The Haymaker – UFC 215: Picks & Analysis

Hey fight fans, welcome back to another edition of The Haymaker. UFC 215 is this Saturday night (6:30pm EST), live from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Unfortunately, this card took another blow as the main event between Mighty Mouse and Ray Borg was cancelled last minute when Borg had to pull out of the fight due to illness. The rescheduled title fight between Amanda Nunes and Valentina Schevchenko now takes over as the main event as it probably should have been in the first place had the UFC not been punishing Nunes for pulling out of UFC 213. With NFL kicking off this weekend, DraftKings decided to release their UFC salaries early and that resulted in several fighters being mispriced. The exploitable pricing this week allows you to fit 6 favorites into the same lineup and makes it an ideal card for cash games. With 11 fights to choose from on the card, I will go over my favorite DFS targets in each format to help narrow down your options.

Main Event: Valentina Shevchenko ($8,100) vs Amanda Nunes ($8,100)

Odds: Shevchenko (-130) Nunes (+110)
Odds to finish: -240

This fight was initially supposed to take place back in July at UFC 213 but Nunes had to pull out on the day of the fight due to a sinus infection. This is what I wrote at the time in my breakdown of the fight:

“This fight is a rematch from their encounter at UFC 196, last March, which Nunes won by decision. The first fight was a three-round matchup with Nunes dominating the first two rounds and Shevchenko taking over in the third. Nunes won the physical battle early as she landed the better strikes and forced Shevchenko to the mat once they tied up in the clinch. Nunes punished Shevchenko with ground-and-pound strikes before almost locking in a rear naked choke in the second round. To Shevchenko’s credit, she is very tough and managed to withstand that beating. Nunes gassed in the third round and started shooting for sloppy takedown attempts while Shevchenko got stronger and won the round cleanly. If that had been a five-round fight, it really looked like Shevchenko would have been able to get a finish.

This time around it is a five-round fight for the title and many people are picking Shevchenko to get the win based on the results of the first matchup. I agree with that logic, but I still think that Nunes has more upside from a DFS perspective because of their paths to victory. Nunes is aggressive and dangerous early in fights and is the more likely of the two to score over 100 points in a victory. Shevchenko is a counter striker who starts slow and is almost too patient early on. She only scored 27 points through three rounds in the first fight, so even if she did get a finish in the later rounds there’s no guarantee that she would score the 80-90+ points that you’ll likely need from her in tournaments. She is very durable though and has proven to have the cardio to go a full five rounds and that gives her an excellent chance to pick up the win if she survives the first couple rounds. I think that makes Shevchenko the better play in cash games, but I’m currently leaning towards stacking the fight since there are not a lot of safe and affordable options on this card. In tournaments, I will have exposure to both sides because of how close the fight is, but I will be heavier on Nunes for her upside.”

Not much has changed for me from an analysis point of view since then, but a couple minor differences are that Schevchenko was $8200 and Nunes was $8000 for UFC 213 and now they are the same price. Schevchenko is also now a slightly heavier favorite at -130 so that makes me think she will be the higher owned fighter in the majority of contests. I still think Schevchenko is the better individual cash play for the odds, but I also don’t think you have to stack the fight in cash anymore on this particular card based on the pricing of the other fighters. In fact, I don’t think you need to target this fight at all in cash games because of the risk of picking the winner when you can fit 6 other fighters in the same lineup that are heavier favorites. In tournaments, I would still have relatively equal exposure to both sides, although Nunes has more upside despite a lower probability of victory.

Cash Game Plays

For cash games, you want to seek out fighters with high floors. This means selecting fighters that strike at a high output or score lots of takedowns. I generally look to get as many favorites as possible into my lineups as you need to get wins. 4 wins are generally enough to cash in most double ups and 50/50s.

Gavin Tucker ($8,400)

Tucker is a very talented 10-0 prospect that made his UFC debut at home back in February against Sam Sicilia, coming away with an easy decision victory over the veteran. It wasn’t the most impressive performance from a DK-scoring perspective, but Tucker used his lightning quick speed and footwork to dance circles around Sicilia and chip away at him while avoiding his power. Tucker used powerful leg and body kicks to slow Sicilia and managed to only allow 10 significant strikes against over the full 15 minutes. He comes into this fight against Rick Glenn as a -300 favorite with the line steadily climbing since it opened. Glenn has only fought twice in the UFC, splitting both decisions, but he is more experienced than Tucker with over twice as many pro fights on his resume. He is incredibly durable and difficult to put away, but his striking defense is lacking as he gave up almost 150 significant strikes in his UFC debut against Evan Dunham and multiple head kicks against Philip Nover in his most recent fight. Glenn is tall for the division and will have a 4” reach advantage over Tucker, but he is flat footed and Tucker should be able to use his speed and quickness to control the distance. Glenn can make this a difficult fight by clinching and working Tucker against the cage but I think the speed and versatility of Tucker will be too much to overcome. I don’t expect a finish from Tucker so that hurts his upside a bit for tournaments, but he is underpriced at $8400, which makes him a strong play for cash games.

Alex White ($7,400)

White is the most mispriced fighter on the card as a -210 favorite over Mitch Clarke at only $7400. White is primarily a striker who is willing to stand and trade shots. He has decent output and some power and has really improved his footwork and head movement in recent fights. White is not the most talented or reliable fighter, but neither is Clarke, who hasn’t fought in over a year due to injuries and is only 2-4 in the UFC. Clarke has poor striking defense and has been rocked on the feet and finished multiple times, so White also has some upside with a +180 inside the distance prop. The downside to White is that he moved up from Featherweight last fight, where he enjoyed a size and durability advantage over his opponents. In his first fight at Lightweight, he was out-grappled by Tony Martin and controlled on the ground and against the cage for most of the fight, although he did show some improvements in that area over his previous fights. Clarke will have the grappling advantage in this fight, although he is not as good of a wrestler as Martin, so I am not as concerned about him being able to limit White’s output. I expect White to be one of the highest-owned fighters on the card (and ownership should rise with buy-in level) for the salary relief, so I think you can consider a fade (or be underweight to the field) in tournaments. But for cash games, the price and win odds are way too good to ignore and I will be locking him in without thinking twice.

Other cash options: Sara McMann ($8,900), Raphael Dos Anjos ($8,600), Arjan Bhullar ($7,900)

Tournament Plays

The key to tournaments is to select fighters with high upside. On DraftKings, that means seeking out early finishes and fighters that land a high number of significant strikes. With the new DK scoring system you can also find a high ceiling with grapplers who score lots of takedowns and are active on the ground. It’s fine to have some popular plays but it will usually take one or two low-owned plays to win a tournament.

Adriano Martins ($9,000)

With Mighty Mouse off the card, Martins becomes the heaviest favorite at -500 over Kajan Johnson. Even as the heaviest favorite on the card, I still don’t love him for cash games, as his style is much better suited for GPPs on DK. Martins is a very low output counter striker with a ton of power in his hands and is taking on a guy who has been brutally knocked out twice in his last 4 fights and hasn’t fought in 2 years. He has the best chance of a finish of anyone on the card at -135 inside-the-distance, so that obviously gives him a ton of upside. Martins is a BJJ black belt and a strong wrestler, which if utilized, could give him a solid floor as well, but he prefers to keep fights standing and attempt to win with his power. Johnson is more of a grappler, but I don’t see him having much success in the ground game, so I expect him to come out with a kick-heavy game plan and pick away at Martins from distance. Martins is not very aggressive early in fights so if Johnson doesn’t press the action then I’m not confident in Martins being able to realize his upside. Martins is early KO or bust from a DK-perspective due to his inactivity, so I would target him in GPPs, but be cautious of being overexposed when playing multiple lineups.

Arjan Bhullar ($7,900)

Bhullar is a former Olympic freestyle wrestler making his UFC debut against Luis Henrique. Bhullar is 6-0 as a pro with 3 wins via KO/TKO and comes into this fight as -200 favorite. He is small for the Heavyweight division, but luckily Henrique is not much bigger at 1” taller and 5lbs heavier. Henrique is primarily a grappler with a BJJ brown belt, but he has shown a weakness in the striking game and has been KO’d in both of his UFC losses. He is a talented wrestler but Bhullar will have the advantage in that department and should be able to keep the fight standing if he chooses. Bhullar has a solid +150 finish prop, but even if he can’t get the KO, he has the potential to land takedowns of his own and that gives him a decent floor. As with most Heavyweight fights, there is always a risk that it turns into a slow-paced hug fest if a finish doesn’t materialize, but Henrique has been known to gas during fights so I would give Bhullar the edge if it goes to a decision. Bhullar is a strong value play with some upside and that makes him viable in both formats. I do expect him to be popular at that price, however, so I will limit my exposure to him in GPPs in case the fight ends up being a dud.

Ilir Latifi ($8,500) vs Tyson Pedro ($7,700)

Odds to Win: Latifi (+125) Pedro (-135)
Odds to Finish: -400

This Light Heavyweight fight between two heavy hitters has the best finish prop on the card at -400, which makes it a strong target in GPPs. This is a close fight on paper, but the betting line has completely flipped since it opened, starting at Latifi -130 and moving all the way to Pedro -135. This makes Pedro the better value at $800 cheaper than Latifi, but that should skew ownership heavily in his direction as well. Latifi is a finish-or-be-finished type of fighter and that makes his fights ideal targets for GPPs. He is coming off a KO loss to Ryan Bader but also has 4 first-round finishes of his own. He is short and stalky and very strong, which makes him difficult to takedown. As a result, most of his fights play out on the feet. Pedro is a strong wrestler with good submission skills, but he also has decent boxing and power of his own. He won his debut over Khalil Rountree via first-round submission and KO’d Paul Craig in the first round of his most recent fight. Pedro was dropped early by Rountree but showed his durability and powered through to get the win. I think you should have pieces of both sides of this fight in GPPs if you are playing multiple lineups, but Pedro is my preferred play because he is more active than Latifi and has multiple paths to victory. Latifi doesn’t strike at a high enough volume to score well in a decision, but he is appealing for his KO power and much lower expected ownership.

Other GPP options: Henry Cejudo ($9,100), Ashlee Evans-Smith ($8,700), Neil Magny ($7,600)

Optimal Cash Game Plays