After a much-needed month or so break, the UFC kicks off its 2023 schedule on Saturday. This card has gone through plenty of changes (including losing the original main and co-main events,) but we’ve seemingly settled on the final lineup. That’s an 11-fight card headlined by Nassourdine Imavov against late replacement Sean Strickland. The action begins at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, so get your lineups in on 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 bout 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 of which fighters we should target based on the game type – maximizing ceiling in GPPs, for example. We’ve also added ownership projections by yours truly, to help find leverage spots for GPPs.
You can check out the projections for every fighter on Saturday’s card in our UFC Models.
Nassourdine Imavov ($8,700) vs. Sean Strickland ($7,700)
For the second card in a row, Strickland is in the main event. He’ll be looking to bounce back from a relatively close split decision loss to Jared Cannonier in the UFC’s last show before the holiday break.
This time, he’s taking on rising middleweight contender Nassourdine Imavov. Imavov’s style is more representative of his French upbringing than his Russian birthplace, as he’s primarily a striker who averages less than one takedown per 15 minutes in his five-fight UFC career.
That makes this a familiar matchup for Strickland, who’s fought his last two bouts against fellow strikers. Strickland is a high-volume, low-power striker who fights as if it’s an extended sparring session. He’ll look to utilize that style to rack up volume against Imavov while safely avoiding the Frenchman’s superior power.
Strickland also is the far superior grappler here. He has perhaps the biggest gulf between his ability to grapple and his willingness of any fighter in the UFC, but if he chooses to, it will be a massive edge for both his chances of winning and his DFS score. Still, I don’t see why he’d switch his style up now — he’s fought scarier strikers in the past and kept things standing.
That gives Imavov the greater DFS upside here since he’ll be hunting knockouts while Strickland jabs and circles. Strickland is the safer option, though. His excellent cardio and high output have seen him land over 150 significant strikes in each of his five-round fights. He scored 68 DraftKings points in his loss to Cannonier.
Notably, the late swap from Imavov’s original opponent to Strickland has led to the fighter’s salaries combining for $16,400. That’s $200 more than the usual aggregate price, with Imavov having moneyline odds closer to that of an $8,500 (or less) fighter.
That makes stacking both fighters in cash games slightly less appealing, though with this card reduced to 11 fights, it’s probably still the correct strategy. Stacking them both in GPPs is an option as well. It’s sure to be a contrarian play due to the lack of value, and a late Imavov stoppage would set up nicely for both men to make the optimal.
The Easy Chalk
Dan Argueta ($8,600)
Argueta was booked to face Isaac Dulgarian until earlier this week. Dulgarian had to withdraw, leaving UFC newcomer Nick Aguirre ($7,300) to step up instead. Since salaries had already come out, Dulgarian got locked into his $8,600 salary.
This is a big deal because instead of being a slight -175 favorite, he’s now all the way up to -520. He’s a slight (-135) favorite to win this one inside the distance, both of which are huge values relative to his DFS price.
This one doesn’t really require much breakdown of fighting styles or anything like that, given the massive signals we’re getting from the betting market. If you’re fading Argueta, it’s probably worth playing Aguirre though. Argueta will be massively popular, so we want as much leverage off that as possible. Additionally, they combine for just $15,900 in salary, so rostering at least one of them makes sense from a value standpoint.
Umar Nurmagomedov ($9,300)
“Cousin Umar” is the next in the long line of Dagestani grapplers taking over MMA. He’s a perfect 15-0 as a professional, with three of those wins coming in the UFC. Each of those wins has resulted in at least 100 DraftKings points, as he’s either picked up a finish or secured enough takedowns along the way to clear that number.
Which makes him an incredibly safe pick on this smaller card. He’s underpriced for his -1000 or so betting line against Raoni Barcelos ($6,900). Barcelos is a tough veteran, but he’s 35 years old and 1-2 in his last three contests. His best fights are behind him, and this bout is clearly designed as a showcase for Umar.
Given the value elsewhere on the card, it will be hard to get away from Nurmagomedov here. He’ll be in nearly all of my GPP lineups and is a must in cash.
The Value Plays
Raquel Pennington ($8,000)
With the other women’s division fight canceled due to a weight miss, Pennington is the de facto “female underdog cash game option this week. The line has bounced around all week, but she’s about +100, depending on the sportsbook for her fight against Ketlen Vieira ($8,200).
Personally, I’d actually make “Rocky” the slight favorite here. She’s on a four-fight winning streak and has arguably fought tougher competition than Vieira in recent bouts. Vieira is also 3-0 in split decisions in the UFC. That’s likely to regress at some point and leave her overvalued by the market. Pennington is a more sustainable 2-2 in splits, but her current win streak is all unanimous decisions or stoppages.
Regardless, at +225 odds to end inside the distance, this one likely makes it a full 15 minutes. Given both fighters’ work rates, even the loser should end up with a usable score here, at least for cash games.
The Contrarian Approach
Mateus Mendonca ($7,000)
Mendonca is the next Chute Boxe Diego Lima product to make his UFC debut, following in the footsteps of former champion Charles Oliveira, Allan Nascimento, and Daniel Santos. Like his teammates, Mendonca has an extremely aggressive muay thai focused style, which should play well against Jahvid Basharat ($9,200) on Saturday.
Basharat is 2-0 in the UFC, but both of his wins have been relatively lackluster decisions. He’s yet to attempt a takedown in the UFC or in his bout on Dana White’s Contender Series. He won that bout via submission. However, it was more of a “club and sub” situation than dominant grappling.
This means Mendonca should have the power edge here. He absolutely flattened his opponent on the Contender Series with a right hand that didn’t even land cleanly. If he’s able to connect with Basharat, it could be a very short night.
While there’s always a risk on UFC debut fighters, Mendonca is from a solid camp and should have plenty of experience with this level of competition. He also has the coveted combination of shorter height but longer reach — which is especially helpful in grappling exchanges.
This should be an action-packed fight where the winner ends up with a very solid score. I’ll take the leverage on the underdog in this one.
Jimmy Flick ($7,200)
Jimmy Flick is an old-fashioned one-trick pony with excellent submission skills — and little else going for him. Except for the fact that his opponent, Charles Johnson ($9,000), took this fight on short notice. Assuming Johnson is in fight shape, this isn’t necessarily a big deal, but it’s notable against awkward opponents like Flick.
Flick hunts for all sorts of unorthodox submissions, including a flying triangle victory in his UFC debut. Not having a full camp to rewire some habits (like clinching against the fence) that Johnson has makes him more likely to wander into one of those submissions.
Plus, at $7,200, any stoppage win will almost certainly put Flick into the optimal lineup. I’ll be trying to work at least one of Flick and Mendonca into all of my tournament teams.
The Upside Plays
Mateusz Rebecki ($9,400)
With Nurmagomedov coming in with much stronger odds and projections, Rebecki could get lost at the top of the salary pool here. This makes him a compelling play, as he’s a -750 or so favorite with -280 odds to end his fight inside the distance.
He, too, is benefitting from a last-minute replacement, with Nick Fiore ($6,800) making his UFC debut as a fill-in on Saturday. Fiore’s last fight saw him knock out a 5-19 journeyman in a regional fight, so he hasn’t exactly proven himself against high-level competition.
Rebecki on the other hand, was fighting relatively challenging Polish competition before an impressive first-round stoppage on the Contender Series. He’s levels above Fiore in terms of competition and experience.
With the expected popularity of Nurmagomedov, Rebecki could be a massive leverage option if he’s able to put up a bigger score. With this fight expected to be more action-packed, the odds of that are reasonably strong. He’s worth mixing into your GPP lineups.
Get $100 Sign-up Bonus!
The Swing Fight
Abdul Razak AlHassan ($8,300) vs. Claudio Ribeiro ($7,900)
We have a middleweight bout between two fighters who are known for two things: power and awful cardio. This one has -900 odds to end inside the distance, with the cheaper Riberio seeing the line move in his favor to become a slight favorite.
AlHassan is 1-4 over his last five UFC fights and is probably fighting for his job here against the newcomer Ribeiro. Ribeiro is a fairly raw prospect who has some technical deficiencies but has picked up knockouts in all ten of his professional wins.
Both fighters are likely to be willing to trade here, and it won’t be long before somebody connects and picks up a big DraftKings score. I’m leaning towards Ribeiro, who has an edge in reach, is seven years younger, and has never been knocked out. Still, I’ll mix in some AlHassan against the newcomer.