This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
After a week on the sidelines, the UFC is back at the APEX Center in Las Vegas for a card stacked up with 15 fights.
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 $500k MMA Throwdown with $100k 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 as of early-2021! 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.
Main Event - Light Heavyweight
Now 33 years of age and in search of his third straight stoppage victory, Smith will attempt to once again thrust himself into the title conversation with a strong effort on Saturday. Smith dropped three of four fights from March 2019 to August 2020, but has since run off back-to-back wins over Devin Clark (submission) and Jimmy Crute (TKO). Smith has a ton of MMA miles on his body, but he is also legitimately one of the toughest men on the planet. He should be able to continue to compete at a fairly high level for as long as his chin holds up.
Spann is no easy mark, but he is much more of a mat specialist than stand-up fighter. That's not to say he doesn't have stopping power, however. The Memphis native has won nine of his last ten bouts, including five of his first six with the UFC. Two of those five have come via knockout, so to say he is just a one-dimensional ground fighter is false.
Smith is a big dude. He's every bit of 6-foot-4, but this is one of the few light heavyweight fights in which he is giving up size to his opponent. Spann is an inch taller in addition to entering with a three-inch reach edge.
I'm curious to see if Spann tries to lean on his wrestling here. He averages nearly two (1.72) takedowns per 15 minutes, while Smith defends the takedown at just a 47 percent clip. A back-and-forth brawl would clearly favor Smith, thus I expect Spann to do whatever possible to not engage in such tactics.
I would definitely consider Spann a live underdog, but I ultimately can't get past the level of competition each man has gone up against. For example, Smith has fought Jon Jones, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixiera, Aleksandar Rakic, Rashad Evans, Thiago Santos, Shogun Rua and others. The best opponent Spann has faced has been Johnny Walker, and that was his one UFC defeat. In short, I need to see a strong effort from him here before I get on board.
THE PICK: Smith
Co-Main Event - Light Heavyweight
These two were supposed to fight this past May before Clark withdrew due to injury. Dustin Jacoby, who replaced Clark, ended up fighting Cutelaba to a draw.
Winless in his past three fights (0-2-1), there is a non-zero chance Cutelaba is fighting for his job on Saturday. It really shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as he is below .500 (4-5-1) during his time with the company. A wrestler by trade, Cutelaba averages 3.69 takedowns per 15 minutes. He also lands them at a 57 percent clip, which is a very high number. That's the good news. The bad news it that his chin is questionable and he has a tendency to get overwhelmed on the feet. Cutelaba doesn't recover well when things start going south, and that's a bad trait to have when you are prone to absorbing a bunch of punishment on the feet.
Clark has been just as inconsistent as Cutelaba, posting a 2-2 mark in his past four bouts dating back to October 2019. Those two defeats came via submission, oddly enough, against the two guys in Saturday's main event – Smith and Spann. Outside of his wrestling (2.70 takedowns per 15 minutes), Clark's numbers are ugly. He has just three knockouts and one submission win over the course of his career, and that's not going to cut it in a division with a bunch of guys who can turn your lights out in an instant.
This is close to a pick 'em for me and would be a fade under most circumstances. We might not be as fortunate on a thin card such as this one. I'm always concerned when both fighters offer little other than their wrestling because it makes it notoriously difficult to predict which man will gain an edge. I'm going to take Cutelaba to win due to the lack of power in Clark's hands, but I like the latter better as a DK play. There's no way there is an $1800 salary differential between these two.
THE PICK: Cutelaba
Tsarukyan is seeking his fourth straight victory and 15th in his past 16th bouts, and will do so as by far the largest favorite on the card at -760. Tsarukyan dropped his UFC debut to Islam Makhachev back in April 2019, and has since run off three straight unanimous decision wins (Matt Frevola, Davi Ramos, Olivier Aubin-Mercier). Makhachev is probably the most underrated lightweight in the sport today and a legitimate title contender at 155 pounds, so that defeat doesn't look bad at all in hindsight.
Giagos has been more than game through his UFC run, sporting a 4-2 mark, with one of those defeats coming at the hands of current UFC Lightweight Champion Charles Oliveira, but this is a big, big ask. Giagos has averaged 3.38 takedowns per 15 minutes during his time with the company, but his 50 percent takedown defense is abysmal, and a potential death sentence against a high-level wrestler such as Tsarukyan. Giagos is experienced, durable, and won't beat himself inside the Octagon, but I imagine he will be overwhelmed at the point of attack time and time again in this fight.
Giagos is three inches taller, but it's Tsarukyan who enters with a one-inch reach edge. That's an issue for Giagos, who seems likely to have trouble remaining upright.
The biggest concern for Tsarukyan at this point is that he missed weight for the Frevola fight, his most recent, back in January. Assuming that was a one-time issue and not a sign of things to come, he should roll past Giagos without issue. I still think we need to see more from him against high-level competition before we can get a better gauge on his long-term potential.
THE PICK: Tsarukyan
It's rarely pretty, but Kianzad has run off four-straight unanimous decisions dating back to November 2019. The competition she's faced hasn't been great (Alexis Davis, Sijara Eubanks, Bethe Correia), but her win over Jessica-Rose Clark to start the streak was a solid one. Kianzad is a stand-up brawler. She will eat a strike in order to land two of her own. It hasn't cost her yet and probably won't against Pennington, but Kianzad is going to be in a world of trouble when she starts facing opposition with legitimate knockout power.
Pennington's UFC record is 7-5, which I openly admit is eons better than would I would have guessed when she joined the company back in late 2013. Pennington is more likely than Kianzad to mix in a takedown, and she's better than her opponent on the mat, but I'd be surprised if this was anything other that a stand-up affair. It will have no impact on the fight, but it should be mentioned Pennington is coming off a self-reported six-month USADA ban for ingesting a banned substance which was prescribed to her by a doctor.
Like the main event, there is an overwhelming gap in terms of the competition level each woman has faced. Kianzad's best opposition was Tonya Evinger and Sarah Kaufman. Pennington has gone up against five former UFC champions in Amanda Nunes, Holly Holm (twice), Germaine de Randamie, Miesha Tate, and Jessica Andrade (twice).
Unlike the main event, I'm going with the less experienced fighter in Kianzad. I see virtually no difference between these two and thus I'll take the cheaper fighter. Kianzad's bottom-basement price just reinforced my thinking.
THE PICK: Kianzad
Nikolas Motta (12-3-0) v. Cameron VanCamp (15-5-1, 1NC)
DK Salaries: TBD
Vegas Odds: Motta (-310), VanCamp (+260)
Odds to Finish: -145
THE PICK: Motta
Mike Rodriguez (11-6-0, 1NC) v. Tafon Nchukwi (5-1-0)
DK Salaries: Rodriguez ($7,400), Nchukwi ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Rodriguez (+105), Nchukwi (-125)
Odds to Finish: -175
THE PICK: Nchukwi