Mackenzie Dern and Xionan Yan headline UFC Vegas 61, after two other proposed main events fell through. While this card is light on star power, there’s 13 bouts — and the same DFS prize pools as any other card.
Eight of the 13 fights are favored to end inside the distance, so it could be a sneakily exciting event. It also means we’ll need big scores to win anything significant in tournaments.
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.
Mackenzie Dern ($9,100) vs. Yan Xionan ($7,100)
This is more of a “last fight” than it is a “main event,” but the five-round nature merits its own section. Dern is coming off a split-decision win against Tecia Torres and is the highest-ranked strawweight outside of the triumvirate of current/former title holders (Carla Esparza, Weili Zhang, and Rose Namajunas).
Yan is coming off a pair of losses to Esparza and Maruina Rodriguez and checks in as a +200 or so underdog for this one. Dern has publicly said she doesn’t think a win over Yan puts her in line for a title fight, while Yan is a few fights away herself, so the stakes are fairly low by main event standards.
This bout does have solid stoppage odds for a strawweight fight, at -200 or so. Most of that comes from the Dern side, who has four first-round submissions in her seven UFC wins. All six of Yan’s UFC victories have come via submission.
That gives a clear path to a solid score for Dern, whose submissions have all been in the first round. They’ve all produced at least 92 DraftKings points — though she hasn’t topped 75 in any of her decision wins.
As we’ll get into later, there are plenty of more attractive plays in Dern’s price range who could easily outscore even if she picks up a submission. Therefore, I’ll have very little of her in tournaments. Yan is an interesting GPP play based on her low salary. I wouldn’t force her into lineups simply to have exposure to the main event. She’s likely to find her way into the optimal with a win, but at +200 or so that’s not exceedingly likely — and there are fighters (nearly) as cheap with better odds.
I’d even consider fading Dern in cash games, given the $9,000+ options on the board. I almost never go that route for cash, but the opportunity cost on Dern is pretty high.
The Easy Chalk
Generally, I try to keep the “Easy Chalk” section limited to two high-priced fighters. The reason is it’s incredibly difficult to fit three fighters in this price range in tournaments since the cheap options on the slate are all fighting against them. However, all three fighters this week stand out as excellent plays, so I wanted to discuss each of them.
It’s quite likely that the key decision this week will be which one or two of these three to roster in tournament lineups. For multi-entry play, I’ll be allocating my exposure roughly evenly between them. Single entry and cash game players will have to make a tough call on whom to leave out though.
Sodiq Yussuf ($9,500)
Yussuf is the heaviest favorite on the card, with his betting odds moving past -1000 at some books as of Friday afternoon. Naturally, he’s also the most expensive, which makes him challenging to fit into lineups.
He’s fighting Don Shainis ($6,700) a 12-3 pro making his UFC debut. Shainis crushed plenty of cans en route to his 12-3 record, with his last win coming against a 9-7 professional.
Yussuf is 5-1 in the UFC, with a fairly difficult strength of schedule. He has just two stoppage wins in that span but holds decision wins over Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceras and Andre Fili. While those are impressive from a real-life standpoint, he only scored 75 and 67 points in those contests — not nearly enough at his current salary.
Yussuf is neither a knockout artist, high volume puncher, or takedown specialist, so his upside is somewhat limited. On the flip side, He’s -175 to win inside the distance at DraftKings, so he’ll probably end up with a win bonus. Given his style though, it’s possible he picks up a stoppage but doesn’t end up with the slate’s highest score, making him a potential GPP fade.
Randy Brown ($9,300)
“Rude Boy” is, like Yussuf, taking somewhat of a step down in competition on Saturday. He’s taking on 44-year-old Francisco Trinaldo ($6,900) in the co-main event after facing (on paper) much tougher competition in his recent bouts.
Also like Yussuf, Brown’s recent DFS scores are slightly concerning. His last two fights were both decision wins, neither of which saw him get to 80 DraftKings points. With +140 odds to win inside the distance, he doesn’t have the clearest path to a big score.
Trinaldo has looked surprisingly good in recent fights, with a 6-2 record since his 40th birthday and a two-fight current win streak. The question is when does time catch up with him?
Aging tends to happen all at once in MMA, so if Saturday is the night where it hits Trinaldo, Brown could pick up a quick finish and massive DFS score. I want some exposure to him if he does, though I slightly prefer Yussuf if you have the extra salary.
Randy Costa ($9,200)
“The Zohan” is my favorite fighter in the group, and not just because he’s the cheapest. Like Brown, he’s fighting a much older fighter in 42-year-old Guido Canneti ($7,000). Canneti — unlike Trinaldo — has looked every bit his age recently, with a three-fight losing streak (two stoppages) that was only snapped thanks to a gift fight with Kris Moutinho. (Moutinho being the regional fighter who made it to the UFC as a last-minute opponent for Sean O’Malley, absorbing a record number of strikes in the process.)
Costa is 2-3 in the UFC, but both of his wins came via knockout, and both produced at least 119 DraftKings points. He’s a -110 favorite to end this one in the first round, which is what we like to see for our expensive fighters.
At “only” a -285 favorite, he’s the riskiest option of this group. He also has the most upside and the cheapest price. That’s hard to fade in tournaments.
The Value Play
Daniel Santos ($7,400)
I was high on Santos ahead of his UFC debut at 273, picking him to win by knockout on the Action Network UFC Podcast. It didn’t work out last time, but in hindsight, there was a logical reason. Santos hadn’t fought in almost two and a half years – presumably due to the pandemic – before making his UFC debut. For a relatively young fighter, the ring rust and UFC debut jitters could’ve been a big factor. Santos even attempted more strikes with each successive round in his debut, suggesting he got more comfortable as the fight wore on.
This time, he should be far more settled in against John Castenada ($8,800). Castenada is a solid fighter, so this pick is more about Santos’ progression than a knock on the (deserving) favorite Castenada.
Santos is a flashy striker, mixing in tons of spinning techniques, kicks, and knees while hunting aggressively for knockouts. He also trains at Chute Boxe, the current home of lightweight champion (until proven otherwise) Charles Oliveira, as well as the gym that launched the careers of the Rua brothers and Wanderlei Silva, among others.
All of those fighters have a similar ultra-aggressive muay-thai style, and Santos fits that bill as well. He has six stoppages (four knockouts) in nine professional wins, an impressive ratio for a bantamweight. He also fought fairly tough competition in the Brazilian regional scene.
All of this gives him a ton of upside relative to his price. Additionally, he’s the only underdog on the card to see line movement in his favor, going from +160 on DraftKings when salaries were released to +155 on Friday afternoon. This bout also has some of the longest stoppage odds on the slate, giving Santos a solid floor.
The Contrarian Approach
Raoni Barcelos ($9,000)
Normally a $9,000, -240 favorite would be far from contrarian. However, Given all of the attractive plays in his salary range, Barcelos could go slightly overlooked here.
Barcelos is a high-volume striker, and he’s fighting Trevin Jones ($7,200). Jones is somewhat of a punching bag, absorbing five significant strikes per minute in his four-fight UFC run. That’s a recipe for a big score from Barcelos, so long as he can avoid the power shots from Jones.
Barcelos also has some grappling upside here, picking up ten takedowns in his seven UFC fights. It’s not much of a stretch to see him challenge Yussuf and the Randy’s for the slate’s top score, and he should be somewhat less popular in GPPs.
Aleksei Olenik ($7,500)
It’s hard to get excited about clicking Olenik’s name here, but there’s a clear path to a big score for the 45-year-old. Olenik is one of the best submission grapplers in heavyweight history, with 47 of his 60 professional wins coming via the tap-out.
It wouldn’t be a shock if he made that number 48 on Saturday against Ilir Latifi ($8,700). Latifi is a solid grappler himself, who averages just over two takedowns per 15 minutes. That could work against him against Olenik. I’d expect Olenik to struggle to get this one to the ground, but if Latifi brings it there — that’s Olenik’s world.
I don’t expect many people to be on “The Boa Constrictor” here, but he’s scored at least 90 points in all nine of his UFC victories. It’s probably an early finish or bust, but he’s only a +150 or so underdog. He’s worth mixing in if multi-entering GPPs.
The Swing Fight
Mike Davis ($8,600) vs. Viacheslav Borschev ($7,600)
“Slava Claus” (Borschev) has six professional MMA wins in his career. Three first-round stoppages, two in the second, and one by decision. He’s 1-2 overall in decisions though, raising serious questions about his ability to sustain his high output striking style.
On top of that, he was a somewhat short-notice addition to this card, taking this fight roughly two weeks ahead of time against Mike “Beast Boy” Davis. That’s another knock against his cardio for this bout in particular.
Which means this should be a somewhat binary bout. Either the underdog Borschev picks up a relatively quick win, or Davis dominates down the stretch. The quick win would obviously be great for Borschev’s DFS prospects — at $7,600 any stoppage should be enough to land him in the optimal lineup.
We’ve also seen Borschev’s opponents put up huge scores against him. In his last bout, Marc Diakiese racked up an absurd 11 takedowns. While Davis isn’t the level of grappler that Diakiese is, he’s picked up six takedowns on 11 attempts in three UFC fights.
I’m sure Davis saw Diakiese dominate Slava Claus on the ground and could look to employ a similar style. That gives him a clear path to upside as well, so whoever wins this fight likely does it with an outsized DFS score.