The UFC finishes off the year on Saturday. The heavyweights take center stage, with fan favorite Derrick Lewis taking on the rising Chris Daukaus. This one promises fireworks in the main event. It’s another afternoon card, lineups lock at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time.
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 below.
UFC DFS Model
The Easy Chalk
Justin Tafa ($9,400)
Justin Tafa leads our Median projections for the card for his bout against Harry Hunsucker ($6,800). Tafa is a prohibitive -350 favorite, and this isn’t one that oddsmakers expect to last a long time. The fight is a whopping -500 to end inside the distance, so all signs are pointing to a Tafa KO.
Tafa is 4-3 as a professional, but all four of those wins came by knockout, and all three of those losses were in the UFC. Hunsucker is 0-1 in the UFC, suffering a quick knockout at the hands of Tai Tuivasa in March. (He was also knocked out in his Contender Series bout, but ended up making it to the UFC anyway. Tafa is, in many ways, a poor man’s Tuivasa, so I’m expecting a similar result here.
Tafa’s size advantage is an extra bonus here. He became the first ever UFC fighter to miss the heavyweight limit, weighing in at 267 pounds on Friday. This normally wouldn’t be notable, but Hunsucker is on the smaller side for the division, weighing “just” 239 pounds.
There’s a pretty scary risk of the wild Tafa getting caught in this one, but the most likely outcome is a violent victory. If you are fading Tafa, be sure to include Hunsucker in those lineups. It’s very unlikely this one makes it the distance
Raoni Barcelos ($9,300)
Raoni Barcelos is the slate’s biggest favorite, checking in at -375. He had his five-fight UFC winning streak snapped by Timur Valiev in his last bout, but had been dominant before that. The Valiev fight was fairly close (one judge ruled it a draw) and Barcelos had three finishes in his prior five wins.
His opponent is UFC newcomer Victor Henry ($6,900). Henry has run up a 21-5 record, mostly in Japan, before getting the call to the UFC. This is a huge step up in competition for Henry, which is reflected in the odds. I don’t know much about him, other than that he’s a catch wrestling fighter who trains under MMA legend Josh Barnett. With that said, there’s a reason we don’t see too many catch wrestlers in high level MMA these days.
Barcelos doesn’t fight with a super high pace, especially for the division. However, he does have a very solid knockdown rate and has finished fights standing and on the ground. His odds of a stoppage in this one are about +150, so the upside isn’t quite as high as it is with Tafa. However, his floor projection is the highest on the slate, making him a solid cash game option.
The Upside Plays
Ricky Simon ($9,200)
Simon trails only main event fighter Chris Daukaus (more on him later) in Ceiling Projection for this one. Simon is the perfect DFS fighter. His relentless pursuit of takedowns allows him to rack up points in a hurry — he’s secured 20 of them in his last three fights. He’s fighting Raphael Assuncao ($7,000) who has solid takedown defense, but so did many of Simon’s past opponents.
Simon is a -300 favorite in this one against the fading Assuncao who is almost 40 years old and has lost three straight — losing here could mean his time with the UFC is over. Simon should have a major speed advantage, which makes securing the takedowns that much more likely.
Simon doesn’t have the clearest path to a finish here — he’s not extremely powerful, and unlikely to submit Assuncao. However, that may be a feature, not a bug, for Simon. He’s topped 100 DraftKings points in four of his six decision wins with the promotion. Extra time to accrue takedowns and control time might work in his favor from a fantasy standpoint.
Don’Tale Mayes ($8,600)
Mayes is a -200 favorite against Josh Parisian ($7,600) in one of the bouts least likely to be settled by a judge. This one is -125 to end by knockout, with Mayes being the more likely fighter to do so. Mayes isn’t a high confidence pick here — he’s 1-2 in his UFC career after all. However, he had a very tough welcome to the promotion in current interim heavyweight champ Cyril Gane, followed by undefeated (at the time) Rodrigo Nascimento, both of whom submitted him.
Parisian is a capable grappler, but nowhere near the level of the men to defeat Mayes. The longer, faster Mayes has a striking advantage, which should be where this fight mostly plays out. We want as much exposure as we can to heavyweight fighters due to their increased finishing rates, so Mayes deserves a long look in all of your lineups.
The Value Play
Melissa Gatto ($7,500)
Gatto is the definition of value in this one, as she’s only a slight (+130) underdog despite being one of the cheaper fighters on the slate. Personally, I’m not so sure she should even be an underdog against Sijara Eubanks ($8,700). Gatto is undefeated, with only one UFC bout, but her last bout prior to joining the promotion coming against Karol Rosa, who’s now 3-0 in the UFC.
Gatto’s UFC debut was an impressive second round victory of Victoria Leonardo, which ended with a broken arm for Leonardo. While that sounds fluky — and to an extent, it was — Leonardo had an injury coming in to the bout. Gatto dominated the fight to that point, out-striking Leonardo 70-43 and securing the bouts only takedown.
Eubanks on the other hand, is 7-6 in the UFC with losses in two of her last three. The 36 year old Eubanks seems to be on the downswing of her career, with Gatto an up-and-coming prospect. UFC matchmakers wanted a winnable fight for Gatto to showcase her, and they were able to find one.
Even if she’s unable to finish the durable Eubanks — which seems likely — at only $7,500 Gatto would be a solid value with nearly any win on Saturday.
The Contrarian Approach
Belal Muhammad ($7,100)
Muhammad is a pretty big underdog in this one at +180, meaning he should also be fairly low-owned. He’s a solid tournament play, as he has a classic striker vs. grappler matchup with Stephen Thompson ($9,100). Muhammad is, of course, the grappler here. He’s 9-1-1 in his last 11 UFC fights, with eight of the nine wins coming by decision.
Muhammads style is anything but fan friendly, but it could be a solid way to beat Thompson. Muhammad will be looking to get inside and keep Thompson against the fence, limiting his ability to get off his flashy kicks and explosive strikes. Much like Gatto, it’s unlikely that Muhammad puts Thompson away. Besides the fact that he doesn’t do that generally, Thompson’s only been finished once, and never submitted as a pro.
Still, at $7,100, just securing the win bonus and riding out some control time would be enough to send Muhammad to the likely optimal lineup here. his chances of doing just that are greater than the field is likely expecting, making him a +EV tournament play.
The Swing Fight
Chris Daukaus ($8,300) vs. Derrick Lewis ($7,900)
Of course, getting a close main event between heavyweight’s right will be the key to winning anything on Saturday. Daukaus is a slight favorite (-140 or so) and 4-0 in the UFC, with all of his wins coming by knockout. Of course, Lewis is the UFC’s all time record holder for knockouts by a heavyweight, with twelve of them dating back to 2014. Lewis saw his wining streak (and title hopes) derailed by Cyril Gane in his last fight, but is looking to get back into title contention with a win over the up-and-coming Daukaus.
As with most Lewis fights, he should lose this one on paper. Daukaus is younger, more technical, and has a much higher output. But “Black Beast” doesn’t fight on paper, and he’s secured violent knockouts as a much bigger underdog than this.
Neither man has shown much of an interest in grappling, so this one should be contested strictly on the feet. They both also throw with below-average volume. My usual cash game strategy is to roster both fighters in main event’s, since even the loser can put up solid scores with an extra two rounds. That might not be the case here though, as the vast majority of the fantasy scoring in this one will be from whomever lands the knockout.
Both fighters are priced low enough that the winner is almost guaranteed to be in the optimal lineup. My gut says it’s Lewis, who can pull victory form the jaws of defeat at any moment. Given Lewis’s popularity, Daukaus might be the smarter play though. I’d expect him to be slightly less owned despite being favored.
Photo Credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Pictured above: Derrick Lewis