The UFC is kicking off 2022 with a matchup between top-10 featherweights, as Giga Chikadze and Calvin Kattar square off in the main event. It’s only a 10-fight card, so finding unique DFS angles will be paramount. The action starts at 5 p.m. ET.
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
Giga Chikadze ($9,300)
Chikadze is as obvious of a play as we could ever see for UFC DFS. He leads the slate in all of our raw projection categories (floor, median, and ceiling). While he’s the most expensive fighter, that’s not much of an issue this week due to some short-notice fill-ins down the card.
Chikadze is one of the heaviest favorites on the card, laying -200 against Calvin Kattar ($6,900). Chikadze is undefeated in his UFC career, compiling a perfect 7-0 record. The last three of those have come by way of knockout. His power is impressive and he sports a knockdown rate more than three times the divisional average.
Kattar is a high-level striker as well, but the advantage is clearly Chikadze’s on the feet. While Kattar is the more active striker, his power is a step down from Chikadze’s. Kattar generally keeps his fights standing (attempting only 0.4 takedowns per round in his UFC career) but that’s a bad plan for this one.
Chikadze has also done a great job defending takedowns in his UFC career, further complicating the situation for Kattar. Outside of the standard “punchers chance” I don’t really see a way for Kattar to take this one. Chikadze will be popular here, but deservedly so. Even if he can’t put the durable Kattar away (+125 odds to win by KO) the extra two rounds means Chikadze should be able to put up a strong score. He averages a slate-high 79.6 DraftKings points in his career, but those were all three-round fights. He has scored at least 92 points in each of his last three. Lock him in.
TJ Brown ($7,100)
Brown was scheduled to face Gabriel Benitez until early this week. Brown was a moderate (+160 or so) underdog in that one, which explains his $7,100 salary. Benitez is now out though, and in steps Charles Rosa ($6,800). This switch happened after DraftKings released salaries for the slate. They don’t change fighters salaries based on an opponent switch, so here we are.
Brown is one of the card’s heaviest favorites at -275, but still one of the cheapest DFS options, making him an obvious value. He leads our Pts/Sal projection (by a fairly large margin). Regular MMA DFS players know that fighters’ DraftKings salaries always add up to $16,200. This gets thrown off with the last-minute additions. DraftKings tries to keep the underdog cheaper than the favorite, but given Brown’s price, that has led to a combined salary of $13,900 between the two fighters.
With this news coming early in the week, most of the field should be on this one. I’d lock in Brown for cash games, with the betting odds vs. salary ratio being too good to ignore. I’m not so sure it’s the +EV move for tournaments though. Rosa has alternated wins and losses in his 11-fight UFC career, and has fought some tough competition. Brown’s only UFC win was a split-decision over the now-released Kai Kamaka.
Either way, the combined salaries on these fighters are so cheap that whoever wins will almost surely be in the optimal lineup at the conclusion of Saturday’s festivities. Brown is the obvious pick, but don’t sleep on Rosa either.
Brian Kelleher ($7,500)
In a parallel situation to Brown, we have Brian Kelleher. He’s second in Pts/Sal projection on the slate, as he’s a -300 favorite (the biggest on the card) despite a $7,500 salary. His opponent pulled out on Wednesday, with Kevin Croom ($6,700) stepping in as a last-minute replacement.
Like Brown, it will be hard to avoid Kelleher in cash games. The slate’s biggest favorite at his price creates an obvious value situation. On the other hand, he might not be too chalky, given the value in the Brown/Rosa fight. I’m not sure we need two lower-priced options this week, given how thin the top of the salary scale is.
Kelleher is a fairly active fighter, both striking and attempting takedowns at an above-average rate. He’s topped 90 DraftKings points in each of his UFC wins, which is clearly a great score at his current salary. Five of his seven UFC wins are inside the distance as well, with a mixture of three guillotine’s and two knockouts. If he’s able to pull off a win here, he’ll surely post a big enough score to pay off in DFS lineups.
Viacheslav Borshchev ($9,000)
“Slava Claus” as he will hereby be known (both because of his impossible to spell name, and because it’s a tremendous nickname) is making his UFC debut on Saturday. His opponent (I promise I’m not making this nickname up either) is Dakota “Hairy” Bush.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Slava Claus’ upside. The Russian is 5-1 as a pro, with four of those wins coming by knockout. I don’t know a ton about him, but his record and the betting line both paint a compelling picture here. Slava Claus is a -200 favorite in a fight that’s -185 to be settled without the assistance of the judges.
We do have some data on Bush though, courtesy of his loss to Austin Hubbard in his UFC debut. Bush was out-struck 33-11 in the final two rounds of that fight (and narrowly lost the first as well). Notably, he attempted six takedowns over the final two frames, converting only one of them. That shows me a fighter who’s uncomfortable on his feet when the going gets tough — and also one without strong takedowns.
That’s obviously a terrible combination against a fighter like Slava Claus, who leaves unconscious bodies instead of Christmas presents wherever he goes. He’s third in Ceiling projection for this one, and fairly easy to fit in lineups despite his salary. He’ll certainly be in most of mine.
Brandon Royval ($8,800)
Royval is just behind Slava Claus in our ceiling projections, falling just short of 100 points. He’s competing in the bout oddsmakers think is most likely to end inside the distance, with -200 odds to settle in less than 15 minutes. Royval is also a moderate -165 favorite. That’s not a great outright value, making Royval better suited for tournaments than cash games.
Royval is only 2-2 in the UFC, but he’s fought extremely tough competition. Three of his four bouts have been against top-five flyweights, with an impressive submission win over Kai Kara-France and losses to champion Brandon Moreno and No. 3-ranked Alexandre Pantoja. He’s better than his record would indicate.
He’s welcoming Rogerio Bontorin back to the flyweight division on Saturday. Bontorin lost to Ray Borg and Kara-France before stepping up to 135 lbs and defeating Matt Schnell by unanimous decision. Royal is still the bigger fighter, though, with a four-inch height and reach advantage.
Royval could be a real contender at 125 lbs, which I don’t think we can say about Bontorin. Royval was out-striking champion Brandon Moreno before a shoulder injury forced him out of that bout. He also was performing well against Pantoja for the opening parts of their fight. Bontorin is a step down from either of those guys, so Royval should take this one. He’s averaged more than 100 DraftKings points in his wins, so I like his upside here four tournaments.
The Contrarian Approach
Kevin Croom ($6,700)
Crrom is stepping an on short notice to face Kelleher, but I actually prefer Croom in this one. He’s not standing out in our models, thanks to his long odds in the betting markets, but there’s a lot to like here. Clearly, the winner of this bout (with it’s $14,200 combined salary) will be in the tournament winning lineup, and Croom should be far less popular than Kelleher.
I generally don’t like targeting fighters in short notice situations, but I can make an exception here. (I’ve also been burned — repeatedly — by fading the short notice fighter, but that’s neither here nor there.). While Croom is officially winless in the UFC, he beat Roosevelt Roberts by first round guillotine in his UFC debut before the bout was overturned. That was also a short notice bout, which suggests Croom is comfortable in those situations.
The short notice nature of this bout also gives Croom a size advantage. Kelleher generally – and was scheduled to – fights at bantamweight. Croom fights at featherweight (and fought Roosevelt at lightweight), which is the weight class for this bout. He’s five inches taller with a nine-inch reach advantage, which should help him immensely in this one.
Croom is also a willing – if not able – wrestler, which has been Kelleher’s weakness in the past. His 59% takedown defense is well below the UFC average, and he was out-grappled by Cody Stamann (two takedowns surrendered) and Ricky Simon (six takedowns) in recent losses.
Croom scored 102 DraftKings points in his fight against Roberts, though it’s officially been dropped down to only 12 thanks to his win being overturned. That happened well after contests settle though, so don’t worry about another failed drug test retroactively stealing your gpp win. (Croom is almost certainly going to fail his drug test again after taking the fight on three days notice. The Roberts fight was also short notice.) I like the leverage play here.
The Swing Fight
Jamie Pickett ($7,600) vs. Joseph Holmes ($8,600)
On a card dominated by smaller fighters, targeting this middleweight bout could be important for DFS lineups. The debuting Joseph “Ugly Man” Holmes (tremendous card for nicknames) is taking on the 1-2 Jamie Pickett, with Holmes a -155 favorite.
With “Ugly Man” making his debut, it’s hard to find much data on him. However, he looks to be the better option from the tale of the tape. He’s won seven straight fights since dropping his debut contest, with all of them coming by way of first or second round finish. He has a nice mix of submissions and knockouts on his record, and has fought decent competition. He’s also taller, and seven years younger than Pickett.
Pickett has been fairly unimpressive in his UFC run. He dropped his first two contests, and his only win was against Laureano Staropoli. Staropoli had lost three in a row heading into that one. Even then, Pickett didn’t have a great day from a DFS standpoint, scoring just 66 points on DraftKings. He finished most of his pre-UFC fights though, so the power is certainly there.
This one is -150 to finish inside the distance, so it’s worth taking a look. I’m not quite to the point of saying you have to have one fighter or the other in your lineups, but it’s close.
Photo Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Pictured above: Giga Chikadze