This weekend’s UFC 254 action closes out the promotion’s latest stint at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi and is headlined by a lightweight title fight featuring champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Interim champion Justin Gaethje. In the co-main event, middleweights Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier will compete for the vacant title in the 205-pound division.
We have built out a full player-projection model to help us try and put together some winning DFS lineups in UFC.
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 below.
UFC DFS Model
The Easy Chalk
Da-Un Jung ($9,400)
Entering with a 2-0 record in the UFC, Jung is slated to face “Smile’n” Sam Alvey in what could be a quick victory for the South Korean. Alvey, who has dropped his last four fights and is entering his 48th career fight, may be on his way out of the promotion with a loss.
Jung enters this one with 10 of his 13 wins via knockout, and only one of his fights have seen the judges’ scorecards. With such a high output — over six significant strikes landed per minute according to UFC Stats — Jung may bring too much heat for the slower-paced Alvey to handle.
Considering Jung has a three-inch reach advantage, and is coming in with some momentum against a fighter in Alvey who is on his last legs with the UFC, I expect Jung to make quick work of him and start to climb up the rankings in the wide open division. With a median projected score of 84 and a ceiling over 100, Jung is a strong play despite the price tag.
The Upside Plays
Shavkat Rakhmonov ($7,700)
Making his UFC debut on the preliminary card, Rakhmonov puts his undefeated record on the line against Alex Oliveira. Not only is Oliveira a short notice opponent for “Nomad,” Rakhmonov may close this fight as the betting favorite, moving from +140 to -110 as of this writing. This presents interesting value on the UFC debutant, as the DraftKings salary is set early in the week, and Oliveira is priced $800 more than Rakhmonov.
Rakhmonov is an accomplished finisher — all 12 of his victories are inside the distance — and will enter this fight against Oliveira as the bigger man. Oliveira is stiff competition for a first fight in the UFC, but I do think that Oliveira’s perception is a bit inflated after racking up wins over two non competitors in the weight class. Rakhmonov is sure to provide a step up in class than his prior two opponents in Peter Sobotta and Max Griffin.
I believe that the recent quality of Olivera’s opponents is driving this salary and not the matchup, as Rakhmonov can control the fight standing or on the ground.
Justin Gaethje ($7,000)
Ok, I get it. Gaethje is matched up with possibly the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in UFC history. He is rightfully an underdog in this spot, but Gaethje is simply not worthy of the cheapest price tag on the board. Considering who is priced in the $7,000 range, Gaethje’s outcomes are considerably more enticing.
Gaethje is a devastating striker who comes with relentless pace. His performance against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 showed how he can keep his striking up over five rounds. However, he has never faced a takedown technician like Khabib Nurmagomedov. Gaethje’s two losses have only come via knockout, but I do expect this match to have its fair share of back and forth.
Khabib has shown that he can be hit and Gaethje knows that his path to victory is going to be through his devastating stand-up game; he can not let this get to the ground because that is where Khabib takes over. If this can remain a stand-up bout for as long as possible, Gaethje is going to land and rack up points in a DFS setting.
If we are talking about upside value, Gaethje presents just that, considering I do think he has a chance of pulling off the matchup due to stylistic advantages. Even in a loss, there is a chance that “The Highlight” can outperform his salary. Don’t overlook the fact that Gaethje has fought during the COVID-19 pandemic and is used to no crowd for this fight. Khabib will need to adjust to the new terrain.
Miranda Maverick ($9,400)
Maverick is making her UFC debut after a successful run in Invicta, and is a heavy favorite against Liana Jojua. Both females are skilled at working in submissions and this fight could be over quickly with their desire to grapple. While Maverick may bring a ton of talent to the division, this is a strength-on-strength matchup and it makes me wary to put such a sizable part of the cap towards her.
Jojua was able to snag a submission victory in her lone UFC win, and there is always a possibility that can happen here as well in this strength on strength matchup. This is especially a shaky investment in my opinion because Jojua got that finish by being on the defensive.
If Maverick is going to be on the offensive, she can walk into a trap in her UFC debut. I think there are simply better investments on the board than taking Maverick, who could also fall below expectation with some nerves in her opening fight.
The Swing Fight
Jared Cannonier ($8,200) vs. Robert Whittaker ($8,000)
I used Gaethje’s write-up to try to give some analysis into the main event, but see this as a swing fight for DFS purposes. This is shaping up to be a battle for the next man to face Israel Adesanya for the Middleweight title.
Cannonier has shown a ton since moving down from both Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight during his time in the UFC, and he has seemingly found a home at Middleweight. Cannonier has finished all three of his opponents in this weight class.
He possesses a four-inch reach advantage on Whittaker and, despite being seven years older, Cannonier has fought in 10 less fights. I do see more avenues for Cannonier to win this fight; he is capable of inflicting pain on Whittaker and getting an early finish, but also in a three-round scrap, outlasting the wear and tear of Whittaker, who cited burnout before he came back in July to face Darren Till.
If Whittaker is going to take this, he is going to have to use his unique striking angles to work in takedowns and will have to try and take some ground control to slow Cannonier a bit. This should be a very interesting fight from a stylistic perspective. Whittaker has shown that he can go deep into fights and keep his frenetic pace going, and this matchup should suit him better than the prodding Till.
Whittaker didn’t really sell himself as being back to championship form in the more deliberate summer fight with Till, but he is going to have to show he still has it quickly against Cannonier, who can take control of the fight quickly.
The “Killa Gorilla” is as strong as they come in the Middleweight division and can get a win inside the distance while also flashing great striking defense, posting a 66% defense rate per UFC Stats.
In what is truly a toss-up match, I will side with Cannonier for DFS purposes as I see him capable of testing Whittaker’s chin with his strength that is essentially a weight class above Whittaker, and moving on to face Adesanya for the belt. Also to note from Koerner’s projections, Cannonier projects to have a triple-digit ceiling with the threat of a knockout early on, but also the likelihood that he will be on the offensive throughout the bout.
Pictured above (L-R): Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje
Photo credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images