This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Bon voyage, Fight Island. The UFC returns to Las Vegas for its next series of events beginning Saturday, which means the smaller cage at the Apex is back.
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, including a $400,000 MMA Throwdown Special with $100,000 to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
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 - Middleweight
This fight was scheduled to be the co-main event of this card, with a women's bantamweight fight between Holly Holm and Irene Aldana headlining. Aldana withdrew about ten days before the event, and Brunson and Shahbazyan were bumped up. It will remain a three-round fight.
There's a legitimate case to be made that Shahbazyan is the very best prospect in the sport today, and this is a significant step up in competition for the 22-year-old. Edmen barely got by Darren Stewart via split decision in his official UFC debut back in November 2018, but he has racked up three straight stoppage victories since, and all three came in 2:27 or less. The three fighters Shahbazyan defeated – Brad Tavares, Jack Marshman, Charles Byrd – aren't exactly a murderer's row of competition, so it will be interesting to see how he fairs against Brunson.
Brunson is legitimately talented, but he's also maddeningly inconsistent. He was wildly aggressive to the point or recklessness earlier in his career but has toned it down of late. Brunson has legitimate fight-altering power and is extremely explosive. He's in excellent shape for a man who turned 36 years old this past January. Despite sporting just, a .500 record (4-4) dating back to November 2016, Brunson's four losses in that span came against current UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya, two former champions in Robert Whittaker and Anderson Silva, and a perennial top contender in Jacare Souza. Brunson got robbed by the judges in the Silva fight, and he had Whittaker beaten before losing his mind trying to get the finish and getting knocked out himself. Brunson has settled into "gate keeper" status at this point, but he's talented and can beat opponents who don't show up ready to fight.
I like this fight. I thought it was a much better matchup than the originally scheduled Holly Holm vs. Irene Aldana main event. It's a much-needed step up in competition for Shahbazyan, but it's also a fight he should win if he is truly as good as everyone seems to think he is. Edmen is tall (6-foot-2) and lanky, but it's Brunson who enters with a three-inch reach edge.
I advocate Brunson try to end this fight as quickly as possible. The fact it's three rounds instead of your typical five-round main event favors Brunson, because the odds of him outpointing Shahbazyan over the course of 25 minutes are small. I can't pick Brunson, but he has value at such a cheap salary. He's far more talented than your average fighter priced $7100. I still don't think it's enough. Shahbazyan is legit.
THE PICK: Shahbazyan
Co-Main Event - Women's Flyweight
This fight was originally scheduled to be Maia vs. Viviane Araujo before the latter tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Calderwood.
JoJo deserves a lot of credit for taking this fight – she didn't have to. Calderwood was due to face Valentina Shevchenko for the UFC Women's Flyweight Championship in early-June before Shevchenko pulled out in late March. The odds of Calderwood ever beating Valentina if that fight took place were slim-to-none, but it would have gotten her a massive payday, and JoJo would have been well within her rights to sit on the sidelines until the bout could be re-booked. That being said, Calderwood is 3-3 in her past six fights dating back to September 2016, and two of the three victories came against Ariane Lipski and Kalindra Faria (the other was against Andrea Lee), so the title shot she was getting was due to the stark lack of depth in the division as opposed to Calderwood running off some sort of epic winning streak.
Maia has been a professional for more than a decade and has fought several big names in her career. A former Invicta Flyweight Champion, Maia's UFC run has consisted of victories over Alexis Davis and Roxanne Modafferi and losses to Liz Carmouche and Katlyn Chookagian. Of course, anything Maia has accomplished inside the Octagon of late has been overshadowed by the fact she has missed weight for her past two fights. Quite frankly, I'm shocked the UFC was willing to book her at flyweight again. I would have bet good money they would have made Maia move up to bantamweight following her back-to-back misses.
I'm not particularly high on the future of either women here, but Maia doesn't have a stoppage win in nearly five years and has the weight cutting issues. That alone is enough for me to pick Calderwood, but I don't have a particularly strong feeling one way or another.
THE PICK: Calderwood
Luque has been one of the more underrated fighters on the UFC roster for the better part of the past half decade. He is 11-2 in his past 13 fight dating back to December 2015, and his only two losses with the company have come against top 170-pound contenders Stephen Thompson and Leon Edwards. Luque possesses an underrated ground game, but he is primarily a brawler. He has a bunch of power and is exceedingly durable, having never been knocked out in his professional career. I like him, but I'm not entirely convinced he has the fight IQ to defeat the best fighters in the division.
Brown isn't a huge name, but he is a talented guy and has the potential to pull an upset if Luque doesn't show up ready to fight. "Rude Boy" has fought a bit better than his 6-3 record with the company would lead you to believe. Brown has been inconsistent at times, but his second-round submission win over Warlley Alves in his most recent bout last November was arguably his best performance to date. Brown – who is extremely athletic – has the ability to make some difficult things inside the Octagon look exceedingly easy. Now, he just has to put it all together.
To give you an idea of Luque's brawling tendencies, he averages 5.66 significant strikers per minute, while absorbing 5.79 per minute. Both of those numbers are ridiculously high. For comparison's sake, Brown lands 3.41 and absorbs 2.42. Luque's aggressiveness defines what he is as a fighter, but I wish he picked his spots a bit better. That might not cost him against Brown (it probably won't), but it is certainly a factor against legitimate title contenders.
I have Brown as a live underdog here even if I don't expect him to win outright. He possess enough athletic ability to give Luque trouble if the later is determined to brawl.
THE PICK: Luque
This is a rematch of an October 2017 fight which ended in a split draw. Both men earned a $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus for their efforts in a bout that Vannata would have won had he not been docked a point for an illegal knee in Round 1.
Green has gone 2-2 since the first match between the two, with unanimous decision victories over Erik Koch and Clay Guida in addition to unanimous decision setbacks against Drakkar Klose and Francisco Trinaldo. Green has nine career victories via submission, but he's essentially a stand-up fighter at this stage of his career. His fight IQ is questionable, and he will go as far as his striking (and defense, or lack thereof) will take him. Green will turn 34 years of age this coming September, and he's never shown an inclination to change the way he fights, so I don't expect it to start now.
Vannata is actually a decent matchup for Green given them former's propensity to engage in brawls. Vannata has actually had some impressive performances with the UFC, but you are what your record says you are in this sport, and "Groovy" is currently sporting a 3-4-2 record in his first nine bouts with the company. Like Green, Vannata has had difficulty finishing fights. He tends to win with volume as opposed to sheer power, a strategy that is questionable against an opponent in Green who is generally known for his output in the striking department.
This isn't a fight that will impact the title picture at 155 pounds, but I imagine it will be fairly entertaining. Both men are more than comfortable standing and trading with their opposition and I imagine that's where this one is headed. Vannata and Green are virtually the same exact size (Green is an inch taller) and possess an identical 71-inch reach. This card only has 11 fights scheduled, and DraftKings players will have to make their stand somewhere. Green seems like a reasonable start. You aren't saving a ton in terms of salary, but I think he has a halfway decent chance of winning outright and that's all you can ask for from any underdog.
THE PICK: Green
Ed Herman (26-14-0, 1NC) v. Gerald Meerschaert (31-13-0)
DK Salaries: Herman ($7,900), Meerschaert ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Herman (+165), Meerschaert (-190)
Odds to Finish: -175
THE PICK: Meerschaert