The UFC kicks off their new deal with ESPN this Saturday evening (6:00pm EST lock) from Brooklyn, New York. The debut features a super fight in the Main Event between champions TJ Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo and rest of the card is loaded up with some of their best up-and-coming prospects. There are a few obvious plays on the card that will draw high ownership, but with the lack of strong underdogs, the rest of the card should be pretty spread out. 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
TJ Dillashaw ($8900)(-210) vs Henry Cejudo ($7300)(+190) – The main storyline in this fight is Dillashaw moving down to Flyweight in an attempt to become a double champion and put an end to the collapsing division as a whole. It will be a difficult first title defense for Cejudo after knocking off the long-reigning champion, Demetrious Johnson, in a big upset. Dillashaw is coming off a pair of impressive performances against his rival, Cody Garbrandt, with back-to-back KO wins, and his only real losses since his UFC debut were by very close split decision.
Cejudo is a gold-medal Olympic wrestler with improved striking, but his lack of output could cost him in this fight. For as talented of a wrestler as Cejudo is, he only lands 2.31 takedowns per fight and isn’t super active on the ground as he attempts to simply win rounds by holding his opponents down. This strategy saw him pick up the split-decision win over DJ in his most recent fight, but DJ was injured early in the fight and still managed to outland him on the feet. Dillashaw is a solid wrestler himself with excellent scrambling ability. He is very hard to hold down and he strikes at a much higher rate than Cejudo (5.38 SLpM vs 3.42 SLpM) with more power. Dillashaw is live for an early KO with a finish prop of +155, but Cejudo has only been finished once via a knee to the body and I think the most likely scenario is that Dillashaw just out-strikes him for 5 rounds and wins a clear decision.
On DK, I think Dillashaw makes for an excellent play in cash games and a solid play in tournaments due to his relative safety, high-striking volume, and finishing upside. Dillashaw has been rocked before but he recovers well and Cejudo is not known for his finishing ability, as evidenced by his +550 finish prop. The extra weight cut for Dillashaw raises some questions about his cardio and durability, so it may be wise to get some exposure to Cejudo, but I feel those concerns may be overblown and he may be higher owned in tournaments than he should be. In cash games, I think Cejudo makes sense to use in a stack with Dillashaw because I do think the fight goes to a decision and it may be closer than I’m expecting. I can also see some scenarios where Dillashaw scores under 100 points in a win (if the fight his close and Cejudo can land a couple takedowns) so it’s not necessarily an all-in fight for me in large-field GPPs.
Cash Game Plays
Gregor Gillespie ($9400)(-500) – If you take one look Gillespie’s game log you can see he is clearly the top play on the card every time he fights and this matchup with Yancy Medeiros is no exception. Gillespie is a very high-output grappler with an elite wrestling background who lands over 7 takedowns per 15 minutes. He’s also very active when he gets the fight to the ground with 29 advances in 5 UFC fights (and many of those have ended in the first couple rounds). Medeiros is an action fighter with a poor defensive game who is moving back down to 155 after sustaining a lot of damage in back-to-back wars. He’s a good range striker and defends takedowns at a solid rate of 83%, but Medeiros has never faced a wrestler as talented as Gillespie and I doubt he will have sustained success in this spot. Medeiros has a decent ground game and may threaten with submissions from the bottom, but a skilled wrestler should have no trouble defending in those spots.
Not only can Gillespie still put up a massive score in a decision because of his grappling floor, but he also has one of the best finish props on the card at -160, which makes him the highest projected fighter on the card in terms of DK scoring by a wide margin. He’s likely to be the highest-owned fighter on the card at north of 45% but that won’t stop me from jamming him in to most of my lineups.
Dustin Ortiz ($7200)(+210) – Ortiz is a fighter that I regularly look to as an underdog because of his wrestling upside and knack for keeping fights close. He’s taking on Joseph Benavidez in a rematch from 4 years ago which Benavidez won soundly via decision. Each fighter landed a couple takedowns but Benavidez out-struck Ortiz on the feet by a wide margin. I expect a similar fight this time around and another decision is the most likely outcome based on the finish prop of +190, which is the worst on the card. While I don’t love Ortiz’s chances of winning, he should see 3 full rounds of action and makes for a reasonable punt option at his price. It’s also hard to tell if Benavidez lost a step after coming back from a long injury layoff, or if it was just ring rust that caused his poor performance against Antony Pettis. He bounced back with an early finish over Alex Perez in his next fight, but the fight didn’t last long enough to draw any meaningful conclusions. In any event, Ortiz makes for a safe cash play with an outside chance of picking up a close win.
Other Cash Options: Cory Sandhagen ($9300), Alex Hernandez ($8600), Geoff Neal ($8500), Joanne Calderwood ($7400)
Alex Hernandez ($8600)(-185) vs Donald Cerrone ($7600)(+160) – This is one of the fights I’m most looking forward to watching outside of the Main Event and it also makes for a great target in DFS. Like Medeiros, Cerrone is an action fighter moving back down to 155 to take on an emerging prospect. Cerrone is much better than Medeiros defensively, but he’s not very selective with his opponents and routinely takes bad stylistic matchups. This is another one of those bad stylistic matchups against the explosive Hernandez. Hernandez is super aggressive early in fights in trying to overwhelm his opponents and pressure is something that Cerrone has always struggled with. Hernandez is an incredible athlete with a good fight IQ and his wrestling looked solid against a grappler in Olivier Aubin-Mercier in his last fight. Hernandez is a sizable favorite in this matchup and it’s possible he’s a bit overhyped in this spot against a crafty veteran in Cerrone but he seems to have all the right attributes and I like him in this spot.
Hernandez has the upside of an early finish (+120 finish prop) but can also put up a decent score in a decision because of his aggression and strong wrestling game and he is my favorite play in the mid range. Of course, it makes sense to get some exposure to Cerrone in tournaments as well in case this is too much, too soon for Hernandez. Cerrone is the better technical striker and always dangerous on the feet.
Alonzo Menifield ($9100)(-270) vs Vinicius Castro ($7100)(+230) – It’s possible this fight goes a bit under-owned due to the unknown nature of both fighters who are making their UFC debuts, but with a -485 finish prop it makes for a strong target in GPPs. Both are finishers who got the call after strong performances on the Contender’s Series. Menifield is a high-level athlete with heavy KO power and he is the preferred target here with a finish prop of -165 (second best on the card). He’s priced between Gillespie and Dillashaw so he should be relatively low owned in GPPs. Castro is a skilled submission grappler but he’s not very athletic and doesn’t have the best wrestling. If he can’t get the fight to the ground, then Menifield should be able to tee off on him and eventually land the KO. However, if Castro can survive the early danger, he will have an opportunity to take over when Menifield eventually gasses himself out and find the submission.
Other GPP Options: Greg Hardy ($9500), Glover Teixeira ($8300), Belal Muhammad ($7700), Joanne Calderwood ($7400)
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