To quote Bruce Buffer, “IT’SSSSSSSSS TIME!”
What time is it? Technically, it’s almost time, time for UFC 254 and the most anticipated main event of the year, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje. While these two have only been on a collision course for five months, the fantasy matchmaking for a fight between them has been going on for years. Now, in a matter of just hours, we will find out who will reign supreme at 155 pounds.
Are there other great fights on the card? You bet there are! The co-main event could headline its own show easily. Who doesn’t want to see Bobby Knuckes taking on the Killa Gorilla? Did I mention Casey Kenney will be heading into battle with equally hot prospect Nathaniel Wood? When you have an event as red hot as this one, it helps to have your facts and figures in order before selecting your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups. Let’s have a look at which fighters are worth their hefty DraftKings price tags and which ones are the bargains you might not want to pass up.
DraftKings is hosting a big UFC 254 fantasy MMA tournament that pays out $500K in guaranteed prizes, including $100K to first place. The fantasy MMA contest locks at 11:00 a.m. ET on Saturday morning with the start of the prelims. Set your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups here: MMA $500K 254 Special [$100K to 1st].
DraftKings Sportsbook will also be featuring bets that can be placed throughout the day for the duration of UFC 254. See all the available bets at the DraftKings Sportsbook UFC page or by downloading the DraftKings Sportsbook app.
Da-Un Jung, $9,400
Jung is a huge favorite over Sam Alvey ($6,800), but I don’t mind the extra wide odds. Alvey’s fight age has surpassed his chronological age, and it shows in his recent fights. Currently on a four-fight losing streak, Alvey has slowed down considerably, often having those long grinders that are an absolute slog to watch. His once famed power hasn’t made an appearance in more than three years, and one has to wonder if he loses here, will he have a job on Sunday?
Jung is a heavy pressure fighter who believes in throwing lots and lots of volume. He’s got an entire tanker truck at his disposal cardio-wise, and a solid chin, so if Alvey does manage to land a haymaker, there’s a good chance he gets through it. Da-Un also has a two-inch height and three-inch reach advantage. Alvey, like everyone on the bout sheet, has a chance to win, but outside a knockout, I don’t see it happening.
Lauren Murphy, $8,800
Murphy is one of the toughest, strongest women in the UFC. She’s quietly been racking up the wins and working her way into title contention. It’s a shame that her original opponent, Cynthia Calvillo, ended up with COVID-19, because that fight would have been a great test for both, and would have possibly sorted out Valentina Shevchenko’s next opponent.
Lauren is an orthodox striker with eight knockouts to her credit, most recently Mara Romero Borella, who took a huge knee and several elbows before the referee stopped the fight. Murphy will likely find some purchase with counters as Liliya Shakirova ($7,400) has quite porous defense, frequently leaving herself open after throwing her own shots. Finally, Lauren’s grappling is better, with her averaging 1.14 takedowns per 15 minutes, and with lead blanket top control. Any way you slice it, Murphy is leagues beyond her late replacement opponent.
Magomed Ankalaev, $8,900
Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba ($7,300) have been trying to have this rematch for what seems like 100 years. Hopefully, the third time (or is it the fourth?) is the charm. Ankalaev is a heavy-handed striker with eight knockout wins on his resume. He has true knockout power with both his hands and his feet, and over the last two years, has been combining lethal head kicks with follow-up punches to score sensational finishes. He is a precise, technical striker with stellar defense, only absorbing 1.24 strikes per minute while landing a respectable 3.46 in the same time span. His footwork is good, which will be necessary against Cutelaba, who also has the hot hand (12 knockouts). The Moldovan is also a bit of a low-end volume striker, averaging 5.29 strikes per minute, and surprisingly, is also defensively sound, absorbing only 3.26 shots in those 60 seconds.
The first fight ended in a controversial stoppage, but a couple things were clear:
1. Ankalaev’s head kick clearly put Cutelaba on roller skates (even if he recovered fast).
2. Ankalaev was already peppering Ion with some hard shots and looked the sharper of the two.
Now, I know both men have likely been training their butts off for this fight, but I think Ankalaev’s pressure and ability to time his opponents, as well as his ability to make on-the-fly adjustments, will end up garnering him the victory in this contest. Keep your fingers crossed that it happens!
Justin Gaethje, $7,000
What do you get when you have a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler who’s never shot for a single takedown since his UFC recruitment? Gaethje is what you get. Gaethje spent the majority of his career in the World Series of Fighting, a now defunct promotion that operates as the Professional Fighters League, but while he was there, he racked up a 17-0 record with Luis Firmino serving as his last win before joining the UFC. Since being with the world’s largest MMA promotion, Gaethje has finally tasted the agony of defeat, twice, but since those losses, he’s been on a four-fight tear, absolutely obliterating Tony Ferguson back in May, earning himself this title unification shot.
Gaethje has also blossomed in the three-plus years he’s been on the roster, showing big improvements in his defense and in his striking selection. His pressure game is intense, with punches in bunches, constantly flying to the tune of 7.74 landing per minute. He’s a dedicated leg kicker and looks to chop his opponents down from the bottom while he works up top. He’s nearly impossible to take down, but let’s not forget that his opponents’ takedown games were nothing like Nurmagomedov’s, which is supreme. He has a complete rocket of a right, and while Khabib Nurmagomedov ($9,200) doesn’t have a soft chin, he doesn’t exactly like to get hit.
Nurmagomedov works best when he’s backing up his opponent, cornering them against the cage. The center of the octagon is like the edge of a volcano, and Nurmagomedov works hard to get the action away from there. Nurmagomedov has pretty decent striking himself, so don’t be surprised to see him trading, I just doubt it will be long before he shoots. That said, I think Justin is the most well-suited fighter in the UFC to lift that belt off Nurmagomedov. He has the edge in striking and has more than capable wrestling to defend the takedown. I don’t think we’ll see a knockout, but I do think we might see an upset, and at just $7,000, he’s an absolute steal.
Nathaniel Wood, $7,500
Wood might not be as good a wrestler as Casey Kenney ($8,700), but he can certainly hold his own on the ground, and lately, he’s been using his own wrestling more and more. Where he absolutely shines is his standup. He’s got crisp boxing with good countering and a heavy hand. With nine knockouts and five submissions (plus three decision wins), he has plenty of avenues to score the upset. He has shown some durability issues in the past, but it’s not exactly like he’s having to be oxygenated in between rounds, either. This will be his biggest challenge yet, but he has all the tools to end up in the win column.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is crooklyn949) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.
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