The Haymaker: UFC Fight Night 96 Picks & Analysis
Welcome back to another edition of the Haymaker. This Saturday night we have yet another Fight Night card coming to us from Portland, Oregon. Unlike last week’s card with several on-paper mismatches, there are a bunch of coin-toss fights that can really go either way. We can also expect a lot of finishes with Vegas predicting all but three of them ending inside the distance. As far as DFS is concerned, DraftKings really threw us a curveball this week with a last minute overhaul of their MMA rules. They have completely restructured their lineup construction and scoring process, which I will break down before we get into the fights themselves. Another exciting announcement from DK this week is that they will be holding a live final at UFC 205 where the 8 qualifiers will receive tickets to the event in New York as well as compete for a $30,000 prize pool. The first of these qualifiers is a $300 buy-in contest this week with 25 entries. Just take my money now.
DraftKings Scoring Changes
The biggest change to the MMA rules on DK is adding an extra fighter to lineups. Moving from 5 to 6 fighters per lineup is a change that I really like since it will help to reduce ties which are far too common. The salary cap remains the same so individual salaries have decreased in order to fit in 6 fighters.
|Significant Strikes||0.5 pts||0.5 pts|
|Advance||1 pt||3 pts|
|Takedowns||2 pts||5 pts|
|Reversals||2 pts||5 pts|
|Knockdowns||3 pts||10 pts|
|Win in Round 1||100 pts||90 pts|
|Win in Round 2||70 pts||70 pts|
|Win in Round 3||50 pts||45 pts|
|Win in Round 4||40 pts||40 pts|
|Win in Round 5||40 pts||40 pts|
|Win By Decision||25 pts||30 pts|
As you can see there have been some significant scoring increases when it comes to the ground game. Knockdowns have also seen a huge bump as they more than triple in value. The last thing you’ll notice is that the difference between a first round finish and a win by decision has decreased from 75 pts to 60 pts.
In order to determine how these changes will affect the contests moving forward, let’s take a look at last week’s Fight Night 95 results and compare them to the new system:
|Fighter||Salary||Old Scoring||New Scoring||Difference||%Change|
|De la Torre||$8,900||3||3||0||0%|
Ignoring the fighters that scored under 10 pts last week, you can see that the biggest increase in scoring between the two systems comes from the grapplers like Alan Patrick, Gregor Gillespie, Jussier Formiga and Rani Yahya. Each of these fighters won by decision and while that would usually be a style that we would try to avoid in tournaments, the added boost to the grappling game makes them viable plays going forward. As long as the grapplers are active on the ground and come at a reasonably cheap price tag I don’t mind playing them in spots where I was fading them before. You’ll also notice that the fighters that finished in the first round saw a slight decrease in their final score, but that is not significant enough to make me change my approach of targeting early finishes. The large increase in scoring for knockdowns should help to balance the decrease in early finish points for power strikers.
Main Event: John Dodson ($8,100) vs John Lineker ($8,100)
Odds: Dodson (-130) Lineker (+110)
The main event in Portland is an exciting five round fight between Bantamweight power punchers John Dodson and John Lineker. Both guys started out as Bantamweights, moved to Flyweight for several fights and have recently returned to Bantamweight. Lineker consistently had issues making weight at 125lbs while Dodson ran into a roadblock at 125 in champion Demetrius Johnson whom he lost to decisively in two title fights. Dodson is known for his unbelievable speed, accuracy and foot work. He is also a very powerful puncher who has knocked out several of his opponents. Lineker is a volume/power puncher with great combos who pressures his opponents while trying to get them to engage in a brawl. He likes to throw body shots with wide hooks to keep his opponent in front of him. Lineker will try to pressure Dodson and attempt to back him into the cage in order to force him to stand and swing while Dodson will likely use his speed advantage to keep the distance and hit Lineker with quick shots while he tries to unleash his combos. This fight is expected to be a very close battle with Dodson coming in as only a slight favorite. Both guys throw with serious power but neither one has ever been knocked out in over 60 combined fights. Lineker is very hittable when he opens up but has proven that he can take a punch. He is yet to even be knocked down in over 35 career fights. Despite Vegas giving this fight a -215 chance to finish inside the distance I feel like a decision is the more likely outcome.
From a DFS perspective I think both guys make for great tournament targets. Even if the fight goes to decision it should be high scoring with five rounds full of strikes and several potential knockdowns. I will play this one pretty evenly in tournaments but will slightly favor Lineker with his higher volume of striking. As far as cash games go, I think this fight makes for a great one to stack. With such a close fight it will be difficult to pick the winner and both guys are priced incredibly cheap for their potential upside. As the only five round fight, stacking the main event will lock in the upside of a quick finish while also giving both fighters a potential two extra rounds of scoring opportunities.
Cash Game Targets
Cash game strategy will be a little tricky in the early going after the new rule changes. I will playing a lighter volume of cash games this week until I see how everything shakes out with the extra fighter and new scoring system. As always we are looking for safety which can come in the form of high output strikers and now we can consider grapplers who can dominate with takedowns and a strong ground game. Getting the win seems like it will be slightly more important now with the bump in decision victory points.
Louis Smolka ($9,400)
Smolka is the biggest favorite on the card at -470 over short-notice replacement Brandon Moreno ($6,800) and he is priced as such. Smolka is competent on the feet with a solid jab, but his specialty is his elite grappling ability. He uses his chain wrestling to score several takedowns and advances which are very valuable with the new scoring system. Moreno is a young and inexperienced fighter with lots of heart and toughness but he lacks polish. He has a wild striking style which leaves openings for takedowns which Smolka should be able to capitalize on. As the faster fighter, Moreno does have a chance while the fight is standing, but he is weak on the ground and Smolka should be able to get him there early to lock in a submission. Smolka can be a bit of a slow starter but has shown that he can put up a big score even in a decision, and that’s with the old scoring system.
Josh Burkman ($8,900)
Josh Burkman is an aging fighter who has not been impressive lately, but that is largely due to the strong competition he has faced. However this fight should be much easier on paper as he enters this one as a -240 favorite against a short-notice replacement in Zak Ottow. Burkman is an inconsistent but dangerous striker and is hard to take down. But even if he gets taken down he is more than capable on the ground with several victories by submission. Ottow is inexperienced and is a relative unknown making his UFC debut. He is a big fighter who is all offense and no defense. He should come into this one aggressively looking to strike which should leave openings for Burkman to take him down and control the fight or even finish him.
With all of the close fights and likely finishes on this card the field of tournament options is wide open. We are still looking for early finishes but now we can expand our search to include dominate grapplers instead of just KO specialists.
Keita Nakamura ($8,400)
Nakamura is another aging fighter but he has looked really good lately. He enters this one as a slight -115 favorite over Elizeu Zaleski ($7,800). Nakamura is a strong submission grappler that should benefit from the new DK scoring system. Zaleski is a younger, faster striker who is dangerous on his feet but has trouble stopping takedowns. Nakamura has effective kick boxing with a solid chin (only been knocked out once in 42 fights) so he should be able to survive on the feet long enough to get this one to the ground. Even if he can’t finish this one early, the potential of landing several takedowns should allow Nakamura to put up a big score at a reasonable price.
As always, both sides of Heavyweight fights warrant exposure in tournaments due to their quick finish potential and unpredictable nature. A common theme that I have seen is that the underdogs in Heavyweight fights consistently go under-owned making them excellent targets in tournaments.
Walt Harris ($8,800) vs Shamil Abdurakhimov ($7,400)
Odds: Abdurakhimov (-125) Harris (+105)
Odds to finish: -280
This fight is basically a pick’em but they are not priced as such on DraftKings. Abdurakhimov is an experienced Heavyweight that moves like a Light-Heavyweight. He is very mobile and a technical striker that is good at any range, although he is not that powerful. Harris is athletic and quick for a Heavyweight and while he is not the most technical striker, he does hit hard. Harris has solid takedown defense though so this one should most likely play out on the feet. Abdurakhimov is a strong value as a favorite in this one at a low price of only $7,400. He is potentially usable in cash games if you are looking for a way to fit in the higher priced guys. I typically avoid Heavyweights in cash due to their low floor, but at such a low price a 0 wouldn’t completely ruin your lineups. The flipside to that is that Harris is overpriced which should keep his ownership fairly low making him a solid tournament play.
Curtis Blaydes ($8,300) vs Cody East ($7,900)
Odds: Blaydes (-240) East (+200)
Odds to finish: -290
As a -240 favorite in a Heavyweight bout, I expect Curtis Blaydes to be a popular pick in tournaments while Cody East will likely have low ownership. Blaydes is a big Heavyweight, and while he is not the most fluent striker, he does pack some power. East is light on his feet and has quick hands. His best bet will be to keep the fight standing, but Blaydes is a strong wrestler that should be able to take it to the ground if he struggles on the feet and control it from there. Blaydes is durable and isn’t really an early KO kind of puncher so I think this one has a good chance of going past the first round. With that being said, I think both guys still make for decent tournament plays but I will likely have higher exposure to the other Heavyweight fight.