DraftKings MMA: UFC 266 Preview

DraftKings MMA: UFC 266 Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

The return of The Ultimate Fighter comes full circle Saturday in Las Vegas, with the two head coaches from Season 29 set to square off in the main event with the UFC Featherweight Championship on the line.

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 $700k UFC 266 Special with$150k 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.

Moves Scoring
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)

Scoring Notes

  • 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 - Featherweight Championship

(C) Alexander Volkanovski (22-1-0) v. Brian Ortega (15-1-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Volkanovski ($8,600), Ortega ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Volkanovski (-165), Ortega (+145)
Odds to Finish: +100

It's pretty clear that Volkanovski and Max Holloway are the two best featherweights on the planet right now, but they just fought in back-to-back fights, and there's no way the UFC could book a third one right away. Enter, Ortega.

Volkanovski won the title with a stellar unanimous decision effort back in December 2019. The rematch eight months later again went Alexander's way, although this one was via split decision and highly controversial. Volkanovski's rise to prominence has been stunning. He lost his third professional fight back in May 2013 and hasn't tasted defeated since. He's a perfect 9-0 in the UFC despite joining the company as nothing more than roster depth back in November 2016. He has some of the fastest hands in the sport, and he hits hard. It's more volume than sheer power, but his 11 career knockout wins prove Volkanovski is capable of closing the show when the opportunity presents itself. Holding the belt for an extended period of time in such a deep division will be difficult, but Volkanovski is a very legitimate champion.

This will be Ortega's second shot at UFC gold. He fought Holloway for the belt back in December 2018 and was hammered from pillar to post before the doctor finally stopped the fight at the end of Round 4. Ortega represents an extremely different type of challenge for the champion. While Holloway is a pure striker, Ortega relies on his elite submission game to generate most of his offense. "T-City" appeared largely uncomfortable in prolonged kickboxing matches for the vast majority of his career, but he went out and blasted The Korean Zombie in his most recent bout last October. It was a flawless performance and showed Ortega is more than a one-trick pony. Brian is so good on the mat that his ceiling would be through the roof if he can just get his striking game to solid average. We'll have to see if the Zombie fight was a legitimate turning point or just a lucky night at the office.

While it hasn't been as much of a problem lately, Ortega was a very slow starter for a good portion of his UFC career and that isn't going to work against an aggressive Volkanovski. Even if Ortega is much improved on the feet, there is no way he's on Alexander's level so he would be wise to start quick and vary his attacks from the very start. 

Ortega's massive improvements on the feet make him a live underdog, but you still can't pick him outright. I still believe the end result here is a third fight between Volkanovski and Holloway.

THE PICK: Volkanovski
 

Co-Main Event - Women's Flyweight Championship

(C) Valentina Shevchenko (21-3-0) v. Lauren Murphy (15-4-0)
DK Salaries: Shevchenko ($9,500), Murphy ($6,700)
Vegas Odds: Shevchenko (-1500), Murphy (+850)
Odds to Finish: -280

The most dominant fighter in the sport today relative to everyone else in the division, Shevchenko returns for her sixth title defense in what is expected to be another easy night at the office. 

Valentina last fought in April, dismantling Jessica Andrade on the way to a second-round knockout victory. It was a dominant effort from Shevchenko, which hasn't always been the case of late. I truly believe Valentina is getting bored with the lack of competition the UFC is putting in front of her. She knows she can defeat all of these women with ease, and she's correct. Of course, that's not her fault. Shevchenko is elite in every single aspect of the sport, and it's going to take a Herculean effort to get the belt off her at 125 pounds.

Murphy is currently the best of the UFC's extremely-limited options to challenge Shevchenko. She has won five fights in a row dating back to August 2019, but taking split decisions from the likes of Joanne Calderwood and Andrea Lee isn't going to prepare Murphy for what's heading her way on Saturday. She turned 38 years of age this past July, so Murphy will almost certainly be one-and-done here.

None of these women have any real chance of defeating Shevchenko, but Murphy would appear to be in for an especially long night for a stylistic standpoint. She relies on grit and determination for success, in addition to preferring to stand and trade. I expect Valentina to overwhelm her from the very start and keep it up until this fight is over. Murphy is legitimately tough, so don't be surprised if she lasts longer than most think.

As I say about every fight in which Shevchenko and Amanda Nunes compete, the UFC are simply spinning their wheels until the two fight again for a third time. Using a fighter as expensive as Valentina in your lineup is risky, but she's worth it. Murphy has no value as a DK punt play.

THE PICK: Shevchenko

Welterweight

Nick Diaz (26-9-0, 2NC) v. Robbie Lawler (28-15-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Diaz ($7,900), Lawler ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Diaz (-110), Lawler (-110)
Odds to Finish: +130

This is a rematch of an April 2004 bout which Diaz won via second-round knockout. That fight took place at UFC 47.

I have not written up or previewed a Diaz fight since RotoWire got into the MMA business many years ago. Nick's last fight was January 31, 2015. He lost that fight to Anderson Silva, but Silva failed a post-fight drug test and the decision was changed to a no-contest. Diaz also tested positive for marijuana following the bout, which originally led to a five-year suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Following an appeal, Diaz's suspension was reduced to 18 months. He was also forced to pay a $100,000 fine. He hasn't fought since.

Lawler, a loser of four fights in a row, is unquestionably fighting for his job here. He hasn't won a fight in more than four years and hasn't been the least bit competitive in the previously-mentioned defeats. Robbie is now 39 years old. He's been in countless wars over the years and much like Donald Cerrone, it's fair to wonder if his body has simply given out. The UFC needs to be exceedingly careful regarding who they match Lawler up against if he gets past Diaz.

No one care accurately predict what to expect from Diaz here, and anyone telling you otherwise is fibbing. This is a guy who hasn't fought in more than six years and hasn't won a fight in more than a decade. Why Diaz is returning now is anyone's guess. I have long believed that both Diaz brothers enjoy the competition that comes with fighting. They love training and being around the guys, and obviously, collecting a large paycheck. 

I can't believe I'm saying this about a bout in which the two competitors have combined for more than 80 pro fights, but I would completely fade this one. Lawler looks totally done, but Diaz is even more of an unknown at this point. 

I am ultimately siding with Diaz for one simple reason, that being, we know how tough both Diaz brothers are, while Lawler's durability is a serious question mark. I can't ever remember writing up a fight in which I had less feel for what would happen than this one.

THE PICK: Diaz
 

Heavyweight

Curtis Blaydes (14-3-0, 1NC) v. Jair Rozenstruik (12-2-0)
DK Salaries: Blaydes ($9,200), Rozenstruik ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Blaydes (-320), Rozenstruik (+250)
Odds to Finish: -200

Blaydes appeared to be next in line for a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship, but a main-event, knockout loss to Derrick Lewis this past February derailed those plans completely. The good news here is that he should be able to get right back in the win column. Blaydes is the best wrestler in the heavyweight division today. He averages a whopping 6.64 takedowns per 15 minutes, and lands them at a reasonable 54 percent clip. His pace is excellent, and he is often able to conserve energy by controlling his opposition from top position.

Although I am not all that high on Rozenstruik moving forward, it's impossible to deny his success thus far. He is 6-2 in the UFC, with seven of the fights ending via knockout. The two losses came against current UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou (KO), and current interim UFC Heavyweight Champion Ciryl Gane (decision). Rozenstruik is a one-dimensional brawler who swings for the bleachers with every single punch he throws. His footwork and ground game are non-existent, although he has defended the takedown at a 80 percent clip thus far. I tend to think that number will drop after this one.

Rozenstruik has obvious high-end power and an excellent chin, the latter of which is a necessity given how little he moves his feet. Ultimately, I think he will be overwhelmed by the athleticism and explosiveness of Blaydes. Unlike many fighters in the sport today, Blaydes will stick with his wrestling game even if his first few takedowns fail. One and two might not land, but attempts three, four and five are still forthcoming. 

The odds of Rozenstruik winning a decision are miniscule, so if you are the wagering type, Jair by knockout is the only reasonable play. From a DK perspective, it's almost certainly going to take a one-punch finish to get Blaydes out of there. It's not impossible, as we saw in the Lewis fight, but there's a reason Rozenstruik is such a big underdog. I'm taking the favorite.

THE PICK: Blaydes
 

Women's Flyweight

Jessica Andrade (21-9-0) v. Cynthia Calvillo (9-2-1)
DK Salaries: Andrade ($9,000), Calvillo ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Andrade (-275), Calvillo (+220)
Odds to Finish: -120

Calvillo gets another high-profile fight despite being swept on the scorecards by Katlyn Chookagian last November. It was a horrendous performance from Calvillo in a fight in which she entered as about a -170 favorite. Chookagian has no ground game and no power, but she still overwhelmed Calvillo on the feet. It was a highly concerning effort, to say the least.

Andrade has lost three of her past four, but that number doesn't seem quite as bad when you take into account the level of competition she was facing. Her most recent defeat was a knockout loss to Valentina Shevchenko in a flyweight title fight in April, while her two prior defeats came against the current (Rose Namajunas) and former (Zhang Weili) UFC Women's Strawweight Champions. In between, she knocked out Chookagian. 

Andrade has had her most success at 115 pounds, but she has a solid frame, and I'm confident she can outmuscle Calvillo at the point of attack at 125 pounds. I've always found Calvillo overrated, as her defense is lacking, and I never saw any type of explosiveness from her from an offensive standpoint. She's tough, but there is an overall technical skill gap between her and Andrade.

I do have questions about Andrade's chin, and that would certainly come into play against an opponent like Zhang, Shevchenko or Amanda Nunes, but I don't see Calvillo – who has two knockout wins in her career, and none since January 2017 – landing enough, or with enough authority, for that to be an issue. 

This is a clear-cut selection.

THE PICK: Andrade

Other Bouts

Bantamweight
Marlon Moraes (23-8-1) v. Merab Dvalishvili (13-4-0)
DK Salaries: Moraes ($7,300), Dvalishvili ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Moraes (+205), Dvalishvili (-255)
Odds to Finish: +120
THE PICK: Dvalishvili

Lightweight
Dan Hooker (20-10-0) v. Nasrat Haqparast (13-3-0)
DK Salaries: Hooker ($8,700), Haqparast ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Hooker (-145), Haqparast (+125)
Odds to Finish: -125
THE PICK: Hooker

Heavyweight
Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-5-0) v. Chris Daukaus (11-3-0)
DK Salaries: Abdurakhimov ($7,400), Daukaus ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Abdurakhimov (+170), Daukaus (-200)
Odds to Finish: -190
THE PICK: Daukaus

Women's Flyweight
Roxanne Modafferi (25-19-0) v. Taila Santos (17-1-0)
DK Salaries: Modafferi ($6,900), Santos ($9,300)
Vegas Odds: Modafferi (+300), Santos (-400)
Odds to Finish: +170
THE PICK: Santos

Lightweight
Uros Medic (7-0-0) v. Jalin Turner (10-5-0)
DK Salaries: Medic ($8,400), Turner ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Medic (-120), Turner (+100)
Odds to Finish: -185
THE PICK: Medic

Women's Flyweight
Manon Fiorot (7-1-0) v. Mayra Bueno Silva (7-1-1)
DK Salaries: Fiorot ($9,100), Silva ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Fiorot (-260), Silva (+210)
Odds to Finish: -155
THE PICK: Fiorot

Middleweight
Cody Brundage (6-1-0) v. Nick Maximov (6-0-0)
DK Salaries: Brundage (TBD), Maximov ($8,00)
Vegas Odds: Brundage (+145), Maximov (-110)
Odds to Finish: +110 (though highly variable)
THE PICK: Maximov

Welterweight
Matthew Semelsberger (8-3-0) v. Martin Sano (4-2-1)
DK Salaries: Semelsberger ($9,400), Sano ($6,800)
Vegas Odds: Semelsberger (-450), Sano (+340)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Semelsberger

Featherweight
Jonathan Pearce (10-4-0) v. Omar Morales (11-1-0)
DK Salaries: Pearce ($7,700), Morales ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Pearce (+130), Morales (-150)
Odds to Finish: +110
THE PICK: Morales

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Jon Litterine plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: JLitterine.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Litterine
Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.
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