown or a big shot — to flip this fight on its head. At his budget salary, any win from Dolidze should see him in the optimal lineup.
The Contrarian Pick
Yanal Ashmoz ($7,200)
Ashmoz is a PFL Challenger series veteran, fighting fellow UFC debutant Sam Patterson ($9,000) on the prelims of UFC 285. Patterson is a Contender Series fighter, making his debut in his home country.
Some of the betting line here is based on Patterson being the English fighter, as the UFC generally books local fighters winnable matchups. However, both fighters are untested in high-level competition, with the PFL Challenger series being roughly equivalent to the Contender Series in terms of fighter quality.
Watching the tape on Patterson gave me some major red flags, though. At 6’3″, he’s now tied for the tallest lightweight on the roster. However, he doesn’t use his length especially well, moving straight forward and back and allowing his shorter opponents to close the distance and clinch.
He also has a bad habit of dropping his hands following his strikes, relying on his length to stay out of danger instead of fundamental striking defense. He was rocked and nearly finished in his Contender Series bout but came back to pick up a submission win.
While Patterson has a solid submission game, his reliance on front chokes and guillotines sees him surrender the top position frequently. That’s good for Ashmoz, who, at 5’9″, is used to being the shorter fighter and has excellent wrestling and top control. He should pick up a few takedowns, which helps his DFS score, and his aggressive striking from top could lead to a finish.
Asmoz also has excellent cardio and work rate, attempting over 200 strikes and landing four takedowns in his PFL bout. The combination of pace, wrestling, and a hittable opponent makes him an excellent DFS play at his salary.
The Swing Fights
Omar Morales ($8,200) vs. Chris Duncan ($8,000)
With no heavyweight fights on the card, the $8,200/$8,000 fight is an obvious choice for the swing fight. Getting this one right will be crucial for GPPs, as a win from either man likely qualifies him for the optimal lineup. Especially since this one is highly likely to end inside the distance — at -250, it’s tied for the second-best odds on the card.
Chris Duncan (not to be confused with Christian Leroy Duncan ($8,700) also on the card) is a debuting UFC fighter with a 9-1 pro record. He’s a true “kill or be killed” fighter, with only one of his career fights going to the judges. On his Contender Series bout, he was nearly finished on multiple occasions before landing a big shot of his own and securing the knockout.
Morales is a lower-level UFC veteran, but he certainly could test the chin of Duncan here. Morales is the more technical fighter, and has solid striking numbers in terms of volume and knockdowns.
This is a hard fight to predict, as Morales has the skill edge, but Duncan has big power. Given the volatility, I’ll have a fairly even mix of both fighters in GPPs but will target this fight in most lineups.