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UFC 219 DraftKings Picks and Preview

AP - Eraldo Peres
UFC 219 DraftKings Picks and Preview
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UFC 219 DraftKings Picks and Preview: Holm for the Hollydays

While the annual New Year’s week UFC PPV isn’t exactly an explosive one as in past years, it’s still a worthwhile watch just to see how Cris “Cyborg” Justino fares against an actual opponent. For too long, Cyborg has been smashing tomato cans to her heart’s content rather than proving that she is really the most formidable martial artist in all of the women’s divisions. Cyborg will face a former champion in Holly Holm, coming off a KO win over Bethe Correia that snapped a 3 fight losing streak that had many questioning Holm’s skill-set. It’s going to be an interesting challenge for the new featherweight champion and one that may quiet Cyborg’s critics on her lack of competent opponents faced.

Khabib Nurmagomedov will also be making his octagon return after injuries forced Nurmagomedov to sit on the bench. It’ll have been over a year since his dismantling of a top 10 lightweight in Michael Johnson. There’s even a fan favorite making his return in Carlos Condit! He last graced the octagon back in August of 2016, in a disappointing 1st round submission loss to Demian Maia. Talks of retirement popped up after that loss, but Condit eventually simply just stayed out of the MMA scene….until now! There are some notable names on the card that should make UFC 219 a very solid PPV for all fans of MMA, but the lack of fights (only 10) and heavyweights dampens its fantasy potential. Still, it’s an important slate to play on as you frantically spend the last dollars of your depleted NFL bankroll into the last card of the year before making a New Year’s resolution to never play the primetime slate.

Mark Delarosa vs Tim Elliott

Delarosa is an undefeated prospect that did well in the previous TUF featherweight edition. He’s a scrappy young guy with some definite talents such as a strong wrestling base with improving jiu-jitsu chops. The one thing that may help him against a top-tier opponent like Elliott is his well-rounded boxing skills, having very fast hands and a good nose at planting his lead foot while moving around the cage. Being able to box up Elliott and staying away from his funky movements and constant threats of take-downs will be the key for the upset. Here’s the thing – Elliott is going to get the fight to the ground no matter what. He’ll die trying rather than simply stand and bang.

Elliott’s funky movement and uber-aggressive pace make him a match-up nightmare for anyone, including the current FFW champion who was mere seconds away from getting choked out by Elliott. That’s Elliott’s bread and butter, putting himself in crazy and precarious situations but somehow flipping the script and turning it into an advantage. He’ll give up his back and reverse his position by some miracle for a submission. Just silly things like that. Delarosa may be a promising prospect with a tangible and malleable skill-set, but I’m not sure he can handle Elliott’s frenetic pace and extremely unorthodox methods. He’s definitely a dog you should have some nibbles of in your lineups just off his wrestling capabilities and potential for a guillotine choke. Gotta go Elliott here and he may get a billion gazillion points again in a victory. He’ll be high owned.

Elliott vs 3rd round rear naked choke

Marvin Vettori vs Omari Akhmedov

Vettori has functional striking with the usual toolbox almost every wide-stance southpaw uses – the left straight/left kick combo. He’s nothing special on the feet but has deceptive power and an annoying clinch game that’s helped Vettori nab 2 wins out of his 3 UFC fights. That deceptive power is going to be the key against Akhmedov, as the questionable chin of Akhmedov has always been his glaring weakness. Outside of a brittle chin, Akhmedov is mostly known for his looping overhands and an average offensive wrestling game. He stays heavy on top and rarely engages in ground and pound, making him a less than ideal fantasy option in most cases. He does have one punch KO power, but his accuracy is definitely lacking. Vettori has capable take-down defense and was only really out-muscled by gigantic middleweight Antonio Carlos Junior, who probably was nearly 30-40 pounds bigger than Vettori. Unfair!

Anyway, I have no faith in Akhmedov’s striking due to his inaccuracies and lack of striking range since he prefers to spam the overhand. Not to mention he’s moving up to MW instead of his usual welterweight, making his main strength in his wrestling less of an issue. Vettori may not be a flashy striker, but he gets the job done with a strong clinch game and well-timed counter-lefts. One of those left straights should be able to crack Akhmedov a few times, but even if he doesn’t get a finish I’d venture to guess that Vettori still should be able to nab a few take-downs at least. Good price and match-up.

Vettori via 2nd round KO

Louis Smolka vs Matheus Nicolau

After winning 4 straight and looking down the barrel of a title shot, Smolka has suddenly now lost 3 straight fights and is on the verge of dropping out of the top 15 in the division. He won’t get any help from the matchmakers, as he gets a competitive Matheus Nicolau that hasn’t fought since his win against John Moraga all the way back in July of last year. Smolka is a little bit of an enigma, as his biggest strength is his jiu-jitsu that’s aided by a brown belt in Judo. That’s made Smolka an inherently dangerous clinch fighter who can turn any close-range fight into a victory as he tumbles his opponents into the mat for a submission win (5 of 11 career wins). Smolka generally doesn’t try to get into the clinch though, preferring to find his range and attack with his long frame (5’9” and 69-inch reach – nice!). While he’s fairly decent striking-wise and has some good combinations, he just doesn’t have the requisite defensive skills to be an effective long-range striker. That’s not good news against a more technical striker in Nicolau, who won’t rush himself and should be able to pick apart Smolka’s sloppy attacks.

Nicolau is a well-rounded fighter who doesn’t really excel at one particular thing but has a fundamental understanding of how to leverage his way to victory. He’s very adept on the ground, taking safe and calculated moves to better position himself for ground and pound or a submission chance. Smolka thrives off chaos and scrambles on the ground, which isn’t something Nicolau usually allows in his methodical transitions. That could be lots of holding from Nicolau if the fight does go to the ground for any reason. Nicolau’s a low volume striker, so it’s going to come down to whether or not he can repeatedly take down Smolka to boost his fantasy score. I’m thinking he completely smothers Smolka on the ground and ends up having some chances to submit Smolka or lands a ton of short strikes while gobbling up those advance fantasy points.

Nicolau via unanimous decision

Myles Jury vs Rick Glenn

Jury got back to his winning ways after a short skid with a dominant 1st round win over Mike De La Torre. He’ll get a little bit of an interesting match-up against Rick Glenn, coming off a surprising evisceration of hype-train prospect Gavin Tucker. It’s an interesting match-up because Glenn is a skilled grappler in his own right, making Jury’s usual methods to victory a quagmire that he may not get out of. Jury’s an accomplished grappler, owning black belts in both BJJ and his own patented jiu-jitsu – JJJ or Jury Jiu-Jitsu. Yes, he teaches his own jits and made himself a black belt. Weird. Jury’s usual road to victory is taking his opponents down with either a level change or getting into the clinch and working his way into a trip take-down or a body-lock scoop. That’s when his jits start to take over, as he seamlessly transitions himself into a dominant position which allows his underrated GnP to come alive as he slices his way through the defenses.

Glenn is a brown belt in BJJ and has been really solid in any grappling exchanges, so I’m not entirely sure if Jury can overpower Glenn with his own version of jiu-jitsu. It could end up being a striking affair, which would give the advantage to Glenn with his tendency to get the fight up the fence. The volume output and pace also favors Glenn in a big way, as he prefers to advance forward and possibly make the fight dirty in the clinch. He’s excellent with his fence antics, throttling his opponents with elbows and left straights. Jury’s struggled against kicks in general, which could give another advantage for Glenn if Glenn is able to continually bash Jury’s lead leg and mixes in some body strikes.

Overall, I understand why Jury is the favorite as he’s got the much better offensive wrestling and should have an edge in the grappling department. Glenn’s no slouch though, and he’s been training with a bunch of short, stocky wrestlers which should in theory aid his take-down defense. It all depends on whether or not Jury can establish himself on the ground early on before Glenn starts to tire out Jury in the clinch. I feel an upset here.

Glenn via unanimous decision

Dan Hooker vs Mark Diakiese

This is likely the Fight of the Night, as both men are violent strikers with a history of incredible KOs from all angles. Hooker just had an amazing KO over Ross Pearson with a well-timed standing knee that put Pearson to sleep immediately upon contact. Diakiese was not as lucky in his last fight, losing a close decision to Drakkar Klose despite landing several kicks that landed flush on Klose’s chin. This is going to be a battle between Diakiese’s athleticism and flashy strikes versus Hooker’s lanky frame and reach (2 inches advantage in both) but lackadaisical defense. Diakiese has power in his hands but doesn’t really put together much punch combinations, opting for the one-shot kills. He’s more of a prowler with a few kicks thrown in here and there while waiting for his chance at a huge counter-strike. He’s got some decent wrestling but it’s more of a change of pace than a relevant strategy. Hooker’s a little bit of a prowler as well, but he’s definitely more active than Diakiese is, especially if he starts getting going early with hard low kicks and finds his range. Hooker may have a bad tendency of leaving his chin high and sits too upright, but he’s got one hell of a chin and has enough stopping power to still be an effective counter-striker. What’s going to decide the fight is how Diakiese battles against Hooker’s length considering he usually has to blitz forward in order to land a big strike. That could play right into Hooker’s hands, literally and figuratively. As much as I’ve liked Diakiese’s combination of athleticism and power, the Klose fight really showed his limitations as a counter-heavy striker that’s very susceptible to low kicks. I’ll give the nod to the Hangman in another upset, but you probably should hedge the fight as it has a high potential for a knockout or a fun brawl.

Hooker via 2nd round TKO

Khalil Rountree vs Michal Oleksiejczuk

This was supposed to be the fight that the fans wanted, as Gokhan Saki was slated to fight Rountree. That would have been absolute fireworks between two all-out strikers who love to land big shots. Instead, we get Rountree versus a guy from a Baltic circuit. BOOOOO!!! And I can’t even pronounce his name! DOUBLE BOOOOOOOO!!!!! The show must go on though, and so does my insults insight of Ol’ Ole’s strengths and weaknesses. Michal isn’t a typical southpaw in the way we usually see southpaws fight. He isn’t entirely dependent on the left straight/kick combination, fighting more like Kelvin Gastelum with more emphasis on hooks and pressuring with combinations. Michal is a pretty solid striker and seems to have a good feel for counter windows, but one thing does stand out to me watching his previous fights. He’s not a light-heavyweight. He seems way too undersized for the current division, and Rountree likely has at least 20 pounds on him. Not that it really  matters considering both guys have no interest in wrestling or getting the fight to the ground.

That’s going to mean a brawl on the feet in every round (if there are any after the 1st of course). Another thing I noticed was Michal got hit way too much by the overhand right. He even got dropped in his last fight (still won). While Rountree is a southpaw as well, he’s equally adept in both hands and actually has a pretty mean right hook to pair with his blistering left straight. It’s going to be a fun back and forth striking affair between two southpaws with snap behind their punches, but I gotta give it to the 2nd biggest favorite on the card. Rountree is just too fast, too athletic, and too intuitive of a counter-striker to lose against a lesser talent. As long as there isn’t a threat of a take-down, Rountree is a force to be reckoned with. Insert him into your lineups with full confidence in a finish.

Rountree via 1st round KO

Carlos Condit vs Neil Magny

YAAAAAAAS! Condit is back and he’s looking for somebody’s head to roll! Condit has long been a fan favorite to his high output striking style and affinity for violence. He should have been the rightful WW champion after his beat-down of Robbie Lawler, but the dreaded 5th Round Lawler reared its ugly head and robbed Condit of the belt despite getting out-struck 176 to 92. The loss brought up some thoughts of retirement for Condit, but he ultimately decided to take a fight against surging Demian Maia only to lose in a 1st round submission. The urge to retire then popped back into Condit’s head, resulting in a year-long hiatus before returning to fight Neil Magny. For those of you who don’t know who Condit is, let me explain to you why he’s such a beloved MMA figure. He’s got a long frame at a svelte 6’2” with equally long limbs, but his striking repertoire is possibly the deepest and most nuanced of anyone in the division. Creative attacks, elbows, follow-up head-kicks, and an endless stream of smooth as butter combinations are the norm for Condit. Think of him as an infinitely better Tony Ferguson. His biggest weakness has been defending against smart wrestlers who can avoid his rubber guard and keep Condit on the ground. Magny has that kind of ability if he chooses to utilize his wrestling in order to mitigate Condit’s mighty toolbox. Problem with that is Magny isn’t really a great wrestler as much as a guy who feeds off the surprise factor when he suddenly jumps into a takedown attempt.

Magny’s also a high volume guy, but his power is sorely lacking as he generally sits behind a crisp jab and plenty of low kicks. Magny’s strongest trait is his heart, will, and determination. I know that’s a strange strength to have in a violent sport, but it’s been so many times where Magny was dropped/knocked out/on the ropes yet he somehow makes an improbable comeback as his opponent gasses near the end. I doubt that happens against a cardio master like Condit, who never seems to tire no matter the situation.

There are whispers of Condit’s chin health possibly being near the end of its career. Yes, I’m referring to chins as if it was a separate entity. Got a problem with that? Thought so. I will dispel these rumors with this statement – They said the same thing about Robbie Lawler! Sometimes taking a year or two can do wonders for an embattled chin such as Condit after being a part of so many wars in the past. Magny doesn’t strike any fear in me with his lightweight hit power and preference at landing quick combinations over big, looping power strikes. One of two things should happen here: Condit completely manhandles Magny on the feet with his superior striking and lands over 100 sig with possibly a KO finish, or Magny decides to use his wrestling to the fullest and just holds Condit all fight long for a lame decision. I’ll pick the former, as Condit just has a tremendous skill-set and should be able to overwhelm Magny early.

Condit via 3rd round TKO

Carla Esparza vs Cynthia Calvillo

Calvillo has been on a tear since joining the UFC a mere 9 months ago, reeling off 3 straight wins including a stepping stone win over Joanne Calderwood. She’s a great grappler with strong offensive wrestling an ever-improving boxing game that was definitely showcased against Calderwood. Her increasing striking skills has now made Calvillo a dangerous threat in the division, as her combination of wrestling/grappling was already her main strength. She’ll get a predominantly wrestler in Carla Esparza, a former strawweight champion. It’ll pit two strong wrestlers with drastically different striking philosophies and skill-sets. Calvillo can string together quick punch combinations and is willing to land leg kicks rather than sitting back waiting for a shot on a takedown attempt.

Esparza is the complete opposite, reluctant to trade hands with anyone outside of a looping overhand and a few jabs. She wants to shoot in for a take-down as soon and as much as possible. Problem with Esparza is she’s a little bit of a one-trick pony. It’s a good trick, but a trick nonetheless. She doesn’t really deviate from the single/double leg take-down, making her level changes and shoot-ins very predictable. Sometimes her strength pays off even on failed attempts, but considering Calvillo is likely the better wrestler anyway, I don’t think it’s going to be a good night for Esparza. A severe lack of stand-up and a heavy reliance on the same take-down looks could spell trouble for Esparza. Calvillo has big potential for a high score here as she can continually punish Esparza standing or turn failed take-down attempts from Esparza into top control and swivel her way through Esparza’s ground defenses. Maybe Esparza will show she can improve as well, but it’s such a bad match-up that I don’t think it’d matter. Better wrestler, better grappler, better striker. Not good.

Calvillo via unanimous decision

Edson Barboza vs Khabib Nurmagomedov

Another big name to the fans in Khabib Nurmagomedov will finally be coming back into the cage after a year away from the sport due to injuries. Nurmagomedov is likely a win away from a title shot against whoever the UFC decides is the champion between Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. Until then, he’ll have to deal with perennial top 10 lightweight Edson Barboza and his plethora of kicks. I’ll make this match-up quite simple and easy to digest. Nurmagomedov is an elite wrestler. No one can stop his wrestling, period. One can only hope to defend his attempts long enough to land something hard that puts him to sleep. That is the key for Barboza and his earth-shattering kicks.

Nurmagomedov historically is a slow starter in the 1st round, electing to circle around the cage and see how his opponents start off. That almost resulted in an upset win by Michael Johnson after a clean straight landed on Nurmagomedov in the 1st round which visibly wobbled him. Unfortunately for MJ, that was literally the last strike he would land in the entire fight as Nurmagomedov transformed into God Mode and thrashed MJ everywhere on the mat. It was an ugly beat-down against an above average wrestler with elite speed.

That is going to be the same fate for Barboza if he doesn’t light up Nurmagomedov on the feet early with his fantastically technical but powerful leg kicks and whatever follow-ups he employs. A high arcing head-kick KO is possible from Barboza if he can get the timing just right, or even a flying knee KO on a take-down attempt much like what he did to Beneil Dariush. The problem with that is Nurmagomedov is so deadly with his anticipation and timing on his take-downs/clinch ups that it’s difficult to really counter anything he does. Nurmagomedov simply just needs to get a little close to Barboza, and once that happens then it’s just going to be constant take-downs and vicious GnP on poor Barboza. I really don’t think there’s anyone outside of Tony Ferguson who has a chance against Nurmagomedov’s sambo, much less Barboza and his elite Muay Thai skills. Nurmagomedov is a must on DraftKings with his offensive wrestling and great top control that can result in a 100+ score even in a decision win.

Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision

Cristiane Justino vs Holly Holm

Cyborg vs Holm will be a battle of pure and sheer unadulterated power versus precision and technique. Cyborg has long been the most powerful striker in all of women’s MMA, possibly even rivaling some of the best in men’s MMA. Her power truly is that immense, which isn’t surprising when you consider the fact that she’s actually a giant for her current division (145). Cyborg typically walks around 30-40 pounds above her divisional weight, making the majority (OK, all) of her cuts a brutal situation to deal with. That’s also brought some questions of whether or not Cyborg has any sort of gas tank. Winning damn near all of her fights in the 1st round hasn’t helped in dispelling said whispers, but Cyborg has been on record saying this has been the lightest walking around weight for Cyborg. Whether or not that’s true and to what extent that tidbit may affect her performance is irrelevant. You basically just wasted your time reading that sentence. Silly. Now on to the stylistic match-up.

Cyborg is a behemoth with a very well-rounded skill-set that includes a BJJ black belt that rarely gets used as Cyborg doesn’t do many grappling exchanges. Her main strength is how she is able to land massive overhands repeatedly without any sort of resistance as she walks right through her opponents. How is she able to do that? I’m not entirely sure, but fear and horror may play a part in allowing Cyborg to be as dominant as she has been. Being 20-30 pounds bigger and stronger than your opponents certainly has its perks I would imagine. That’s not to say Cyborg is just randomly swinging around a big hammer, as she’s actually a pretty skilled boxer in her own right. She knows how to find her range and continually move her feet in an attempt to cut off any escape routes. I personally think the biggest thing helping Cyborg be so dominant is the fact that no one dares to try and take her down. That’s partly due to her size, but her grappling ability has been noted by most fighters. That just means Cyborg gets free reign to just do whatever she wants without any worry of clinching up or defending take-downs. Scary.

Holly Holm is quite the opposite of Cyborg, choosing to sit back and attack from range for the majority of the fight. She doesn’t have the kind of scary KO power that Cyborg possesses, but her head-kicks do have some thump behind them (2 KO victories in UFC via head-kick). For the most part, Holm plays the part of a points fighter. That is, she finds her range and then attacks with safe strikes that minimize any threat of a counter to Holm. She’ll jab her way inside then arch around for a side kick to the body. Rinse and repeat, land a blitz combo then reset. Jab, jab, sidekick. Maybe a follow-up head-kick that she loves to sprinkle in here and there. Other than that, it’s really the aforementioned sequence on a repeat for Holm. Her fight against Germaine De Randamie proved that even with as technical of a striker Holm is, she can still get countered on some of the predictable parts of her sequences. That’s really Holm’s weakness – her own tendency to always follow a script of sorts when engaging in striking exchanges. That happens, and some fighters grow out of it for the better.

It’s difficult for me to see a Holm victory outside of completely running away from Cyborg and destroying her legs on the way. Holm HAS to continually circle away from Cyborg’s dreaded right hand of doom while forcing Cyborg to chase her around and deplete her gas tank. It may be Cyborg’s 1st time in a real 5 round fight, so that should be able to answer any and all criticism of her cardio. Holm just still seems so predictable to me and Cyborg is such a freight train that’s impossible to slow down at full speed. No wrestling to worry about, no real KO power to avoid, and Holm isn’t a natural 145’er either. Tough match-up for Holm but if anyone can defeat Cyborg that’s currently on the UFC roster, it’s Holm. She has a great camp and coach who can strategize a game-plan for Holm that involves constant movement with plenty of kicks to the legs and body, avoiding any close quarter combat, and forcing Cyborg to chase Holm anytime she wants to close the gap. I’ll stick with Cyborg but I don’t expect an early finish so I’m not willing to pay up for her in most line-ups. It could be a main event to avoid as Holm doesn’t land many sig strikes in fights she can fight safe in.

Cyborg via unanimous decision