This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The UFC's debut on the "big" ESPN is headlined by one of the more intriguing matchups the heavyweight division could produce, which is sure to attact plenty of eyes to the network for a rare Sunday card.
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 - HeavyweightCain Velasquez (14-2-0) v. Francis Ngannou (12-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Velasquez ($9,000), Ngannou ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Velasquez (-165), Ngannou (+145)
Odds to Finish: -690
An Arizona native and former wrestler at Arizona State University, Velasquez is going to have a massive home field advantage Sunday, but few fighters in the company have been as banged up lately as Cain. His last fight was an easy unanimous decision over Travis Browne at UFC 200 in July 2016. Since then, Velasquez has dealt with a serious back injury and he didn't have a fight scheduled for the entirety of 2017 or 2018. Apparently fully healthy, Cain recently signed a new four-fight contract with the company. Assuming there are no long-term complications due to the injury, Velasquez has the pace and skill set to give Ngannou fits. He needs to constantly apply pressure and not leave his opponent room to fire off massive power shots. "Cardio" Cain will have a significant advantage if this fight reaches the championship rounds.
Ngannou rebounded from his baffling performance against Derrick Lewis last July to pick up a first-round knockout win over Curtis Blaydes in December. Seemingly over the mental block he suffered in the Lewis fight, Ngannou got right back to unleashing haymakers against Blaydes. I think it's fair to say given what we have seen from him in the past that Ngannou has more one-punch knockout power than any man in the sport. His cardio remains a concern and I venture to guess his takedown defense is, in reality, worse than the 70 percent that FightMetric has him listed at. But the power is certainly legit and that gives Ngannou a chance to win any fight he is in.
Any fighter with Ngannou's power makes for an intriguing DraftKings play given the fact he can stop any man in the world in an instant. That being said, it feels as if Ngannou is giving up so much to Cain in the other aspects of the sport that I think it will be difficult for him to win unless he secures a stoppage in Round 1. The odds of that are certainly decent given what we have seen from him in the past and Velasquez's time on the sidelines, but I think it's more likely that Cain pressures him from the get-go and tires him out. I would be all over Francis as a DraftKings value option, and I think his ceiling makes him the better fantasy play, but I'm not convinced that he wins.
THE PICK: Velasquez
Co-Main Event - LightweightJames Vick (13-2-0) v. Paul Felder (15-4-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Vick ($8,000), Felder ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Vick (-115), Felder (-105)
Odds to Finish: +125
This should be a quality, action-packed co-main event. Vick is coming off a knockout loss to Justin Gaethje in a main event spot in August. It was a massive setback for the Texan in terms of him dropping down the lightweight rankings, but this seems like a matchup in which he should have a decent chance of rebounding. While Vick has been susceptible to one-punch knockouts, his chin has by and large held up pretty well over the course of his career. Felder wins with placement and volume as opposed to power, and Vick tends to do well in those type of matchups. Vick is also four inches taller and the better grappler, although I expect this to be a kickboxing match.
Felder had a three-fight win streak snapped in July when he dropped a split decision to Mike Perry. It was a typical Felder fight in the sense that he dished out a lot of punishment and ate a lot in return. This will be a rare bout in which Felder, who is 5-foot-11, is facing an opponent that is significantly taller than he is (Vick is 6-4) and the height difference between the two could limit Felder's opportunities to land his best weapon: his kicks.
Felder tends to do enough offensive damage to keep the majority of his fights close, but I'm worried about his defensive game plan here. Vick was on the verge of entering the lightweight title conversation prior to the Gaethje fight, and I think he's being overlooked because of one poor performance. I also like Felder better at welterweight (where he fought Perry), than I do at 155 pounds. I think he moves better and hits harder with the extra 15 pounds on his frame. I expect a competitive fight here, but I'm taking Vick.
THE PICK: Vick
WelterweightBryan Barberena (14-5-0) v. Vicente Luque (14-6-1)
DraftKings Salaries: Barberena ($6,800), Luque ($9,400)
Vegas Odds: Barberena (+300), Luque (-360)
Odds to Finish: -165
Every now and then the UFC will book a fight that seems to make zero sense, and this is one of those instances. In the midst of a three-fight winning streak, the last two of which came via first-round KO, Luque deserves a much better opponent that Barberena. In a fight in which he has zero to gain, Luque is facing a guy who is seemingly no better than the last three fighters (Niko Price, Chad Laprise, Jalin Turner) he beat up. The 27-year-old New Jersey native has really found his groove over the past three years. He hits like a tank, he moves well, and he is young enough (27 this past November) to expect improvement moving forward. In other words, he should be facing someone better than Barberena.
"Bam Bam" is the big winner here, as he gets the opportunity to earn a signature win in a fight he doesn't deserve. Barberena is coming off a win over Jake Ellenberger in August in which Ellenberger retired after the fight. Of course, he should have retired years ago, so that win means little. Barberena has done just fine when facing fringe fighters (Ellenberger, Joe Proctor) of late, but he has struggled mightily when the competition level (Colby Covington, Leon Edwards) rises. Luque might not be on Covington's level quite yet, but he's certainly better than Ellenberger and Proctor.
Barberena fights extremely aggressively and I think that could be a disastrous strategy given the pop we have seen from Luque of late. Barberena has durability on his side (he's never been knocked out), but little else. He doesn't interest me as a DraftKings underdog play. I think Luque is legit and in for an easy night at the office Sunday.
THE PICK: Luque
BantamweightJimmie Rivera (22-2-0) v. Aljamain Sterling (16-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Rivera ($8,300), Sterling ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Rivera (-145), Sterling (+125)
Odds to Finish: +220
A winner in 21 of his last 22 fights, Rivera rebounded from his 33-second knockout loss to Marlon Moraes in June to takes a decision from the always tough John Dodson just three months later. A former Bellator and WSOF competitor, Rivera, a New Jersey native, has really found his game under the tutelage of Tiger Schulmann. Jimmie has some of the quickest hands in the division and excels at putting together quick combinations. Rivera also has a background in wrestling despite the fact he doesn't lean on those skills very often.
Sterling is 4-1 in his last five fights dating back to April 2017, with his only setback also being a knockout defeat against Moraes. Sterling's striking has improved since his first joined the company, but he makes his living with his grappling. "The Funk Master" averages north of two (2.33) takedowns per 15 minutes despite having a lousy (36 percent) takedown accuracy rate. Sterling is bigger and stronger than Rivera and the more physical fighter. Aljo is going to be in trouble if this fight turns into a kickboxing match for any significant length of time and I assume Sterling's coaches, Ray Longo and Matt Serra, realize that.
The breakdown of this fight is quite clear in the sense that the standup will favor Rivera and the grappling will favor Sterling. Yet one thing to keep in mind is the fact that Rivera has never been taken down in his UFC career. It's imperative that Sterling sticks with his attempts even if he fails on his first couple tries. I'm going to pick Rivera but I think Sterling has a better chance of winning than the odds and DraftKings salaries would indicate. He is awful tough to game plan for given his athleticism.
THE PICK: Rivera
Cynthia Calvillo (7-1-0) v. Cortney Casey (8-6-0)
DK Salaries: Calvillo ($9,200), Casey ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Calvillo (-300), Casey (+250)
Odds to Finish: +165
THE PICK: Calvillo
Alex Caceres (14-11-0, 1NC) v. Kron Gracie (4-0-0)
DK Salaries: Caceres ($6,900), Gracie ($9,300)
Vegas Odds: Caceres (+290), Gracie (-350)
Odds to Finish: -350
THE PICK: Gracie
Andre Fili (18-6-0) v. Myles Jury (17-3-0)
DK Salaries: Fili ($7,400), Jury ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Fili (+130), Jury (-150)
Odds to Finish: +175
THE PICK: Jury
Benito Lopez (9-0-0) v. Manny Bermudez (13-0-0)
DK Salaries: Lopez ($7,100), Bermudez ($9,100)
Vegas Odds: Lopez (+170), Bermudez (-200)
Odds to Finish: -265
THE PICK: Bermudez
Ashlee Evans-Smith (6-3-0) v. Andrea Lee (9-2-0)
DK Salaries: Evans-Smith ($7,300), Lee ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Evans-Smith (+165), Lee (-190)
Odds to Finish: +175
THE PICK: Lee
Nik Lentz (29-9-2, 1NC) v. Scott Holtzman (12-2-0)
DK Salaries: Lentz ($7,700), Holtzman ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Lentz (+155), Holtzman (-175)
Odds to Finish: +200
THE PICK: Holtzman
Luke Sanders (12-3-0) v. Renan Barao (34-7-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Sanders ($8,700), Barao ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Sanders (-185), Barao (+160)
Odds to Finish: +110
THE PICK: Sanders
Jessica Penne (12-5-0) v. Jodie Esquibel (6-4-0)
DK Salaries: Penne ($8,400), Esquibel ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Penne (-160), Esquibel (+140)
Odds to Finish: +200
THE PICK: Esquibel
Emily Whitmire (3-2-0) v. Aleksandra Albu (3-0-0)
DK Salaries: Whitmire ($7,600), Albu ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Whitmire (+130), Albu (-150)
Odds to Finish: +160
THE PICK: Albu