Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot headline a 12-fight card at the Apex Center in Las Vegas. The action begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday night, which is when DraftKings lineups lock. Read on to find some of my favorite plays on the slate and of course, our fighter projections.
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 fight 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 as to which fighters we should target based upon 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.
The Main Event
Arman Tsarukyan ($9,100) vs. Mateusz Gamrot ($7,100)
Saturday’s main event promises fireworks, with Tsarukyan and Gamrot both top-10 lightweights. Both fighters lost decisions in their UFC debuts before launching impressive win streaks, and even those losses weren’t bad. Tsarukyan came to Islam Makhachev, while Gamrot lost a close split decision.
Both fighters have strong wrestling backgrounds and attempt a huge volume of takedowns. This one could produce a lot of points, as I don’t expect either one to hold the other down for long. While we lose out on control time in such a scenario, each additional takedown is worth nearly three minutes of control time, so it’s a worthy sacrifice.
Both fighters are also very strong strikers, with Tsarukyan producing more volume and Gamrot bringing one-shot power. I tend to prefer the power puncher in such scenarios, especially when both fighters are as strong defensively as these two.
Neither fighter has fought a five-round UFC fight prior to this, but Gamrot has two five-rounders in regional promotions. That and his less active style (relatively speaking) could favor him down the stretch. Tsarukyan is coming off of consecutive quick finishes and will likely look to replicate that here.
With this fight as roughly a toss-up to go to a decision, it’s a fairly easy “play both guys” for cash. Even if it only lasts three or so, the loser should put up a solid score. I love Gamrot at his price and could see him taking over late.
I want to be way overweight on him in GPPs, but of course, have exposure to both fighters. Stacking them together could also be a sneaky way to gain some leverage on a small slate. If this one goes long, there could be a ton of total scoring with their volume. Both fighters in a five-round fight have made the optimal twice since last October, both on smaller slates.
The Easy Chalk
Umar Nurmagomedov ($9,500)
Cousin Umar is picking up where Khabib left off, with a perfect 2-0 record both via rear-naked choke. He’s a massive -900 favorite as he takes on Nate Maness ($6,700) on the main card. He fights extremely similar to his cousin, landing a ridiculous 7.5 takedowns per 15 minutes while absorbing less than a significant strike per minute.
While the other much-hyped prospect on the card is facing a massive step up in competition, that’s not really the case for Umar. He defeated veteran stalwart Brian Kelleher ($7,500) — who’s also fighting on Saturday’s card — in his last bout.
That fight was at 145 pounds, with this one back at Umar’s usual 135.
Maness is no pushover; he’s 14-1 as a pro and 3-0 in the UFC. He’s ranked 35th in the world at bantamweight according to Tapology’s Rankings, though, so he’s not a world-beater either.
Expect Umar to dominate with his grappling, ideally picking up a few takedowns before finishing things with a submission.
He’s a very tough fade here and will be in most of my lineups.
Shavkat Rakhmonov ($9,300)
Shavkat is the other major prospect on this card, with a perfect 3-0 record coming into this one. He’s stepping up to fight a ranked opponent for the first time in Neil Magny ($6,900). Magny is a fixture in the UFC rankings, with a 19-7 record dating back to 2013.
Shavkat is still a huge favorite though, as the markets expect him to use his dominant grappling to control this one. He’s averaging only 1.88 takedowns per 15 minutes in his UFC career, but that’s because his opponents generally don’t get back up.
Magny is a tough out, with a massive 80-inch reach that could lead to a feeling-out process here. While I fully expect Rakhmonov to pick up the win, it could come with a somewhat disappointing score considering his salary. His per-minute stats are much lower than Nurmagomedov’s, so he needs a quick finish to put up a massive score.
For cash games, I’d be thrilled to fit both heavy favorites in my lineups. While I want some of Rakhmonov for GPPs, I’ll be prioritizing Umar in the bulk of my lineups.
The Upside Plays
Tafon Nchukwi ($7,900)
Tafon “Da Don”s fight with Carlos Ulberg ($8,300) almost qualified for the swing fight tonight, thanks to the -190 stoppage odds and the probability this one remains standing. It got edged out but is still a fight I’m targeting for the upside.
Both Nchukwi and Ulberg have attempted over 60 strikes per round in their brief UFC careers, massive numbers for light heavyweights. Tafon has shown an ability to sparingly mix in takedowns, but both he and Ulberg are primarily kickboxers.
They have similar knockdown numbers, with Ulberg slightly more active and Nchukwi better defensively.
Crucially, Nchukwi matches Ulberg’s reach despite being four inches shorter. That’s a beneficial situation to be in, as he’s able to be stronger, have a lower center of gravity, but not struggle to find range. When you combine that with Nchukwi having the bulk of the grappling upside here, he’s my preferred side.
This one should produce a lot of points for at least one of the fighters involved, if not both. I’ll be overweight on the favored Nchukwi, who opened as an underdog but has seen the line flip in his favor.
That’s a steal at his salary.
Cody Durden ($8,000)
Durden is taking on JP Buys ($8,200) in flyweight action on Saturday, with this fight essentially a toss-up. Close flyweight fights are always intriguing for DFS — lighter weight classes have more total volume, particularly in the wrestling department.
That’s the main appeal to Durden, who averages over four per 15 minutes in the UFC. Buys has just a 25% takedown defense in his UFC career but will likely be able to scramble back to his feet and create more scoring opportunities for Durden.
Durden also represents solid value, with the line moving his way since salaries were released. He’s currently a -105 underdog, but I wouldn’t be shocked if that flipped by the time we got to fight night.
The Value Play
Vanessa Demopolous ($7,000)
Demopolous is the archetype of what I look for in a cash game salary saver. She’s super cheap, but her fight is +150 to end inside the distance. That means she’s likely to post a usable score even in a loss, and she has above-average volume in both striking and takedowns. The line has also moved in her favor, with her opening as high as +230 before moving to +200 or better across the industry.
I also like her to pull the upset against Jinh Yu Frey ($9,200) on Saturday. Frey is 2-2 in the UFC, with her wins aging poorly. She’s defeated Ashley Yoder (3-7 UFC record) and Gloria De Paula (1-3.) She’s also the only woman to lose a UFC fight to Kay Hansen. Demopolous is 1-1 in her UFC career, but her win came via submission against Silvana Gomez Juarez (1-2) UFC, while Frey’s wins were both decisions.
Records/resumes aside, Demopolous and Frey seem to be trending in opposite directions to an extent. Frey is 37 years old and turned pro back in 2013. She’s unlikely to be improving at this point in her career. While Demopolous is 33, she’s only been a pro fighter since 2017 and quit her full-time job before her win over Juarez.
There’s still a ton of potential for growth there, which I expect to be on display here.
All of which is relevant because any win from Demopolous at her salary would almost guarantee her a place in the optimal lineup. She’s a cash game must — so we can fit the massive favorites — but a sneaky GPP option as well.
The Contrarian Approach
Christos Giagos ($7,200)
Giagos certainly deserves to be the underdog against Thiago Moises ($9,000), but the line feels a bit too wide. Both Fighters are 3-2 in their last five, with Giagos having losses to main event favorite Tsarukyan and Drakkar Klose, and Moises losing to Islam Makhachev and Joel Alvarez.
They’ve both been excellent against lesser competition but struggled against high-level competition. Moises seems to struggle against wrestlers, with prior losses to Beneil Dariush and Damir Ismagulov. While Giagos is a step down from them, he’s a similar fighter.
Giagos lands over 3 takedowns per 15 minutes in his UFC career, and his only submission losses are to Charles Oliveira and Gilbert Burns.
Of course, a similar argument could be made that Moises is akin to a lesser version of those fighters on the ground. That’s why he’s the deserving favorite, and he’s also the slightly better striker.
I’ll be taking a couple of fliers on Giagos, though; with his salary, landing a few takedowns would go a long way, even if he’s unable to pull out the victory.
The Swing Fight
Chris Curtis ($8,600) VS. Rodolfo Viera ($7,600)
This fight was an easy choice for the swing fight, with -750 odds to end inside the distance. Neither fighter has had a fight decided by the judges in their UFC tenure, with Viera picking up a 3-1 record, with each fight ending by submission. Curtis is 2-0, thanks to a pair of upset wins. Both came via knockout within the first seven minutes of the fight.
This is shaping up to be a fairly classic striker vs. grappler matchup — Curtis has solid grappling as well. He’s a veteran of 36 professional fights and fought a ton of high-level grapplers in that time. (Including Belal Muhammad, with yours truly on the undercard.)
Still, the edge definitely goes to Viera if it hits the canvas, but Viera has looked fairly hittable on the feet.
I tend to favor the grappler in matchups like that as a general rule, but I have concerns about Viera’s ability to get the fight to the ground. Curtis defended all three attempts by Phil Hawes, who’s a more accomplished wrestler than Viera. I won’t be shocked if Viera pulls guard if need be.
Beyond that, the discrepancy in salary is much greater than the betting lines would suggest, making Viera a solid value. He’s a +110 underdog but costs just $100 more than Brian Kelleher ($7,500), who is +140, and $100 cheaper than Raulin Paiva ($7,700), who’s a +120 dog.
That’s a sign that Viera is a good value, however, this fight is far too volatile for cash games.
I want at least one of them in every lineup I create on a 12-fight card, as the stoppage odds are just too good.
This fight was our “fight of the night” on this week’s Action Network UFC Betting Pod: