UFC 277 goes down live from Texas with 13 fights, including two championship bouts. Both title fights are rematches, and there are plenty of other exciting fights on the card. It’s also a big week for DFS, with the finale of the 2022 DraftKings championship, the first round of qualifiers for the 2023 event, and a $200k to first place contest.
We have built out a full player-projection model using the FantasyLabs Tools and Player Models to help put together some winning DFS lineups in UFC. You can use our optimizer to build optimal lineups using these projections.
The model, created by our own Sean Koerner, is based on 10,000 simulations of all the fights. He then pulled the DraftKings score from each bout to create floor, median and ceiling projections for every fighter. Here is how he defined each projection:
- Floor: Fighter has an 80% chance of going over this score, 20% chance of going under
- Median: Fighter has a 50% chance of going over this score, 50% chance of going under
- Ceiling: Fighter has a 20% chance of going over this score, 80% chance of going under
These should give us a better sense of which fighters we should target based on the game type — maximizing ceiling in GPPs, for example.
You can check out the projections for every fighter on Saturday’s card in our UFC Models.
Amanda Nunes ($9,200) vs. Julianna Pena ($7,000)
Nunes is once again a heavy favorite, despite losing the belt via a shocking upset in her first fight against Pena. The key to this fight — and perhaps the slate — is determining if that fight was a fluke.
If you think it’s a fluke, this is the closest to a buy-low opportunity we’ve seen on Nunes in a long time. She’s a solid -275 favorite but was at -1000 or longer in the first fight. Her DraftKings salary of “only” $9,200 is also discounted from her normal levels.
This fight has -250 odds to end early, so it’s not hard to see Nunes paying off that price tag with a victory. She scored at least 99 points in six consecutive fights before the Pena upset.
On the other hand, a defending champion at $7,000 against an opponent she’s already beaten is a massive value. If you think Pena can replicate her performance from last time — or come anywhere near it — she’s a must-play at her current salary.
This fight is a bit tricky for cash games, as a Nunes win is likelier than not to come early on. With the inside-the-distance odds, this is a rare occasion where I’d fade the underdog if you’re confident in a Nunes win, provided there are other fighters in Pena’s salary range you want to roster.
I’m leaning more towards the “fluke” narrative than Nunes having lost a step. Their last bout was her first in over two years at 135 lbs, and she also reportedly had COVID during the training camp for that fight. At her best, she’s the superior fighter to Pena, who was 2-2 in her four bouts before beating Nunes.
I’ll be happy to take the discount on Nunes in most of my GPP lineups but will also mix in some Pena. The champion should be in the optimal with nearly any victory, while Nunes likely needs a stoppage.
Brandon Moreno ($8,900) vs. Kai Kara-France ($7,300)
Moreno and Kara-France are running back their 2019 bout, but this time with gold on the line. Their first fight was great from an entertainment standpoint but a DFS disappointment, with scores of 66 (Moreno) and 33 (Kara-France).
While this fight is an additional two rounds, that still projects for just 90 points for Moreno in a decision win. Moreno’s striking-heavy style is heavily dependent on a finish to put up big scores, but he’s merely +200 to win inside the distance.
He also has some grappling upside, with his easiest path to victory against Kara-France potentially being on the ground. However, Kara-France has excellent takedown defense and was able to keep a superior wrestler in Askar Askarov from grounding him.
Therefore, I’ll be going Kara-France or passing in most of my GPP lineups. Not only does his salary lower the score we’ll need from him, but he has most of the finishing upside here. He’s the more voluminous striker on average and has over thrice the knockdown rate as Moreno.
From a cash standpoint, I see no reason not to roster both fighters. Over five rounds, Kara-France’s score would project to 55 points based on their last fight. The bout is only +110 to end early, so the likeliest outcome is solid scores from both fighters.
If you’d rather bet this fight than roster it in DFS, I broke down how I’m doing so in my betting preview for the Action Network.
The Easy Chalk
Michael Morales ($9,500)
Morales is the heaviest favorite on the card at -600 on DraftKings — and as high as -720 elsewhere — as he takes on UFC newcomer Adam Fugitt ($6,700). Fugitt is a short-notice replacement after Morales’s original opponent withdrew and represents little threat to the undefeated Morales.
Morales had an excellent UFC debut, knocking out the very tough Trevin Giles in the first round. Morales has a fantasy-friendly style based on his UFC and DWCS bouts, landing over four strikes per minute and mixing in over three takedowns per 15.
He should have the edge wherever this fight takes place, with a finish likely. He’s -190 to get it done early, which will likely pay off his salary depending on the rest of the card. The case for Fugitt isn’t much more than “anything can happen in MMA,” so I’ll be prioritizing Morales in all contest types.
Magomed Ankalaev ($9,400)
I generally avoid writeups on fighters I’m not interested in, but Ankalaev warrants some brief mention here. He’s a heavy favorite at -540 for his fight against former title challenger Anthony Smith ($6,800), but that doesn’t make him a great DFS option at his salary.
Ankalaev is relatively cautious, attempting strikes and takedowns below the UFC average. Since stepping up to a higher level of competition, he hasn’t surpassed 82 DraftKings points in a fight, including his five-rounder against Thiago Santos.
Smith is a dangerous enough opponent that I don’t see him deviating from that game plan here, which won’t be enough at his price tag. He’s a fine cash game play if you have the salary but lacks upside for GPPs.
The Upside Plays
Ihor Potieria ($8,400)
Potieria is a UFC newcomer, taking on Nick Negumereanu ($7,800) in the prelims. Potieria was impressive in his DWCS bout, picking up a first-round knockout over his previously unbeaten opponent. He came out firing from the opening bell, nearly finishing the fight in the opening minute.
The Ukrainian showed massive holes in his cardio, however. He was fading fast before a timely groin strike gave him a few minutes to catch his breath. The finish came shortly after that, as Potieria came out guns blazing after the restart.
He’s a bad value this week, as he’s now an underdog after opening as the favorite. However, most of his win condition is predicated on an early stoppage, so he’s a solid GPP play.
Negumeraenu has some appeal as well. I expect the veteran to find a finish if he can survive the opening onslaught from Potieria, and he’s a strong value as a favorite at $7,800. This fight has a high probability of ending up in the optimal one way or the other.
I broke down why I think it ends early (and how I’m betting it) on the latest Action Network UFC Betting Preview Podcast:
Don’Tale Mayes ($8,500)
Mayes moved from a -145 favorite when salaries were released to -190 on Friday, making him an excellent value. He’s fighting Hamdy Abdelwahab ($7,700), a UFC newcomer with limited experience. Abdelwahab turned pro in late 2021, racking up a 5-0 record (including two bare-knuckle MMA bouts) in the past nine months.
However, two of those wins were against the same fighter (who’s winless as a pro), and the other three came against fighters with a combined 7-7 record. Mayes represents a considerable step up in competition for the Egyptian, and he’s also a last-minute replacement.
Mayes is far from a contender at heavyweight, but he’s riding a two-fight win streak and has far more experience against high-level competition. He also has an eight-inch reach advantage and should be the far superior striker.
Abdelwahab has a Greco-Roman wrestling background, but that’s problematic when giving up so much reach. Greco-Roman takedowns involve body locks and trips, all of which must be executed at close range. This fight being contested in the larger PPV cage does him no favors either.
With this bout -175 to end inside the distance, Mayes carries significant upside and value for all contest types.
The Value Play
Rafa Garcia ($7,100)
Garcia’s wrestling-heavy approach is an ideal one for DFS. Especially at the lower end of the salary range where he finds himself this time. He’s picked up 15 takedowns over his last three fights, including five in a loss where he still put up 69 DraftKings points.
He’s also been getting some steam from betting markets, with his moneyline odds dipping from +195 at open down to +185 currently. That’s not a huge change, but still a positive sign for his value.
We aren’t necessarily rostering him for his chances of pulling off the upset, though. This fight has the longest stoppage odds outside of Joselyne Edwards ($8,200) vs. Ji Yeon Kim ($7,900), and Garcia’s style is far preferable from a DFS standpoint.
It should be a close fight with Drakkar Klose ($9,100), giving Garcia a solid floor with some upside if a decision goes his way.
The Contrarian Approach
Blood Diamond ($7,400)
Blood Diamond — né Mike Mathetha — is a huge unknown coming into his second UFC fight. His debut lasted just 4:38, with Diamond attempting only three strikes. He was submitted by Jeremiah Wells, who wisely refused to engage with the former kickboxing champion on the feet.
Wells has extremely high-level grappling, and the same can’t be said for Diamond’s opponent this time, Orion Cosce ($8,800). While Cosce has solid grappling, his 1.87 takedowns per 15 minutes and 42% accuracy rate are nothing special.
Therefore, Diamond has a better chance of keeping this one standing and showing off his striking than in his debut. I’m also assuming some progression from Diamond, a product of the vaunted City Kickboxing team in Australia. Diamond is a training partner of middleweight champion Israel Adesanya; a fellow converted kickboxer with excellent takedown defense.
Diamond is a deserving underdog here but has a ton of upside, given that his likeliest win condition is a knockout. Thanks to his disappointing debut, I also expect him to be fairly low-owned. This could be the final buy-low opportunity on him.
The Swing Fight
Sergei Pavlovich ($8,200) vs. Derrick Lewis ($8,000)
Fan favorite Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis is taking on Sergei Pavlovich in perhaps the most obvious swing fight candidate ever. This fight is a ridiculous -650 to end inside the distance, with very close moneyline odds and DraftKings salaries.
Lewis generally looks like he “should” lose his bouts on paper, but often his record-setting power levels the score. The UFC’s all-time knockout leader is a slight underdog here, but he only needs to land once to turn the tables.
Pavlovich is 3-1 in the UFC, with his only loss coming in his debut to Alastair Overeem. Each of his fights has ended in the first round, and all by knockout. Outside of the Overeem fight, he’s yet to fight anyone approaching Lewis’s level, so there are considerable questions about how well his skills translate.
Lewis probably has an advantage the later this one goes. He has a perfect record in decisions in his UFC career, as well as a few later stoppages. He also has a long history of knocking out scary Russian prospects. For those reasons, I’m leaning in his direction and want to be overweight on Lewis. He’s fought the best of the best in the UFC, and this is a step down — at least based on the rankings — from his usual opponents.
Either way, I will have one of these fighters in each of my GPP lineups on Saturday, as it’s highly likely this one will produce a first-round victory for one of them.
Photo Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Pictured above: Michael Morales