We have a rare non-Vegas Fight Night card, as the UFC heads to Orlando with a 14 (following the cancellation of Amanda Ribas vs. Tracy Cortez) fight card headlined by Stephen Thompson vs. Kevin Holland. While that fight is important for the welterweight rankings, we also have Tai Tuivasa taking on Sergei Pavolich in heavyweight action, and the return of Rafael Dos Anjos to the welterweight division.
This one kicks off at 7 p.m. ET, so be sure to have your lineups ready to go. Remember, DraftKings now has late swap, so be sure to pay attention and be prepared to pivot if needed.
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.
Kevin Holland ($8,500) vs. Stephen Thompson ($7,700)
Thompson is a former title challenger who’s hung around at the bottom of the top in the welterweight rankings over the past few years. He’s 39 years old and riding a two-fight losing streak (2-4 record in his last six). He’s serving as a bit of a test for Kevin Holland here. Holland was 2-0 in the welterweight division before being sacrificed on late notice to Khamzat Chimaev (and briefly retiring) in his last fight.
At their peaks, Thompson is fairly easily the better fighter. Both are primarily strikers, and Thompson’s defensive abilities far exceed Hollands. However, the question in this fight is how far from his peak is Thompson? He’s fought much tougher competition in recent fights than he has in Holland, but his losing streak and age are a concern.
Neither man is likely to provide much in the way of takedown upside here, so it really comes down to the striking output. Thompson should be the more accurate striker, with Holland having an edge in power and durability. Either way, Thompson’s defense-first approach means this is probably a lower-scoring fight, even if it goes five rounds.
For that reason, I’m going to be underweight the field on this one in GPPs. I’ll probably fade Thompson entirely. On a 15-fight card, he probably needs a stoppage to make it to the optimal lineup, even at his salary. He hasn’t finished a fight since 2016. Mixing in a bit of Holland is fine, though. He has power and, of the two, is likelier to mix in takedowns.
For cash games, I’ll start with the usual strategy of rostering both fighters but will be prepared to pivot off them if my lineup isn’t doing well.
The limited upside means they won’t help you catch anyone in the standings.
The Easy Chalk
Jonathan Pearce ($9,500)
This is a smash spot for “JSP” as he takes on Darren Elkins ($6,700) in featherweight action. In the last two calendar years, Pearce is 4-0, with two knockouts and a submission on his record. Still just 30 years old, he seems to be trending up as a solid prospect in a loaded division.
On the other hand, “The Damage” is 38 and certainly in the twilight of his career. He’s 3-2 over his last five, but the wins haven’t been the most convincing — two of the three fighters he’s beaten have been cut from the UFC.
Pearce averages an absurd 6.75 takedowns per 15 minutes of cage time and has landed at least four in each of his last four fights. The two things we’re looking for in DFS fighters are takedowns and stoppages — with Pearce having an opportunity to provide both.
He’s the second-largest favorite on the card in a fight that’s -175 to end inside the distance. He’s a must for cash games and should be heavily featured in GPPs as well. Of the seven fighters over $9,000 on the card, Pearce is the best combination of safety and upside.
Mark Diakese ($9,200)
Pearce stands out over the rest of the expensive fighters, but my second-favorite pick is Diakese. He also has a matchup against an aging fighter whose best days are in the rearview mirror, Michael Johnson ($7,000).
While Johnson is only 36, he’s been in the UFC since 2010. He never really broke through to the top of the rankings, though, and has won just one of his past six fights, with the win coming against the even older Alan Patrick.
Diakese is a step up — or back up, if you will — in competition for Johnson. After losing to Rafaels Fiziev and Alves, Diakese returned to his wrestling base in his past two fights. He’s picked up 19 takedowns combined in those dominant decision victories.
While Johnson is a solid wrestler, Diakese should be able to wear him down with repeated attempts before eventually racking up takedowns on him. This is perfect for DFS and gives Diakese a massive ceiling. It’s a challenge to fit both him and Pearce, but one worth undertaking given their takedown upside.
The Value Plays
Angela Hill ($7,900)
Following the cancellation of the Amanda Ribas vs. Tracy Cortez fight, cheap floor fighters are a bit harder to find. The best remaining option is Angela Hill, who is a slight underdog at +!00 against Emily Ducote ($8,300).
As is generally the case in Women’s MMA, this one is unlikely to end early — DraftKings has the odds of a stoppage at +245. That’s the highest mark on the card, giving a measure of safety to Hill even if she loses this fight.
Both women are also volume punchers, so we should get a solid score from whomever the loser is. Hill is also the likelier of the pair to look for takedowns (though it’s not that likely), so we don’t need to worry about her spending much time on her back.
This is a cash game only play, as Hill is highly unlikely to do enough to find her way into the optimal. If you need to free up some salary — and don’t like any other underdogs — she’s a solid option, though.
The Contrarian Approach
Marcelo Rojo ($7,400)
This is a fun card for cheap fighters with upside, and Rojo is one of them. He’s only a +140 underdog as well, so he’s a solid value at his $7,400 salary.
I’m more interested in him for his ceiling, though, as he takes on UFC newcomer Francis “The Fire” Marshall ($8,800). Marshall was impressive in his DWCS bout, winning a slugfest against fellow undefeated (at the time) prospect Connor Matthews.
However, he showed some defensive deficiencies, spending a lot of time in punching range and absorbing strikes. That could be a problem against Rojo, who showed solid power on the regional scene before starting his second stint in the UFC at 0-2.
I’m mildly concerned that Marshall uses his superior wrestling to turn this into a boring fight, but it should be a brawl as long as it remains standing. That makes Rojo a bit thin for cash games, but he is an excellent GPP option with his knockout upside.
Bryan Barbarena ($6,600)
Barbarena is both the cheapest fighter on the card and the one with the worst betting odds, as a +430 underdog to Rafael dos Anjos ($9,600) in the co-main event. He’s nowhere near the caliber of fighter as peak-RDA, who has one of the most impressive resumes in UFC history.
With that said, dos Anjos is 38 years old, coming off a knockout loss, and coming up to a weight class he hasn’t fought at in a few years. This will be the third straight fight against a legend of sorts for Barbarena, who’s coming off wins against Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler.
It’s not too crazy to think the dos Anjos got old all at once in his last fight against Rafael Fiziev, and Barbarena could capitalize on that. This isn’t a high confidence/probability pick, but Barbarena has a better shot at upsetting another older fighter than the market or betting odds are giving him credit for.
On a card with plenty of expensive, attractive options, Barbarena frees up a ton of salary, making him a valuable option to consider in GPPs — as well as a solid late swap in lineups that are trailing heading into the final few fights.
The Upside Plays
Philip Rowe ($7,800)
Rowe is taking on Niko Price ($8,400) in welterweight — make that catch weight — action, following Rowe’s weight miss. He’s a slight underdog but opened as a favorite before being bet down prior to salaries coming out.
That’s slightly scary, of course, with all the controversy surrounding inside information moving betting markets, as well as the weight miss. On the other hand, fighters who open as a favorite but flip to underdogs are a profitable bet long term — making them profitable DFS plays as well.
Personally, I would’ve made Rowe the favorite here anyway. He’s longer, has more power, and has a better striking differential than Price. He’s arguably the better grappler as well, though this should be a mostly standup fight.
The concern is his defense, as he tends to be a bit hittable while not using his range as well as he could. However, I’ll trust his chin over Price’s since Rowe hasn’t been finished since his professional debut in 2014.
While this fight has longer stoppage odds at -250, I’d even feel comfortable with Rowe as a cash game option, though his larger appeal is for GPPs.
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The Swing Fight
Sergei Pavlovich ($9,000) vs. Tai Tuivasa ($7,200)
There was no doubt in my mind about the swing fight on this card. The heavyweight bout between Pavlovich and Tuivasa is a whopping -750 to end with a stoppage and a slight favorite to end inside of the first round. That’s how all of Pavlovich’s fights have ended since losing his UFC debut, with all of them knockout victories for the Russian.
However, Tuivasa is no easy out. His chin proved legendary in his last bout, a TKO loss to Ciyrl Gane. Tuivasa had Gane stunned multiple times before ultimately succumbing to a series of body shots. Pavlovich is a head hunter, though, landing zero strikes to the body in his four-fight winning streak.
Of course, Tuivasa’s power rivals Pavlovich’s as well. He’d picked up five straight knockout wins of his own before the loss to Gane. Both men hold knockouts over Derrick Lewis, with Pavlovich’s taking less time but also being a questionable standing TKO.
This one should be a lot closer than betting lines/DFS salaries indicate, with it coming down to who’s able to land their big strike first. I’ll be overweight on Tuivasa as a matter of strategy, though — Pavlovich could theoretically miss the optimal, even with a knockout win, if the other expensive fighters outscore him. Tuivasa likely makes it with any win. He should also be lower-owned.
This is also an excellent pivot spot for cash games. Given the volatile nature of the fight, it won’t be a popular spot in those contests. However, if you find yourself trailing heading into the main card, switching from Holland to Pavlovich (if you have the salary) or from Thompson to Tuivasa gives you a chance to catch up.