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DraftKings MMA: UFC 215 Preview

Jon Litterine

Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.

Update: Saturday's main event between Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg has been cancelled after Borg came down with an illness Thursday evening and couldn't get cleared by doctors. The UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship matchup between Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko will take over as the main event.

Two title fights headline the UFC's first pay-per-view card in over a month. In the main event, Demetrious Johnson will look to break Anderson Silva's all-time title defense record. He's expected to dominate, but is he worth the $9,600 price tag?

If you’re hoping to turn the event into an opportunity to build your DFS bankroll, DraftKings.com has you covered with a full slate of contests. Players get a $50,000 budget to select five fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:

(Please note that DraftKings has altered their scoring system. The new point values are listed below and the rosters will now expand from 5 to 6 fighters).

Moves Scoring
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Advance (ADVC): +3 PT
Takedown (TD): +5 PTS
Reversal/Sweep (REV): +5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +10 PTS


Fight Conclusion Bonuses
1st Round Win (1rW+): +90 PTS
2nd Round Win (2rW+): +70 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rW+): +45 PTS
4th Round Win (4rW+): +40 PTS
5th Round Win (5rW+): +40 PTS
Decision Win (WBD+): +30 PTS

Scoring Notes
Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.

Advances include: To Half Guard, To Side Control, To Mount, To Back Control

Now, on to the fights...

Main Event - Flyweight Championship


(C) Demetrious Johnson (26-2-1) v. Ray Borg (11-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Johnson ($9,600), Borg ($6,600)
Vegas Odds: Johnson (-1,000), Borg (+700)
Odds to Finish: -140

The UFC is taking a monumental risk in booking Borg, who has missed weight twice in his UFC career, in a title fight, but there just aren't any other current options in a division that Johnson has cleaned out.

"Mighty Mouse" is the only Flyweight Champion in UFC history and he is currently riding a 12-fight winning streak. The list of fighters who have fallen victim to Johnson during that run (Joseph Benavidez 2x, John Dodson 2x, Wilson Reis, Henry Cejudo, Tim Elliott, etc.) are the best the division has to offer. DJ is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world in my book. He does everything perfectly from a technical standpoint and his world-class cardio allows him to fight in the 25th minute the same exact way that he fights in the first. It's a monumental advantage in a sport where fighters are gassing out left and right.

Borg is a gifted 24-year-old who relies on his grappling to win fights. He is very strong for a man who stands only 5-foot-4, and he has the ability to score successful takedowns from a variety of angles because of his brute strength. As I mentioned earlier, he has had issues making weight in the past. Either the UFC is confident that Borg's weight cutting issues are behind him, or else they feel as if they had no other option in regards to an opponent for Johnson. Borg also has very little power in his hands. He has just one career win by KO and that came in his third professional fight in May 2013. He is a quality fighter, but facing Johnson is a huge ask.

I am firmly of the belief that the only way to beat Johnson is to land one big shot that leads to a finish. There isn't a 125-pounder on the planet who can outpoint him for 25 minutes. DJ's last fight was against Reis, a big, strong wrestler who had a significant power advantage over the champ. Borg fights a similar style, but he's just not as powerful. "Mighty Mouse" embarrassed Reis and I could see the same thing happening against Borg. DJ's greatness puts him in the DraftKings conversation despite his massive salary. I will be picking Johnson in every single flyweight fight until he loses his title.

THE PICK: Johnson

Main Event - Women's Bantamweight Championship


(C) Amanda Nunes (14-4-0) v. Valentina Shevchenko (14-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Nunes ($8,100), Shevchenko ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Nunes (+100), Shevchenko (-115)
Odds to Finish: -195

It took a while, but it's finally happening. I really have no idea what truly happened in regards to Nunes' withdrawal from their scheduled UFC 213 fight, so it would be pointless to speculate on how it will impact this battle. This will be a rematch of a March 2016 fight which Nunes won via unanimous decision. Neither woman has lost a fight since then.

It took a while for me to come around on Nunes, but I think it's clear she is the best 135-pound female in the world at this point. Nunes' power is, for lack of a better word, disturbing. She doesn't need to land a whole bunch of combinations in order to end a fight. She is smart when hunting the finish, but she knows to pounce when the opportunity presents itself. Nunes' only loss in the UFC came against Cat Zingano in September 2014 in a fight in which she had Zingano badly hurt but couldn't put her away. Nunes' conditioning is better than it was then, and she is slowly learning how to conserve her energy for fights that are scheduled for five rounds.

Shevchenko has taken a decision from Holly Holm and submitted Julianna Pena since her loss to Nunes in the first fight between the two. Both performances were extremely impressive. Shevchenko battered Holm in what was essentially a kickboxing match, and she showed a different aspect of her game when she tapped out Pena with an armbar. Shevchenko now has quietly racked up six career wins by submission. That number might make you think that Valentina's best chance of winning this fight is on the mat, but Nunes is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and it would be a risky play to get into a ground battle with her.

There is no doubt that Shevchenko can win this fight in a multitude of ways, but I would term it a mild upset if it actually comes to fruition. I think her best chance of emerging victorious would be to outpoint Nunes in a kickboxing match. That's a dangerous route to go because of the Brazilian's power, but Shevchenko's Muay Thai background is so impressive that she would probably take her chances in that scenario. Nunes' finishing ability makes her the better fantasy play regardless of who you think is going to win the fight. I'm taking Nunes via decision, but this is an intriguing fight because it has the potential to go a number of different ways.

THE PICK: Nunes

Welterweight


Neil Magny (19-6-0) v. Rafael dos Anjos (26-9-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Magny ($7,600), dos Anjos ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Magny (+165), dos Anjos (-190)
Odds to Finish: +165

Dos Anjos, the former UFC Lightweight Champion, will be making his second foray into the welterweight division, as he is coming off a unanimous decision win over Tarec Saffiedine in June. RDA's victory in his last fight comes on the heels of back-to-back losses against Tony Ferguson and Eddie Alvarez. Dos Anjos was a big lightweight, but he is a small welterweight. He is giving up six inches in height and a massive ten inches in reach to Magny. Many of RDA's biggest strengths (wrestling, punching power, strength) are going to be negated, or at least scaled back, in the higher weight class. Still, he is a world class competitor that is going to be successful no matter where he competes, and he proved that against a solid opponent in Saffiedine.

Over the past three-plus years, Magny has complied an incredible 11-2 record. His all-around game has continuously improved and he can win a fight in a multitude of ways. Magny is a below average athlete with no elite skill, but he finds a way to win. Time and time again Magny faces opponents who figure to get the better of him, but he and his coaching staff at the Elevation Fight Team in Colorado devise a game plan that works. Magny has strong cardio and is a competent fighter in all areas of the sport. That is a massive advantage in a day and age where many fighters have gaping holes in their game. It's rarely pretty, but Magny usually emerges victorious.

I am 100 percent convinced that RDA is a better mixed martial artist than Magny, but dealing with Magny's size advantage is going to be a significant issue. If dos Anjos is able to get inside without any problems, I think he wins easily. If not, Magny's length gives him a legitimate chance to win this fight. I'm betting on RDA's skill level, but it's close. Closer than it probably should be, which makes Magny a good DraftKings value play as an underdog.

THE PICK: Dos Anjos

Light Heavyweight


Ilir Latifi (13-5-0, 1NC) v. Tyson Pedro (6-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Latifi ($8,500), Pedro ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Latifi (-150), Pedro (+110)
Odds to Finish: TBD

Latifi is finally returning to the Octagon after more than a year on the sidelines. The big Swede last fought on September 3, 2016, a second-round KO loss at the hands of ex-UFC employee Ryan Bader. Latifi is very strong and very powerful, but he's getting up there in age (34) and he's short for the division at 5-foot-10. His biggest issue on Saturday will be getting inside against the longer, quicker Pedro. Latifi moves very well for a man his size, but he is giving up a significant speed advantage to his opponent.

Pedro has developed into a fringe top-ten light heavyweight after two fights with the company. The competition he has faced has been subpar (Khalil Rountree, Paul Craig), but Pedro has earned first-round stoppage victories in both his UFC bouts. The Craig fight, which lasted 4:10, was the longest of Pedro's career. He starts out fast but we have no idea if he can keep up his frantic pace for an extend period of time.

We are going to find out very quickly how frequently we should pick Pedro moving forward. He's looked great, but Latifi is considerably better than anyone he has ever faced. Pedro needs to stand away from his opponent and fire off tons of strikes from distance. It's unclear if he can employ that type of game plan, but I think he is a good value given his DK salary. He's facing a strong but not dominant opponent. An upset is definitely in play here.

THE PICK: Pedro

Featherweight


Jeremy Stephens (25-13-0) v. Gilbert Melendez (22-6-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Stephens ($8,200), Melendez ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Stephens (-120), Melendez (-105)
Odds to Finish: +160

The 35-year-old Melendez is returning to featherweight after a long run at 155 pounds. Melendez hasn't won a fight since October 2013, although there was a year-long PED suspension during that time. Melendez is now 35 years old and he has been in a lot of wars over the years. Even though he is one of the more aggressive fighters in the sport, "El Nino" has never been knocked out in his professional career. He tends to throw a ton of strikes, although the heavy workload can led to subpar accuracy numbers. For a fighter who is known for his striking, Gilbert's last stoppage win came way back in April 2011 in his Strikeforce days.

Stephens doesn't know any way to fight other than an all out brawl. As hard as he hits, Stephens takes way too much punishment at times to land shots of his own. He has an iron chin (he has been knocked out just once) and can wrestle when needed, but the truth of the matter is that he looks uncomfortable when he's doing anything other than standing and banging. Stephens is 2-5 in his last seven fights, but the setbacks have come against Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson, Renato Moicano, Charles Oliveira, and current UFC Featherweight Champion Max Holloway. The point being that Stephens has been willing to go up against the best 145-pounders in the world for several years now.

Both of these guys need a win in the worst way. Stephens hits harder, but I have more confidence in Gilbert to construct and implement a specific game plan to emerge victorious. His recent poor run aside, Melendez was one of the top lightweights in the world for a long, long time and I think he is being overlooked. Stephens is the more likely of the two to earn a quick, overwhelming finish and there's certainly value there.

THE PICK: Melendez

Other Bouts


Women's Bantamweight


Sara McMann (11-3-0) v. Ketlen Vieira (8-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: McMann ($8,900), Vieira ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: McMann (-280), Vieira (+200)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: McMann

Flyweight


Henry Cejudo (10-2-0) v. Wilson Reis (22-7-0)
DraftKings Salaries: DK Salaries: Cejudo ($9,100), Reis ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Cejudo (-340), Reis (+265)
Odds to Finish: +180
THE PICK: Cejudo

Women's Bantamweight


Sarah Moras (4-3-0) v. Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Moras ($7,500), Evans-Smith ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Moras (+175), Evans-Smith (-245)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Evans-Smith

Featherweight


Gavin Tucker (10-0-0) v. Rick Glenn (19-4-1)
DraftKings Salaries: Tucker ($8,400), Glenn ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Tucker (-210), Glenn (+160)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Tucker

Lightweight


Mitch Clarke (11-4-0) v. Alex White (11-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Clarke ($8,800), White ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Clarke (+125), White (-165)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Clarke

Heavyweight


Luis Henrique (10-3-0, 1NC) v. Arjan Bhullar (6-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Henrique ($8,300), Bhullar ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Henrique (+150), Bhullar (-190)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Bhullar

Lightweight


Kajan Johnson (21-12-1) v. Adriano Martins (28-8-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Johnson ($7,200), Martins ($9,000)
Vegas Odds: Johnson (+260), Martins (-380)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Martins

All odds taken from BestFightOdds.com on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 5.
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