UFC Vegas 34 is headlined by a clash of top-10 middleweights, as Jared “Killa Gorilla” Cannonier takes on Kelvin Gastelum.
Both men are coming off losses to Robert Whitaker and looking to cement their spots as contenders for the middleweight crown. DraftKings lineups lock at 7 p.m. ET. Let’s go take down some GPPs.
We have built out a full player-projection model using the FantasyLabs tools 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.
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UFC DFS Model
The Easy Chalk
Before we jump into the fighters here, a quick disclaimer. This card is wide open with nobody I’d describe as “easy” chalk, as all of our top projected fighters have some question marks. With that said, here’s who I’m building lineups around.
Jared Cannonier ($8700)
Cannonier is third in projected points, has our highest floor, and is second (behind only his opponent) in pts/sal. As a -150 or so favorite, he’s likely to be the better play and the more highly-owned main-event fighter.
As we’ve covered before, getting the main event right is critical when it’s the only five-round fight on the card. The winning fighter either gets a stoppage bonus or two more rounds than everybody else.
“The Killa Gorilla” is a very solid play, though.
A former light-heavyweight, he should be the bigger and stronger fighter while having a six-inch reach advantage over Gastelum, who fought much of his career at welterweight.
Cannonier is 3-1, with all of his wins being finishes since dropping down to 185 pounds, while Gastelum is 4-5, including losses in three of his last four. He also rarely goes to a decision (only twice in 13 pro wins), so his chances of reaching his ceiling are reasonably high.
The biggest issue with Cannonier is that he’s not the most active of fighters, attempting strikes and takedowns at a below-average rate. This makes him unlikely to post a usable score without a finish and also plays poorly to the judges, which is part of the reason he’s 2-3 across his career when bouts go to a decision. Even so, he’s the best play on the slate.
Chase Sherman ($9200)
Chase Sherman is a -185 favorite in a fight that’s -135 to end early. While that should tell you all you need to know, “the Vanilla Gorilla” (we’re ⅓ of the way to an all gorilla lineup!) leads the slate in median and ceiling projections.
All the dude does is throw hands, having attempted a total of… zero takedowns across ten UFC fights. With 14 of his 15 pro wins coming by KO, the thesis for this play is extremely simple.
Locking in Sherman is not without risk, however. His opponent, Parker Porter ($7000) is a more well-rounded fighter who strikes at an extremely high volume, a rarity for a heavyweight.
With Sherman looking lackluster against 42-year-old Andrei Arlovski in his last fight, it’s hard to blame anyone for fading him at what should be high ownership. He’s still a good play, as our projections suggest, but this one is scarier than normal
The Upside Plays
Mark Madsen ($9100)
Madsen doesn’t totally pop in our projections (fifth in median, 12th in ceiling despite being the third-most expensive fighter), which is largely due to his relatively long odds (+340) to secure a stoppage victory — but let me make a case for why he’s going to score the most DraftKings points ever (this might be a tad hyperbolic.)
Madsen is an Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, and he attempts takedowns at an insane rate — 3.5 per round — with a 64% success rate. He’s fighting Clay Guida ($7100), who we all know and love as an ultra-durable, non-stop action hurricane of a fighter.
Guida has solid takedown defense, but “solid” doesn’t cut it against an Olympian. The dream scenario for Madsen (from a DFS standpoint) is that Guida isn’t able to stop the takedowns but uses his legendary scrambling ability to upright himself fairly quickly. This gives Madsen extra attempts at landing takedowns and the five-point bonus that comes with them.
Guida is very hard to finish, but this may be the rare scenario when a longer fight is better for DFS. For what it’s worth, wrestling is by far the most physically taxing aspect of MMA, so I do expect Madsen to keep up with Guida from a cardio standpoint as the fight wears on.
While it’s not guaranteed, I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see Madsen put up record levels of scoring — at least for a three-round decision — here. This is a unique situation from a matchup standpoint that I will be taking full advantage of.
Brian Kelleher ($9000)
Kelleher trails only Sherman in ceiling and median projections and is -175 favorite against Journey Newson ($7200), who is winless in his UFC career.
The veteran Kelleher has secured stoppages in all but one of his six UFC wins, so the flowchart here is pretty straightforward. Kellher is likely to win, and if he wins, he’s likely to put up a lot of points. In fact, he’s never scored less than 91 fantasy points in a win.
So, there’s the upside case. The drawback here is his price.
There are a lot of fighters near the top of the salary range here we’ll want exposure to, and most of them do more of their damage on the feet, meaning they rack up points for strikes and potentially knockdowns. Many of Kelleher’s wins come via his patented guillotine choke, which doesn’t even require a takedown.
So, while his likelihood of getting into the 90-point range is high, his odds of going much beyond that are fairly long. While this would be a slam-dunk if he were priced in the low- or mid-8K range, at $9000, it’s possible for him to end up being a bad play even with a 90-point performance. It depends on how the rest of the slate shakes out.
The Value Plays
Kelvin Gastelum ($7500)
While we’ve been over this fight already, it’s worth pointing out that Gastelum leads our models from a points-per-dollar standpoint. At his salary, he doesn’t even need to win the fight to be a viable cash-game play since his solid activity level could pay off even in a loss if the fight makes it to the championship rounds.
While he’s deservedly an underdog at +125 or so, nobody expects him to get steamrolled here. From a GPP perspective, if he’s able to pull off a win (even by decision) the salary savings could be key to unlocking the expensive fighters you need to take down tournaments.
I wouldn’t use him if only playing a few lineups, but it’s worth toying around with if multi-entering.
Josiane Nunes ($7600)
This one is more of a hunch given the limited information we have on Nunes and her opponent, Bea Malecki ($8600), but that’s how it goes sometimes. DFS and gambling are games of incomplete information.
Nunes has four straight wins (outside of the UFC) by KO, which is very rare for female fighters not named…well Nunes (Amanda, no relation.)
Malecki made her professional debut inside the octagon, going 2-0 since her loss on Season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Nunes is giving up a ton of reach and height, but as a 5-foot-2 bantamweight, my suspicion is she’s used to being in that situation. The one advantage to being shorter is the ability to have more muscle mass and still make the same weight class as your taller opponent, so we’ll see how it plays out here.
This is not a high-confidence pick, but I’ll take a way more experienced fighter with better credentials at this price when I get the chance.
The Swing Fight
William Knight ($9400) vs Fabio Cherant ($6800)
Despite being the most and least expensive fighters on the slate, this is my swing fight of the night for a few reasons.
First, betting markets expect this fight to be a lot closer than DraftKings salary would indicate, with two other fights showing the same or longer odds. I also think Cherant has a better shot here than bookmakers are implying — his only UFC fight was a quick loss to Alonzo Menifield, but he took the fight on short notice as a replacement for… William Knight.
Both are fight stoppers. Knight has seven KOs and a submission among his nine wins, while Cherant has won 5-of-7 by submission.
I’m in line with the betting markets on this one, as they have the fight as +165 to last all 15 minutes. We should expect a lot of action and fast, meaning one of these guys is likely to end up with a big score when the dust settles.
Much like Kelleher, Knight’s price tag makes him difficult to fit in and not a lock to be in the optimal even with a quick win. I’m going to be way above the field’s ownership on Cherant here, as I’d like to be ahead of the field if he performs better with a full training camp, while mixing in some Knight too.
Photo Credit: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images.
Pictured: Jared Cannonier.