DraftKings MMA: UFC 261 Preview

DraftKings MMA: UFC 261 Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

Saturday will be the first full capacity UFC event since UFC 248 on March 7, 2020. The company will bring three title fights to VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida for a card that sold out in mere minutes.

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 $750k UFC 261 Special with$200k to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:

Note: Scoring has been updated as of early-2021! Please review the scoring changes below.

Moves Scoring
Strikes: +0.2 PTS
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Control Time: +0.03 PTS/SECOND
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
Quick Win Bonus: +25 PTS
(fight is finished in 60 seconds or less)

Scoring Notes

  • Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
  • A Significant Strike will count as both a strike and a significant strike and will be worth a total of 0.4 Pts
  • Control Time is the time spent in the dominant position on the ground or in the clinch. +0.03 points are awarded per second.
  • A Knockdown is awarded to a fighter who knocks his/her opponent down due to debilitation for what the official scorers consider an appreciable amount of time.
  • A Quick Win Bonus is awarded to the winning fighter if they win in the first round in 60 seconds or less.

Main Event -  Welterweight Championship

(C) Kamaru Usman (18-1-0) v. Jorge Masvidal (35-14-0)
DK Salaries: Usman ($9,400), Masvidal ($6,800)
Vegas Odds: Usman (-420), Masvidal (+335)
Odds to Finish: +160

Usman and Masvidal fought in July of last year. Usman was due to face Gilbert Burns that night (who he has since defeated) before the latter tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the bout. Never one to turn down a fight, Masvidal stepped in and dropped a lopsided unanimous decision. 

Usman has won 17 fights in a row. He hasn't lost in nearly eight years and is showing zero signs of slowing down despite being set to turn 34 years of age this coming May. Usman got hammered on the feet in his opening round against Burns, but managed to recover and quickly turn the tables on the Brazilian. Usman has crazy power for a welterweight and is remarkably durable. He averages 3.22 takedowns per 15 minutes and has never been taken down in his UFC career. In short, he's an elite fighter with the ability to be dominant in an area. 

Masvidal will be getting a second straight title shot despite the fact he wasn't competitive in the first match between the two and is sporting a .500 record (5-5) in his past 10 fights dating back to November 2015. Yes, all of those fights came against quality competition and three of those setbacks came via split decision, but "Gamebred" is now 36 years old, and I find it difficult to envision a scenario in which he runs off a winning streak against the best the 170-pound division has to offer. He is probably best suited for high-profile "gimmick" fights like the one he recently had against Nate Diaz.

I'm willing to listen to an argument that Masvidal might be a bit more competitive with a full training camp under his belt, but I think the end result is exactly the same as the first fight. Jorge is extremely popular, and a born-and-bred Floridian, so I understand the UFC's desire to push him in this spot from a marketing standpoint. It's also not as if the company has a ton of options for Usman right now. They can't go to Burns and won't pivot to Colby Covington. I would have much preferred Usman v. Leon Edwards, especially given Edwards' inactivity of late, but I understand why the company went this route.

Ultimately, I think there is an overwhelming physicality edge for Usman that Masvidal can't match. It's the champion's greatest asset. Burns and Covington were able to hang in for short spurts, but Usman eventually wore both of them down over time. Any loss by Usman is almost certainly going to be of the knockout variety. There's no way I can predict that from an aging Masvidal.

THE PICK: Usman
 

Co-Main Event - Women's Strawweight Championship

(C) Zhang Weili (21-1-0) v. Rose Namajunas (10-4-0)
DK Salaries: Zhang ($9,000), Namajunas ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Zhang (-200), Namajunas (+170)
Odds to Finish: +110

Zhang's rise to stardom has been one of MMA's most unexpected developments over the past couple years, and Saturday should give us a great idea of her long-term staying power. Zhang shocked the world by winning the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship with a 42-second knockout win over Jessica Andrade in her native China back in August 2019. She went on to win a split decision from Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her first title defense last March. The fight with Joanna was named 2020 Fight of the Year by virtually all major MMA publications. The year-plus on the sidelines should serve Zhang well considering the damage she absorbed in that bout.

A mainstay at the top of the division and former champion in her own right, Namajunas dropped her belt to Andrade in May 2019 before getting revenge on the Brazilian with a split decision this past May. It was another fight in which both women did a ton of damage to the other. While she has seemingly been around forever, Rose won't turn 29 years of old until late June. It's theoretically possible she hasn't even entered her athletic prime yet, and that's impressive considering all she has accomplished to date. 

Everything Namajunas does is deceptive. Her cardio is elite and her pace excellent. She looks small and slight at first glance, but she almost always wins in tight and possesses terrific Octagon awareness. Her striking, clearly a weakness early in her career, has looked exceptional lately. It's not a surprise Namajunas has improved in that area considering she is engaged to former UFC fighter and professional kickboxer Pat Barry, but I did not expect improvements in that area to the level in which we have seen.

Rose is going to need all that and then some against a champion who averages 6.38 significant strikes landed per 15 minutes. Zhang also absorbs 4.43 significant strikes per minute, so perhaps Namajunas can win with counter punching. I would feel much better about Rose on the mat if it wasn't for the fact Zhang has yet to be taken down in her UFC career. 

I'm interested in Rose as an underdog play simply because she's durable and rarely gets blown out. I don't think there is an $1800 salary difference between the two, but I do feel there is an explosiveness edge for Zhang that Namajunas is going to have a difficult time matching. She can't get off to a slow start.

THE PICK: Zhang
 

Women's Flyweight Championship

(C) Valentina Shevchenko (19-3-0) v. Jessica Andrade (21-8-0)
DK Salaries: Shevchenko ($9,500), Andrade ($6,700)
Vegas Odds: Shevchenko (-390), Andrade (+320)
Odds to Finish: -135

Having wiped out the entire division without breaking a sweat, Shevchenko will now defend her title against an opponent in Andrade who had never fought at flyweight prior to her victory over Katlyn Chookagian last October. 

Valentina won the vacant UFC Women's Flyweight Championship from Jedrzejczyk in December 2018. She has since gone on to roll past Chookagian, Jennifer Maia, Jessica Eye and Liz Carmouche in successful title defenses. Shevchenko wasn't as dominant in some of those fights as most expected, but I honestly think it's because she knows she's fighting inferior competition. I expect a better effort from Andrade that the prior four, but that isn't saying much.

Andrade could walk away tomorrow and her career would be an overwhelming success. Having joined the company as nothing more than roster depth back in July 2013, Andrade has gone on to win the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship and overcome some horrendous performances early in her career. She was big for 115 pounds and will certainly appreciate the extra 10 pounds on her frame, but she's going up against one of the most dominant physical specimens in the sport today. I have little doubt Andrade could have success at 125 pounds against the likes of Chookagian and Eye and those type of fighters, but the fact she's getting this opportunity at this time is a direct result of the total lack of depth in the division.

This seems like a mismatch. Shevchenko, who has been fighting at flyweight for years, is four inches taller and enters with a four-inch reach edge. I expect her to pick apart the aggressive Andrade with her elite Muay Thai skills. Valentina is also excellent on the mat and incredibly durable. She's one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, and I have difficulty envisioning a scenario in which Andrade keeps this competitive for multiple rounds.

Things can obviously change, but every female fight that takes place right now at the top of the 125, 135, and 145-pound divisions seem like nothing more than an appetizer for the inevitable third meeting between Shevchenko and Amanda Nunes. I don't see Andrade throwing a wrench into those plans. 

THE PICK: Shevchenko
 

Middleweight

Uriah Hall (17-9-0) v. Chris Weidman (15-5-0)
DK Salaries: Hall ($8,300), Weidman ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Hall (-105), Weidman (-115)
Odds to Finish: -135

This will be a rematch more than a decade in the making. The first fight between the two took place with the Ring of Combat organization way back in September 2010. It was the first middleweight fight of Weidman's career. Chris won via first-round knockout in just over three minutes.

Weidman may have won that one, but he hasn't done much winning of late. Although he is coming off a unanimous decision victory over Omari Akhmedov last August, Weidman has lost five of his past seven fights dating back to December 2015. There's no denying the poor record is mostly Weidman's doing, but he did fall victim to some unfortunate circumstances along the way. Chris has gone through countless surgeries and is now 36 years of age. Weidman is naturally gifted enough to continue to pick up some victories here and there, but I have a difficult time believing any prolonged winning streak is on the way. 

Hall is 36 years old himself. He's been far more effective than Weidman of late, winning four of his past five dating back to September 2017. That said, Weidman has faced far better competition of late. Hall's current three-fight winning streak has come against a washed up Anderson Silva (TKO), Antonio Carlos Junior (split), and Bevon Lewis (KO). Hall is an underrated athlete with legitimate power. The main issue is that he tends to be a slow starter and is passive inside the Octagon. The fact Hall has almost always come up short when facing better competition is another issue. I would wager Hall has slightly more gas left in the tank than Weidman, but I'm not confident about it.

What I am confident about is the fact that any prolonged kickboxing match greatly favors Hall. He has considerably more power and Weidman has an awful chin. I'm interested in seeing if Hall can stay off of his back. Chris averages 3.93 takedowns per 15 minutes, while Hall defends the takedown at a reasonable 69 percent clip. 

This is essentially a pick 'em for me. Weidman probably has more ways to win than Hall, but his durability may be completely shot. I'll take Weidman and save the $400. This is a close one.

THE PICK: Weidman
 

Light Heavyweight

Anthony Smith (34-16-0) v. Jimmy Crute (12-1-0)
DK Salaries: Smith ($7,300), Crute ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Smith (+165), Crute (-190)
Odds to Finish: -185

Smith's UFC run was on life support following back-to-back losses to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic in the middle of 2020, but he rebounded with a massive first-round submission win over Devin Clark in late November. It stabilized Smith's value for the moment, but he needs to win again here in order to remain relevant at 205 pounds. 

It won't be easy against Crute, who is 4-1 in the UFC, with all four wins coming via stoppage. Crute is one of the division's brightest prospects. The Aussie turned just 25 years of age in early March and has a bright, bright future ahead of him. He possesses an excellent all-around game and has the look of a potential future high-end talent. 

I have a couple concerns regarding both men heading into the fight. For Smith, it's simply the fact that age may be catching up with him. He's just 32 years old, but has 50 professional fights under his belt. Many of them have been wars and it's fair to wonder if his body is starting to break down. It didn't happen in the Clark fight, but there was clear evidence of that against Rakic and Teixeira. 

For Crute, it's the massive step up in competition. Smith is considerably better than anyone Crute has faced to date. Toss in the fact this is just the second time he will be competing in the United States, with the other coming on Dana White's Contender Series back in July 2018. I always prefer the guy who doesn't have to fly halfway around the world to get to the arena. 

This is an ideal Pay-Per-View opener. It's two big guys who fight physically. Unfortunately for Smith, he's in essentially the same boat as Weidman. You can have all the offensive talent in the world, but you'll never get to implement any of it if your durability is shot. Smith is one of the toughest men on the planet and I can easily see him making it to the final bell, but I think Crute wins.

THE PICK: Crute
 

Other Bouts

Welterweight
Alex Oliveira (22-9-1, 2NC) v. Randy Brown (12-4-0)
DK Salaries: Oliveira ($7,500), Brown ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Oliveira (+130), Brown (-150)
Odds to Finish: -120
THE PICK: Brown

Welterweight
Dwight Grant (10-3-0) v. Stefan Sekulic (12-3-0)
DK Salaries: Grant ($9,000), Sekulic ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Grant (-225), Sekulic (+185)
Odds to Finish: -170
THE PICK: Grant

Middleweight
Karl Roberson (9-3-0) v. Brendan Allen (15-4-0)
DK Salaries: Roberson ($7,800), Allen ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Roberson (+125), Allen (-145)
Odds to Finish: -230
THE PICK: Roberson

Featherweight
Pat Sabatini (13-3-0) v. Tristan Connelly (14-6-0)
DK Salaries: Sabatini ($8,800), Connelly ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Sabatini (-230), Connelly (+190)
Odds to Finish: +150
THE PICK: Sabatini

Bantamweight
Danaa Batgerel (8-2-0) v. Kevin Natividad (9-2-0)
DK Salaries: Batgerel ($8,500), Natividad ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Batgerel (-185), Natividad (+160)
Odds to Finish: +110
THE PICK: Batgerel

Lightweight
Kazula Vargas (11-4-0) v. Zhu Rong (17-3-0)
DK Salaries: Vargas ($7,100), Zhu ($9,100)
Vegas Odds: Vargas (+215), Zhu (-255)
Odds to Finish: -195
THE PICK: Zhu

Flyweight
Aori Qileng (18-6-0) v. Jeff Molina (8-2-0)
DK Salaries: Qileng ($8,200), Molina ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Qileng (-110), Molina (-110)
Odds to Finish: +175
THE PICK: Molina

Women's Strawweight
Na Liang (15-4-0) v. Ariane Carnelossi (12-2-0)
DK Salaries: Liang ($7,600), Carnelossi ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Liang (+170), Carnelossi (-200)
Odds to Finish: -190
THE PICK: Carnelossi 

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Jon Litterine plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: JLitterine.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Litterine
Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.
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