The UFC ends the year with a big PPV card this Saturday evening (6:15pm EST lock) from Los Angeles, California. The card was supposed to take place in Vegas but was moved due to the recent drug-testing controversy with Jon Jones. Luckily the Main Event rematch between Jones and Alexander Gustafsson will still take place along with a super fight between Cyborg and Amanda Nunes for the Featherweight title. Overall, this is a very tricky card for DFS as most of the 13 fights have a wide range of outcomes. You can still make some solid lineups in cash games, but tournaments seem better suited for a multi-lineup approach. As usual, I will highlight my favorite plays in each format to help narrow down your decisions.
* Current betting odds and finish props can be found at BestFightOdds.com
Jon Jones ($9100)(-270) vs Alexander Gustafsson ($7100)(+250) – The Main Event is a rematch from 5 years ago when Gustafsson pushed Jones to the limit and nearly pulled off the upset to win the Light Heavyweight title. Jones was the stronger fighter in the championship rounds and eventually won the fight on the scorecards, but you could make the argument that Gustafsson won the first three rounds and should’ve earned the victory. Gustafsson was able to negate the reach advantage that Jones has over most opponents and stifled his wrestling attempts throughout the fight. He used his fast hands and excellent lateral movement to frustrate Jones early but the extra activity and leg/body kicks from Jones appeared to take its toll and slow him down in the later rounds. Jones landed some very solid kicks, including multiple head kicks that Gustafsson was able to eat, but otherwise Jones struggled at range and failed to get his wrestling game going. Jones had his most success in tight throwing elbows and eventually hurting Gustafsson towards the end of the 4th round. He landed the more damaging shots and that appeared to be the difference in the end.
In the time since the first fight, each guy has had their ups and downs (Jones’ issues have been outside the Octagon) but I expect another closely contested matchup this weekend. Jones was a massive favorite going into the first fight and I believe he wasn’t fully prepared for what Gustafsson could bring to the table. Gustafsson had the best performance of his life in the first fight and wasn’t quite able to get the job done, while Jones had a lot of room for improvement. Gustafsson will have the speed and boxing advantages once again but I expect Jones to have made the necessary improvements in his gameplan and will focus more on what made him successful in the first fight. I expect him to attempt to wrestle and box less and focus more on cutting off Gustafsson and using his elbows to damage him in close. We saw Jones work on that range much more in his next couple fights while Dan Cormier was able to exploit that hole in Gustafsson’s game in their fight. While Gustafsson is tough enough and talented enough to keep this fight competitive, I expect Jones to have a much stronger performance this time around as he makes the necessary adjustments and he is my pick to win the fight. As far as I’m concerned, until someone shows they can beat Jones, I just can’t pick against him.
From a DFS perspective I think this is a fantastic fight to target in cash games and it makes for a no-brainer stack for me given the pricing. While I do favor Jones in the rematch, the fight should take place on the feet for the duration and with it being near 50% to go to a decision I think Gustafsson makes for a strong play in cash games at only $7.1k. In the first fight, Gustafsson landed 110 significant strikes and a takedown for 60 DK points in the loss. Jones is one of the safest plays on the card at a reasonable $9.1k. He was cut open early in the first round by Gustafsson, but otherwise didn’t look in danger at any point in that first fight and that’s reflected by Gustafsson’s +600 finish prop in the rematch. Jones makes for an excellent play in small-field tournaments because of his safety and win odds, but he only scored 102 DK points in the first fight, and if he doesn’t get a finish, there’s a decent chance he does not end up on the optimal lineup with other finishers in his price range. He is expected to finish just under 50% of the time, with an inside-the-distance prop of +117, so you could consider fading the fight in few lineups in large-field GPPs.
Cash Game Plays
Cris Cyborg ($9200)(-225) – Cyborg comfortably defeated Holly Holm a couple fights ago in a 5-round decision, but she hasn’t really faced a difficult test so far in her career as there aren’t really any female fighters who can match her physically. This fight against Amanda Nunes is seen as the closest thing to a physical threat for Cyborg, but while the two women have similar height and reach measurements, Cyborg cuts a lot more weight than Nunes and should be noticeably bigger come the night of the fight. Nunes is a very physical fighter herself which has led to her dominance at Bantamweight against smaller women, but I’m not sure how well her strength and power will translate after moving up a weight class against the larger Cyborg. Nunes is known for her early aggression and powerful striking game but that aggression also causes her to gas out and make mistakes when she gets tired. It’s possible that cutting less weight will help improve her stamina, but Cyborg will also be able to use her size advantage to wear out Nunes as the fight goes on. Cyborg has been known to get a bit reckless at times but that’s usually against opponents who pose no actual threat to her and we’ve seen her be more patient against tougher competition. She used to be a brawler but has become more refined technically in recent years.
Nunes will have an advantage in the speed and movement department while she is fresh, and a stick and move strategy will be her best bet to pull off the upset. Nunes is a known finisher, but I think an early KO is an unlikely outcome against Cyborg. We’ve never really seen Cyborg hit hard, but that’s also because she is strong defensively and is very difficult to hit cleanly. With no noticeable holes in Cyborg’s game and a clear weakness in the cardio of Nunes (not to mention the size difference), I feel very strongly about Cyborg’s chances of picking up the win here. I can see a patient start from both sides but eventually expect Cyborg to wear out Nunes and get a mid-round stoppage once she slows down.
On DK I think Cyborg is a strong play in both formats and it’s very close between her and Jones for the top play on the card. Cyborg may have a bit more upside for an early finish, but Jones seems like the slightly safer option. Nunes is worth a shot in GPPs but I don’t love her chances of winning and all four members of the Main/Co-Main Event will be popular, so I won’t go crazy on her. I do prefer her over Gustafsson in GPPs though, but he is clearly the better play in cash games.
Alexander Volkanovski ($7500)(+125) – Volkanovski has been very impressive in his first 5 fights in the UFC and appearing as a legit threat in the Featherweight division, not to mention putting up huge scores on DK. He’s worked his way up against the bottom of the division and gets his first difficult test against Chad Mendes who returned from a long layoff with a first-round KO over Myles Jury. Volkanovski and Mendes match up very closely on paper, as both are short and stocky wrestlers with power. Mendes should have slight advantages in quickness, power and wrestling but Volkanovski gets the edge in pace, cardio and durability. Mendes uses his wrestling to either lay-and-pray vs his opponents, or keep the fight standing (he’s never been taken down) and throw bombs trying to KO them. Volkanovski can be hit and taken down, but his chin has held up so far and he’s good at scrambling back to his feet. Mendes does not land much volume on the feet and is not very active on the ground. His chin is a question mark as he was KO’d in back-to-back fights prior to the layoff and his cardio can suffer a bit due to him throwing everything with full power. Volkanovski is a much more active fighter and has excellent cardio to back it up. He will have a 5” reach advantage and if he can avoid the early power shots from Mendes, I think he has a great chance of pulling off the upset. I expect him to get stronger as the fight goes on, so he can win a decision on volume, plus he has the upside of a KO if Mendes is still a bit chinny.
With multiple paths to victory and a great price tag for a high-output fighter, I think Volkanovski is a solid play in both formats. There is a bit of risk of an early Mendes KO, but every fighter on this card has some risk so I think he still makes for the best option in this price range for cash games. I expect Volkanovski to be popular in tournaments but luckily there are no shortage of ways to differentiate your lineups on this card.
Other Cash Options: Petr Yan ($9300), Cat Zingano ($8500), Montel Jackson ($8400)/Brian Kelleher ($7800)
Michael Chiesa ($9000)(-145) and Ilir Latifi ($8900)(-135) – If you’re worried about ownership at the top end, Chiesa and Latifi make for reasonable large-field GPP pivots to Jones and Cyborg. Both have strong stylistic matchups and 100-point upside at much lower ownership than the Main/Co-Main Event favorites.
Chiesa is a skilled submission grappler taking on Carlos Condit, who has one foot out the door and only has two wins in the last 7 years. Condit struggles mightily against grapplers as he is super easy to take down, with only a 37% takedown defense. Chiesa isn’t the best technical wrestler, but he’s aggressive and does land an average of 2.87 takedowns per 15 minutes. The risk with Chiesa is that he’s not a very good striker and will be moving up a weight class for this fight so he may struggle to grapple with bigger opponents. The move should help his cardio issues though, which have plagued him in recent fights. If Chiesa can get this fight to the ground early then he’ll have a great opportunity to put up a big score, but if the fight stays standing, I don’t like his chances of picking up the win.
Latifi vs Corey Anderson is almost the exact same dynamic as Mendes vs Volkanovski, with the main differences being that Anderson has a much worse chin than Volkanovski and less finishing upside. Latifi is a low-output wrestler with a ton of power and has never been taken down. Anderson has a big reach advantage and much better volume and cardio, but he has been KO’d cold in three of his four losses. Latifi is a boom or bust option but he could find his way onto the winning lineup with a first-round KO (+150 finish prop) if the two title fights go to a decision. Anderson also makes for a decent alternative to Volkanovski, albeit with much greater risk.
Siyar Bahadurzada ($7400)(+120) – Bahadurzada is an experienced striker with good finishing skills and is taking on a younger and more athletic striker in Curtis Millender. Millender is dangerous on the feet (especially in kicking range) but he struggles in close and on the ground where Bahadurzada has shown some strength. Millender has poor takedown defense and two of his three career losses have come via submission. Bahadurzada has fast hands and is known for his power, but he is also willing to look for the takedown and has 6 career submission wins. He can be hittable as he throws big looping punches and leaves his hands down at times, but Bahadurzada has never been KO’d and his durability makes him a very appealing underdog with multiple paths to victory.
Other GPP Options: Walt Harris ($8600), Nathaniel Wood ($8200)/Andre Ewell ($8000), Bevon Lewis ($7900)
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