This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The next challenger for the UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship will emerge from Saturday night's main event in Denver.
If you're hoping to turn the event into an opportunity to build your DFS bankroll, DraftKings.com has you covered with a full slate of contests. Players get a $50,000 budget to select five fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings has altered their scoring system. The new point values are listed below and the rosters will now expand from 5 to 6 fighters).
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Advance (ADVC): +3 PT
Takedown (TD): +5 PTS
Reversal/Sweep (REV): +5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +10 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses
1st Round Win (1rW+): +90 PTS
2nd Round Win (2rW+): +70 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rW+): +45 PTS
4th Round Win (4rW+): +40 PTS
5th Round Win (5rW+): +40 PTS
Decision Win (WBD+): +30 PTS
Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
Advances include: To Half Guard, To Side Control, To Mount, To Back Control
Now, on to the fights...
Main Event – Women's BantamweightValentina Shevchenko (13-2-0) v. Julianna Pena (9-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Shevchenko ($8,400), Pena ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Shevchenko (-120), Pena (+100)
Barring an unforeseen miracle, the winner of this fight is going to be next in line for a shot at Amanda Nunes' UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship. Both women are worthy of the opportunity to compete in such a high-profile bout.
The emergence of Shevchenko into a world-class bantamweight was one of the biggest surprises in MMA over the past year-plus. She is 2-1 during her brief UFC run, and the only setback came against current champion Amanda Nunes. Shevchenko is coming off a fairly easy unanimous-decision win over former champion Holly Holm in July. Shevchenko easily won the striking exchanges between the two women and even mixed in three takedowns. The majority of the success she has in the grappling game is the result of pure strength and positioning. Shevchenko is going to win if Pena is careless enough to allow this to turn into a full-blown kickboxing match.
Pena won Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter in November 2013, and she has won all three of her UFC fights since then. Her last fight in July was a unanimous-decision win over Cat Zingano, although both fighters looked lousy in that one. Pena missed more than a year and a half from November 2013 to April 2015 due to a serious knee injury in which she tore just about every ligament that exists, but she has rebounded nicely. Pena's biggest strengths are her aggressiveness and the fact that she generally absorbs next to no punishment on the feet in her fights, but I imagine she is going to get hit more by Shevchenko than she is used to. In theory, I think Pena is probably a better bet for a five-round fight than Shevchenko, but we have never seen Pena fight for 25 minutes, so we have no definitive answer regarding that.
While Pena is the more explosive fighter in short spurts, Shevchenko's strength should mitigate that to some extent. There is little separating the two women, as the odds indicate, but I am taking Shevchenko. Her striking is definitely the strength of her game, but I think she is well-rounded enough to fend off the vast majority of offensive surges that Pena throws at her.
THE PICK: Shevchenko
Co-Main Event – WelterweightDonald Cerrone (32-7-0, 1NC) v. Jorge Masvidal (31-11-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Cerrone ($8,900), Masvidal ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Cerrone (-160), Masvidal (+140)
Ask and you shall receive. Both Cowboy and Masvidal were clamoring for this fight in recent weeks and they got their wish. It just made too much sense for it not to happen.
Cerrone is from Denver and he wanted on this card even though he has nothing to gain from a rankings perspective by fighting the underrated Masvidal. Cowboy has won 12 of his last 13 fights, although the loss came in the only fight that mattered: a lightweight title fight against Rafael dos Anjos in December 2015. Cerrone is fighting at welterweight right now, even though he'll probably fight at lightweight again in the future. It's just impossible to predict what's next for Cowboy when he fights so frequently.
Cerrone looked pretty lousy in his last fight against against Matt Brown in early December before blasting him with a head-kick that knocked "The Immortal" out cold. If Cowboy gets hit as much as he did in the Brown fight, he's going to be in trouble. Masvidal is a far more technical and accurate striker than Brown. But if Cerrone continues to push forward and keep him opponents at distance with leg kicks, he should be fine. We've seen him execute this technique for the better part of three years.
Masvidal is one of the most underrated fighters on the roster, and he is deserving of a big fight like this one, even if he enters it as a significant underdog. "Gamebred" is 3-3 in his last six fights, although all three loses came via split decision, and all were against high-quality opponents (Lorenz Larkin, Benson Henderson, Al Iaquinta). He definitely should have won the Iaquinta fight, and a case can be made that he deserved the other two, also. The problem for Masvidal in this fight is that everything he does well, it appears Cerrone does a bit better. Both fighters land at almost an identical rate, and Masvidal actually defends a bit better on the feet than Cerrone. That being said, Cowboy delivers the more devastating shots. Furthermore, while Masvidal can hold his own on the mat, the last thing a welterweight wants to do is get into a grappling match with Cerrone.
Masvidal has a chance to win this fight. In fact, he has a much better chance than his DK salary would indicate, but you have to like Cowboy in front of what figures to be a raucous hometown crowd.
THE PICK: Cerrone
HeavyweightAndrei Arlovski (25-13-0, 1NC) v. Francis Ngannou (9-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Arlovski ($6,600), Ngannou ($9,600)br>
Vegas Odds: Arlovski (+340), Ngannou (-425)
Now this is smart booking. Arlovski is still a big name (for no good reason) and Ngannou is arguably the brightest prospect in the heavyweight division. This fight, if everything goes according to plan, will allow Ngannou to add another high-profile victory to his resume.
Arlovski is the same guy he always has been: a fighter with power and little else, who struggles to get into position to use it at age 37. He is also getting battered on the feet these days and isn't going to survive long if he allows Ngannou to wail on him. The Pit Bull won four straight when he returned to the company in mid-2014, but he was fighting over his head then and once the quality of competition increased, he has since dropped three fights in a row. Simply put, he isn't very good.
4-0 in the UFC, Ngannou has scored three knockout wins, and most impressively, an insane first-round submission victory over Anthony Hamilton less than two months ago. Ngannou is a freak athlete who looks like he has been fighting for years – not like a guy who has all of ten professional fights under his belt. The level of competition he's faced hasn't been high, and while Arlovski will immediately become the best opponent that he's ever stepped into a cage against, it's difficult to believe given what we've seen from Ngannou lately that the fading 37-year-old will slow him down.
The reason I'm so bullish on Ngannou's future is because of how quickly he has picked up difficult aspects of the sport. He is continuously improving, and he appears to have the natural ability to develop into one of the top fighters in the division. In the heavyweight division, that can all change in the blink of an eye, but his future looks extremely promising.
THE PICK: Ngannou
WelterweightNate Marquardt (38-16-2) v. Sam Alvey (29-8-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Marquardt ($7,200), Alvey ($9,000)
Vegas Odds: Marquardt (+130), Alvey (-150)
Marquardt has been all but finished for the better part of the last four years, but he is 2-1 in his last three fights after landing a pair of lucky KOs, and as a result, his career his been extended. The skills that Marquardt possessed that made him Strikeforce Welterweight Champion once upon a time are long gone. He still has some pop in his hands and is still a decent mat wrestler, but he's too slow to get into position to use either of those skills on a consistent basis.
Alvey has won three straight and six of eight overall, but it's still difficult to see him beating anyone of note. He is a well below average athlete who struggles mightily with both pressure, and any opponent who makes him move his feet and venture out of his comfort zone. Alvey can be successful if you stand in one position and allow him to wail on you, which is why it's hard to figure out why so many opponents continue to play right into his hands.
Both of these guys appear to be poor selections, although I'm required to pick one of them to win. Give me Alvey because if nothing else, he would appear to have the better chance of scoring a quick stoppage victory.
THE PICK: Alvey
FeatherweightAlex Caceres (12-9-0, 1NC) v. Jason Knight (18-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Caceres ($7,700), Knight ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Caceres (+140), Knight (-160)
THE PICK: Knight
BantamweightRaphael Assuncao (23-5-0) v. Aljamain Sterling (12-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Assuncao ($8,200), Sterling ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Assuncao (-140), Sterling (+120)
THE PICK: Assuncao
WelterweightBobby Nash (8-1-0) v. Li Jingliang (11-4-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Nash ($8,100), Jingliang ($8,100)
Vegas Odds:Nash (+160), Jingliang (-205)
THE PICK: Nash
Light HeavyweightHenrique da Silva (12-1-0) v. Jordan Johnson (6-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: da Silva ($7,600), Johnson ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: da Silva (+125), Johnson (-165)
THE PICK: Johnson
MiddleweightEric Spicely (9-2-0) v. Alessio di Chirico (10-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Spicely ($8,800), di Chirico ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Spicely (-135), di Chirico (-135)
THE PICK: di Chirico
Light HeavyweightMarcos Rogerio de Lima (14-5-1) v. Jeremy Kimball (14-6)
DraftKings Salaries: de Lima ($9,100), Kimball($7,100)
Vegas Odds: de Lima (-170), Kimball (+130)
THE PICK: de Lima
FeatherweightAlexandre Pantoja (16-2-0) v. Eric Shelton (10-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Pantoja ($8,300), Shelton ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Pantoja (-115), Shelton (-125)
THE PICK: Pantoja
LightweightJason Gonzalez (10-3-0) v. J.C. Cottrell (17-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Gonzalez ($7,500), Cottrell ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Gonzalez (-165), Cottrell (+125)
THE PICK: Gonzalez