This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
It may be a Saturday night card with a 3 a.m. start time, but UFC Beijing offers an opportunity for some forgotten heavyweight talents to work their way back into the mainstream.
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 six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings altered their scoring system in December 2016 to add a new fighter to the lineup and adjust scoring. The most recent point values are listed below.)
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 - HeavyweightCurtis Blaydes (10-1-0, 1NC) v. Francis Ngannou (11-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Blaydes ($8,700), Ngannou ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Blaydes (-225), Ngannou (+185)
Odds to Finish: -350
The UFC's first visit to Beijing and just their second to mainland China will be headlined by the rematch of an April 2016 fight, where Ngannou picked up the win with via second-round knockout. Both fighters are in an extremely different place than they were 2.5 years ago.
Blaydes continues to do his thing despite the fact he still gets relatively little attention from the mainstream media and the casual MMA fan. Blaydes is 5-0 (1NC) since the first fight between the two, with his two most recent victories coming over Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt. The 27-year-old Chicagoan is one of the best wrestlers in the division. He has 31 successful takedowns in his last six fights and you know Blaydes is smart enough to realize that getting into a slugfest with Ngannou is a free ticket to a nap.
Of course, in order for Ngannou to knock his opposition out he actually has to throw a punch (or two), and he certainly didn't do that in his unanimous decision loss to Derrick Lewis in July. In fact, Ngannou did absolutely nothing at all in that fight. Nothing to the tune of 11 total strikes landed over the course of a 15-minute bout. It was awkward and painful to watch. Ngannou looked confused, hesitant, and afraid to pull the trigger. The big question now is whether that was a one-time affair due to a mental block or something like that, or if it's a permanent issue moving forward. If it's the later, Francis is done as a title contender. If it's the former, Ngannou will regain his place as one of the most frightening fighters in the world and likely be in line for another title shot in the future.
A five-round fight certainly favors Blaydes. Ngannou has had problems with his cardio in the past and there are legitimate concerns about his effectiveness if he doesn't land an early knockout. I'm still a believer in Ngannou long term, but I think this is a bad matchup for him. Blaydes has the takedown ability and the aggressiveness to plant Ngannou on his back for a good portion of the fight and grind his way to a decision. That being said, much like Derrick Lewis, Ngannou's all-world power always makes him an attractive DraftKings play. I like Blaydes to win the fight, but I think Francis is the better fantasy play when you take price into account.
THE PICK: Blaydes
Co-Main Event - HeavyweightAlistair Overeem (43-17-0, 1NC) v. Sergey Pavlovich (12-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Overeem ($8,000), Pavlovich ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Overeem (+100), Pavlovich (-120)
Odds to Finish: -300
Back-to-back knockout losses at the hands of Ngannou and Blaydes have almost assuredly ended Overeem's chances of ever fighting for the UFC Heavyweight Championship again. In fact, it's theoretically possible that he's fighting for his job on Saturday. "The Reem" is getting hit more than ever these days and he has shown no ability to eat power shots from the opposition over his past several fights. I'm not worried about his ability to do damage offensively, but his striking defense is so poor that I don't see how he can defeat anyone halfway decent anymore.
I openly admit that I have little to offer in terms of a scouting report for the debuting Pavlovich. He has spent his entire four-year career fighting in Europe and he has earned nine knockout wins in 12 career fights, all of which have come in Round 1. We should find out awfully quick if Pavlovich is legit, or if his undefeated run was simply the result of beating up inferior nobodies.
Pavlovich obviously has power in his hands and given Overeem's issues playing defense, the latter needs to be awfully careful here. I have a difficult time picking Pavlovich given his inexperience against quality competition, but the Vegas oddsmakers obviously think the Russian has a legitimate chance to win. I would be far from shocked if that's the case given Overeem's recent struggles, but I have to see it to believe it. On the bright side for Reem, even if he is cut, Bellator would likely snatch him up in a second.
THE PICK: Overeem
Li Jingliang (14-5-0, DK Salary: $8,500, Vegas Odds: -170)
v. David Zawada (16-4-0, DK Salary: $7,700, Vegas Odds: +150)
Ten fights into his UFC run, Li has showed more good than bad (7-3). He's competent in all areas of the sport and he has the advantage of fighting in his home country. Entering as a slight favorite, Li has the potential to pay off DK owners given the fact Zawada's biggest strength is his power and Li has never been finished by strikes in his career. His durability is a major asset.
Louis Smolka (13-5-0, DK Salary: $8,800, Vegas Odds: -210)
v. Sumudaerji Sumudaerji (8-1-0, DK Salary: $7,500, Vegas Odds: +175)
A loser of four-straight fights inside the Octagon, Smolka earned victories on the regional circuit in April and June before signing a new multi-fight contract with the UFC in mid-November. It's a slightly risky move for the company given his current rut, but Smolka has legitimate talent and he also has the frame (5-foot-9) to move up to bantamweight if the UFC decides to fold it's flyweight division. With his fresh new contract in hand, I think we see a big performance from Smolka on Saturday.
Vince Morales (8-2-0, DK Salary: $7,100, Vegas Odds: +335)
v. Yadong Song (12-3-0, DK Salary: $9,100, Vegas Odds: -420)
Our entire exposure to Morales consists of a fight on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contenders series in July (he lost), and a fight on a Bellator undercard in September against "Justin Williams-Hugo" in which he won. Now he has to go around the world to fight a 21-year-old (next week) Team Alpha Male product who has won his first two UFC bouts via stoppage. Look elsewhere for your value play.
Martin Day (8-2-0, DK Salary: $7,300, Vegas Odds: +200)
v. Pingyuan Liu (12-5-0, DK Salary: $8,900, Vegas Odds: -240)
Another product of the Dana White Tuesday Night Contenders series, Day makes his official UFC debut on Saturday. A native of Hawaii, Day trains with Smolka and fellow UFC fighter Russell Doane. He has three inches in height on Liu and the potential to pay off as an underdog if he can manage to stay off the mat in this one.
Jessica Aguilar (20-6-0, DK Salary: $6,900, Vegas Odds: +365)
v. Weili Zhang (17-1-0, DK Salary: $9,300, Vegas Odds: -460)
A former WSOF Strawweight Champion, Aguilar's UFC run has been an unmitigated disaster. He record is below .500 (1-2) and she turned 36 years old in May. Still, I refuse to believe that Aguilar suddenly forgot how to fight. She won't be able to keep up with the best the division has to offer, but I'm shocked she's such a massive underdog against an opponent who's lone UFC bout was a decision victory over Danielle Taylor in August. This is last call for Aguilar and savvy owners who create multiple lineups would be wise to give her one last shot given her miniscule salary.
Lauren Mueller (5-0-0, DK Salary: 9,200, Vegas Odds: -420)
v. Yanan Wu (9-2-0, DK Salary: $7,000, Vegas Odds: +335)
Undefeated as a professional, Mueller looks to pick up her third UFC win in as many tries when she takes on Wu. The Alliance MMA product is in good position to make an immediate push in a thin women's flyweight division. She deserves to be a healthy favorite over an opponent in Wu who has lost her only UFC bout, but Mueller has just one victory in her career by anything other than decision and it came nearly three years ago. I doubt it ends up making a difference Saturday, but a lack of finishing ability severely limits any prospects long term ceiling.