After a whole month on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, the UFC is back in Las Vegas for all of August. At 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 15th, the UFC APEX facility plays host to UFC 252 and a highly anticipated heavyweight championship trilogy matchup between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier. The first bout in 2018 saw Cormier knock Miocic out to become a two-division champion, but Miocic got his revenge with a TKO in the rematch to take that belt back. This rubber match settles the score once and for all, and some may argue that the moniker of greatest UFC heavyweight of all-time is also at stake here.
Let’s not forget that the co-main event is a high-profile bantamweight bout between rising star Sean O’Malley and the always dangerous Marlon Vera. Overall, this card is not as stacked as, say, UFC 251 or 249, but it’s got plenty of important matchups and intriguing prospects, and how you could not be hyped for a potentially historic main event? Before fight night arrives, let’s take a look at some of the fighters on UFC 252 who could deliver high scores for your DraftKings teams.
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Stipe Miocic ($8,200) vs. Daniel Cormier ($8,000) - Heavyweights
Miocic’s heavyweight resume is truly remarkable. Before he even won the title from Fabricio Werdum in Brazil, he had picked up stoppage wins over Andrei Arlovski and Mark Hunt. During his initial title reign, he rallied to knock Alistair Overeem out, avenged his loss to Junior dos Santos, and dominated the feared Francis Ngannou. Of course, his first stint as champion ended at the hands of Cormier, who’s one of the few who can boast that they’ve been a simultaneous two-division UFC champion. At light heavyweight, only Jon Jones could beat him, and at heavyweight he’s prevailed over Derrick Lewis, Frank Mir, Josh Barnett, and a KO of prime Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva back in Strikeforce. Add in his wrestling career and his legacy as one of the greatest combat sports athletes of all-time is beyond reproach, it’s just a matter of whether he can retire on a high note and further enhance his legendary status.
You really can go either way here and the salaries reflect as such. Cormier has proven that he has the ability to KO Stipe, but the way Miocic took the belt back from Cormier was particularly impressive; he adjusted from a slow start and heavily attacked DC’s body in round four until he crumbled. Cormier’s takedowns, especially in the small cage, may prove pivotal in neutralizing Stipe’s boxing. It’s otherwise more likely that Miocic can again wear Cormier down (only sooner, this time) with those hooks to the body than it is Cormier getting another big power punch to floor the champ. It’d be a storybook ending to Cormier’s career if he retires as champion, but I think Stipe withstands DC’s volume to defend his belt, spoil Cormier’s retirement fight, and clinch the trilogy.
Number of Note: 14. In that fateful fourth round, Miocic landed 14 body shots on Cormier, who had issues with absorbing body blows in past fights against Jon Jones, Alexander Gustafsson, and even Anderson Silva.
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Sean O’Malley ($9,200) vs. Marlon Vera ($7,000) - Men’s Bantamweights
O’Malley was a hot prospect who was signed through Dana White’s Contender Series, and so far he is more than living up to the hype. After a tainted supplement USADA case put his career on hold, the “Sugar” show has been rolling in 2020 with back-to-back knockouts over Jose Alberto Quinonez and former title challenger Eddie Wineland. Standing in his way for this co-main event is Ecuador’s Marlon “Chito” Vera, who had his five-fight winning streak snapped in a narrow decision defeat to another rising prospect in Song Yadong. He’s notably stopped the likes of Brian Kelleher and Frankie Saenz, and spoiled Brad Pickett’s retirement bout with a third-round TKO.
Vera might not be ranked at the moment but that speaks more to the depth at 135 lbs than his skills as a fighter. However, O’Malley looks like an absolute buzzsaw the moment with his precise, diverse, and powerful striking. He’ll have a considerable height and reach advantage, and he does well to control distance with his jab and kicks. Vera has a crafty submission game that O’Malley has to be wary of in case the fight does go to the ground, but ultimately I see O’Malley pouncing on Vera early and not letting up on his way to another W.
Number of Note: 7. Sean O’Malley has nine finishes out of 12 fights, with seven of them coming by first-round knockout. It would be an extraordinary feat if he were to become the first man to finish Marlon Vera, whose six losses have all gone the distance, but it’s worth noting he can be a slow starter.
Merab Dvalishvili ($8,700) vs. John Dodson ($7,500) - Men’s Bantamweights
As if this division couldn’t get any deeper, enter Republic of Georgia’s Merab Dvalishvili. After losing a decision to Frankie Saenz and then a controversial last-second submission vs. Ricky Simon, Dvalishvili has rattled off four straight dominant decision wins. His two outings in 2020 saw him outclass and thoroughly outwrestle Gustavo Lopez and Casey Kenney. Dodson is a considerable step up in competition for Dvalishvili and still very much one of the top bantamweights in the world. “The Magician” snapped a two-fight losing skid by stopping Nathaniel Wood in the third round — his first TKO in four years. Dodson famously twice challenged Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title, and is one of the hardest punchers in MMA’s lighter weight classes.
This is a fascinating fight on multiple fronts. Dodson is getting up there in age but is still lightning quick. His offense tends to come in spurts and he’s now high-volume. Dvalishvili has not shown much in the way of dangerous striking, but he is a relentless wrestler who can seemingly tire any opponent out. Dodson’s lack of consistent minute-to-minute offense means that if he doesn’t get a knockout against Dvalishvili, he may too succumb to Merab’s pressure and get outworked by Merab’s power wrestling and grappling. I think Dvalishvili makes a statement of intent and gets a big win over Dodson.
Number of Note: 52. In just six UFC fights, Dvalishvili has secured 52 takedowns against his opponents — 25 of them coming in his last two bouts. Dodson’s UFC takedown defense is a sterling 80%, but he’s going up against a seemingly tireless machine.
Herbert Burns ($8,900) vs. Daniel Pineda ($7,300) - Featherweights
While older brother Gilbert Burns is soon to challenge for the welterweight title, Herbert is looking to make serious noise at featherweight. Through two UFC fights, he’s scored a big knockout win over Nate Landwehr and easily submitted Evan Dunham at UFC 250. After consecutive losses at ONE Championship, Burns has won five straight. Pineda returns to the UFC for the first time since 2014, having been cut after a 3-4 record. The former Legacy champion is unbeaten in 10 of his last 12 fights, although his two wins in the 2019 PFL tournament were nullified due to a failed drug test.
Burns is a talented grappler who’s recently showcased some power in his striking. Pineda is a well-rounded fighter and a danger to finish the fight on the feet or on the ground, but he’s a willing grappler and that’s a very bad idea against Herbert. I think this fight will be in Burns’ wheelhouse and that means he’ll be adding another submission to his name.
Number of Note: 8. Burns has eight submissions out of 11 professional wins. That’s a problem for Pineda, who’s lost by submission six times in his career.
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