Saturday is officially fight day and Thursday’s press conference certainly set the tone for an electrified atmosphere, to say the least. The UFC 264 card is a solid lineup, but the devil is in the details, so let’s look at those. First, this will be the first full-attendance event in Las Vegas since March 2020. Second, the celebrities that will be in attendance include the former president, Donald Trump. And lastly, this is one of those ultra rare PPV events that doesn’t have a title fight. What it does have is a trilogy ender at the top of the card in the headlining spot. Conor McGregor will once again test his skills against those of his current foe, Dustin Poirier. It’s an excellent matchup and one that seems to have hit the mental warfare aspect in these last hours before the show kicks off. Both Conor and Dustin slung insults at each other and during the faceoff, Conor even launched a kick at Poirier, but fortunately, Dana White was there to keep the ruckus to a minimum.
Also of particular interest are a few other bouts, starting with the co-main event, a certified banger featuring Gilbert Burns taking on Stephen Thompson. Working our way down the card, we come to “Sugar” Sean O’Malley against late replacement Kris Moutinho. Irene Aldana will be testing her mettle against tough grinder Yana Kunitskaya to further shake out top contender status. Carlos Condit against Max Griffin is guaranteed fireworks and Michel Pereira vs. Niko Price might be the most gangbusters pairing on the entire card. And last, but certainly not least, Ilia Topuria vs. Ryan Hall can’t possibly disappoint.
We’ve selected four fighters from the event that will illustrate why they are worthy of their lofty or budget-conscious price tags in an effort to help you select your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups. Let’s get started.
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Sean O’Malley, $9,500
Sean O’Malley is the biggest favorite on the card on DraftKings Sportsbook for good reason. He’s facing a late replacement opponent in Kris Moutinho, one whom the UFC selected a little too early for a fight of this magnitude. Moutinho is the kind of prospect you bring up through TUF or the Contender Series. You just don’t give him one of the hottest prospects in the promotion and expect him to pull off a miracle. A CES MMA staple, Moutinho sports a 9-4 record but isn’t a standout in any one area. He has 3 TKOs over lower tier competition and when faced with the challenge of taking the next step up, he stumbles (see Tony Gravely fight).
Now he’s being set up as a showcase fight for O’Malley to make a highlight reel of, and make no mistake, that is almost assuredly going to happen here. “Sugar” is a talented athlete and has plenty of stopping power. He’s also an aggressive volume striker willing to take chances to land those haymakers. I know, I know, I’m being way too bold with my absolute denial of Moutinho’s chances, but I love a good underdog story, so if it happens that Kris gets the upset, I’ll happily eat crow.
Pricing: Could be a smidge closer
Michel Pereira, $8,900
Michel Pereira vs. Niko Price is my second favorite fight on this card. The potential for this contest to turn into a wild striking extravaganza resulting in a violent end is massive as Niko Price couldn’t have a boring fight if he tried. Ditto Michel Pereira. But when we get down to the nuts and bolts of this bout, we’ll see that Michel is the more durable of the two, the better technician and even though he has a reputation for being a wild man himself, he is still capable of giving an intelligent, composed performance. Both men have power, but Niko has been through some wars and he has a button on that chin. Still, he can separate a man from his consciousness pretty darn quick, so Pereira will need to be cautious on his entries. Michel is also an excellent submission artist, so if the fight ends up on the ground, I’d give him the edge. What is going to be the best part is that neither man seems to have the fear molecule in them. I never would have come up with this fight on my own, but now that it’s here, I’m ridiculously stoked to see it.
Pricing: Should be closer
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Gilbert Burns, $7,700
Gilbert Burns has an opportunity to get back on track to another title shot with a win over Stephen Thompson. That’s not saying it would be immediate, but he could be just one fight removed if he can get the job done. Thompson is likely on the last leg of his “Give me a title shot” tour, and at 38, one has to think a loss would almost certainly bring an end to that dream.
“Durinho” has a couple paths to victory here: submission chops and a legitimate heater. He’s younger, faster and stronger. He has world-class jiu jitsu and he’s hungry. In his title bid against Kamaru Usman, he had a great first round, but unfortunately blew his wad early and by the midpoint of round two, he was gassing and starting to feel the effects of Usman’s assault. The third round saw him floored off a jab and from there, Usman followed him down and finished the job.
I don’t think that’s going to happen in this fight, though. The pressure of the belt being on the line is gone, the need to preserve stamina for five rounds is also gone. Thompson is a great technician and uses his length and kickboxing to keep the range right where he wants it, all the while pot-shotting from distance. The thing is, Gilbert is fast—much more so than Wonderboy—and aggressive. He’s willing to eat a few to get in close to put hands on his foe. And as mentioned above, Thompson is not getting any younger or faster. I don’t know that this will end in a finish, but Burns has an excellent chance to upset the applecart.
Yana Kunitskaya, $7,900
Yana Kunitskaya has a very gritty, worker bee style. She’s not particularly fast or powerful, but she makes the most of her strength and athleticism to grind out victories. She manages her cardio well and doesn’t seem to get flustered under pressure. She’s got an incredibly tall order ahead of her with Irene Aldana, as Aldana is an aggressive striker with knockout power (see Ketlen Vieira fight). That said, Irene can be overwhelmed and outworked (see Holly Holm fight), so Yana can capitalize on that aspect, which is right in her wheelhouse—throwing enough volume to stay good with the judges, level changing when she senses danger and keeping her opponents pinned while she does just enough work to not get stood up. This is very much a coin toss fight with both women having a unique path to victory, but Kunitskaya could end up eking out a win here just by avoiding Irene’s powerbomb and staying busier.
Set your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups here: MMA $1M 264 Special [$200K to 1st]
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