This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
Being back at the UFC Apex generally means that cards are more subject-to-change during fight week, and that's certainly the case as we gear up for an 11-fight slate on Saturday. This can be good news for studious players, and I do my best below to guide you through the debutants and late replacements. As always, fighters in this article will be listed in order from most to least desirable among the given choices.
Since we are back at the Apex, I will once again point out that research suggests more finishes occur in smaller cages like the one the fighters will occupy on November 6, which should encourage players to look at fights that may not otherwise be thought of as good targets for finishes.
One final note before we begin: here's a refresher on the scoring. If you're looking for general strategy tips, I wrote a FanDuel 101 article prior to UFC Brasilia on March 14, though there have been a few minor scoring changes since then that I've noted below.
Moves Scoring (MVP 1.5X)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.9 PTS
Takedown (TD): +9 PTS
Takedown Defense (TDEF): +4.5 PTS
Submission Attempt (SA): +7.5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +18 PTS
Moves Scoring (Standard)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.6 PTS
Takedown (TD): +6 PTS
Takedown Defense (TDEF): 3
Submission Attempt (SA): 5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +12 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses (MVP 1.5X)
1st Round Win (1stW): +150 PTS
2nd Round Win (2ndW): +112.5 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rdW): +75 PTS
4th Round Win (4thW): +52.5 PTS
5th Round Win (5thW): +37.5 PTS
Decision Win (DecW): +30 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses (Standard)
1st Round Win (1stW): +100 PTS
2nd Round Win (2ndW): +75 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rdW): +50 PTS
4th Round Win (4thW): +35 PTS
5th Round Win (5thW): +25 PTS
Decision Win (DecW): +20 PTS
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Oh Captain, my Captain
Best Play: Alexander Romanov ($22)
I must admit that when I first saw Alexander Romanov I didn't think of him as much more than a big guy who simply used his size to win fights. While he is unquestionably large (as the nickname "Kong" would suggest), what I missed at first glance was the athleticism he shows in the cage and the excellent dexterity he possesses on the ground. This is all terrible news for Marcos Rogerio de Lima, who tends to wilt like a dying flower when stuck on bottom (remember the Ovince Saint Preux and Stefan Struve fights). De Lima has shown some wrestling of his own since his move to heavyweight and carries power in this division even as a former 205er, giving him legitimate paths to victory. At the end of the day, however, anyone who has wanted to take "Pezao" down has done so, and Romonav's strength and technique should see him well suited for the task.
It's difficult to know what to expect from Thiago Santos after multiple leg injuries sustained during his fight with Jon Jones saw him on the shelf rehabbing for over a year. Still, I think even a 70-percent Santos should be able to get this done with style points. I noted last week how well the adage of "kickbox the boxer" seems to hold up in MMA. Not only is Santos the Muay Thai kickboxer here, I would argue he has the most devastating kicks in the sport. Combine that with (what should still be) a blinding speed advantage and Glover Teixeira is behind the eight ball early. The equalizer here, of course, is Glover's wrestling and BJJ game, the former seeming particularly underrated. Consider, though, that Santos has only lost by submission twice in his career and did a great job of thwarting takedown attempts by Jones in their fight. If Santos' movement is compromised at all, though, this would obviously make things much easier for the Brazilian on multiple fronts. The question marks loom large here, but I can only go by what's on tape. The tape tells me that Santos wins by knockout.
Brendan Allen is the definition of an action fighter. The 24-year-old doesn't seem to know a way to fight that doesn't include marching across the cage, getting his opponent in a body lock, and betting he can out-maneuver them in the scramble when the fight hits the ground. The fact that Ian Heinisch has beaten two notable jiu-jitsu practitioners in Antonio Carlos Junior and Cezar Ferreira by decision may give prospective owners pause, but it's worth noting that he was taken down a total of nine times in those two fights, and there is no indication that Allen gets as tired as either of those two as the fight draws on. While it's true that he has only been submitted once in his career, Heinisch will likely give Allen plenty of bites at the apple here. While I certainly wouldn't say Allen has better BJJ than the previous fighters mentioned, it may be chaotic enough to catch his opponent unawares.
Seeing Raoni Barcelos as the most expensive fighter on the slate caused a bit of a jolt to my system, but I like the matchup against Khalid Taha quite a bit. While he is a decent boxer, Taha's pre-UFC career was marked by a notable inability to stop takedowns. This has followed him to the organization, with Nad Narimani ringing the bell six times in Taha's debut. Not only has Barcelos shown a willingness to go to the ground in the UFC, he will also be the more fluid kickboxer here, even if he lacks some of Taha's power. While there are a few things he will need to look out for, Barcelos should be able to dictate where this fight goes. I don't anticipate it will be too long before Taha finds himself looking up at the lights yet again.
Best Play: Yan Xiaonan ($17)
Yan Xiaonan has put the strawweight division on notice since her debut in 2017, notching five consecutive wins. Xiaonan brings a high-paced, pressuring kickboxing game to the Octagon and has recently shown wrestling prowess as well. She will likely be more focused on defending takedowns against Claudia Gadelha, who brings her own high-powered wrestle-boxing style to the cage. The two factors that have me leaning so heavily towards Xiaonan here are her takedown defense (which currently stands at 70 percent) and the fact that Gadelha has been known to get tired late in fights. I think Yan's pace will do well to sap Gadelha's gas tank even quicker than usual, but those worried about the BJJ game of Claudia may take some comfort in knowing that Xiaonan's only submission loss came almost a decade ago.
Few fighters have been as reliable as Darren Elkins in terms of having a solid DFS floor. A high-output striking and wrestling game combined with submission skills has ensured that Elkins owners haven't gotten buried, even while riding with the veteran through four losses in a row. He will have his best chance to turn his luck around since the start of this streak when he takes on Eduardo Garagorri, who has shown himself to be susceptible to takedowns and tends to put his back against the fence while striking. This should play right into that high-paced game we mentioned above, and while Garagorri has shown a nice kicking game, I don't think he's dangerous enough to slow down "The Damage" in any meaningful way.
Tanner Boser is undoubtedly priced on the strength of two consecutive knockouts, but I'm not convinced he can finish Andrei Arlovski in this spot. Prior to his fight against Philipe Lins, Boser's finishing rate stood at just 47 percent, far below the threshold for your average heavyweight. While it appears he has found a way to use his speed to surprise opponents of late, it must be said that Arlovski is also a smaller, faster heavyweight. It is also the case that Arlovski's chin has looked reinforced with steel as he heads towards the final stretch of his career, and opponents who haven't been able to knock him out generally fall into the slower-paced fight that he attempts to impose. To be clear, I still think that Boser outworks him here, but the lack of a knockout at this price puts "The Bulldozer" firmly in the "cash" category.
Best Option: Ramiz Brahimaj ($12)
Ramiz Brahimaj is as athletic as they come inside the cage, and he combines that athleticism with aggression to work a power wrestling game. What I particularly like about Brahimaj is how effortlessly he passes and improves position on the ground in order to set up submission attempts. Max Griffin has only been submitted once in his career, but hasn't faced a dedicated wrestler since that Colby Covington bout. We should also point out that Griffin has won just one bout in the UFC by stoppage, making it likely that he will have to deal with the pace and relentlessness of Brahimaj for 15 full minutes.
I am cheating just a little bit, as both Trevin Giles and Bevon Lewis are listed at the same price, but dogs are a bit hard to come by on this card and Lewis is the favorite in some books, so I decided to stick Giles here. Lewis was looking excellent in his debut against Uriah Hall before a counter left hook sent him to the land of wind and ghosts. Since then, Lewis has been less aggressive and appears to be indecisive in the cage. What's more, it looks like his wrestling game needs some serious work, as he was unable to take down Dalcha Lungiambula, who has a defense rate of just 46 percent. Giles may make questionable decisions every now and then, but he still features a slick boxing game at range and can employ an effective takedown and jiu-jitsu skill set. Lewis may be a physical specimen with an ocean of talent, but I can't see clear to pick him in this spot, as there just doesn't seem to be any process to the way he fights.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
In a late addition to the card, Giga Chikadze (TBD) will face Jamey Simmons (TBD). Chikadze comes into the bout as a (-500) favorite in some places, but this fight is a lot more intriguing to me than that. Simmons is a decorated wrestler out of the University of Wisconsin and wants to do nothing more than ply that trade in the cage. The problem is his standup game doesn't look like much, and he tends to get hit when the fight does remain on the feet, but it occurs to me that Giga has never faced someone that will pursue the takedown with even half as much ferocity as Simmons likely will. That makes me sit up and take notice, even if, ultimately, I'm still going to pick Giga to win based on experience, striking acumen and what looks to be an improving defensive guard game.
Gustavo Lopez ($18) finally has his replacement opponent after Felipe Colares had to bow out of the contest. Anthony Birchak (TBD) will make his return to the UFC after going 2-2 in the organization from 2014-2016. Birchak will come forward with heavy pressure and strike, but that striking game is mainly just a way to close distance and bring the opponent to the floor where he can work his jiu-jitsu game. The issue for him here is Lopez is an athletic wrestler who likes to swarm and throw heat and has an excellent scrambling game on the mat. This being the case, it seems likely that he will get the fight he wants, but Birchak is certainly live if he can keep this fight on the floor.