This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
The third week of the UFC's second stint at Fight Island features a pair of bantamweight title contenders, several long-time veterans and SIX promotional newcomers to select from when constructing daily fantasy lineups.
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$400k MMA Throwdown with $100k 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 - Bantamweight
This is a big, big fight at 135 pounds, with both Moraes and Sandhagen firmly in the bantamweight title discussion despite recent setbacks.
Moraes fought Henry Cejudo for the vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship in June 2018, losing via knockout late in the third round. He returned this past December, taking a split decision from Jose Aldo. Moraes is a legitimate top-tier all-around mixed martial artist. He was the WSOF (PFL) Bantamweight Champion for years and has carried that success over to the UFC. In his three-plus years with the company, Moraes has wins over Aldo, Aljamain Sterling, Jimmie Rivera, Raphael Assuncao and John Dodson. He's a very physical 135-pounder, but this is the rare instance in which Moraes is going up against a fighter considerably bigger than he is.
Sandhagen – a relative unknown when he joined the company in January 2018 – began his UFC run with five straight wins before being choked out by Sterling in 88 seconds this past June. He probably would have earned an immediate title shot had the roles been reversed, but Sandhagen now needs at least two more big wins before being in consideration. Sandhagen's great attribute is his size. It's extremely rare to find any 5-foot-11 bantamweight. Sandhagen throws strikes in bunches, averaging a ridiculous (and unsustainable) 6.95 significant strikes landed per minute. Moraes, on the other hand, tends to be more patient and calculating.
I'm a believer in Sandhagen, but I'm still not convinced he's a top-tier guy. He's obviously well above average, but I'm on the fence as to whether or not he's a legitimate title contender, or on that tier just below. Either way, he's good.
That said, I like Moraes here. I'm a little concerned about how often he gets hit on the feet at times, but Sandhagen wins with volume instead of pure power, and it's not as if he's great at defending himself, either. Ultimately, this is essentially the pick 'em that the DK salaries indicate it to be. I just trust Moraes a bit more given his overall body of work. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Sandhagen ultimately won. I expect a ton of offense in this fight and it should go quite a while, so a DraftKings stack of this fight isn't completely out of the question.
THE PICK: Moraes
This was scheduled to be Barboza v. Sodiq Yusuff before Yusuff withdrew about three weeks ago for undisclosed reasons.
To say this is a must-win for Edson is an understatement. It's nearly impossible to believe a fighter of his caliber is 1-5 in his past six bouts dating back to December 2017, but here we are. All of those fights were against top-flight competition, and his last two setbacks have come via split decision, but you are what your record says you are in this sport and Barboza's recent record is ugly. Given his age (35 this coming January), it's simply possible Barboza's reactions are slowing. He's a pure striker who relies on kicks to be successful, and he's going to have a difficult time if he's consistently getting off second in stand-up exchanges.
I personally preferred the Yusuff fight, but Amirkhani is no pushover, and Barboza better show up ready to fight. Amirkhani is surprisingly competent on the feet considering he has just one career knockout win. Yet it's on the mat where he excels. With 11 career wins via submission, Amirkhani is a constant threat whenever a fight hits the ground. He's 6-2 in the UFC, with a split decision loss to Arnold Allen and a knockout at the hands of Shane Burgos being his only two setbacks. The one knock on Amirkhani is that he's never beaten anyone particularly good. Barboza is ice cold, but he's also by far the best opponent Amirkhani has seen to date.
I refuse to give up on Barboza, but the issue here is that he is priced like a fighting on a winning streak as opposed to a guy who is struggling. I might not be picking Amirkhani outright, but I think he is clearly the better DK option given the $1400 difference in salary between the two. I'd feel much better about Edson if he was priced at $8300 or even $8400 as opposed to $8800. Amirkhani makes for an elite value play at his depressed price tag.
THE PICK: Barboza
Clearly on the back nine of his career, Rothwell will be turning 39 years of age exactly one week after this fight takes place. He's been a professional for nearly 20 years. Rothwell's career was derailed by a USADA suspension which caused him to miss the better part of three years, from April 2016 to March 2019. Since returning, Ben has posted a 2-2 record, with unanimous decision losses to Andrei Arlovski and and Blagoy Ivanov as well as victories over Stefan Struve (TKO) and in his most recent bout, Ovince Saint Preux (split decision). Like many older fighters, Rothwell's footwork has all but evaporated. He swings for the bleachers with every shot in hopes of landing more than his opposition. It's a lousy strategy, but it's not as if Rothwell has any other options. He does have durability on his side, as Rothwell hasn't been knocked out in well over a decade.
Tybura is barely over .500 in his UFC career (6-5) although he is coming off back-to-back unanimous decision victories over Sergey Spivak and Maxim Grishin. Tybura offers very little on the feet and can't match the power of Rothwell, but he can also mix in a takedown now and then and is far more athletic than his aging opponent. Watching Tybura fight is rarely a visually pleasing experience, but he moves well enough to potentially give Rothwell fits. He's going to be in all sorts of trouble if he stands in front of Rothwell and allows his opponent to unload combinations, but I'd be highly concerned (and surprised) if Tybura willingly puts himself in that type of situation. Surely he and his team realize it's Rothwell's only real chance of winning.
The DraftKings salaries here are baffling, to say the least. Rothwell has a massive power advantage, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Both men are exactly the same size, and Rothwell has zero offense outside of swinging for the bleachers with every strike.
I don't feel great about it, but Tybura is the pick here and I didn't question it for a second. The salary break he provides is much needed and unexpected. Those owners who create tons of lineups would be wise to get a piece of Rothwell somewhere because he can end a fight in an instant, but he is unquestionably massively overpriced for this fight.
THE PICK: Tybura
Perez has been with the UFC for nearly three years, having alternated losses and wins in his first five bouts with the company. All three of the losses have come via decision, and the two wins have come via submission. Perez has faced some decent competition over the years, including picking up a first-round submission win over Ian Heinisch in September 2017. While clearly a threat on the mat, Perez has displayed little on the feet during his time with the company. Perez has plenty of size (6-foot-2) for the middleweight division, but he will have to start stringing together combinations before his opposition takes advantage of a clear hole in his game.
Stepping in on short notice for Rodolfo Vieira (undisclosed), this will be the company debut of Du Plessis. A 26-year-old native of South Africa, Du Plessis has won multiple titles in other smaller organizations. He's never really fought anyone of note, but Du Plessis is 9-1 in his past ten fights dating back to February 2015, with all of those victories (seven submission, three knockout) coming via stoppage.
We'll have to see how Du Plessis handles what is clearly a step up in competition, but he has two things going for him. The first is his youth. Second, and more importantly, is the fact he is stopping his opposition. With judging across the sport seemingly in worse shape than ever, it's imperative that fighters go out and handle their business and leave it out of the hands of the judges, and Du Plessis has done that.
This fight would seem to have a wide range of outcomes, but I'd rather bet on the theoretical potential upside of Du Plessis given the fact the salaries of the two men are fairly close.
THE PICK: Du Plessis