This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
It took a while, but we're finally here. It's not a stretch to say Usman v. Covington is the biggest fight the UFC can put on at the moment. From both a stylistic and personal standpoint, this matchup is as fascinating as it gets. Toss in two more title fights and a $200,000 GPP on DraftKings, and we have one of the biggest MMA events of the year.
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 six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings altered their scoring system in December 2016 to add a new fighter to the lineup and adjust scoring. The most recent point values are listed below.)
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
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 - Welterweight Championship
(C) Kamaru Usman (15-1-0) v. Colby Covington (15-1-0)
DK Salaries: Usman ($8,900), Covington ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Usman (-175) Covington (+155)
Odds to Finish: +190
Usman won the UFC Welterweight Championship in March after blowing the doors of former champ Tyron Woodley in a dominant, five round decision win. Usman did whatever he wanted in that fight, and gave Woodley, who entered on a four-year and seven-fight unbeaten streak, absolutely nothing. I picked Usman to win that fight, but even I could not have seen him doing so in such a dominant fashion. Usman lost his second pro fight to someone named Jose Caceres in Coral Gables, Florida way back in May 2013 and hasn't tasted defeat since. Usman can do it all. He's big (6-0), athletic, powerful and a solid wrestler. Usman's defense is also spectacular. He averages just 1.60 significant strikes absorbed per minute. By comparison, he lands 4.20.
Covington is an excellent opponent and worthy challenger. Toss out all the nonsense that comes out of his mouth along with his antics outside of the Octagon, and you have one of the best competitors in the sport. Colby's most recent performance was a five-round unanimous decision beating of former UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler in August. In that fight, Covington landed 201 total strikes compared to 82 for Robbie. But that's not even the most fascinating stat of the fight. That honor goes to the fact Covington ATTEMPTED 541 total strikes compared to just 171 from Lawler. That is not a misprint. Over the course of 25 minutes, Colby attempted 541 strikes. His pace is insane. He can fight for ten rounds at exactly the same elite level and that gives him a massive advantage over most anyone he faces.
The key to this fight as I see it is which man will be able to implement his wrestling game with success. Usman averages a whopping 3.96 takedowns per 15 minutes worth of action, but that number pales in comparison to Covington's 5.69 per 15 minutes. Covington has a remarkable, unique ability to drag his opposition to the mat no matter what the cost. He doesn't have to have perfect positioning to get the job done. In many ways it's similar to what UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov does to the poor 155 pounders he goes up against. Usman has never been taken down in his UFC career, but he has also never gone up against someone with the wrestling background of Colby.
I couldn't be more torn on this decision, so I'm going to split the difference. I'm going to pick Usman to win. What he did against Woodley was remarkable and I think Covington is going to have a difficult time racking up consistent takedowns against an opponent that is so skilled and strong. That being said, I think Colby is the better DraftKings play. As dominant as Usman has been, I see no reason for their to be such a gap in salary between the two. Covington is an excellent fighter and a guy with his ability rarely comes along at such a cheap price. That alone makes him a worthy dice roll.
THE PICK: Usman
Co-Main Event - Featherweight Championship
(C) Max Holloway (21-4-0) v. Alexander Volkanovski (20-1-0)
DK Salaries: Holloway ($8,700), Volkanovski ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Holloway (-170), Volkanovski (+150)
Odds to Finish: +165
The winner of 14 fights in a row at featherweight, Holloway will seek his fourth successful title defense against Volkanovski on Saturday.
Max had his 13-fight overall winning streak snapped in April when moved up to 155 pounds to fight Dustin Poirier for the Interim UFC Lightweight Championship. Holloway had no answers for the size and physicality of Dustin. Many people were wondering if that setback would get in Holloway's head when he returned to 145 pounds to defend his belt. The answer to that question was a resounding "no". Holloway easily took a unanimous decision from Frankie Edgar in his most recent bout in July. The story on Holloway remains the same: elite cardio, tons of volume, great game planning and a solid chin. It's been enough to defeat anyone put in front of him at featherweight for nearly six years. To give you an idea of how good Holloway has been over the past half-dozen years, here are some of the names he has defeated since he last lost a fight at 145 pounds: Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas, Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo (x2), Brian Ortega and Edgar. It's been a remarkable run that doesn't get talked about enough.
Holloway has a mighty task in front of him if he plans on walking out of T-Mobile Arena with his belt. All Volkanovski has done is roll over every single opponent put in front of him in the UFC. He enters on a 17-fight win streak, including a perfect 7-0 with the company. Alex has a ton of power and is extremely strong for the division. He is going to have a significant advantage over Holloway in both those areas. He excels at putting together combination and has displayed zero issues with his cardio to this point. That being said, I'm interested to see if he tries to push the pace against Holloway early knowing how well Max fares in the later stages of five-round fights.
The other thing I'm really looking forward to see is how Holloway handles Volkanovski's power. Max is an excellent counter-puncher and he's generally durable, but I'm curious how that skill will hold up against an opponent with more power than the average featherweight.
Due to nothing more than a gut feel, I'm going with the challenger in an upset. I really think Volkanovski has the punching power to give Max trouble. As long as his defense holds up, I think he has a legitimate chance to win. The DraftKings salaries and Vegas odds both look correct to me. Holloway has to be favored given everything we have seen from him at 145 pounds the past many years.
THE PICK: Volkanovski
UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship
(C) Amanda Nunes (18-4-0) v. Germaine de Randamie (9-3-0)
DK Salaries: Nunes ($9,200), de Randamie ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Nunes (-280), de Randamie (+240)
Odds to Finish: -290
This is a rematch of a November 2013 fight which Nunes won via knockout in just under four minutes.
As brilliant as the four men I discussed above have been over the past several years, an argument can be made that Nunes has been just as dominant, if not moreso, than any of them over that same period of time. That domination has led to Nunes becoming BOTH the UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion and the UFC Women's Featherweight Champion.
Nunes' greatest advantage over most anyone she faces is her sheer power. She simply hits harder than any other woman on the roster. Most thought Cris Cyborg would be able to match her in that category when the two met last December, but Nunes blew the doors off her. Amanda has worked exceptionally hard to develop into a solid all-around mixed martial artist. Her cardio has improved ten-fold since arriving in the company in August 2013. She is also a black belt in BJJ and brown belt in judo. It's going to take an unseen, Herculean effort to get either title off her.
De Randamie, the former UFC Women's Featherweight Champion, gets another shot at gold Saturday. She is coming off an impressive 16-second knockout win over Aspen Ladd in July. When she steps in the cage, GDR is an excellent fighter. Her problem has simply been getting to that point. She has withdrawn from multiple fights due to injury, and was stripped of her belt for refusing to fight Cyborg. The last fight de Randamie actually lost was the first Nunes bout. But since then, Nunes has fought 10 times while GDR has had just five bouts.
GDR has the technical kickboxing skills to hang with Nunes on the feet. She was undefeated as a pro kickboxer (46-0) and racked up 30 knockouts. De Randamie's issue is going to be how she handles the power of Nunes. While GDR relies on combinations and volume, Nunes can turn your lights out with one shot. I would also wager Amanda has the slightly better chin of the two.
I'm interested in seeing this fight, but unlike the first two, I think Nunes is an easy pick. I think the woman that eventually dethrones her will be someone who's greatest strength is not her striking. We have seen it time and time again, standing toe-to-toe with Amanda is a recipe for disaster. Names like Cyborg and Holly Holm have both failed miserably going that route. Heck, Nunes even decisioned UFC Women's Strawweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko twice in an 18-month span. If names like Cyborg and Valentina couldn't get the job done, I don't see GDR pulling the upset. I think there's a chance this one turns into a rout.
THE PICK: Nunes
Marlon Moraes (22-6-1) v. Jose Aldo (28-5-0)
DK Salaries: Moraes ($9,000), Aldo ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Moraes (-200), Aldo (+170)
Odds to Finish: -170
The longtime king of the featherweight division, Aldo will make his very first appearance at 135 pounds on Saturday. The timing of the move is odd, all things considered. Aldo had openly discussed retiring on multiple occasions before agreeing to a new eight-fight contract this past June. The added security makes the move a bit more understandable, but Aldo turned 33 years of age this past September and has more than 30 professional fights under his belt. He's been a pro for more than 15 years. Is this really the time to experiment with a new weight class?
The fact Moraes is probably the last opponent anyone heading to bantamweight wants to see only serves to complicate matters further. Moraes fought Henry Cejudo for the UFC Bantamweight Championship in June and was knocked out late in Round 3. It was a dreadful performance from a fighter who had quickly established himself as one of the better pound-for-pound competitors in the sport. Until proven otherwise, I'm willing to chalk up that effort to nothing more than an off night. Prior the the Cejudo loss, Moraes racked up wins over Raphael Assuncao, Jimmie Rivera, Aljamain Sterling and John Dodson. He's very clearly a legitimate all-around threat. He has 10 career wins via knockout and six via submission. He fights physically and I think that will help negate any advantage potential advantage Aldo may have from having competed at featherweight for so long. It should also be noted that Moraes fought at 145 pounds from 2007-2011.
I'm very interested to see how Aldo handles the move. It's not unprecedented for a fighter with so much success in one weight class to switch it up late in his career, but it's not exactly common. Heck, Chris Weidman did it in October. That result did not go well.
I'm also worried about how Aldo's weight cut will look. He has more muscle on his frame than most people realize and I don't think the drop down to 135 pounds will be as easy as some think. Those concerns combined with Aldo's age and the overall talent of Moraes make this an easy pick. I generally try to stay away from guys switching weight classes if at all possible and there are plenty of reasons to do so here.
THE PICK: Moraes
Peter Yan (13-1-0) v. Urijah Faber (35-10-0)
DK Salaries: Yan ($9,400), Faber ($6,800)
Vegas Odds: Yan (-470), Faber (+355)
Odds to Finish: -155
Yan is in a tough spot here. On one hand, there are positives to fighting Faber. Yan gets a bout on the main card of arguably the biggest pay-per-view of the year, and he'll get a nice paycheck as a result. It's a fight he should easily win and if he does, he can say he defeated a UFC Hall of Famer and former WEC Featherweight Champion. On the other hand, this is a fight that will do nothing for him in terms of the rankings, win or lose, and a loss to Faber will send Yan spiraling to the back of the line in terms of a potential title shot. It's a calculated risk.
Yan made his UFC debut about a year and a half ago. He is a perfect 5-0 with the company, including wins over Rivera, Dodson, and the underrated Douglas Silva de Andrade. Yan possesses lightning-quick hands and has excellent size (5-7) for 135 pounds. Given what we've seen so far from Yan, I'd wager there's a better than even chance that he fights for a UFC title at some point in the next 18-24 months, but first he has to get through Faber.
Anyone who follows this sport knows Faber's story. "The California Kid", a member of the UFC Hall of Fame, announced his retirement in 2016 only to return this past July after 2.5 years on the sidelines. Fighting in his hometown of Sacramento, Faber, who entered as a +155 underdog, knocked out Ricky Simon in 46 seconds and earned a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus for his efforts. It was Faber's first knockout win since January 2007. In other words, the performance has "fluke" written all over it. Faber's skill set has been deteriorating for several years before his hiatus and I refuse to believe that time on the sidelines actually helped.
Faber remains immensely popular and he helps drives ratings and as we all know, that's all that matters, but I see no reason for him to be handed this opportunity. Urijah's foot speed has deteriorated and his athleticism has waned. Both are to be expected, given the fact he turned 40 years old this past May. I'm critical of aging fighters hanging on for too long, and while Faber has more left in the tank than a guy like Andrei Arlovski, there's is absolutely nothing that leads me to believe he can be competitive against a top-tier fighter like Yan at this point in his career. Maybe Faber will prove me wrong, but give Yan's quickness and the fact he's nearly 14 years Faber's junior, I have zero interest in him as an underdog play.
THE PICK: Yan
Geoff Neal (12-2-0) v. Mike Perry (13-5-0)
DK Salaries: Neal ($9,100), Perry ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Neal (-250), Perry (+210)
Odds to Finish: -180
THE PICK: Neal
Ketlen Vieira (10-0-0) v. Irene Aldana (11-5-0)
DK Salaries: Vieira ($8,800), Aldana ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Vieira (-165), Aldana (+145)
Odds to Finish: +240
THE PICK: Vieira
Ian Heinisch (13-2-0) v. Omari Akhmedov (19-4-1)
DK Salaries: Heinisch ($8,400), Akhmedov ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Heinisch (-150), Akhmedov (+130)
Odds to Finish: +135
THE PICK: Akhmedov
Matt Brown (23-16-0) v. Ben Saunders (22-12-2)
DK Salaries: Brown ($9,300), Saunders ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Brown (-345), Saunders (+285)
Odds to Finish: -425
THE PICK: Brown
Chase Hooper (8-1-0) v. Daniel Teymur (7-3-0)
DK Salaries: Hooper ($8,300), Teymur ($7,900)
Vegas Odds: Hooper (-115), Teymur (-105)
Odds to Finish: -175
THE PICK: Hooper
Brandon Moreno (15-5-1) v. Kai Kara-France (20-7-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Moreno ($7,700), Kara-France ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Moreno (+135), Kara-France (-155)
Odds to Finish: +155
THE PICK: Kara-France
Jessica Eye (14-7-0, 1NC) v. Viviane Araujo (8-1-0)
DK Salaries: Eye ($7,600), Araujo ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Eye (+150), Araujo (-170)
Odds to Finish: +180
THE PICK: Araujo
Punahele Soriano (6-0-0) v. Oskar Piechota (11-2-1)
DK Salaries: Soriano ($8,200), Piechota ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Soriano (+100), Piechota (-120)
Odds to Finish: -195
THE PICK: Piechota