The UFC is back at the Apex facility, with a 13-fight card headlined by top-10 bantamweights Cody Sandhagen and Song Yadong. Both men fight with an exciting style that’s ideal for DFS. Additionally, nine of the 13 fights on the card are -150 or better to end inside the distance.
That means we’ll need massive scores to win anything significant in tournaments. On the other hand, the 13-fight card allows us to play our favorite plays without stressing so much about ownership.
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.
Cory Sandhagen ($9,200) vs. Song Yadong ($7,000)
After a merciful reprieve last week, we’re back with another somewhat lopsided main event. Cory Sandhagen is a -190 favorite as he takes on Song Yadong in a bantamweight bout.
This one has all the makings of an excellent DFS fight. Both men land strikes at well above the divisional average while rarely attempting (or securing) takedowns. It’s a five-round fight with +110 odds to go early, so there’s a good chance we see a full 25 minutes of trading strikes here.
Still, it might not be enough for Sandhagen at his salary. Massive fantasy scores are usually the result of finishes and/or takedowns, neither of which is extraordinarily likely here. On a card with plenty of likely finishes, he would need a ton of volume to outscore the fighters in his price range.
On the Yadong side, his low salary almost guarantees his placement in the optimal lineup if he can pull out a victory. I’m anticipating him to be slightly under-owned relative to the odds of him doing so, so will try to be overweight on him for tournaments.
On a smaller fight card, this is also a bout I’d consider stacking. Sandhagen scored 60 and 79 points in his five-round decision losses. However, it’s a fairly narrow path toward that outcome on a 13-fight card. We’d almost certainly need a late knockout from Sandhagen, following a back-and-forth fight – and a handful of other fights to disappoint.
Therefore, I’ll be avoiding the main event stack, though I wouldn’t fault anyone for employing it in the biggest contests. On the other hand, this one is a must to stack in cash games. Don’t overthink it; both fighters have very solid floors here.
The Easy Chalk
Joe Pyfer ($9,700)
The price is a bit out of hand on Pyfer, who at $9,700 is as expensive as I’ve seen a fighter on DraftKings. Still, it’s for good reason: He’s a -120 favorite to win this fight in the opening round.
Pyfer will be making his UFC debut following an impressive Contender Series win in July, a second-round knockout victory. More important, though, is the matchup, against Alen Amedovski ($6,500). Amedovski is 0-3 in the UFC, losing a decision in his debut followed by two losses in a combined 78 seconds.
It’s hard to see Pyfer totally failing here, with the real debate surrounding whether he scores enough to justify the price tag. There are seven fighters at $9,000 or above on the card, so Pyfer will have to outscore at least four or five of them to have a shot at the optimal.
That seems like a fairly heavy ask, so I’ll be going underweight on Pyfer here. That doesn’t mean I won’t mix him in, but he’s not a “must play” by any stretch – even though his projections stand out.
Daniel Zelhuber ($9,400)
The case for Zelhuber is nearly identical to the one for Pyfer. Zelhuber is also making his UFC debut following an impressive Contender Series performance. While Zelhuber didn’t get the win, he landed 115 significant strikes and a takedown en route to a unanimous decision win.
Like Pyfer, Zelhuber’s facing an opponent who’s winless in the UFC. For Zelhuber that’s Trey Ogden ($6,800), who’s 0-1 with a split-decision loss to Jordan Leavitt.
Zelhuber is nearly a decade younger than Ogden, with a 5.5-inch reach advantage. He should be able to pick apart Ogden from the outside with his superior length and speed. He’s less of a one-punch knockout threat than Pyfer but has the potential to make up for it with volume.
Based on the betting lines and power edge, I slightly prefer Pyfer to Zelhuber if picking between the two. It’s very close, though, so if the $300 in savings helps out elsewhere, pivoting to Zelhuber is a solid option.
Zelhuber has also seen significant line movement since salaries were released, going from -275 to -325 on DraftKings, making him a solid value relative to his fellow $9,000+ fighters.
The Upside Plays
Anthony Hernandez ($8,700)
In five UFC fights, Hernandez has failed to land a single takedown in three of them – while picking up a combined 14 in the other two. Those two produced DraftKings scores of 117 and 135 points, and he has another 94-point win on his record.
He’s extremely boom or bust, though, and he’s scored a total of nine points in his two losses. That makes him a GPP-only play, but one whose upside is as high as anyone on the card.
He’s a moderate favorite over Marc-Andre Barriault ($7,500) on Saturday, opening at -180 but moving to -200 on DraftKings by Friday afternoon. For context, he’s more heavily favored than Nicholas Motta ($9,300), who costs $600 more.
If Hernandez is able to get this one to the ground, he should look to do so early and often. At just $8,700, that gives him plenty of upside relative to his salary, so I want heavy exposure to him for tournaments.
The Value Plays
Denise Gomes ($6,700)
Gomes is the classic cash game salary saver. Her bout against Loma Lookboonmee ($9,500) has the longest odds on the card to see the judges, and Gomes is the second-cheapest fighter on the slate. Lookboonmee is a striker, but one with limited power, so the likeliest fight here is a back-and-forth striking affair.
That’s the type of contest we’re looking for from our “floor” plays, as even the loser tends to put up an acceptable score. Gomes appears to be a willing participant in that type of fight, landing nearly seven significant strikes per minute without attempting a takedown in her Contender Series bout.
Gomes also checks the betting market value box, moving from +190 when salaries dropped to +175 by Friday afternoon. She’s underpriced relative to her odds of winning, even based on the betting market.
Gomes has some sneaky upside here as well. Four of her six professional wins came by knockout, but Lookboonmee has just one finish on her record, via ground and pound. That favors Gomes if this one stays standing, and it could also help play well to the judges.
Gomes is my favorite cash game play on the slate (outside of the obvious main event stack) and has some sneaky tournament appeal. Rostering her gives you access to more of the heavy favorites on the slate, a strategy that might not be very popular in tournaments this week.
The Contrarian Approach
Rodrigo Nascimento ($7,400)
I’m a bit baffled by the pricing (and betting lines) between Nascimento and Tanner Boser ($8,800) on Saturday. Boser is 1-2 in his last three UFC fights, with the lone win coming against Ovince Saint Preux, a 38-year-old glorified light heavyweight.
Nascimento is 2-1 in his UFC career (though one win was since changed to a no-contest) with both victories coming via stoppage. His only loss was to Kyle Daukaus, far stiffer competition than has defeated Boser. Crucially, though, Nascimento is a 29-year-old heavyweight.
The Brazilian weighed in 32 pounds heavier than Boser on Friday, and he also possesses a 4.5-inch reach advantage. While size isn’t everything, weight classes exist for a reason. He also has all of the grappling upside here as a talented jiu-jitsu player who’s landed 1.71 takedowns per 15 minutes in his UFC tenure.
Boser has never so much as attempted a takedown, so he’ll need to beat the larger Nascimento on the feet to have a chance here. That’s far from a given even if it remains standing.
At -250, this fight is tied for second-likeliest to end early. That makes Nascimento (and Boser, if you’re unconvinced) far better plays in GPPs than cash games. Nascimento fits both criteria we’re looking for in a tournament choice though, with grappling upside and a good chance to pick up a finish.
He should be fairly low-owned in this one thanks to the betting odds, but I’ll be loading up on him in GPPs.
The Swing Fight
Gregory Rodrigues ($8,200) vs. Chidi Njokuani ($8,000)
Anytime we get long stoppage odds on the $8,200/$8,000 fight, it’s an obvious choice for the “Swing Fight” section. This bout is also -250 (tied with Nascimento-Boser for second-best on the slate) to end inside the distance, with two aggressive middleweights squaring off.
“Robocop” Rodrigues is a grappler in theory who’s picked up knockouts in two of his three UFC wins. He’s also added 2.4 takedowns per 15 minutes though, giving him both takedown and knockout upside on Saturday.
Njokuani may be the better striker here, with consecutive knockout wins – both in the first round – to start his UFC career. More importantly, he’s excellent defensively, absorbing under two significant strikes per minute. Most of that is likely attributable to his length. His 80-inch reach gives him a four-inch edge over Rodriguez.
That makes this a bit of a striker-vs.-grappler matchup, with both men having excellent finishing ability in their chosen domains. I expect Rodrigues to have trouble closing the distance to land strikes, but Njokuani faring poorly on the ground.
That gives me a slight lean toward Rodrigues, since his upside is likely higher in a win. However, Njokuani is now the favorite despite his cheaper price, making him the better play on paper.
I want as much exposure to this fight as I can find, with a slight lean towards Rodrigues. I’m willing to pivot to Njokuani in lineups where the extra $200 makes a difference though.