On Saturday, July 25, the UFC will bring us a history-making 15-fight event at UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Till. There is a glut of up-and-comers looking to make their mark inside the octagon, as well as some longtime veterans making their last hurrahs. Before you select your fighters for any of the DraftKings fantasy MMA contests, have a look at my Watch List for some factors that could take your lineups to the next level. The card gets underway at 5:00 p.m. ET.
DraftKings is offering multiple ways for mixed martial arts fans to get in on the UFC action. DraftKings users can enter for their chance to win big prizes in Saturday’s fantasy MMA $500K Throwdown Special contest, which pays out a guaranteed $500,000, including $100K to first place. Set your DraftKings MMA lineups here: MMA $500K Throwdown Special [$100K to 1st].
Paul Craig ($8,000)
At 6’3” with a 76” reach, Paul Craig is a supremely talented grappler with the long limbs that can present a submission threat to any jiu-jitsu ace, including his opponent, Gadzhimurad Antigulov (also a grappling wiz). Craig has an excellent gas tank with finishing capability all the way to the very end of the fight, as evidenced by his third-round buzzer-beater triangle choke win over Magomed Ankalaev. Craig also has a very active kicking game and frequently uses those kicks both to the head and body. Of Paul’s 12 finishes, 11 of them are submissions, so it’s safe to say he presents a real danger on the ground. Noteworthy: Craig’s last fight went to a split-draw against a very shopworn Shogun Rua.
Gadzhimurad Antigulov ($8,200; also a Gas Guzzler)
Gadzhimurad Antigulov won’t have the range and size advantage that Paul Craig will enjoy in this contest, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for with power and grappling chops. He does have a button on his chin, but Craig has only managed a single TKO in his career, so it’s unlikely that the “Bearjew” finishes him on the feet. Antigulov has 19 finishes and a whopping 15 of them are submissions, making it an almost foregone conclusion that this fight will end up being a ground battle that ends in a submission. One last thing to note, Antigulov is a fast starter, but tends to blow his stamina wad by the halfway point, placing him firmly in my gas guzzler category below.
Khamzat Chimaev ($9,800; also a Knockout Threat)
Khamzat Chimaev will fit two categories, submission threat and knockout threat. At 7-0, Khamzat has finished all seven of his opponents, four by (T)KO and three by submission. He’s quite proficient with the D’Arce/Brabo choke, and his last two wins reflect that. His fights have never made it to the halfway mark, making him lethal very early. He’s not faced stellar quality yet, and fortunately, Rhys McKee hasn’t quite earned that badge at this present time. McKee does have power, but Chimaev has faced plenty of strikers against fairly decent regional competition and come out none the worse for wear. It is my opinion that the wide gap in pricing is warranted in this contest.
Mike Grundy ($7,100)
Mike Grundy is a solid athlete with solid striking and an excellent submission game. Movsar Evloev ($9,100) will be his toughest test and getting past him will be a monumental task, but one he’s capable of accomplishing. Grundy has just one loss on his sterling record, and that was five-plus years ago. Since then, he’s racked up nine wins, six of them finishes (overall, he has eight submissions). Evloev averages an outstanding 4.5 takedowns per three-round fight, but Grundy has good takedown defense and Evloev isn’t unstoppable by any means, as evidenced in the Barzola fight, where Enrique was able to scramble to a better position off the reverse. Evloev is also easily lured into brawls, and that could come in handy for Mike. Grundy’s level change to a nice blast double is noteworthy and was used efficiently in the Narimani fight where he scored his first knockout win. His transitions are very smooth, as well, and he has what appears to be a durable chin, as he was wobbled by Narimani right before he knocked him out.
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Movsar Evloev ($9,100)
Evloev is an undefeated Russian powerhouse with excellent grappling, power and natural athletic ability. He’s a gifted fighter with aggression and confidence to match. His takedowns are quick and effective, and as mentioned earlier, he averages 4.5 per fight. His reflexes are on point, and he managed to catch some of Barzola’s kicks, and in a nice change of scenery, rather than take him down directly off the caught kick, he instead chose to kick the daylights out of Barzola’s planted leg first before nailing the takedown. In his fight with Choi, he landed five takedowns off 16 attempts. It’s safe to say Evloev’s takedowns are a huge part of his game and one can expect him to land a few on Grundy. How many is anyone’s guess.
Alex Oliveira ($8,700)
Alex Oliveira has had a rough road of late, finally breaking his three-fight losing skid this past March with a split-decision victory over Max Griffin. He has power and good grappling skills but tends to get in his own way with either poor cardio or poor decision making. He’s beaten a who’s who of talent, and has veteran experience, but his takedowns are worth noting, as he averages a respectable 2.69 per three-round fight. His fight with Tim Means showed six completed takedowns out of 11 attempts, and even in a loss to Nicholas Dalby, he still landed three of four attempts.
Carla Esparza ($7,600)
Carla Esparza has outstanding wrestling and evolving striking. Her takedowns have been the bane of many opponents, and she lands them at a fairly high rate of 3.28 per fifteen minutes. And what she lacks in accuracy, she makes up for with effort, shooting 11 times during her fight with Waterson. She also went for 11 in her fight with Grasso, landing four of them. A nearly identical four of 10 landed for her against Jandiroba, as well. She scored four of five on Gadelha and another two of nine on Calvillo. You can bet that she’ll be attempting plenty when she faces Marina Rodriguez, who has difficulty when facing women that have real grappling chops, and Carla Esparza certainly fits the bill in that regard.
Nathaniel Wood ($9,500; also a Submission Threat)
Nathaniel Wood is a talented Brit with a stellar finishing record. He will also fit the submission threat category. Wood is a very well-rounded athlete with excellent striking and grappling ability. He’s agile and light on his feet, demonstrates very good fight IQ, and even though he’s coming off a loss, it was to John Dodson, a very high-level gatekeeper to the upper echelon of the division. To his credit, Wood did well in that fight, putting in beautiful body work and presenting a real problem to Dodson a few times. Nathaniel is a courageous fighter, willing to stand in the pocket and trade, netting him nine knockout wins. But we can’t forget he has five submission wins, with his last three victories coming by way of choke (two RNC, one Brabo/D’Arce). His opponent, John Castaneda, has a diverse set of wins via finish, but nowhere near on the level of Wood, and will likely find himself in hot water against the 26-year old rising prospect.
Darren Till ($7,900)
Darren Till is a slick, polished striker with power, but it’s anyone’s guess how that will translate at middleweight, since his lone fight at 185-pounds saw a largely point-fighting affair. Coming off back-to-back losses likely made him more cautious than normal, but it’s doubtful that Robert Whittaker ($8,300) will allow him to dictate that pace the way he did against Gastelum. Whittaker will be forcing him into firefights and this is where we’ll see the true mettle of Till. Of his 18 wins, 10 are by knockout, with two of those coming inside the octagon. It’s been nearly three years since his last one against Donald Cerrone, so he’s ripe for planting someone, and Whittaker could be the one.
Robert Whittaker ($8,300)
Robert Whittaker is a real threat standing, both with his hands and his feet. He sometimes makes questionable decisions in his bouts, but overall, he’s a very gifted fighter. “Bobby Knuckles” didn’t get his nickname for nothing (yes, his other nickname is “The Reaper”, but we all know which one is cooler). He’s put an early end to nine of his opponents’ nights, many by beautiful combinations of head kicks followed by a barrage of punches. He’s aggressive and bold, willing to trade hell for leather in the pocket, sometimes to his detriment (see his fight against Israel Adesanya). Like Till, his UFC beginnings were at 170 pounds, and although he found success in the welterweight division, he was clearly meant for middleweight where he captured a belt, but never actually defended it, despite beating Yoel Romero in a second fight where Romero was ineligible to win the belt due to a failed weight cut. Whittaker is the favorite and rightfully so, as his knockout record over high-level talent is much more proven than Till’s.
Fabricio Werdum ($6,900)
Werdum, at 42-years-old is on the decline, of that there is no doubt, and his conditioning is largely to blame. His fights with both Alexey Oleynik and Alexander Volkov were evidence of that, and it’s doubtful that he’ll fare much better against a youthful Alexander Gustafsson ($9,300), who will be making his heavyweight debut. Even in his win over Marcin Tybura, Werdum was gassed, just less so than Tybura.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira ($7,200)
Another elder statesman is competing, this time it’s 44-year-old “Minotouro” in the hot seat. Alternating wins and losses over the last five years, “Little Nog” has been a mixed bag, with his wins coming early by knockout. He hasn’t logged a decision win in seven years, and that was to a declining Rashad Evans where both were gassed out by the mid-point of the fight. If Nog sees the halfway mark, you can count on his tank to be running on fumes.
Bethe Correia ($7,800)
Bethe Correia is a middling fighter with capable striking but subpar footwork and distance management. Even in her wins, she gets tuned up, taking way more punishment than she should, and finding herself gassed by the time the third round is underway. When she faces solid competitors, she almost always makes it to the third, but that’s where she falters, either getting stopped or losing a decision. Only Ronda Rousey was able to finish her early (first-round knockout). Against the bigger Pannie Kianzad ($8,400), Correia will have her work cut out for her, but Pannie’s cardio will hold out much better, likely taking her to a decision win.
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