The UFC is back on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi for the next month, starting with UFC 253 on Sept. 26. In the main event, undefeated middleweight champion Israel Adesanya puts his title on the line against fellow unbeaten Paulo Costa in a highly anticipated grudge match. As for the co-main event, Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz will compete for the vacant light heavyweight title, as the post-Jon Jones era gets underway at 205 lbs.
Compared to what next month’s UFC 254 has lined up, this pay-per-view is a bit top heavy. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting bouts throughout the card, and there are certainly opportunities to make some money. Before fight night arrives on “Fight Island,” let’s look at some of the fighters on UFC 253 that could deliver high scores for your DraftKings teams.
Set your lineups here: MMA $500K 253 Special [$100K to 1st]
Israel Adesanya ($8,500) vs. Paulo Costa ($7,700) - Middleweights
Adesanya won the interim title with a five-round classic over Kelvin Gastelum, then ascended to champion status last year with an absolute destruction of Robert Whittaker last October. As thrilling as “The Last Stylebender” was in those two bouts, he and Yoel Romero delivered an absolute dud at UFC 248 in March. It’s safe to say that styles make fights, and that the aggressive, heavy-handed Costa won’t be interested in a staring contest. The Brazilian had a great scrap with Romero, marking the first time he’d ever gone the distance. Uriah Hall and Johny Hendricks are among his notable knockout finishes.
This one could go either way. Adesanya is primarily a counterstriker, so Costa is likely going to make him work quite a bit. Izzy’s offensive firepower is much more varied and he’s the more composed fighter, whereas Costa is arguably faster and definitely hits harder. Costa has glaring defensive weaknesses and is quite reliant on his chin, which may lead to Adesanya steadily picking him apart as the rounds progress. There’s no reason to believe either fighter will go for takedowns, so if it comes down to strictly striking then I believe the champ will methodically chip away at Costa and either stop him late or win a decision. The danger will always be there with Costa but Adesanya has such impressive command of distance and timing that I see Costa growing frustrated as the contest progresses.
Number of Note: 8. Israel Adesanya will have an eight-inch reach advantage over Costa, the biggest discrepancy Costa has dealt with in his MMA career. The next closest would be Uriah Hall, who has a 79-inch reach and did stun Costa with a jab when they fought.
Kai Kara-France ($8,900) vs. Brandon Royval ($7,300) - Flyweights
If you’re looking for future title challengers now, that it appears that the UFC men’s flyweight division is here to stay, keep an eye on Kai Kara-France. A teammate of Israel Adesanya at City Kickboxing, Kara-France boasts a 4-1 UFC record and has a penchant for exciting fights, as evidenced in his win over Elias Garcia and close defeat to Brandon Moreno. Royval made his arrival on the UFC stage in impressive fashion, tapping out former title challenger Tim Elliott with an arm-triangle choke. Hardcore fans may know Royval from his time in LFA, where he armbarred UFC veteran Joby Sanchez and challenged for the interim belt against current UFC bantamweight Casey Kenney.
This is going to be an extremely entertaining clash of styles that should have plenty of action and the fast pace that you’ve come to expect at 125 lbs. Royval has shown tremendous submission skills and is an aggressive grappler (especially off of his back), but he’s at a disadvantage going up against Kara-France’s more refined kickboxing skills. Kara-France has also exhibited excellent takedown defense, which means Royval will need to be opportunistic in case of a slip or a knockdown. The pick here is Kara-France to dictate the action on his terms and improve his case for an eventual title shot.
Number of Note: 78. Kai Kara-France has averaged 78 significant strikes landed in his four UFC wins. His 5.27 significant strikes landed per minute ranks 2nd among all active UFC men’s flyweights.
Ketlen Vieira ($8,800) vs. Sijara Eubanks ($7,400) - Women’s Bantamweights
Vieira is looking to get back on the winning track after seeing her unbeaten record end in shockingly emphatic fashion against Irene Aldana, who knocked her out in a round back in December 2018. Prior to that defeat, the Brazilian established herself as a contender with victories over the likes of Ashlee Evans-Smith, as well as ex-title challengers Cat Zingano and Sara McMann. Eubanks is on a two-fight winning streak and is only two weeks removed from an important and impressive win over the favored Julia Avila. “Sarj” is stepping in for the injured Marion Reneau, so this is a massive opportunity for her to further move up the ranks at 135 lbs.
It is tempting to pick Eubanks for the upset given she is a very good wrestler with smothering top control and ground-and-pound. However, Vieira is a substantially better defensive wrestler than Avila and she can maintain a grueling pace. Eubanks throws with power and notably had Aspen Ladd in early trouble in their UFC encounter, so that’s something to watch. Vieira likes to work in the clinch and from top position, and Eubanks tends to slow down when the pace is fast and she is unable to dominate on the mat. I’m a little concerned about how Vieira will look after a long injury-related layoff, but I believe she’ll pull through in a competitive scrap.
Number of Note: 41. Ketlen Vieira’s control time percentage in her UFC fights is approximately 41%, ranking 4th among active women’s bantamweights.
Jake Matthews ($9,400) vs. Diego Sanchez ($6,800) - Welterweights
“The Celtic Kid” was a highly intriguing prospect when he made his UFC debut back in 2014, but he had trouble with his consistency. Matthews has won five of his last six, including a pair of decision wins over Rostem Akman and Emil Weber Meek. Sanchez is a fan favorite, a former title challenger, and one of the toughest and most fearless fighters in MMA history, but at 38 years old he’s in the twilight of his career. While “The Nightmare” has won three of his last four, his most recent outing vs. Michel Pereira was a disqualification victory after Pereira landed an illegal strike in a fight Sanchez was losing badly.
Matthews is both the most expensive fighter on the card and the biggest betting favorite, and understandably so. Sanchez’s cardio and grappling are essentially the only two aspects of his game that have not horribly eroded, and Matthews has the advantages virtually everywhere else. Matthews’ boxing has improved considerably and he’ll be much too physical for Sanchez. I expect a dominant performance from Matthews, potentially even a TKO if Sanchez’s durability has fully waned.
Number of Note: 16. Matthews’ wrestling is one of his biggest strengths and he uses it to great effect in the UFC. His takedown differential inside the Octagon is +16 (21 to 5). Sanchez was taken down five times in his one-sided loss to Michael Chiesa.
Set your lineups here: MMA $500K 253 Special [$100K to 1st]
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