This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Conor McGregor is back and ready to pick up where he left off a year ago when he knocked out veteran Cowboy Cerrone. His popularity makes for some interesting DFS leverage decisions, however, and we'll dive into those a bit below.
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 $1M 257 Special with $200k to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
Note: Scoring has been updated during the break! Please review the scoring changes below.
Strikes: +0.2 PTS
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Control Time: +0.03 PTS/SECOND
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
Quick Win Bonus: +25 PTS
(fight is finished in 60 seconds or less)
- Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
- A Significant Strike will count as both a strike and a significant strike and will be worth a total of 0.4 Pts
- Control Time is the time spent in the dominant position on the ground or in the clinch. +0.03 points are awarded per second.
- A Knockdown is awarded to a fighter who knocks his/her opponent down due to debilitation for what the official scorers consider an appreciable amount of time.
- A Quick Win Bonus is awarded to the winning fighter if they win in the first round in 60 seconds or less.
Now, on to the fights...
Main Event - Lightweight
The key component here is the return of McGregor, who will be fighting for the first time in more than a year. It will also be a rematch of a September 2014 fight which Conor won via knockout in 106 seconds. Both men are entirely different fighters and have been through so much since the first fight between the two that I'm not valuing the previous bout in the least.
McGregor rebounded from his dominating loss at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov with a knockout win over Donald Cerrone in his most recent bout. I don't think either of those results tell us a heck of a lot about McGregor given the fact Khabib was a terrible matchup for him, and Cowboy is totally washed up. Conor's antics aren't for everyone, and much of what he does is simply to drive buy rates, but the guy legitimately loves fighting and trains his butt off when it's time for a bout. I'm expecting McGregor to show up in top-tier shape for this fight despite the time off.
Conor better be ready to go because he's facing an opponent in Poirier who has been on quite a roll the past several years. Dustin is 6-1 (1NC) in his past eight bouts, with his only long is that time period coming against Khabib. Included in that stretch are wins over Dan Hooker, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, Anthony Pettis and Jim Miller. It's amazing Poirier doesn't get talked about more given how well he has performed recently.
The numbers across the board between these two are shockingly similar. Both are 5-foot-9, while McGregor has a two-inch reach edge. Conor is six months older, while the striking numbers – both offensively and defensively – are nearly identical. I'm confident in saying McGregor has more stopping power in his hands. That said, Dustin fights physically and excels at stringing together combinations. Poirier is the better grappler as he averages 1.46 takedowns per 15 minutes, but McGregor defends the takedown at a reasonable 70 percent clip.
I'd be fairly surprised if this doesn't quickly develop into a stand-up brawl. Both of these guys are stubborn and often perfectly content standing and trading with the opposition. I'd be shocked if there's a quick finish here either way.
In what will be an ongoing theme for this card, I like the favorite (McGregor) to win, but I think the underdog (Poirier) is the better DK play. I have a difficult time believing Conor is $2K in salary better than Dustin. Toss in the fact McGregor is going to be extremely highly owned because he's the most popular fighter in the history of the sport, and I like Poirier from a DK perspective even more. I expect a close one.
THE PICK: McGregor
Co-Main Event - Lightweight
The UFC's latest high-profile free agent signing, Chandler, a former three-time Bellator Lightweight Champion, will be making his company debut.
Chandler is firmly a top-tier 155-pounder, but I'm extremely interested in seeing how he fares against the best lightweight's the UFC has to offer. Chandler will be 35 years old in late-April, so it's extremely possible, if not likely, that he is already on the back-nine of his career. Chandler is 9-2 in his past 11 bouts dating back to June 2015, but there is a significant gap between most of the guys he fought in Bellator and the type of names he will be facing with the UFC.
It starts with Hooker, who is extremely underrated and low-key terrific. "The Hangman" has gone 7-2 in his past nine bouts. The losses came at the hands of Poirier and Edson Barboza, but included in that stretch are wins over Paul Felder, Al Iaquinta and Gilbert Burns. Hooker has a ton of power and is ridiculously durable. He possesses that rare ability to eat shot after shot and continue to push forward with seemingly zero issues. He might not be on the short list of top lightweights on the UFC roster but if he isn't, Hooker is just a tier below.
Chandler has real power, but I'd be very surprised if a stand-up affair here doesn't favor Hooker. He has a four-inch edge in both the height and reach department and is nearly five years younger. Chandler is a former Division I All-American wrestler and I think he needs to lean on that skill in this fight. Hooker defends the takedown at a strong 80 percent clip, but Chandler needs to fire off third, fourth and fifth attempts if the first couple fail.
I was pretty surprised Chandler, as the UFC's shiny new toy, wasn't favored heading into this fight, but the more I think about it, the more I think both the DK salaries and Vegas odds are correct. Hooker's younger, has been fighting better competition of late, and I trust his durability more.
I'm taking a wait-and-see approach with Chandler. I wouldn't be surprised if he's routed by Hooker, nor would I be surprised if he runs off a string of wins against high-rated competition. For now, I feel just a bit more comfortable betting on the known quantity that is Hooker.
THE PICK: Hooker
For reasons well beyond my comprehension, Eye continues to get notable fights despite being thoroughly mediocre for the entirety of her seven-plus year UFC run. All told, Eye is 5-7 (1NC) with the company. She was understandably obliterated by Valentina Shevchenko after being gifted a Flyweight Championship shot in June 2019. Since then, Eye took a unanimous decision from Viviane Araujo before being routed via unanimous decision in a main event spot against Cynthia Calvillo this past June. Oh, Eye also missed weight for both of those fights. Eye is a one-dimensional boxer. She's reasonably tough with no stopping power in her hands. All but one of her UFC victories have come via decision.
Calderwood returns for the first time since her crushing loss to Jennifer Maia last August. For those who don't remember, JoJo was scheduled to challenge Shevchenko for her belt on that card before the latter was forced to withdraw. Wishing to stay active, Calderwood agreed to face Maia and lost via first-round submission. Maia went on to challenge for the title this past November, losing to Shevchenko via unanimous decision (49-46 x3). Stylistically, Calderwood and Eye are very similar. Both do virtually all their damage on the feet. The main difference between the two is that Calderwood is technically sound, while Eye is a wild brawler. If this is a kickboxing match, and I can't believe it evolves into anything else, JoJo should have a clear advantage.
Calderwood hasn't been great herself of late. She's just 3-4 in her past seven fights dating back to September 2016, but I trust her far more than I do Eye. She should have a clear-cut advantage in what should be the most notable aspect of this fight.
As bad as the Maia loss was, there is so little depth in this division that Calderwood could potentially be right back in the title mix with just a couple more victories. It's impossible to take Eye seriously until she proves she can make weight. I didn't hesitate about this pick for a nanosecond.
THE PICK: Calderwood
A product of Dana White's Contender Series, Frevola in unbeaten in his past three fights since being knocked out in 60 seconds by Polo Reyes in his company debut just over three years ago. Like many members of the Serra/Longo team on Long Island, Frevola's entire offensive arsenal is based around his wrestling. He's averaged 3.3 takedowns per 15 minutes, while landing them at a reasonable 40 percent clip. The question at this point is whether or not he offers enough with his hands to keep his opposition honest.
The complete opposite of Frevola, Azaitar is a knockout artist who doesn't get paid by the hour. 10 of his 13 career wins have come via KO, including each of his first two UFC bouts. Each came in the first round and earned Azaitar a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. While our sample size regarding Azaitar is small, I feel completely comfortable saying his power is legitimate. That being said, it's fair to wonder if Azaitar is anything more than a one-punch knockout artist. I may not matter against Frevola, but I still have some long-term concerns here.
We should get a decent idea of Azaitar's takedown defense in this fight. I'm certain Frevola realizes wrestling presents his clearest path to victory, and I expect repeated takedowns attempts from him. Still, he isn't much of a DK underdog play because any victory Frevola racks up will almost certainly come via decision. The addition of control time to the scoring likely benefits him more, at least.
I'm not super excited about Azaitar at his price tag given our limited exposure to him and Frevola's durability, but I'd much rather wager on him racking up another quick stoppage victory as opposed to Frevola pulling the upset.
THE PICK: Azaitar
This was scheduled to be Ribas v. Michelle Waterson before the latter was forced to withdraw. For the record, I had Ribas winning that fight easily.
A legitimate prospect who has displayed the ability to fight in multiple divisions, Ribas will look to continue the momentum as she seeks her fifth straight victory to begin her UFC career. Ribas has submitted Paige VanZant and Emily Whitmire, in addition to taking unanimous decisions over Mackenzie Dern and Randa Markos. Through those five fights, Ribas has proven to be an all-around threat. She lands plenty (4.71 significant strikes per minute) and rarely gets hit (1.67 per minute), in addition to averaging 2.28 takedowns per 15 minutes worth of action. She's also just 27 years of age. I'm not sure she's a future champion or anything like that, but she's definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Also five fights into her UFC run, Rodriguez has gone 2-1-2 with the company. Some fighters go their entire careers without a draw but Rodriguez managed to pick up two in less than 14 months. Her most recent bout was a split decision loss against Carla Esparza last July. Rodriguez has proven to be very effective on the feet. She has a strong frame (5-foot-6) for the division and lands a whopping 5.04 significant strikes per minute. I'm concerned she's too reliant on her striking to be successful over the long term, but Rodriguez is talented enough in that area to beat up on fringe roster fighters.
I like Ribas and think she wins here due to her better all-around game, but she seems severely overpriced. At $9200, she is the third-highest priced fighter on the card. If I'm spending that kind of money I want a fighter who has a better than even chance of dominating her opposition from the very start, and I don't see that here. I think it's much more likely Ribas takes a decision.
If you're the type to make multiple lineups – which we always advocate – I'd make sure I have a little piece of Rodriguez somewhere. I think she's a live underdog.
THE PICK: Ribas
Arman Tsarukyan (15-2-0) v. Nasrat Haqparast (12-3-0)
DK Salaries: Tsarukyan ($8,900), Haqparast ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Tsarukyan (-270), Haqparast (+230)
Odds to Finish: +160
THE PICK: Tsarukyan
Brad Tavares (17-7-0) v. Antonio Carlos Junior (11-4-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Tavares ($8,700), Carlos Junior ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Tavares (-135), Carlos Junior (+115)
Odds to Finish: +110
THE PICK: Tavares
Khalil Rountree (9-4-0, 1NC) v. Marcin Prachnio (13-5-0)
DK Salaries: Rountree ($9,300), Prachnio ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Rountree (-330), Prachnio (+270)
Odds to Finish: -475
THE PICK: Rountree