The Haymaker – UFC on Fox 23: Picks and Analysis

Hey fight fans, welcome back to another edition of The Haymaker. Saturday’s card is taking place in Denver, Colorado and is headlined by a fight between Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena. This fight is taking place at altitude, which should be a detriment to fighters with known cardio issues. With 12 fights on the card, there are a lot of options to choose from on DK, so I will narrow down the field to some of my favorite individual plays for each format. There are only two fighters that are -200 or better according to the Vegas odds and the rest of the fights should be relatively close on paper. This makes cash games difficult for selecting winners, but it does present some excellent value for the underdogs.

Main Event: Valentina Shevchenko ($8,400) vs Julianna Pena ($7,800)

Odds: Shevchenko (-130) Pena (+110)

Odds to finish: +125

The Vegas odds suggest that this fight should be very close, but I think that Shevchenko should be a heavier favorite than she is. Shevchenko is the smaller fighter, but the fact that this is a 5-round fight gives her a huge advantage. She has excellent cardio and previous experience going the distance in a 5-round fight. Shevchenko has reportedly been training out in Denver for the last few months to get acclimated to the altitude change. This fight against Pena is essentially a striker vs grappler matchup, as Shevchenko will have the edge on the feet and Pena will be looking to get it to the ground. Pena is big and aggressive and will try to push the pace early. She has great takedowns but she is very hittable when trying to get in close and that’s something that Shevchenko should be able to take advantage of. Shevchenko is a point striker that likes to keep the distance and punish opponents who try to get in close to take her down. She employed this strategy in her last fight against Holly Holm, who she dominated for the full 5 rounds. Shevchenko is a judo black belt and is difficult to take down, but has proven that she can handle herself if she ends up on the ground. She survived on the ground against a much better opponent in champion Amanda Nunes. Pena might have the advantage early and be able to land a couple take downs, but her aggressiveness causes her to gas easily, which will be trouble at higher altitude. Pena has been able to finish lower level fighters, but never anyone good. She looked particularly bad against a rusty Cat Zingano, who was coming off a long layoff.

From a DFS perspective, I think that both fighters are in play in cash games for their price, since I don’t think that a finish is likely, so both fighters will have a solid floor of 5 rounds to work with. But I strongly favor Shevchenko in this one in both formats. She does not strike at a very high rate, which limits her ceiling, but a score of around 90 DK points is very likely in a victory. I’m usually looking for a ceiling of over 100 points in tournaments, but at a salary of only $8,400, I think that 90 points is reasonable for her to make it into the winning tournament lineup. Pena is a decent play in GPPs because I think that most of the ownership in this one will be on Shevchenko and I can see a reasonable path to victory for Pena that will pay off her discounted price.

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. 3-4 wins are generally enough to cash in most double ups and 50/50s.

Aside from Rodriguez, there is a lot of risk in the higher pricing tier, plus it forces you to choose some low-priced options that are heavy underdogs. I prefer to go with a more balanced lineup in cash games consisting of mainly the mid-range fighters. Luckily there are quite a few fighters in this tier with nice odds value and decent floors.

Jason Knight ($8,500)

Jason Knight had a shaky start to his UFC career, but has looked great in his last couple fights. He is primarily a submission grappler, but has shown improved striking each time out. Knight is a high output fighter who is very aggressive on the feet and on the ground. He likes to get in the pocket and throw, and although he hasn’t KO’d anyone yet, he is very durable himself and has proven that he can take a shot. His opponent Alex Caceres is more experienced and has the reach advantage, but he is not a finisher and has the 2nd-worst inside-the-distance prop on the card. Knight could get outpointed in a decision, but he is such an active fighter that this gives him a very high floor, making him an ideal cash game play.

Francis Ngannou ($9,600)

On the surface, Ngannou looks best served as a top GPP play rather than cash play. Ngannou is a KO artist and is facing another finisher in Andrei Arlovski. The fight is -200 to finish inside the first round which makes it a somewhat risky play for cash games. Arlovski is the much more experienced fighter, but he’s been KO’d 9 times in his career and doesn’t have much of a chin left. Ngannou has a massive 6” reach advantage so I like his chances of catching Arlovski with a big shot before Arlovski can catch him. As a -400 favorite on a card with very few large favorites, so I like the idea of locking in the fighter with the best chance at a win. With a high likelihood of winning in the first round, a lot of people will be on Ngannou in GPPs despite being the highest priced fighter on the card. While Ngannou does have a knack for first round finishes, he tends to stand back and wait for his opponents to attack him before countering. He does not strike at a high output, which limits his ceiling. If you look at his DK scores for each of his four UFC fights so far, he is right around 90 points every fight, despite all the early finishes. I love locking in 90 points for cash games, but at his astronomical price, he will need to score well over 100 points to be in the winning GPP lineup. Given his price, ownership, and average score, I like the idea of fading Ngannou in the majority of tournaments.

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.

Marcos Rogerio de Lima ($9,100) vs Jeremy Kimball ($7,100)

Odds: de Lima (-175) Kimball (+155)

Odds to finish: -300

This fight has the 2nd-highest ITD prop on the card, which makes it a great target for GPPs. De Lima is an ultra-aggressive power puncher that likes to close the distance and try to knock the other guy’s head off. This style leaves him wide open to be countered and is a big reason why all his UFC fights have ended in the first round. De Lima is big and strong but has no cardio and his aggressive style causes him to gas early. This will be an even bigger problem at elevation in Denver. His opponent Jeremy Kimball is not very athletic and has a body like a milk bag, but he knows how to fight. Kimball is making his UFC debut on short notice and is a big underdog, but he is competent on the ground and has shown a knack for taking his opponents’ back. De Lima is a BJJ black belt, but has been submitted rather easily on multiple occasions and does not show much fight after he gasses out. Kimball is from the Colorado area, so he is already acclimated to the altitude and should have the advantage if he can survive the early barrage from de Lima.

From a DFS perspective, I love de Lima as a GPP play, since he actively pushes for the early finish. He is also priced in a tier that includes other very popular plays like Ngannou, Donald Cerrone, and Sam Alvey. This should keep his ownership down, but he has just as much upside as any of those three and is facing an opponent making his UFC debut. Kimball should have much lower ownership himself as an unknown, but is worth a couple dart throws based on his price and the traits mentioned about de Lima above. All he has to do is survive the first round and he has a very good chance of reaching value.

Jordan Johnson ($8,600) vs Henrique da Silva ($7,600)

Odds: Johnson (-230) da Silva (+190)

Odds to finish: -175

Henrique da Silva is an all-offense, no-defense type of fighter who strikes at a high volume, but is very hittable. Much like de Lima, he is very aggressive early and does not have great cardio, which makes him gas easily. Da Silva is a black belt in BJJ, which makes him dangerous on the ground. He won his first two fights in the UFC by early finish, but he was rocked on the feet in both of those fights and dropped. He has a decent chin, but he moves forward with out moving his head, which leaves him open to getting tagged. Da Silva got destroyed by Paul Craig in his most recent fight just last month, which shows just how vulnerable he is defensively. His opponent, Jordan Johnson, is making his UFC debut on short notice in this one, but he is 6-0 in his pro career and has even shown the ability to go the distance in 5-round fights. Johnson was a dominating collegiate wrestler and should have a noticeable size advantage in this one. He is aggressive and very active with takedowns, which gives him a lot of upside. Johnson is the 2nd-biggest favorite on the card and only the 7th-highest priced fighter on DK, which gives him excellent odds value. As a fighter making his UFC debut, he is hard to trust in cash games, but I love him in GPPs, as he should be low owned as an unknown. Da Silva is also in play in GPPs, given his aggressive style and finishing ability, but I think Johnson is the better play here.