DraftKings MMA: UFC 235 Preview
DraftKings MMA: UFC 235 Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

Saturday brings fight fans the biggest card of 2019, featuring two title fights and a much-anticipated UFC debut. DraftKings is gearing up for the event as well, with $250,000 guaranteed in the $15 MMA throwdown, along with the regular arsenal of DFS contests.

If you're hoping to turn the event into an opportunity to build your DFS bankroll, DraftKings.com has you covered with a full slate of contests. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:

(Please note that DraftKings altered their scoring system in December 2016 to add a new fighter to the lineup and adjust scoring. The most recent point values are listed below.)

Moves Scoring
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Advance (ADVC): +3 PT
Takedown (TD): +5 PTS
Reversal/Sweep (REV): +5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +10 PTS

Fight Conclusion Bonuses
1st Round Win (1rW+): +90 PTS
2nd Round Win (2rW+): +70 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rW+): +45 PTS
4th Round Win (4rW+): +40 PTS
5th Round Win (5rW+): +40 PTS
Decision Win (WBD+): +30 PTS

Scoring Notes
Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.

Advances include: To Half Guard, To Side Control, To Mount, To Back Control

Now, on to the fights...

Main Event - Light Heavyweight Championship

(C) Jon Jones (23-1-0, 1NC) v. Anthony Smith (31-13-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Jones ($9,600), Smith ($6,600)
Vegas Odds: Jones (-750), Smith (+525)
Odds to Finish: -750

While fighting for the first time in 17 months against Alexander Gustafsson in December, Jones once again showed why, inside of the octagon, he is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. "Bones" destroyed Gus in retaining the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship that he never lost in the first place. Jones's brushes with the law are well known, as is his history with the USADA. Jones tested positive for a minute trace of oral turinabol (a steroid) following the Gustafsson fight, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission – who refused to license Jones for that fight and forced the entire event to be relocated to California on a week's notice – did not believe Jones knowingly violated the drug policy and approved him for a one-fight license to fight Smith in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Let's get back to the action inside the cage: Gustafsson really frustrated Jones with his length in the first fight, but "Bones" made all the necessary adjustments for the rematch. He limited Gus's space and peppered him with his trademark combinations. There isn't a single aspect of the sport that Jones doesn't excel at. He has elite size, strength, and speed, plus he's durable. Someone is going to beat him one of these days because that is how this sport works, but there is no reason to believe it will be Smith (or anyone else currently fighting for that matter).

As massive of an underdog as he is here , the fact Smith is fighting for a UFC title in 2019 is nothing short of remarkable. Although just 31 years old, Smith has fought all over the world and for all of the sport's top promotions (UFC, Bellator, Strikeforce, etc.) . Heck, he had a four-fight losing streak in 2009-10 against four opponents I guarantee no one reading this article has never heard of. Just trust me on this. "Lionheart" moved up to light heavyweight in the middle of 2018, and he proceeded to earn stoppage victories over Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, and Volkan Oezdemir in just over four months. Saturday, he gets his reward for all his hard work. Smith has a ton of power and he's stupidly tough. The odds of that being enough to upend Jones are extremely slim, but he deserves the opportunity.

I'm obviously picking Jones, but I will say this about Smith: you are not beating "Bones" unless you can absorb a ton of punishment, and Smith has shown the ability to do that on multiple occasions. Look at the first Jones/Gus fight. Perhaps Alex did indeed deserve to win, but he never would have been in that position if he wasn't able to handle the damage Jones threw his way. Smith has that ability. I don't think he will be able to generate enough offensively to actually win, but I can see him dragging this thing to the championship rounds or the scorecards.

THE PICK: Jones

Co-Main Event - Welterweight Championship

(C) Tyron Woodley (19-3-1) v. Kamaru Usman (14-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Woodley ($8,700), Usman ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Woodley (-190), Usman (+165)
Odds to Finish: -115

The UFC's welterweight division is stacked, and Woodley is going to have to be at his very best on Saturday if he wants to retain his title for a fifth-straight fight. Following back-to-back sluggish performances against Stephen Thompson (their second fight) and Demian Maia, Woodley proceeded to obliterate top prospect Darren Till in September. I picked Till in that fight and I couldn't have been more wrong. Woodley blew the doors off the youngster before choking him out late in Round 2. While Woodley's wrestling background is well known, he has scored just two successful takedowns in his last eight fights, according to FightMetric. Woodley, who will turn 37 years old next month, has done his best work in the stand up the past several years. He has insane explosiveness for a guy with his build, and his ability to get in and out of firing range quickly is a huge asset against top competition.

Our regular readers know I've been on the Usman hype train from the get-go. There are very few fighters that I've been a heavy supporter of from the start (Thompson and Robert Whittaker comes to mind) and Usman is on that list. After struggling to find a high-level opponent willing to face him for seemingly ever, Usman got a main event slot against former Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos in November. He took full advantage. RDA never had a chance in a fight in which Usman dominated from the start. A former Division II All-American wrestler, Usman has racked up twenty (20!!!!!) successful takedowns in his last two fights. He's big for the division at six-feet tall and he's going to have a three-inch height advantage over Woodley. Woodley's takedown defense is exceptional (94 percent), so something will have to give in this one.

Say what you want about Woodley and his brash personality, but the bottom line is that the guy hasn't lost in nearly five years despite facing the best the division has to offer that entire time. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. I picked against Woodley in the Till fight and I'm doing so again. I preface this by saying this is a pick in favor of Usman as opposed to anything against Woodley. Usman has the size advantage and I think he has a deep enough offensive arsenal to make Woodley have to legitimately focus on defense for the first time in a long time. It's going to take a Herculean effort to get the belt from Tyron (he'll probably get an immediate rematch if he loses give how long he's been champion), but I boarded the Usman train at the first stop and I'm not getting off now. The fact Usman enters as a slight underdog is just icing on the cake.

THE PICK: Usman

Welterweight

Robbie Lawler (28-12-0) v. Ben Askren (18-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Lawler ($7,200), Askren ($9,000)
Vegas Odds: Lawler (+240), Askren (-280)
Odds to Finish: +155

The two title fights aside, the debut of Askren is easily the biggest highlight of what is a stacked card. A former ONE Welterweight Champion, Askren came to the UFC in the "trade" for Demetrious Johnson in November. Those who haven't seen him fight are in for a treat. A former Olympic wrestler, Askren holds the NCAA single-season pin record. He is a black belt in BJJ and an underrated striker. The only concern surrounding Askren is that he will turn 35 years old in July, and he hasn't fought anyone of note over the past several years. If he rolls through Lawler, expect the UFC to push him hard and quickly.

Lawler is looking at roughly 15 months on the sidelines when he steps into the Octagon on Saturday. His last fight was a unanimous decision loss to Rafael dos Anjos in December 2017. The time off likely served Lawler well, but there are concerns here moving forward. Lawler has always been a guy who takes a lot of abuse on the feet, but he doesn't appear to be wearing it as well as he did a couple of years ago. His feet aren't moving as quickly as they once did, and he's struggling to get his head off the center line. Lawler still has a bunch of power, but he's not getting into position to use it consistently. I think Lawler still has some gas left in the tank, but he turns 37 years old later this month. Askren is the last guy you want to face if you are searching for your game because he provides constant pressure.

We all know how this is going to play out: Askren is going to fire off takedown after takedown and Lawler is going to be hard-pressed to remain on his feet. FightMetric has Lawler's takedown defense at 69 percent. That's not a bad number, but takedown attempts from Askren are different than takedown attempts from other opponents. Lawler has zero chance to win if he has to spend the majority of this fight on his back. He needs to hope Askren engages him in a senseless brawl and I think Askren is too smart to do that. He cares about one thing – winning.

Askren is a virtual unknown to many UFC fans, but the guy is legit and I'm all-in. I'd pay heavy for him in a DK format because I think Lawler is going to struggle to generate offense. Again, I'm not out on Robbie, but this is a big ask for him.

THE PICK: Askren

Bantamweight

Cody Garbrandt (11-2-0) v. Pedro Munhoz (17-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Garbrandt ($8,500), Munhoz ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Garbrandt (-165), Munhoz (+145)
Odds to Finish: -195

The former UFC Bantamweight Champion, Garbrandt gets his first chance to rebound from his back-to-back losses to TJ Dillashaw. After using speed and footwork to school Dominick Cruz in winning the title December 2016, Cody's standup defense deteriorated in the TJ fights. He fought foolishly and paid for it. His fight IQ is poor despite having an immense amount of physical talent. The lack of game planning (or execution) is surprising given the fact Cody trains with one of the best camps in the world (Team Alpha Male) every single day. He also dealt with a serious back injury in 2017, and there are concerns that could linger over the long-term.

Munhoz continues to do his thing despite little fanfare. He has won six of his last seven bouts dating back to November 2015, and he deserved a better fate in the one loss (split decision to John Dodson). Pedro is going to have a significant advantage on the mat in this one. He is a BJJ black belt and has nine career wins via submission. He's giving up a boatload of power to Cody, but he generally displays strong footwork standing up. An extended kickboxing match would favor Garbrandt, but Munhoz is better on the feet than he gets credit for. Even if he doesn't excel, I think he can hold his own in the majority of the striking exchanges between the two.

Garbrandt has a background in wrestling and he's never been taken down in his UFC career, so he is going to have an edge if he can remain upright. My one main concern about Cody, as I said early, is his fight IQ. If he can keep his emotions under control, I think he wins. If his ego takes over and he opens the door, Munhoz has the skills to kick it in. I'm going to take Cody but I'm not confident about it. Munhoz is legit and I remain worried about the after effect of the Dillashaw losses. This fight will go a long way in determining Garbrandt's future, and it's Munhoz's first true chance to upset an elite opponent.

THE PICK: Garbrandt

Featherweight

Jeremy Stephens (28-15-0) v. Zabit Magomedsharipov (16-1-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Stephens ($7,300), Magomedsharipov ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Stephens (+205), Magomedsharipov (-245)
Odds to Finish: -125

Here we go. After dispatching a quartet of virtual unknowns (Brandon Davis, Kyle Bochniak, Sheymon Moraes, Mike Santiago) in his first four fights with the company, Zabit (as he will be known the rest of the way) gets his first true test on Saturday. The early returns on the Dagestani could not be more promising. Standing a ridiculous 6-foot-1, Zabit is one of the most unorthodox fighters in the sport. He combines awkward, effective combinations with the ability to stop his opposition on the mat. He is impossible to game plan for because there isn't another man on the planet who can match his style of fighting. FightMetric has credited Zabit with 22 successful takedowns in his four UFC bouts. When you combine the threat of the takedown with the unorthodox strikes, it's easy to see why many consider him to be a future title challenger.

One of the true veterans of the sport, Stephens is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Jose Aldo last July. That setback snapped a three-fight winning streak for the 32-year-old. While Stephens has as much raw power as many in the division, he is a one-dimensional puncher. He swings for the bleachers every single time he throws and he does so without regard for his own safety. You can beat lesser fighters with this strategy, but defeating an opponent of Zabit's caliber with that game plan is unlikely. Stephens's chin has held up pretty well over the years considering the amount of senseless brawls he has been in. He's more of a fighter than a mixed martial artist and I don't think that will play here.

It's hard to not be impressed with Zabit. He has the size and the all-around game to give even the most battle-tested opponents fits. Stephens has a puncher's chance (no pun intended) because he has the power to stop a fight in an instant, but Zabit's chin has looked strong during the few instances in which he has been tested in his early run. The Vegas line seems low to me in this one. Stephens is almost certainly going to have to score a knockout to win, and I wouldn't bet on that happening. He simply has too many things working against him. Zabit also possess the all-around arsenal to rack up a high DFS score as the favorite.

THE PICK: Magomedsharipov

Other Bouts


Women's Strawweight
Tecia Torres (10-3-0) v. Weili Zhang (18-1-0)
DK Salaries: Torres ($7,900), Zhang ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Torres (+105), Zhang (-125)
Odds to Finish: +225
THE PICK: Zhang

Light Heavyweight
Misha Cirkunov (14-4-0) v. Johnny Walker (16-3-0)
DK Salaries: Cirkunov ($7,800), Walker ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Cirkunov (+110), Walker (-130)
Odds to Finish: -600
THE PICK: Walker

Bantamweight
Cody Stamman (17-2-0) v. Alejandro Perez (21-6-1)
DK Salaries: Stamman ($8,600), Perez ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Stamman (-185), Perez (+160)
Odds to Finish: +250
THE PICK: Stamman

Welterweight
Diego Sanchez (28-11-0) v. Mickey Gall (5-1-0)
DK Salaries: Sanchez ($7,100), Gall ($9,100)
Vegas Odds: Sanchez (+255), Gall (-310)
Odds to Finish: -175
THE PICK: Gall

Middleweight
Edmen Shahbazyan (8-0-0) v. Charles Byrd (10-5-0)
DK Salaries: Shahbazyan ($8,200), Byrd ($8,00)
Vegas Odds: Shahbazyan (-125), Byrd (+105)
Odds to Finish: -220
THE PICK: Byrd

Women's Bantamweight
Gina Mazany (5-2-0) v. Macy Chiasson (3-0-0)
DK Salaries: Mazany ($6,800), Chiasson ($9,400)
Vegas Odds: Mazany (+380), Chiasson (-475)
Odds to Finish: -180
THE PICK: Chiasson

Bantamweight
Marlon Vera (12-5-1) v. Frankie Saenz (13-5-0)
DK Salaries: Vera ($8,800), Saenz ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Vera (-190), Saenz (+165)
Odds to Finish: +130
THE PICK: Vera

Women's Strawweight
Polyana Viana (10-2-0) v. Hannah Cifers (8-3-0)
DK Salaries: Viana ($9,200), Cifers ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Viana (-280), Cifers (+240)
Odds to Finish: -190
THE PICK: Viana

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Jon Litterine plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: JLitterine.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Litterine
Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.
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