The APEX Center will once again be the hottest spot in Las Vegas this Saturday night when UFC 255 kicks off a really well-crafted offering for the promotion’s penultimate pay-per-view of the year. A pair of title bouts headline the card, as Valentina Shevchenko defends her title against Jennifer Maia in the co-main event and Deiveson Figueiredo defends his title against Alex Perez in the main event. The card is also supported by several intriguing matchups that are worth the sacrifice of watching from start to finish. And the absolute brilliance in the matchmaking of the “Battle of the Brandons” is praiseworthy, to say the least. That is my early pick for Fight of the Night. “Two Brandons enter the octagon but only one man will leave victorious!” Just say it to yourself in Lance Reddick’s voice as if he were narrating a promotional package for this fight. Fight mode: Engaged.
This weekend’s bout sheet isn’t exactly loaded with contender battles or immediately recognizable names, so we’ve put together a guide of the standouts in a variety of categories to help make the task of selecting your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups a little easier. Let’s take a look at how our spotlighted fighters made it onto our radar.
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Daniel Rodriguez, $9,100
Rodriguez is a volume striker in every sense of the word. He averages an astounding 8.46 strikes per minute, but as tendencies go with volume strikers, his defense could use work. He absorbs 7.14 strikes in that same 60-second span. He has power, but not the devastating, one-punch kind. Instead, he packs a hard jab that he throws consistently and has done well with accumulation knockouts. He’s versatile, ending fights with power knees, and let’s not forget how capable he is on the ground, earning himself four submissions in the course of his career. Nicolas Dalby ($7,100) is a tough out, and has a wealth of experience, but the loss to late opponent Jesse Ronson in his last fight is concerning. Rodriguez does have his drawbacks, though. As mentioned above, he’s got some holes in his defense and because he sets a breakneck pace, he has stamina problems.
Tim Means, $8,000
Means is our other true volume striker, although he sports a more measured, disciplined approach. Tim averages 4.92 strikes per minute while absorbing 3.53 in that same time frame. It’s not outstanding defense but it’s more stable than some of the action fighters we’ve examined. Tim also knows how to finish a fight, evidenced by 19 knockouts (making him a candidate for our knockout kings category) and five submissions. Over the years, his chin has become less durable, but he still turns in good performances and is a much more well-rounded fighter than Mike Perry ($8,200). Perry possesses power, but his skill set has actually devolved over the last couple years, making me wonder if we put too much stock into his entertaining style without also taking stock of just how long he could maintain his devil may care approach to fighting. Perry couldn’t even get the finish over Mickey Gall, who actually looked to be the better striker in some of the exchanges. The technical edge and the experience advantage favor Means but Perry’s raw power is always a factor to consider.
Deiveson Figueiredo, $9,000
Figueiredo is an athletic specimen that possesses a wealth of talent in several different areas. He generates insane power resulting in nine knockouts, but he’s well-versed on the ground, with seven submissions to his credit, as well (places him in our ground gods category). Deiveson is what the UFC loves in a fighter, especially a champion—a dynamic, exciting finisher. Although Figueiredo tends to be frugal with his output, what lands is often devastating. Alex Perez’s pressuring approach is reliant on being able to get the fight down where he can use his wrestling, but he has to avoid those heavy hands that will be flying at him from all directions. Joseph Benavidez tuned up Perez in the clinch when they fought and if Alex tries that same forward pressure assault, Davey Figs will have a hard counter waiting for him every time. We all know that anything can happen in a fight, but the greater odds are in Figueiredo securing the victory, probably by knockout.
Joaquin Buckley, $8,900
Buckley is likely the owner of 2020’s knockout of the year thanks to his sensational finish of Impa Kasanganay last month. This will be Buckley’s fourth fight in 2020, a feat that many on the roster are managing to accomplish due to the pandemic limiting travel for many fighters living outside the US. Buckley has eight knockouts, but most are from punch accumulation. His biggest KOs are the results of kicks or knees. The loss to Kevin Holland is forgivable, as it was on very short notice, and he acquitted himself well before the knockout. His opponent, Jordan Wright ($7,300), is a talented striker with a karate base. He bears an unbeaten record, but he was destroyed by Anthony Hernandez on Dana White’s Contender Series. The reason he didn’t register a loss is that the fight was overturned thanks to Hernandez’ positive test result for marijuana. Joaquin has a hyper aggressive style that doesn’t lend itself to rock-solid defense, evidenced by an absorption rate of 6.09 strikes/minute. Considering he only lands 3.92 shots in that same minute is concerning, but Wright seems like he may struggle at this level. This is Buckley’s fight to lose.
Mauricio Rua, $7,700
In the rematch that nobody asked for or even knew they wanted, Shogun Rua will enter this, his fortieth fight just three days shy of his 39th birthday. He is paired off against Paul Craig ($8,500), of whom he ended up with a split-draw against last November. The first fight was a grueling affair, not terrible, but also not a fight that was memorable in any way. The old adage that “power is the last thing to go” on an aging fighter is certainly true of Rua, who has logged a knockout inside the last 24 months. He was unable to get the job done in the first fight, but he certainly hung in there, throwing until the bitter end. Craig was able to eat big shots and land plenty of his own, and while Rua has 21 knockouts to his credit, and he could absolutely slam a well-placed haymaker on the Scot’s chin, I tend to think the safest bet on this one is that it goes very much the same way the first one went. One last thing to note, Shogun has only lost once in his last seven fights.
Tim Means, $8,000
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Brandon Moreno, $8,600
Moreno is such an evolutionary fighter. He’s improved with each fight, learning from mistakes, improving his striking, managing the distance and having slick submission chops. He meets up with an alternate dimension version of himself—they even share the same first name—also a marvelous grappler, in what I think will be the best fight on the card. He’s learned that his pressure game is best paired with more volume, and along with the aforementioned improvements is a commitment to more accurate, technical striking. He’s calmer and more measured these days, demonstrating a maturity that most 26-year-olds don’t usually possess. Brandon Royval ($7,600) is the polar opposite, all flash and impulse—a style that doesn’t seem sustainable for the long term at first glance, but we’ll have to see if he becomes one of the rare gems that breaks those boundaries. Moreno’s 10 submission wins are a testament to his savvy ground game, a place where I imagine a good portion of this contest will take place. Did I mention that Moreno’s nickname is “The Assassin Baby”? Or that his parents are piñata makers? Because both those statements are facts.
Brandon Royval, $7,600
Now we get to the other Brandon, and boy is he a firecracker. With comparisons to Anthony Pettis based off his flashy style, Royval is an impulsive, reactionary fighter that just seems to be able to read and process the dynamics of a fight at a glance. It’s a rare gift that takes years to cultivate with some, or just happens to be a built-in advantage for others, solely by nature’s design. Jon Jones is a prime example of this and now Royval seems to have that same vision. Royval reminds me of a Tasmanian devil, constantly in motion, but able to stop on a dime and resume the action wherever he ends up. He’s a terrific scrambler and has a fantastic submission game of his own. He is an offensive force, where Moreno will be the more patient, measured defensive force. The thought of all the scrambles we’re likely going to see in this fight makes me positively giddy. No matter who wins, this is going to be a great battle.
Paul Craig, $8,500
Craig is a dangerous, aggressive grappler who actively looks to get fights to the ground in a hurry. Lately, though, he’s become a brave striker, despite not packing a ton of heat, often willing to stand and trade as though he were packing bricks in his 4-oz gloves. He has played the role of spoiler, more than once snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. In the first fight, Shogun surprisingly did well on the ground, controlling Craig from the top with effective ground and pound. Paul has probably tried to shore up some of the defensive weaknesses from that first fight, but his courage is baked in and we’ll likely see a lot of this bout take place on the feet. But if and when it hits the ground, the “Bear Jew” will be ready and waiting, an avid participant, no matter the danger.
Deiveson Figueiredo, $9,000
Daniel Rodriguez, $9,100
Mauricio Rua, $7,700
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