This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The UFC is back in Nashville this weekend, where a former 145-pound champion climbs up to the welterweight division. There's $120,000 up for grabs in the $15 MMA throwdown, so let's get to it.
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 - Welterweight
As difficult as it is to believe, Thompson has just one win (Jorge Masvidal) in the past 33 months. Included in that span are his draw and loss against Tyron Woodley in UFC Welterweight Championship fights and a loss to Darren Till in his last fight in May 2018. I have said in this forum (and many others) that I didn't think there was a 170-pounder on the planet that could beat Thompson in a kickboxing match and Till proved me wrong. I'm doubling down on that assumption here.
According to FightMetric, Till landed 38 strikes in that fight compared to 30 from "Wonderboy". In other words, it was a fairly close fight. Of course, Till missed weight by nearly four pounds and Thompson agreed to fight him anyway. While Thompson looks awkward and uncomfortable in anything other than a kickboxing match, he still generally gets the job done regardless of where the fight takes place. His takedown defense is a very respectable 78 percent (the UFC average is just north of 60 percent) and his long limbs are an asset on the mat.
While Pettis has looked a bit better the past 12 months, I'm firmly the believe that the days of "Showtime" have come and gone. Pettis has alternated wins and losses in his last six fights and is coming off a brutal beating at the hands of Tony Ferguson in October. In the past 24-plus months, Pettis has fought at featherweight, lightweight, and on Saturday, welterweight for the first time in more than a decade. He needs to pick one weight class and stick with it. He was having all sorts of problems making the 146-pound featherweight limit and he's far less interesting at 170 pounds. Could you imagine him fighting someone like Woodley or UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman or Ben Askren? That leaves lightweight, but that's arguably the sport's deepest division. To sum things up, I'm not buying what Pettis is selling despite his brief resurgence of late.
Pettis is theoretically the better athlete of the two but he hasn't looked like it lately. He doesn't fight aggressively and he gets hit too much. If he stands in front of Thompson and allows him to unload unanswered combinations, he's finished. Pettis's only chance is to make Thompson move his feet and force him to get out of his comfort zone. I don't see it happening. This seems like a terrible matchup for Pettis even when he was at his peak and he certainly isn't at his peak in early 2019.
THE PICK: Thompson
Co-Main Event - Heavyweight
I'll begin with Willis, since he is the one who has little business being in this fight. The UFC's heavyweight division lacks depth and we all know that, but it's difficult to see how Willis, who is a perfect 4-0 in the UFC and win eight straight overall since dropping his pro debut in June 2012, deserves a fighter of Blaydes's caliber. Willis's four UFC victories have come over a washed up Mark Hunt, Chase Sherman, Allen Crowder, and someone named James Mulheron. In other words, a bunch of nobodies. Willis is a better athlete than his "physique" would lead you to believe, but Blaydes is going to pressure the heck out of him and I don't see how Willis can stop that.
Blaydes was closing in on a title shot before being knocked out by Francis Ngannou in 45 seconds in November. It happens. Ngannou can knock out any man on earth in less time than that so Blaydes shouldn't be too disappointed. Unfortunately for the Chicago native, Blaydes may have very well earned a title shot if he won that fight. Both of Blaydes's professional losses have come via knockout against Ngannou. I'm not going to say a fighter has a poor chin if Ngannous is the one finishing them.
FightMetric credited Blaydes with 31 successful takedowns in his previous six bouts prior to the Ngannou debacle. Willis will be giving up all kinds of athleticism and cardio to Blaydes and outside of a quick knockout, I don't see how he can win. Even if he's landing repeatedly, Blaydes is just going to put his head down and push forward and repeatedly go for takedowns. That should be more than enough to take a decision. Willis doesn't interest me as a DK underdog play because he has virtually no path to victory.
THE PICK: Blaydes
Formiga is going to have a real case for a title shot if he wins this fight. He dropped a split decision to UFC Flyweight Champion Henry Cejudo in November 2015 and he has gone 4-1 since then. Jussier is a wizard on the mat (ten career wins via submission) and possess terrific cardio. He has shown no signs of slowing down at age 33. My one concern regarding Formiga has always been the lack of power in his hands. He doesn't have a single victory via knockout, but he still somehow manages to win virtually every time he steps into the octagon.
Figueiredo is undefeated as a professional. He is 4-0 in the UFC including three wins via knockout. His stoppage of underrated veteran John Moraga in his last fight in August was particularly impressive. Figueiredo continues to steam roll anyone put in his path. While he can't match Formiga's mat skills, he does have five submission wins of his own. Figueiredo's biggest advantage here will be on the feet and I'm sure he knows that.
The break down of this fight is simple: Figueiredo has the edge while standing and Formiga has the edge on the mat. Formiga averages nearly two takedowns per fight (1.86) according to FightMetric and Figueiredo's takedown defense is a poor 50 percent, so that's something to keep an eye on. Formiga also has the advantage of having faced much, much tougher competition over the course of his career. All things being equal, I would probably take Deiveson by a hair, but Jussier has worked out for me in the past and this isn't a card where I'm a fan of many underdogs, so I'm going to make my stand here.
THE PICK: Formiga
There is room for immediate advancement in the UFC's 115-pound female division these days and Hill has the skill set to take advantage of the opportunity. One of the division's very best strikers, "Overkill" is coming off a split decision loss to Cortney Casey in August. Although she has struggle to put together a winning streak over the course of her two runs with the company, Hill always shows up ready to go and has a high fight IQ. I don't think she's a future champion, but she's valuable roster depth who has proven she can compete with some of the very best the division has to offer.
Markos is tough to figure out. Prior to her last bout (a draw against Marina Rodriguez in September) she had alternated wins and losses in her previous 12 fights dating all the way back to October 2013. Markos has no power and her standup defense tends to be poor. There have been numerous fights in which she has been obliterated on the feet and that is a bad combination against an innovative striker such as Hill.
Markos averages well north of one (1.61) takedown per contest, but her takedown percentage is horrific (26 percent) and Hill's takedown defense is strong (74 percent). If Markos is forced to spend an extended time on the feet, which is what I expect to happen, I don't think she has any chance of winning.
THE PICK: Hill
Ryan MacDonald (10-0-0) v. Chris Gutierrez (12-4-1)
DK Salaries: MacDonald ($7,900), Gutierrez ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: MacDonald (+170), Gutierrez (-200)
Odds to Finish:-140
THE PICK: MacDonald
Eric Shelton (12-5-0) v. Jordan Espinosa (13-5-0)
DK Salaries: Shelton ($8,700), Espinosa ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Shelton (-210), Espinosa (+175)
Odds to Finish: +175
THE PICK: Shelton