This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The UFC continues to press onward at its Apex Center in Las Vegas, and this Saturday Dana White & co. bring us a card featuring the women's MMA GOAT, as well as some clarity in the bantamweight division following the retirement of Henry Cejudo.
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, including a $1,000,000 top prize in the first-ever MMA Millionaire Maker, which features $2,500,000 in guaranteed prizes. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
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...
Co-Main Event - Women's Featherweight Championship
Nunes continues to roll along, defending both of her titles. She hasn't lost a fight in nearly six years. She absorbed a bit more damage in her most recent title defense against Germaine de Randamie than any fight in recent memory, but she has always had an underrated chin and her striking game looked as strong as ever. The list of fighters Nunes has defeated since her last loss is ridiculous. It includes: Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, Miesha Tate, and de Randamie. Nunes is unquestionably the best female mixed martial artist of all time and has displayed no signs of slowing down. She just turned 32 years of age in late May. Nunes hits twice as hard as any female on the roster and it's going to take some type of super-human effort to get either of her belts from her.
Spencer has been with the UFC for less than a year and this will already be her fourth fight with the company. Her record is 2-1, with wins over Anderson and Zarah Fairn and a loss to Cyborg. The sample size is small, but I've been impressed by Spencer. She's competent on the feet and has some power. It's not one-punch stopping power, but she can put together combinations. Yet what I've been most impressed with regarding Spencer is her toughness. She can eat a punch and she showed that in the Cyborg fight. Of course, no one thinks she is actually going to win here, but Spencer should put up a better showing than Anderson would have.
Dominant champions can be a good thing, but it only works if you can build up legitimate challengers. Jon Jones has held the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship forever but he's had several close calls (Alexander Gustafsson, Thiago Santos, Dominick Reyes) along the way. All of a sudden, Jones doesn't look that invincible and people are interested in his next challenge. The average MMA fan couldn't care less about Nunes beating up roster depth like Spencer and Anderson.
I could see a scenario in which this fight lasts longer than many expect due to Spencer's toughness, but there's no way to reasonably expect her to win. It's not her fault, she has to take a title fight in the main event of a Pay-Per-View card if it's offered, but when you hold events nearly every week and have divisions with zero depth, this is what happens.
THE PICK: Nunes
Co- Main Event - Bantamweight
This is a massive fight between two solid competitors who have somehow combined to drop five straight fights. Both badly need a victory to even remain on the fringes of the title conversation at 135 pounds.
We'll start with Garbrandt, who is in a particularly tough spot. Cody hasn't won a fight since defeating Dominick Cruz for the UFC Bantamweight Champion back in December 2016. The three straight setbacks – Garbrandt has only fought once a year from 2017-2019 – are obviously a problem, but this big concern is the fact Cody was knocked out in each of those losses. Simply put, Garbrandt is a stubborn brawler with a poor fight IQ. He has a background in wrestling but refuses to put those skills to use. He's determined to turn every fight in which he competes into an all-out brawl, and it has cost him dearly. With his status as a contender on the line, I'm very interested to see if Garbrandt is willing to change his game plan a bit to emerge victorious. It can happen. We recently saw it in Justin Gaethje's victory over Tony Ferguson.
Assuncao isn't in much better shape on the other side. He has lost back-to-back fights, although it's hard to get on him for setbacks against Marlon Moraes and Cory Sandhagen. The biggest issue for Assuncao is that he will turn 38 years of age next month, and time is clearly not on his side. His age aside, I'm tempted to give the Brazilian a slight pass for his past two performances. Moraes has been one of the sport's better pound-for-pound fighters for years, and Sandhagen is a budding superstar. If Assuncao gets blown out of the water by Garbrandt, I will be far more concerned.
I'm going with Assuncao for one main reason. The simple fact is I'm concerned about Cody's durability. Regardless of opponent, no top-tier fighter should be knocked out in three straight fights. By comparison, Assuncao, who has been a pro since January 2004, has been knocked out once in his entire career. Garbrandt's theoretical long-term ceiling is higher given his youth, but it's nearly impossible for any fighter to rebound from a four straight losses these days. It would seem to be especially difficult for Cody given his past injury scares combined with the fact he rarely fights. In a bout in which both men clearly have their flaws, Assuncao seems to be the safer bet.
THE PICK: Assuncao
Both Sterling and Sandhagen are closing in on a shot at the now-vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship, and it's going to be extremely difficult to deny the winner of this one his opportunity. I'm not crazy about the idea of handing either of the division's top young fighters a loss, but both are young enough to overcome a potential poor showing on Saturday.
Sterling is in the midst of his best run with the company. The Long Island native has run off four straight victories on the heels of a 67-second knockout loss at the hands of Marlon Moraes back in 2017. Included in that stretch are wins over legitimate contenders such as Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz. Sterling is a physical fighter. His background is in wrestling. but he's underrated on the mat and his striking has improved under the tutelage of Ray Longo and Matt Serra. Sterling keeps himself in excellent shape and is durable. He has lost just three times in his pro career: the knockout against Moraes, and split decision setbacks to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao back in 2016-17. Even a novice MMA fan can watch Sterling's last few bouts and see how much he has improved on a fight-by-fight basis.
Sandhagen has quickly and emphatically take the division by storm. He has won all five of his fights win the company, including decision victories over Assuncao and former title challenger John Lineker. Sandhagen's calling card is his sheer size. The Elevation Fight Time product is 5-foot-11 and has a massive frame for 135 pounds. Sterling isn't small at 5-foot-7, but he's giving up four inches in height to his opponent. On the other hand, Sterling does have a one-inch reach edge despite being the shorter man. Sandhagen is a fluid striker who is impossible to prepare for because there is no one who can mimic his style of fighting in training. He has landed a whopping and entirely unsustainable 7.14 significant strikes per minute during his time with the company. By comparison, Sterling lands 4.85 per minute.
Surely, Serra and Longo realize that Sterling's advantage in this fight is on the mat. It's a risk to go to the ground against an opponent with such long limbs but that's a risk Sterling will have to take. He's the better wrestler and although the sample size is small, Sandhagen has defended takedowns at just a 27 percent clip in his first five UFC bouts. That's an abysmal number. That ultimately swayed me to pick Sterling in a fight in which there appears to be little separating each man. This is the bout I'm looking forward to most on the entire card and it's not close. I expect it to be highly competitive.
THE PICK: Sterling
Magny continues to go about his business despite the fact I think I've picked against him in every single fight in which he's competed for about half a decade now. Magny was torched by Santiago Ponzinibbio way back in November 2018, but rebounded after about a year and a half on the sidelines to take an impressive unanimous decision over Li Jingliang this past March. Nothing Magny does is flashy. He doesn't have much power and he's not an explosive athlete in a traditional sense. What he does bring to the table is a ton of size (6-foot-3) for the division, along with excellent cardio. Magny has lost just twice since August 2016 and those setbacks came against top-tier fighters in Ponzinibbio and Rafael dos Anjos.
Anthony Rocco, the former "Tony Martin", is rocking a 5-1 record in his past six bouts. The loss in that span was a lopsided, unanimous decision setback against Demian Maia two fights ago. Martin rebounded from that one by heading into enemy territory in Russia and nabbing a decision from Ramazan Emeev this past November. I remain torn on Martin. On one hand, he has clearly displayed signs of improvement over the past couple years. On the other, this is a fighter with just one knockout win in his career (it came in 2018 and it's recipient, Ryan LaFlare, retired shortly thereafter). Martin is a submission specialist (nine career wins) by trade but he averages well under a single takedown (0.68) per 15 minutes worth of action. The numbers speak to a fighter who can be beaten if his opposition doesn't make a notable mistake.
I REALLY don't want to do it, but it must be done. I'm officially taking Magny. In addition to everything I just mentioned, Magny enters with a three-inch height and whopping seven-inch edge in the reach department. I think these two are in the same boat in many ways. They can both defeat opponents in or around the back half of the top-ten, but asking them to get by a legitimate contender will be a tall order. If you're looking for a positive on the Martin side, four of Magny's seven career setbacks have come via submission. The issue there is that Neil is a notoriously smart fighter who makes adjustments on a fight-by-fight basis, and he surely knows that's Martin's biggest strength. I'd still be hesitant to use Magny at such a hefty price tag. He looks a good $400-$500 overpriced to my eyes.
THE PICK: Magny
The "Sugar" show rolls on, this time time in a pay-per-view opener. O'Malley is legitimately one of the sport's brightest young stars despite being just 25 years of age and having all of two UFC bouts under his belt. A product of BOTH The Ultimate Fighter and Dana White's Contender Series, O'Malley began his run with the company with a unanimous decision win over Andre Soukhamthath in a Fight of the Night back in March 2018. Sean spent more than two years on the sidelines after that due to issues with USADA and hip surgery. He returned this past March and earned another $50,000 bonus in his Performance of the Night win over Jose Quinonez. O'Malley is massive (5-foot-11) for the division and throws all kinds of awkward strikes. His long limbs allow him to attempt combinations other fighters could only dream off. The sample size is small but he looks legit to me.
A bout with the ghost of Wineland is probably a best-case scenario for O'Malley. Wineland is a former WEC Bantamweight Champion, but that was a long, long time ago. Eddie will turn 36 years old later this month and is just 4-5 since fighting Renan Barao for the interim UFC Bantamweight Championship back in September 2013. This looks like a really bad matchup for Wineland. He's a pure brawler, and that's a recipe for disaster given the fact he can't match power or speed with the younger, more athletic O'Malley.
I like O'Malley here in a rout. I'm interested to see how Sean fares when he is forced to do something other than stand and trade with an opponent but I'm fairly certain Wineland is going to engage him in the kickboxing match he is seeking. Eddie has been knocked out just three times in 38 professional fighters, so there is a definite scenario in which he absorbs a whole bunch of punishment and somehow still sees the final bell, but I'd be shocked if he actually won. I have no interest in using Wineland despite his dirt-cheap DraftKings salary.
THE PICK: O'Malley
Ian Heinisch (13-3-0) v. Gerald Meerschaert (30-12-0)
DK Salaries: Heinisch ($8,400), Meerschaert ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Heinisch (-120), Meerschaert (+100)
Odds to Finish: +135
THE PICK: Heinisch