UFC Daily Fantasy Helper: UFC 254
Combat sports are one of America's longest-standing active sports to wager on. This was evident throughout the late 1900s as boxing took the sports world by storm. From Muhammed Ali to Mike Tyson, several stars were born, and Americans around the country placed bets on who would win boxing matches. Nowadays, with boxing much smaller than it was throughout the 1900s, mixed martial arts has taken the lead as America's favorite combat sport.
By far, the largest and most successful MMA organization in North America is the Ultimate Fighting Championship, commonly known as UFC. The UFC lays claim to the best mixed martial artists in the world and is showcased on both cable and pay-per-view events every month. As one of the first sports to return with compliance of social distancing, UFC daily fantasy is now live on FanDuel.
numberFire is always your best place to prepare for the upcoming UFC card. In addition to this DFS helper, if you would rather bet the fights outright on FanDuel Sportsbook, Barry Cohen has you covered with his betting guide to find where to place sharp money on Saturday’s fights. To dive deeper into this week's card, also make sure to check out my thoughts on this week's UFC edition of The Heat Check Daily Fantasy Podcast.
With those tools at our disposal, let's break down UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje, which will take place on Saturday morning live from "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi.
Khabib Nurmagomedov ($24): There are several media picks who are behind the +265 underdog Justin Gaethje inside the main event, but even a competitive loss would be a significant outlier performance from any opponent of Khabib Nurmagomedov. In 12 UFC fights, Nurmagomedov has allowed his opponents to average only 23.1 significant strikes and 31.9 FanDuel points per match because of his smothering wrestling. Gaethje's best work in the UFC has been his distance boxing, where he brings serious power, but he is still prone to defensive woes that have left him with a card-worst 8.37 strikes absorbed per minute. Ultimately, Gaethje is not a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Dustin Poirier, who was vanquished by Khabib in the third round, nor does he have the power of the now 170-pound Conor McGregor, who was mauled for four rounds before getting submitted, as well. "The Eagle" Nurmagomedov has a fantasy floor unprecedented in a sport as wild as MMA is, and he should not be doubted as the justified top-salaried option on this slate.
Da-Un Jung ($22): Looking outside the main event for a potential MVP is far more difficult, but Da-Un Jung is a standout alternative. He has -350 odds to win his fight outright as well as -115 odds inside the distance, and he should have the volume advantage in his bout with Sam Alvey. Jung is a fun, high-paced option given that he is second on this card in significant strikes per minute, and this matchup against Alvey should help aid his defensive weaknesses. While Jung has absorbed 7.05 strikes per minute in the UFC, Alvey's 1.93 FanDuel points per minute is the second-worst volume indicator on the card. Alvey has also gone to a decision in eight of his last 11 fights and lost his last four clashes. That means the overall package returning fire at Jung has not been very dangerous recently, and that should allow the South Korean prospect to put on a show.
Other High-Salaried Fighters
Alexander Volkov ($17): No one has been done fewer favors by UFC matchmaking than Alexander Volkov, who has seen a terrifying trio of Derrick Lewis, Greg Hardy, and Curtis Blaydes in consecutive fights. He gets another power puncher in Walt Harris on Saturday. Harris does bring serious heat, but he has shown two grave weaknesses in the UFC -- his cardio and his ability to wrestle. Since 2016, "The Big Ticket" Harris has not won a single fight in which he was on the mat at any point, and in his entire career, Harris has never won a fight that went longer than two rounds. Volkov's cardio, on the other hand, has been elite for a heavyweight, as he has seen three or more rounds in all seven of his UFC appearances. With Volkov's 0.72 takedowns per match shows he has had the capacity to wrestle, that should be his gameplan to once again. If it is, he can tire out Harris and cash as the -172 favorite.
Stefan Struve ($17): The line in the heavyweight bout between Stefan Struve and Tai Tuivasa ($15) has flipped, with Tuivasa now the favorite at -120 to defeat Struve in a bout in which the loser of this fight likely exits UFC. "Bam Bam" Tuivasa has one gameplan -- as he always does -- which is to blitz forward for a quick knockout. While FanDuel Sportsbook is giving him +160 odds to do that, he offers very little of a backup placn against the veteran "Skyscraper" Struve. Tuivasa's fatal flaw in his three-fight losing streak has been takedown defense, which sits at a poor 41% entering this fight. Struve's 0.58 takedowns per match and 1.70 submission attempts per match indicate he has at least shown the ability to exploit that. This looks like a two-outcome fight -- either a Tuivasa knockout or Struve submission. That makes this fight a pivotal one for tournaments, and you should get exposure to one side.
Nathaniel Wood ($13): It is rare to get a matchup of two successful -- yet unranked -- prospects under 30 years old in the UFC, but bantamweight is so deep that it can be a reality. Casey Kenney and Nathaniel Wood square off in the battle fitting that description, and Kenney enters as the -180 favorite having fought just three weeks ago on Fight Island, when he dominated Alateng Heili. However, Wood is very live in this fight as the underdog, especially considering he has the superior striking success rate (+2.22 strikes), takedowns per match (1.65), and submissions per match (1.10) against comparable competition. Wood was dominating John Dodson in January before catching a surprising knockout blow, and if he had finished that one off, the England prospect would be on a 10-fight winning streak and would likely be seeing a far tougher opponent than Kenney. Either way, this fight should be exciting, and there are fantasy points to be had on both sides. With Wood the far lower-salaried option on FanDuel, he's my pick of the two.
Ion Cutelaba ($9): "Cutelaba Island" makes his third appearance in a daily fantasy helper for a fight against Magomed Ankalaev -- because this fight still has not happened. Editions in both July and August were waived off due to COVID-19 positive tests, but this fight should finally see a conclusion after a controversial stoppage ended their first bout early. Overall, Ankalaev was credited with his third knockout in four tries in that fight, but it has been at incredibly low volume, as Ankalaev has the sixth-worst FanDuel points per minute excluding bonuses rate (2.35) of any fighter on the card. Cutelaba is the opposite, with top-five marks on this card in significant strikes per minute (5.29), takedowns per match (2.59), and FanDuel points per minute excluding bonuses (4.21). And that is across a tougher level of competition, at least in terms of world rankings. It is worth noting that a fighter with a FanDuel salary in the single-digits has never won, but Cutelaba has sizable statistical advantages against tougher foes, so he might be able to be the first to do it -- even as a +265 underdog.
Austin Swaim is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Austin Swaim also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username ASwaim3. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in his articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.