2020 is winding down but the UFC is full steam ahead, this time with their second-to-last pay-per-view of the year. UFC 255 is a welcome change from the events we’ve been seeing over the last several weeks that have been largely filled with a raw, untested pool of talent we’ve barely had any exposure to. A pair of title fights sits at the top of the card which represents the 125-pound division for the men and the women. And despite the lack of depth in both divisions, their respective title fights are still compelling. Sure, I would’ve preferred to see Deiveson Figueiredo tested against another heavy hitter in Cody Garbrandt, but Alex Perez is a perfectly capable opponent with a very well-rounded skill set. Jennifer Maia has a respectable career and while she is just one fight removed from a loss to Katlyn Chookagian, she’s still a dangerous opponent for anyone.
The rest of the card is a well-executed bout sheet featuring new prospects, rising stars and a top contender bout that will likely prove to be one of the most exciting fights on the card—we’re looking at you Brandon and Brandon! This card has some high level players that come with hefty DraftKings price tags and there are also hidden gems that are bona fide values. We’ve put together a list of five athletes that we feel have winning potential. Let’s see how they stack up.
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Deiveson Figueiredo, $9,000
I thought when Cody Garbrandt pulled out of this fight that I wouldn’t be interested in whomever they replaced him with, but I was wrong. Alex Perez ($7,200) is a worthy replacement with a more than capable submission game, serviceable striking and good fight IQ. He’s looked outstanding in his UFC run, taking just one defeat inside the octagon in eight fights, including one from the Contender Series. The problem with Perez is that he’s facing Figueiredo. He is a devastating striker with true, one-punch knockout power. He’s laser focused on turning off the lights too. The way he mowed down Joseph Benavidez in both fights was absolutely brutal, and while I am not a proponent of MMA math, Benavidez was the one loss Perez has taken in the UFC, and it was a knockout loss. Davy Figs is also an effective grappler with seven submissions of his own, so if Perez decides to make use of his wrestling, Figs won’t be out of his depth there. The price gap on this fight seems absolutely appropriate for a title fight with a short(ish) notice replacement.
Valentina Shevchenko, $9,600
A huge gulf in pricing for a title fight would normally bother me, but this is no ordinary fight. This is a Shevchenko fight, and while Jennifer Maia ($6,600) isn’t a soup can, she’s not on Valentina’s level. I say this with respect, but even with respect, one must also temper that with the reality that Shevchenko is just leagues beyond her nearest competitor, and sadly, I don’t think Maia fits that criteria. She is exactly one fight removed from having lost to Katlyn Chookagian. Her win over Joanne Calderwood was an ode to her grappling, but Joanne has been a mixed bag for the entirety of her UFC run, so even that win has a little doubt accompanying it. The most beautiful thing about Valentina’s style is that her aggression is often aided by her opponent’s mistakes. She’s an opportunist that takes advantage of every opening. She can pick you apart from the outside, launching kicks and brutalizing the body with devastating effect. She can also mop the floor with you inside the pocket. She’s effective, precise, expedient. On the flip side, there are those that are unwilling to fight—Liz Carmouche employed this strategy—and then we end up with a slog that’s almost impossible to watch. Maia could try to grind out a similar strategy, but I think Shevchenko will end up getting the finish.
Brandon Moreno, $8,600
Moreno is a prime example of an evolved fighter. He burst on the scene much the same way his opponent, Brandon Royval ($7,600) did—with lots of hype based off his first few sensational wins inside the octagon. However, once he was advanced to the next tier of competition, his struggles began, and with two back-to-back losses, Moreno was released during the great flyweight purge of 2018. He would take one fight on the regional circuit, win it, and return back to the UFC’s warm embrace a little over a year later. He has looked better with every outing, showing great improvement in his striking and racking up three wins since his return, as well as a draw against the highly touted Askar Askarov. Brandon’s newfound maturity and his experience against high-level competition is the driving force behind this pick, but I’m also wildly delighted by his nickname, “The Assassin Baby” and by the fact his parents are bona fide piñata makers.
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Tim Means, $8,000
The “Dirty Bird” is a battle-tested veteran with a ton of knockouts, a handful of submissions and the experience to run circles around Mike Perry ($8,200). Means’ durability might be a bit shaky at this stage in his lengthy career, but he is still turning in good performances and fighting at a level that Perry doesn’t seem to aspire to much these days. If anything, Perry’s skill set seems to have devolved over the last couple years, causing some to wonder if his ceiling might have already been achieved. Perry has the hot hand, but it’s been 3+ years since he last finished anyone, and his defensive shield is pretty much nonexistent. Pair his decline with the fact he doesn’t have an official training camp and that his girlfriend serves that role and you have a recipe for Means to fight more intelligently, likely taking the decision.
Ariane Lipski, $7,800
Antonina Shevchenko ($8,400) entered the UFC with lots of hype thanks to her superstar younger sister being the most efficient fighter on the the entire roster, but she would soon find that the ladies waiting to test her mettle cared little about her name. Roxanne Modafferi welcomed her by taking her down constantly and owning the grappling exchanges. She would end up in a similar situation with Katlyn Chookagian who also took her down at will and kept her controlled with high volume striking. Lipski won’t provide her with the at-range style she’s accustomed to using successfully. Instead, Lipski will aggressively charge in and try to keep the action in the confined space of the imaginary phone booth. Lipski is also very capable on the ground, demonstrated by a vicious kneebar over Luana Carolina this past July. She has budding wrestling that could also prove to be very effective against the older Shevchenko. Antonina could absolutely take this victory, but my pick is with the more dynamic, well-rounded woman—Ariane Lipski.
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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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