I’ll be live tweeting the fights. Come mock me for my bad calls. @pugfighter
After a mediocre-at-best NFL DFS season this year, I was more than a little excited to learn that MMA was finally going to be making its way onto the DraftKings roster. While my NFL knowledge is spotty, and my DFS play has relied heavily on the opinions of those much smarter than I am, I’ve been an avid follower of MMA since before most people had even heard of the UFC. I think I might actually have something to bring to the table, so I figured I’d write up a post with some of my thoughts on the upcoming UFC 182. I’ll go fight by fight and give thoughts on who I might be using along the way.
But first, let’s talk a bit about the strategy we’ll need to employ in order to win at MMA DFS. I’m not going to discuss many of the strategic differences between GPP and H2H for MMA, largely because I don’t really think there are any (Let me know if you disagree… and of course my opinion could change as the next few events play out and there’s more data to digest), and I also don’t see a lot of point in playing GPPs with MMA. The fighter pool is so small that any large field tournament will have multiple identical teams, with very few options to differentiate yourself. Personally, I’ll be sticking to H2H and 50/50s. This will change if DK starts allowing teams over multiple events or promotions.
In order to win either a GPP or a H2H, your focus will need to be on choosing winners, with a secondary focus on how and what the fighter will do to get the win. In general, given the $50k salary cap, and the fact that essentially all favourites are priced >$10k, you’re going to be looking at either 2 large favourites and 3 small underdogs, or 3 small favourites and 2 small underdogs. And given the bonuses received for a win, I lean further toward the 2 large favourites for the “guaranteed” points (of course, nothing is guaranteed). Picking favourites is usually pretty easy… Vegas is good at what Vegas does. Our task, therefore, is to focus on picking underdogs that have a good chance of taking the win and, if they don’t win it, will get us some solid points along the way.
One other thing to keep in mind… while the scoring system seems to be geared largely toward grapplers given the higher point values, it’s important not to underestimate the value of significant strikes. At 0.5pts/ss, a fighter that averages 4ss/minute will rack up 30 points from significant strikes alone over the course of a 3 round fight. Compare that to a dominant wrestler who spends an entire round on top of his opponent. Such a round would likely see two takedowns (2pts each), four positional advances (1pt each) and, depending on just how good the wrestler is, we may or may not see a sweep (2 pts each). So, assuming 2 takedowns, 4 advances and one sweep, total points for grappling alone in that round would be 10. Keep in mind that, because the fight always starts on the feet, it’s a lot harder for a dominant wrestler to have 3 such rounds in a row than it would be for a dominant striker to average 4 sig strikes/minute throughout a fight. The holy grail of fighters is the one with the ability to take the fight to the ground, maintain position, and rain down significant strikes from the top, which would give us the best of all worlds.
So without further ado, let’s break down the fights.
Evan Dunham ($11.8k) vs.Rodrigo Damm ($8k)
The kickoff to the televised prelims will feature two fighters competing to remain relevant and to keep their places on the UFC roster. With Dunham having lost his last 3 fights and 4 of his last 5, and Damm having dropped his last 2, a loss for either fighter could mean a trip to the chopping block.
This fight figures to be largely contested on the feet, with both fighters having sub-optimal takedowns (small edge to Dunham), and both having fairly strong takedown defence (small edge to Damm). Damm has 6 of his 12 wins by submission, but the trick will be getting the fight to the ground and, even if he does, Dunham is no slouch off his back. Dunham’s last 3 losses were to Barboza, Cerrone and he of the leg tenderizing kicks, Raphael Dos Anjos, so don’t let his recent losing record throw you off. Vegas has him as a nearly 5 to 1 favourite for good reason. Dunham should take this one easily and with an average of nearly 5 sig strikes/minute landed to nearly 5 sig strikes/minute absorbed by Damm, Dunham should be able to justify his $11.8k price tag with a 25 point bonus for a decision win.
Shawn Jordan ($11k) vs. Jared Cannonier ($8.9k)
Shawn Jordan knocks people out. Jared Cannonier does too… sometimes. As a Gracie Barra fighter, Cannonier’s strength will be in his BJJ, but despite his undefeated 7-0 record on the regional circuit, I don’t think he’ll stand a chance against the UFC veteran Jordan. His only hope will be to get the fight to the mat, but Jordan’s 77% takedown defence will make that a challenge… especially given the fists and knees that will be flying at Cannonier on the way in. Jordan’s last win came by TKO against human gorilla Jack “the Outlaw” May, and his losses in the previous two fights were to Matt Mitrione and Gabriel Gonzaga, neither of whom is known for throwing pattycake punches. Jordan is another good option as a favourite as his ability to finish the fight early gives him a bit of a boost in value.
Marcus Brimage ($11.1k) vs. Cody Garbrandt ($8.7k)
Finally, an underdog I can get behind. Cody Garbrandt makes his UFC debut with a 5-0 record, with all 5 wins coming by way of KO/TKO in either the 1st or 2nd round. We know he can strike, but we also shouldn’t sleep on his ability to control the fight with his wrestling. Garbrandt was an elite high school wrestler who cut his teeth in MMA with the killers at Team Alpha Male. Brimage rarely tries to take the fight to the mat, so I see this one playing out against the cage, with Garbrandt controlling the action. It’ll probably go to decision, but No Love should get the win bonus, making this a good spot to save some room under the salary cap.
Danny Castillo ($10.9k) vs. Paul Felder ($9.0k)
As a late (and merciful) replacement for Rustam Khabilov, Felder enters his second UFC fight with an undefeated 9-0 record. Impressive on paper, but Felder shouldn’t stand a chance agains the wrestling of Team Alpha Male’s Danny Castillo. This fight goes to the mat early and stays there till it’s over. Castillo will likely get the win, but his wet blanket fight style may limit his upside, points-wise.
Hector Lombard ($12.1k) vs. Josh Burkman ($7.7k)
Hector Lombard is a scary, scary man and Josh Burkman… isn’t. Lombard comes into this fight as the second-biggest favourite on the card, with his last wins coming over Jake Shields, Nate Marquardt and Rousimar “Whatsatap” Palhares (he also had a loss to Yushin Okami thrown in there). Burkman, on the other hand, hasn’t fought in the UFC since 2008 (remember that one time that Anderson Silva fought Patrick Cote? Yeah… Burkman was on that card too). His last two fights include a win over Tyler Stinson and a loss to Steve Carl. Never heard of them? Exactly. Burkman is good wrestler, but Shields and Marquardt are great wrestlers and Lombard dispatched them without much difficulty. If you can fit him under the cap, Lombard is as much of a lock as anyone on this card for a quick finish.
Kyoji Horiguchi ($12.0k) vs. Louis Gaudinot ($7.9k)
Some stats: Horiguchi is a 7-1 Vegas favourite, Horiguchi lands an average of 4.56 ss/m, Gaudinot absorbs an average of 7.8 ss/m (that’s not a typo). Horiguchi is the biggest favourite on the card, yet DK has priced him cheaper than Lombard, and has priced Gaudinot higher than Burkman. I don’t get it, but I see value if you can fit him under the cap. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that not only will Horiguchi win this fight inside the distance, but it will be the last time we see Louis “Goodnight” Gaudinot in the octagon. We will also realize that he has the most ironic nickname on the card.
Nate Marquardt ($10.5k) vs. Brad Tavares ($9.3k)
After having suffered knockout losses in two of his last three fights, the real question coming into this one is whether Nate Marquardt’s chin is still what it needs to be for him to compete at the highest level. Something happened when he lost his Strikeforce title to Tarec Saffiedine; he hasn’t looked the same since. I think it’s safe to say that, at 35 years old, Marquardt has been permanently relegated to gatekeeper status, but I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt that he’ll vigorously defend the gate against Brad Tavares. Tavares is coming off two losses in a row, both to powerful wrestlers in Tim Boetsch and Yoel Romero. Marquardt is a powerful wrestler in his own right and, as long as he can avoid getting clipped early in the fight, I think he should be able to take this one to a unanimous decision win.
Donald Cerrone ($11.0k) vs. Miles Jury ($8.8k)
This fight scares me. When Cerrone comes into the ring at his best, he’s damn near unbeatable. Many of his fellow fighters consider him the best 155er in the UFC… when he actually comes to fight (don’t get me wrong, he’s still won fights where it didn’t look like his head was in the game, he just didn’t look very impressive doing it). Miles Jury is one of the “new breed” fighters who have been fighting MMA since day one (instead of coming up on one particular marital art and then branching out to MMA). He brings an undefeated (15-0) record into his fight against Cowboy, but other than his last two wins against Gomi and Sanchez, none of his opponents have been particularly notable, which is to be expected of an up and coming fighter. Cerrone, on the other hand, has fought and beaten a who’s who of bona fide MMA stars. One interesting aspect of this fight is that it will be Cerrone’s 5th fight of 2014. Will that work to his advantage in terms of being comfortable in the octagon, or will spending 30 out of 52 weeks in training camp have taken its toll on the 31 year old figher (at 32 years old myself, it pains me to consider him an aging fighter… but he is). In fact, since beating K.J. Noons on May 25, 2013, the longest Cerrone has gone between fights is 3 months. Eventually, a pace like that will have an effect; I’m just not sure if this will be the fight that it does. The bottom line is that I’m torn on this fight. My gut tells me that, under the bright lights of the co-main event, we will see a break-out fight for Jury. My head tells me not to bet against a stud like Cerrone fighting a young cub like Jury. In the end, I think I’m going to lean toward Jury’s youth, elusiveness and hunger, but I won’t hate you if you pick Cerrone.
Jon Jones ($11.7k) vs. Daniel Cormier ($9.6k)
SQUEEEE! Sorry, I don’t know what came ove – SQUEEEE! My apologies, I can’t help myself. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this excited for a fight. Why? 1) I’m an unabashed Jon Jones hater (yeah, yeah, I know he’s one of the greatest fighters to ever grace the octagon. I know he possesses unparalleled creativity. I know he’s just as dangerous on the mat as he is on his feet. I know, I know, I know. I still hate him, and you can’t stop me.) 2) I’m an unabashed Daniel Cormier nut-hugger, 3) I legitimately don’t have a clue who will win this fight, but I know it will be good.
Before I get into a bit more substantial analysis, a note on 5 round fights as they relate to DFS: Unless you’re positive the fight will end within the first few rounds, I don’t see how you can fade a 5 rounder. You’re essentially getting the potential for two free rounds in which your fighter can score you points. Not sure I need to elaborate much more than that.
Now, back to the Main Event. SQUEEE! I’m really trying hard to look at this fight as objectively as possible, but I’ve made my biases well known, so take it for what you will. Let’s take it from the top. Both fighters are undefeated (Jon Jones’ DQ loss to Matt Hamill doesn’t count… if you think Hamill would have beaten Jones legitimately, my DK username is Pug_ca and I look forward to playing you in as many H2H matches as you like). Both fighters have managed to make top-tier fighters look like children in the Octagon. Jon Jones had that crazy shoulder crank thingy against Glover Teixeira, Daniel Cormier threw Dan Henderson around the ring as if Hendo were an oversized stuffed animal that he had just won at the county fair (cue mental image of Cormier suplexing a plush giraffe). Bottom line, both these guys are crazy good. But you already knew that. Here’s where the rubber meets the road: Daniel Cormier has spent the bulk of his career as a (some may say severely) undersized heavyweight. During that time, he knocked out Bigfoot Silva, took catchwrestling stud Josh Barnett to a decision victory, took Frank Mir (the greatest heavyweight submission artist ever, in my opinion) to a decision victory without getting submitted, and took Roy Nelson to a decision without getting KTFO’d. He then dropped to 205 and dominated Hendo. So what we have is one of the most dominant heavyweight wrestlers of all time (I said “one of”, Cain lovers), making an easy cut to 205 to take on one of the greatest all-round fighters of all time in Jon Jones.
Jones, on the other hand, has fought and beaten the absolute best the UFC has had to offer. His last 8 fights have been against either the UFC champ (Shogun Rua), or the number 2 guy at 205. Wrestlers he’s beaten during that time include Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen. But none of those guys – not one – can hold a candle to the wrestling ability of Daniel Cormier. I think Jones will experience something he has never felt before. I think he’ll do a very, very good job of defending Cormier’s takedowns, but I think Cormier will be too much for him. I think Cormier will close the distance faster than anyone Jones has faced before (watch for Jones to be pointing his finger-daggers straight in the direction of Cormier’s face balls), I think Cormier will press Jones against the fence, and get the fight to the mat. Cormier will definitely take some shots, and it will be interesting to see how he hold up against Jones’ precision, but my prediction is that this one goes the distance, with Cormier winning a controversial split decision. For their respective prices, I don’t think you can go wrong having either guy on your DK team, but Cormier will come away with the win bonus. Of course, you knew I’d say that about 3 paragraphs ago. SQUEEEE!
Well, that’s it for this event. Look forward to hearing what everyone has to say in the comments.