On Saturday, the UFC returns to the APEX Center once again for their 32nd “Vegas” event. This time, there’s a bit of a change. For the first time in nearly two years, a small handful of fans, 150 to be exact, will be allowed in to watch the event cageside. Those lucky fans will be treated to a hardcore fan’s dream card. From the opening bouts to the main event, this show has one of the best prospect and established veteran bout sheets we’ve seen in quite some time and I am here for it, as I’m sure many of you are as well.
We’ll start with Adrian Yanez vs. Randy Costa, two fun scrappers that could see the winner get a big push for a lower or mid-tier contender in their next outing. Then we have a stellar matchup at middleweight between heavy hitter Punahele Soriano and the well-rounded Brendan Allen in what should end up being an exciting scrap. Aspen Ladd and Macy Chiasson will duel at bantamweight with the winner undoubtedly eyeing a closer spot to title eliminators because Amanda Nunes sure has been cleaning out the division.
Finally, we get to the crown jewel of the card, the headliner, and it is sensational. Cory Sandhagen, the No. 2 ranked bantamweight, will take on TJ Dillashaw, who happens to be returning after a two-year suspension. Will those two years away from the sport end up being medicinal to Dilly’s career, or will cage rust be the factor that sets him back further? It’s one of the rare times when we look at a show and automatically know the main event will likely be the fight of the night. That said, there are a few potential candidates for that honor, but to me, it’s that one.
We’ve put together a handy guide of facts and figures to help you when selecting your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups. Each category will feature the standout fighter for his/her achievements in said category. Let’s get started!
DraftKings is hosting a big UFC Fight Night fantasy MMA tournament that pays out $500K in total prizes, including $100,000 to first place. Set your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups here: MMA $500K Throwdown [$100K to 1st].
Cory Sandhagen, $8,800
Cory Sandhagen is the No. 2 guy for a reason. He’s a technical marvel, he rips the most lethal body shots in the division, he’s fast, he’s defensively sound and he’s a volume machine. Averaging 6.85 strikes landed per minute while only absorbing 3.29 in that same stretch, the switch fighter makes the most of tenderizing the body, a trait I always look for when deeming an athlete “complete.” Sandhagen faces a tough challenge in TJ Dillashaw, a knockout artist with a great wrestling base and grappling skill. Dillashaw also lands at high volume, to the tune of 5.37 strikes landed per minute, but his defense could use some work, as he absorbs 3.03 strikes in that same breadth of time. TJ is now 35 and has an 11-year career under his belt. He’s only had 20 fights, but it’s a metric worth considering. This is an outstanding matchup and should provide all the fireworks to make it an instant classic.
TJ Dillashaw, $7,400
TJ Dillashaw has been away from the sport for 2.5 years, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rest and recuperation are always welcome, but when we peel back the layers on his record, we find that he’s not been the most active fighter even before the suspension. Just one fight in 2015, one in 2017, one in 2018 and one in 2019. Some may find that an acceptable number, but I am of the opinion that a wee bit more in-cage experience is necessary when fighting at this level. He’s 35 now, not a young man by this sport’s standards, but with only 20 fights, perhaps his “fight age” is a bit younger. Dillashaw is a heavy hitter, with a cannon of a right hand. Fighting from the orthodox stance, he has nine wins by way of knockout, the most of anyone on the card. He has been stopped himself, once by John Dodson, and most recently in his last bout with Henry Cejudo, where he ridiculously dropped down to 125 to challenge for another belt. Now, 2.5 years older and hopefully wiser, he has the chance to get right back in contention with a win over Sandhagen. That’s a tall order, but definitely not out of the realm of possibility.
Darrick Minner, $8,600
Darrick Minner is an under-the-radar submission machine. If you ever thought to yourself, “Who is Gerald Meerschaert and why did I not know he had 24 submissions?”, allow me to present Mr. Minner. Darrick has a whopping 22 submissions under his belt, and that is out of 26 wins. He counts Clay Collard (now onto boxing pseudo-fame and the PFL), Terrance McKinney, T.J. Laramie and Charles Rosa among his wins, and is currently on a two-fight run. He can be out-grappled though, as Grant Dawson and Herbert Burns both proved, but he seems to be improving and learning along the way. He faces the ultra-tough Darren Elkins, a comeback kid if ever there was one. His nickname, “The Damage,” is unfortunately what his career has been like. He takes a ton of damage, win or lose, and that accumulates, especially over a 14-year career. The fight miles on that man are extensive and have begun to show themselves more and more. His first win over the last five fights came against relative unknown, Luiz Garagorri, and he gave up an early lead in that fight, having to once again get the job done in the third after having a disastrous second round. Both men are experienced, but Elkins, at 37, is really starting to show his age.
Mickey Gall, $7,500
Mickey Gall has a charmed career. He came into the UFC with a 1-0 record to take on C.M. Punk. He rattled off wins over Mike Jackson and Sage Northcutt, then things started going downhill from there. He lost a unanimous decision to Randy Brown, then scored a win over George Sullivan. A completely faded Diego Sanchez scored a second-round TKO over him, mainly because he was spent by the second round. A win over Salim Touahri would get him back on track, but in his last contest, he fought Mike Perry, and once again, gassed out, losing a disappointing unanimous decision. Part of his problem is poor defensive acumen, as he absorbs quite a bit of punishment, no matter whom he fights. He might have gotten this problem under control, but when you have more than one fight where you’ve become a member of Team Hufflepuff, you end up on this dreaded list.
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