UFC 279 underwent a major shakeup today, with scheduled headliner Khamzat Chimaev missing weight by nearly eight pounds. As a result, three fights have been shuffled, with the new main event featuring Nate Diaz and Tony Ferguson. DraftKings has maintained salaries for all fighters, so sorting out those three fights will be key on the slate.
Also of note, there are now two fights in five rounds, as the co-main event between Khamzat Chimaev and Kevin Holland is now also scheduled for five rounds.
We’ve created a comprehensive player projection model using FantasyLabs player tools and models to help create winning DFS lineups in the UFC. You can use our optimizer to create optimal queues using these projections.
The model, created by our own Sean Koerner, is based on 10,000 simulations of all fights. He then extracted the DraftKings score from each fight to create floor, median and ceiling projections for each fighter. Here’s how he defined each projection:
- Floor: The fighter has an 80% chance of exceeding this score, a 20% chance of falling below it.
- Median: The fighter has a 50% chance of exceeding this score, a 50% chance of falling below it.
- Ceiling: The fighter has a 20% chance of exceeding this score, an 80% chance of falling below it.
These should give us a better idea of which fighters we should be targeting based on game type – maximizing the GPP cap, for example.
You can check out each fighter’s projections on Saturday’s card in our UFC templates.
Tony Ferguson ($7,200) vs. Nate Diaz ($6,600)
Most weeks there is value to be found with five-round fighters because of the price. DraftKings values all fights at $16,200 between the two fighters, so getting two potential extra rounds from a match or two is a bargain, especially in cash games.
This effect is enormously amplified this week. Both Ferguson and Diaz were underdogs — a huge one in Diaz’s case — in their initial fight. Now this one is pretty much a pick, with Ferguson a slight -125 favorite on Friday night.
The DFS stocks of both fighters have also increased stylistically. Ferguson and Diaz are some of the fastest fighters in the sport, and both have terrific cardio. Ferguson’s chin is somewhat suspect, but the younger Diaz brother has never been known for his one-shot power.
We’re much more likely to see this one last 25 minutes, with DraftKings setting the prop over 4.5 turns at -130. It gives me an interest in playing both fighters in GPPs. It’s no exaggeration to see a tournament winning score from the losing fighter if it lasts 25 minutes at their wages. However, it is essential to register at least one.
For cash games, there is absolutely no reason not to line up the two men. They should both get cash game-worthy scores in this one relative to their salaries, and the risk of missing out on the (very cheap) winner is huge.
Khamzat Chimaev ($9,600)
I still expect Chimaev to be chalky here despite the change of opponents. It’s been around -550 since his fight with Kevin Holland ($8,700) has been made official, and depending on where the line settles, he could still become the heaviest favorite on the slate.
On the other hand, he’s a lot less appealing now against Holland than he was as a -900 or better favorite against Diaz. The match itself is tougher, with Holland, a former middleweight who was scheduled to fight in a 180-pound catchweight bout before the shakeup.
Also, Chimaev’s struggles on the scale and assigning a “medical issue” as the problem is not a good sign. Holland called for it to be five rounds, with Chimaev’s side preferring it to be set at three. This is another red flag since Chimaev was originally training for a five-round fight and Holland was not.
Yet those value considerations are more or less ignored with the savings available on Ferguson and Diaz. You can put almost anyone on your roster if you play them together.
Holland’s appeal is obviously diminished, as a sizable underdog at $8,700 doesn’t make much sense. It’s a sneaky GPP game, though. If concerns about Chimaev’s health or his fight readiness are legitimate, playing against an underhanded Dutchman could be key in Saturday’s tournaments.
Jailton Almeida ($9,500)
Almeida’s fight is thankfully unchanged, leaving him feeling like one of the safest picks on the slate. He is now (at least since Friday night) the heaviest favorite on the slate, as he hosts Anton Turkalj ($7,200) at the Octagon.
Almeida is off to a great start to his UFC career, recording first-round stoppages in each of his first two fights. He debuted as a light heavyweight, before moving up to heavyweight against Parker Porter in his last fight. This fight is at a catchweight of 220 pounds, but Turkalj is fighting at 205, and did it about six weeks ago on Dana White’s Contender Series.
This means that Almeida will probably be the biggest and strongest fighter here. He will also have a huge advantage when it comes to grappling, being the best grappler in either division he competes in. He has -110 at DraftKings to win this one in the first round.
The two things we look for in DFS options are upside wrestling and early finishes. Almeida brings both, making him an obvious choice tonight. His cardio has shown holes in the past, so Turkalj has advantages if he can survive the initial onslaught.
Upside down games
Jake Collier ($9,100)
Collier is another big favorite that indirectly benefits from all the value created on this card. It opened the week at -360 against Chris Barnet ($7,100) but was bet down to -450 Friday night.
He is the rare heavyweight fighter who racks up points through volume, not sheer power, with a below-average knockdown rate (regardless of division) and the highest strikes attempted per round of any fighter masculine. He has alternated wins and losses over his 11-fight UFC career, but his last four wins have all produced at least 80 DraftKings points.
Pairing that volume with his knockout in this fight gives him a clear path to a big night. He’s tied at DraftKings to finish this one early.
Barnett also missed weight, a shocking turn for a 5-foot-9 heavyweight. This is not a good sign of his conditioning or combat readiness. Barnett had some fun times in the UFC, but he could be completely outclassed by the taller and longer Collier.
I’m not making it a priority to find Collier’s salary on Saturday, but it’s a solid option in the likely scenario where you have it to spare.
The value plays
Daniel Rodriguez ($7,500)
Outside of the main event, Rodriguez is the strongest value on the card. He is a -150 or more favorite against Li Jiangliang ($9,000), although it is the cheaper of the two. That’s because Rodriguez was originally scheduled to face Kevin Holland as an underdog before the fights got shuffled.
Rodriguez also weighed in at 179 pounds for this fight, as his fight with Holland was at a catchweight of 180 pounds. Jiangliang has reached the welterweight limit. On the other hand, Jiangliang is a pretty big welterweight, so they should be pretty close come fight time. Of course, Jiangliang had to exhaust himself a lot more to get there.
Rodriguez is 6-1 in his UFC tenure, scoring 85 or more DraftKings points in all of his wins, and over 100 in four of them. This is a significant stylistic change for Li, as southpaw Rodriguez is a very different fighter from the undersized Tony Ferguson.
Rodriguez is a little too obvious here – and should therefore be very well held – but it’s a very strong game on paper. It is indeed a lock for gambling, but I can sprinkle some Jiangliang queues in GPP as a leverage game.
The opposite approach
Danielle Wolf ($7,000)
Wolf is a former boxing champion and Olympic qualifier (although her weight class was later dropped). She only has a 1-0 record in MMA, however, making her professional debut last year in Dana White’s Contender Series. She looked good in that one, defeating current Invicta FC bantamweight champion Taneisha Tennant in a close decision victory.
This time she fights Norma Dumont ($9,200), who is 3-2 in the UFC, primarily as a featherweight. Both of her losses have come against women who have five inches of reach on Dumont. All three of her wins have come against women within an inch of Dumont’s reach. Wolf has a three to four inch edge (depending on the source).
One of those losses for Dumont was a knockout against Megan Anderson. Wolf is clearly a better boxer than Anderson and anyone else in the women’s featherweight division. This gives him a clear path to a stop. Even if it’s not in the cards, she should be throwing a high volume of punches as long as this one stays up, giving her the path to a big score.
Dumont averages just 1.02 takedowns every 15 minutes, with a mediocre success rate of 45%. She’s about as ideal for a match against Wolf as she is on the UFC roster. While still not enough, Wolf is likely to be extremely thinly held in GPPs, making it an attractive option.
Although my interest in it is lessened now thanks to the fact that Diaz and Ferguson are in the same price range, I will still try to find a way to reach it in GPPS.
The Swing Fight
Darian Weeks ($8,200) vs. Yohan Lainesse ($8,000)
Lost in the madness that is UFC 279 is an extremely fun fight between Darian Weeks and Yohan Lainesse. This fight has the closest odds to the moneyline on the slate, and at -205 some of the best odds to end inside the distance.
Weeks is 0-2 in the UFC, with two tough fights against Ian Garry and Bryan Barbarena to open his career. Although they didn’t follow his path, he showed a clear path to producing fantasy, especially against Barbarena. He scored 75 points in that one despite the loss, courtesy of four takedowns and 118 major strikes.
Lainesse is also winless in the UFC, suffering a knockout loss in a fight with Gabe Green in his debut. Lainesse won two takedowns and a knockdown before getting caught in that one. Prior to that, he was very impressive in his DWCS fight, earning a first-round knockout victory.
Lainesse is the slight underdog here, but I prefer his side. He has a well balanced skill set and was winning quite dominantly before being caught by Green. He would likely be considered a much heavier favorite were it not for Green’s return here.
However, mixing up some week queues if multiple entries is also a good option. His activity rate keeps him in contention for the optimal roster, especially at a reasonable salary.
Photo Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Pictured above (LR): Ciryl Gane