UFC 274 takes place on Saturday, and Friday’s weigh in brought chaos to the card. The card was supposed to be headlined by a lightweight title fight between Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje, but Oliveira missed weight. As a result, Oliveira has been stripped of the title. Gaethje can still win the title if he beats Oliveira on Saturday, but Oliveira cannot win the title.
The co-main event is a rematch between Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza for the women’s strawweight title. Namajunas and Esparza originally fought all the way back in 2014 in the first-ever title bout for the newly created women’s strawweight title.
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Carla Esparza ($7,300)
In the first fight between Namajunas and Esparza, Esparza had success via takedowns and generated control time for about a third of the fight, which is in line with her UFC career control time percentage of 33%. Esparza sunk in a rear-naked choke in the third round to win the title.
It’s important to note that Namajunas was very green in that fight—she was just 21 years old and only had three professional MMA bouts on her record. Namajunas has improved dramatically since then, but she still has one weakness that Esparza could possibly take advantage of again: takedown defense. Namajunas has stopped just 51% of opponent takedown attempts in her UFC career and got taken down five times in her most recent fight against Zhang Weili. Namajunas’ last loss also came directly from wrestling, as she was dumped on her head off a high-crotch by Jessica Andrade:
One of Esparza’s best strengths is her wrestling. Esparza has landed about 3.5 takedowns per 15 minutes, a strong rate, and took Namajunas down five times in their original matchup. It’s possible Esparza could find a similar method of victory in the rematch given her advantage in wrestling.
If that happens, Esparza would be in position to generate a lot of control time, which would help aid fantasy scoring. Esparza has generated the second-most control time in the history of the women’s strawweight division, racking up nearly 59 total minutes of control time in her UFC fights. Esparza’s control time on a rate basis is also good, ranking third-best among active fighters in the division at 33%.
The fact that this fight is five rounds could also help Esparza’s fantasy scoring, as she would have potentially 10 more minutes to generate fantasy volume. Esparza has not been in a five-round fight since 2015 and has been prone to going the distance, going to decision nine times in her last 11 fights. Esparza winning a decision with lots of takedowns and control time is not unrealistic.
Tony Ferguson ($6,600)
It wasn’t that long ago that Ferguson was considered one of the top fighters in the lightweight division, but a recent three-fight losing skid has contributed to him entering his fight against Michael Chandler as a big underdog. Ferguson is about +300 on the moneyline on DraftKings Sportsbook, which is the biggest underdog on the card. As a result, Ferguson costs just $6,600, the cheapest fighter on the entire slate.
Ferguson has looked past his prime recently, but his losses have been against elite competition, including Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje. Oliveira and Gaethje are currently the top two fighters in the division and are fighting for the title on this card. Beneil Dariush, Ferguson’s most recent loss, is also a top fighter and currently ranks in the top five in the official UFC lightweight rankings. In the Gaethje fight, Ferguson had Gaethje hurt from an uppercut, but the round ended before Ferguson could follow up:
Michael Chandler is also a top opponent, but Chandler does not have the best chin and can be susceptible to getting dropped. Chandler has been finished by KO/TKO four times in his career and recently got finished by strikes against Charles Oliveira. Chandler has also been knocked down in each of his last two fights.
Chandler is more likely to win, so Ferguson is a risky fantasy play, but he has a path to victory and could provide big savings in tournament formats at reduced ownership.
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Charles Oliveira ($8,500) vs. Justin Gaethje ($7,700)
“Get exposure to both fighters” usually feels like a cheap pick, but this is a fight that is worth having one lineup that has Oliveira in it and another lineup that has Gaethje in it. Both fighters have legitimate ways to win and both have ways to produce good fantasy value at their salaries.
Oliveira has not lost a fight since December 2017, going a perfect 10-0 with nine finishes over that stretch. The only fight Oliveira failed to finish over that span was against Tony Ferguson, but Oliveira had Ferguson in positions that would have finished most other opponents, including a fully-extended armbar that Ferguson refused to tap to. Oliveira is not far off from finishing 10 straight fights, which is amazing. Oliveira holds the record for most finishes in UFC history with 18. Oliveira also holds the record for most wins via submission in UFC history with 15.
Justin Gaethje is one of the most aggressive and entertaining fighters in the UFC, largely because he enjoys trading punches. This was best on display in Gaethje’s most recent fight against Michael Chandler, where the two traded haymakers over the course of 15 minutes. Gaethje landed nearly eight significant strikes per minute and absorbed roughly seven significant strikes per minute, both of which are extremely high numbers. This is basically vintage Gaethje—heavy volume, both on the landing side and absorbing side. Overall, Gaethje is landing about 7.5 significant strikes per minute in the UFC, an extremely fast striking pace. Because of his style, Gaethje has also absorbed a ton of strikes, absorbing roughly eight significant strikes per minute.
Oliveira’s dangerous bottom game makes opponents hesitant to take the fight to the ground. And despite being an accomplished wrestler, Gaethje has not recorded a single takedown in any of his UFC fights and has officially attempted just one takedown in nine UFC fights. Combined with Oliveira’s dangerous bottom game, this makes it likely that the fight will primarily take place on the feet and become a striking match.
Oliveira’s striking has improved a lot recently, and he showcased his striking progression in his title-fight win over Michael Chandler. Oliveira landed a beautiful left hook that stunned Chandler and set up the finishing combination to win the title.
On the flip side, Gaethje’s heavy striking volume could make him a strong fantasy scorer, and he has the punching power to end the fight if he connects.
Getting exposure to the main event is also a good idea because the fight is five rounds, which potentially creates 10 more minutes to generate fantasy scoring.
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All views expressed are my own. I am an employee of DraftKings and am ineligible to play in public DFS or DKSB contests. The contents contained in this article do not constitute a representation that any particular strategy will guarantee success. All customers should use their own skill and judgment in building lineups.
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