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UFC 220 DraftKings Picks and Preview

AP - Jose Juarez
UFC 220 DraftKings Picks and Preview
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UFC 220: Ngannou Hear Me Now?

BAWWWWWWWWSTON! UFC 220 will take place in Boston, right in the middle of where the most despised team in the NFL is located. It’s a two title fight PPV with some intriguing matchups as always, but the main focus of the card will be centralized around the fighters of the chunkier variety.

Stipe Miocic will be defending his heavyweight title against one of the hottest names in UFC, as he’s headed towards a literal collision course versus Francis Ngannou. Since his debut in December of 2015, Ngannou has ripped off 6 straight wins with all but one by KO/TKO (other was a submission). It’s safe to say Ngannou has been an absolute phenom since his arrival, but he’ll easily get his toughest test of his career against Miocic. Sadly enough, a Miocic win would actually break the HW record for title defenses at a measly three. That’s how much turnover the HW division has gone through the decades, never really having one singular dominant champion for too long.

Alongside that fantastic matchup will be an equally great co-main event between sort-of LHW champ Daniel Cormier and another rising fighter that’s taken the division by storm in Volkan Oezdemir. Much like Ngannou, Oezdemir has 3 straight wins since his debut, including two straight KO victories over Top 10 opponents in Jimi Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov. The LHW division is almost bare at this point after Jon Jones got into trouble yet again, but Oezdemir does offer a fresh breath of air and an intriguing set of challenges for Cormier. More on that later.

There will be some Boston natives on the card as is the norm for PPVs outside of Vegas, so discerning whether or not home field advantage will be a detriment to a particular fighter will be essential in deciding coin-flips. Obviously, you can simply ignore the home field and focus on the merits of the stylistic advantages/disadvantages of said match-ups vis-a-vis reading my comprehensive breakdowns of people who like punching other people in their stupid faces. Your choice. You could always just listen to analysts who choose the biggest odds-on favorites and tout them as crucial plays. Whatever floats your boat and invariably sinks it into the soul-crushing abyss that is Fantasy MMA. You won’t be alone.

Gleison Tibau vs Islam Makhachev

The matchup features two strong wrestlers with vastly different striking philosophies. Makhachev utilizes Sambo for his offensive wrestling, relying on trips and angles to get take-downs, while Tibau is more about using his giant physique to overwhelm his opponents to the ground. Makhachev has a tighter, more compact striking base than Tibau, landing much more leg kicks and finding a home for the hard left straight. Tibau is also a southpaw, but relies heavily on looping overhands and landing big counter-punches rather than setting the left hand up.

Tibau always had a substantial size advantage at lightweight due to his good weight-cutting, but that may be a different story now after his recent suspension from USADA. He hasn’t fought in over two years due to the suspension, so there will be significant ring rust for Tibau. Makhachev already has a very impressive wrestling background and shouldn’t be too concerned about Tibau’s potential size advantages, as his offense isn’t about power or sheer strength. A better striking game with an even more savvy wrestling offense should lead to a strong victory for Makhachev against Tibau as long as he’s able to defend against Tibau’s very predictable take-downs and avoids any big counters. With Makhachev’s take-down prowess and overall strengths in striking and speed, he could put up a big DraftKings score. It’s better be close to the field on his ownership.

Prediction: Makhachev via unanimous decision

Enrique Barzola vs Matt Bessette

Barzola was expected to battle Arnold Allen before visa issues cropped up for Allen and forced him out. It’ll be Matt Bessette making his UFC debut, but he’ll be bringing more experience than most first timers as he’s actually competed on similar stages during his time on Bellator. He’s the very definition of a scrappy fighter, with no real physical strengths outside of his very solid jiu-jitsu (BJJ black belt). Barzola isn’t anything spectacular but he has carved out a niche role for himself as a persistent wrestler with heavy top control. Outside of his offensive wrestling that’s based around level changes and grabbing legs for power take-downs, Barzola sits behind a looping right hand while sitting back for the majority of the rounds.

Bessette should have an edge on the feet simply from an arsenal point of view, as Bessette is willing to get into brawls and actually mix in attacks while he walks forward. You’ll see plenty of wild swinging hooks from both men, but Bessette has more tools at his disposal than Barzola, including the surprise head-kick and strong clinch work. It will come down to how Bessette handles Barzola’s offensive wrestling and the top control that follows any successful take-down attempts. Bessette is wily off his back, with lanky limbs and a good understanding of how to escape through scrambles/submission attempts. Barzola isn’t particularly effective with his ground and pound, so I’m not that worried about Bessette being unable to escape off his back.

One problem that’s plagued Bessette throughout his career is his inability to avoid big right hand counters, getting KO’d (even though it got overturned) in his last fight and getting dropped several times in previous fights. Barzola may not be Conor McGregor with his hands, but he does have a powerful overhand. Overall, I think Bessette has more ways to win than Barzola does, and that still probably doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the dog. It’s a short notice fight by over a week and Barzola’s a very gritty wrestler with the tools to shut down any offensive striking momentum from Bessette. I’m going with the upset just off Bessette’s capabilities off his back and offensive pressure. Barzola just sits back too much for my taste, even if he’s a better wrestler than Bessette. I think this will be an under the radar fight for scoring purposes, as Bessette has a nose for the finish (15 of 22 wins via finish) and Barzola obviously has the DK pedigree to put up a big number through take-downs.

Prediction: Bessette via second round guillotine choke

Dan Ige vs Julio Arce

Both men will be making their UFC debuts after winning on Dana White’s Contender series, and they both have some real potential if they continue working on their respective crafts. Ige is a good grappler, owning a BJJ black belt and showing some serious jiu-jitsu chops from top control. His stand-up is very one-note though, mostly trying to land right overhands and tossing out lackluster leg kicks. His last fight was a good example of his persistence in trying to hit the big right hand and having it pay off. It’s still a really basic strategy that won’t hold any water as the talent of his competition rises. Case in point – Julio Arce will absolutely make Ige pay for any and all bad attempts at landing hard rights or ill-advised leg kicks.

Arce has a long background in boxing, competing in the Golden Gloves as well as training in Muay Thai. He’s from a fantastic camp in Tiger-Schulmann’s, which is known for its expertise in striking such as kickboxing and Muay Thai. As a result, Arce has very fast hands and a stiff right hook from his usual southpaw stance. He’s also very strong in the clinch, and actually reminds me quite a bit of how Rafael Dos Anjos attacks from the clinch. Arce prefers to sit back and try to gain forward momentum through his right jab/hook, then finish it off with quick left straights and aggressively pursues his opponents into the clinch near the fence for some knees and body shots. This is where I think the fight will be won between the two, as Ige doesn’t really have any tangible take-down set-ups and will be at a big disadvantage on the feet. Arce will have to be on his game if he wants to battle Ige in the clinch, as that’s a good way for Ige to try some single/double leg take-downs or hit on a body-lock toss as he’s done in the past. The lack of any real offensive wrestling and a rudimentary stand-up from Ige has me picking Arce in a blowout win, unless Ige can get the fight to the ground where he has all the advantage.

Prediction: Arce via third round TKO

Alexandre Pantoja vs Dustin Ortiz

Dustin Ortiz will likely be one of the more popular dog picks across the industry, as he’s always a tenacious fighter with plenty of tools and tricks up his sleeve. Pantoja is riding a two fight streak in the UFC, including spoiling Neil Seery’s retirement fight with a dominant third round submission victory. It’ll be Pantoja’s toughest test to date, as Ortiz has long been a veteran of the flyweight division, facing some of the most elite flyweights and holding his own.

The matchup pits Pantoja’s blitzing offense and opportunistic submissions against Ortiz’s mix and match, high paced offensive wrestling. Pantoja has a good feel for countering and jumping right into his blitzing offense with numerous punch combinations as he comes forward with heavy pressure. He’ll sit back and attack lead legs with kicks to force striking exchanges. Against Eric Shelton, Pantoja was able to evade most of Shelton’s take-downs by quickly scrambling back to his feet and using his grappling skills to discourage haphazard take-down attempts. Ortiz is a much more well-rounded wrestler than Shelton is, with an even stronger scrambling/grappling skill-set than both Shelton and Pantoja. So why is Ortiz the underdog despite seemingly having the better overall skill-set and the experience behind it? I think it’s because Pantoja has shown he can quickly change and adapt his strategy according to the flow of the fight, hitting take-downs if he feels he’s getting out-struck on the feet.

Pantoja also has the kind of sneaky jiu-jitsu that can pounce on an Ortiz mistake much like Brandon Moreno did when he RNC’d Ortiz despite a first round flounder. Still, it’s really Ortiz’s fight to lose as he’s just the much better fighter with the same kind of pace and speed that gave Pantoja trouble early in his fight against Moreno. I will put my faith in the veteran and hope he won’t make mistakes, and if he’s able to use his usual combination of effective boxing and aggressive wrestling then Ortiz will put up a very good DK score.

Prediction: Ortiz via unanimous decision

Abdul Razak Alhassan vs Sabah Homasi

It’s the rematch that no one wanted, but it’s still a tantalizing one nonetheless. They fought just a mere month ago on December 2nd, with Alhassan punching Homasi so hard that Homasi slumped down in what may have looked like a knockout from different angles. The ref had that very same different angle that resulted in an early stoppage victory for Alhassan despite replays showing that Homasi was still somewhat conscious. So with that in mind, there isn’t much to discuss here at all. They literally JUST fought and played up to their predictable strengths, so the rematch likely should play out the same as the first fight.

Alhassan will try to rush Homasi with explosive power and attempt to overwhelm him with furious pacing and constant attacks. Homasi actually did a solid job at countering Alhassan during his frenzy, hurting Alhassan a few times in the process. That still didn’t stop Alhassan from coming forward and blitzing Homasi to the eventual early stoppage. What may happen in the rematch is Homasi could simply try to wrestle Alhassan as early as possible and keep him on the ground. That’s one way to keep himself upright, but Alhassan’s explosiveness and athleticism makes him a difficult opponent to predict striking patterns. Homasi was already a mediocre wrestler, so I don’t really expect any successful take-down to last longer than a minute. It’s going to be another brawl between two powerful strikers, but the one with a higher striking ceiling should win yet once again.

Prediction: Alhassan via first round KO

Brandon Davis vs Kyle Bochniak

Davis will be making his UFC debut after a thrilling win on Dana White’s Contender series, and he’ll get a Massachusetts native with some UFC experience in Kyle Bochniak. It’s an interesting matchup, as Davis is a high-volume striker who likes to start off fast, while Bochniak is also aggressive in his own right but uses more one-hit strikes at a much lower volume than Davis. Bochniak also mixes in some take-downs to create scrambling opportunities, which could favor Davis in the long run, as Davis is athletic enough to escape said scrambling opportunities rather than simply defending standard take-down attempts.

Bochniak hasn’t had great success on the feet throughout his short UFC career, getting dinged up by Charles Rosa and Enrique Barzola. The Barzola loss was an especially egregious one, as Barzola isn’t known for his striking at all. Davis will have a big edge on the feet as he’s just that much quicker, cleaner, and more effective with his striking placement than Bochniak. The reason why the odds are closer than it should be is Davis has some serious cardio issues due to his fighting style, gassing earlier than most strikers with his kind of skill-set. Davis still has great feel at creating angles through head movement and has very quick hands, so I’m willing to bank on him getting an early lead and never relinquishing it to Bochniak. If Bochniak doesn’t want to give up an early lead, he’ll have to dive into the clinch where Bochniak is really effective and will try to sap as much energy out of Davis as possible. I’m sticking with a Davis striking clinic before he gasses and gives up a third round to Bochniak.

Prediction: Davis via unanimous decision

Rob Font vs Thomas Almeida

Whew, boy. This should feature some fireworks between two big time punchers with tremendous power for their division. Font is from the state, so he’ll have some fans around to cheer him on before he gets face-planted by Almeida. Anyhow, Font is the more classical boxer of the two, with varying degrees of complex angle takes and pivots as he tries to land his 1-2 combos with a hefty right hand counter behind them. What’s made Font a dangerous striker is his overall movement, always swaying from side to side as he tries to circumvent pressure attacks and create counter windows. His losses in the UFC have came against those who were able to exploit that very same strategy and hurt him repeatedly.

Almeida has that kind of ability but to a lesser degree. Almeida is more of a slow starter, building up to a spectacular ending after getting dropped. Almeida has the same kind of countering prowess as Font with about equal power, but he’s more of a high volume guy than Font. He’ll attack the legs early and often, opening up more body shots and increasing counter windows due to giving extra attention at checking kicks. Both guys very rarely go for take-downs, but if Almeida does decide to take it to the ground then he’d have a very large edge over Font due to his high level jits. Unlikely, but it’s still a strength.

What will likely decide this close matchup will be how Almeida’s chin holds up against Font’s power and vice versa. Font’s been able to hang on his brain against wrecking ball John Lineker despite some harrowing moments in that fight. He got hurt against Munhoz but was still in it until he decided to foolishly shoot in for a take-down that resulted in a submission loss for him. Almeida’s bad chin moments were getting flash KO’d by Cody Garbrandt in the first round, getting dropped by old man Brad Pickett, and also getting dropped by Jimmie Rivera in his last fight. Two of those opponents are actually legitimate contenders, but it’s still worrisome how often Almeida gets rocked. I favor Almeida’s speed and pace versus Font’s technical striking and movement, but the chin difference may swing the odds to Font come fight night. This is definitely a fight to hedge if there ever was one, as both men have finishing potential and are coming off losses.

Prediction: Almeida via second round RNC

Francimar Barroso vs Gian Villante

Giant Villain has returned! Villante has always put on a show every time he fights, even if it’s because of his utter lack of striking defense and cardio. He’ll be looking to snap his two fight losing streak against Francimar Barroso, long known as one of the more boring fighters in the LHW division. Villante is who he is, a big man with surprisingly fast hands and an affinity for the low leg kick spam. He’s also one of the worst defensive striking big men in the UFC, with several fights on record where he suffered over 100+ sig strikes. That also includes absorbing a whopping 180 sig strikes on his losing streak, even though he got KO’d by Mauricio Rua in one of his losses. Thankfully for the Giant Villain, Barroso isn’t known for his high volume striking. Or any kind of striking, really.

Barroso has made a living by attaching himself to his opponents and holding on for dear life near the fence. He’ll mix in some take-downs here and there, but for the most part Barroso wants to live in the clinch the same way a fish wants to breathe water. This is especially disappointing for someone of Barroso’s skill-set, as he holds a black belt in both BJJ and kick-boxing. He’s shown a little bit of his kick-boxing experience with fancy aerial kicks and a beautiful side kick. Still, he simply prefers to fight dirty in the clinch and stay heavy on top if he goes to the ground. Boring, I know. Villante can dominate Barroso on the feet with his sharper boxing and low leg kick spam, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this just ended up being a competition on who can stay on the fence the longest. Barroso has a wobbly chin, while Giant Villain has a Hercules-like chin, but the gas tank of a 1900s car. I don’t know what happens, nor do I really care. Pick whoever you want, but I’ll be avoiding the matchup from a Fantasy perspective.

Prediction: Villante via unanimous decision

Calvin Kattar vs Shane Burgos

Kattar is one of Boston’s own, even boasting the nickname of “The Boston Finisher” to really up the level of local arrogance. He’s coming off an upset win over Andre Fili, showcasing his superior countering skills and a heavy right hand that’s made him a popular dog pick across all sites. Shane Burgos won’t make it an easy fight though, with a10-0 record and 3 straight UFC victories. I’m really looking forward to this matchup, as Burgos brings a rare air of controlled aggression with his high/low boxing combinations that attack every part of the body. Kattar brings a surprisingly effective counter-game that generally doesn’t last if said fighter isn’t extraordinarily powerful or athletic. Kattar is neither of these, yet he’s found good success behind a powerful right hand and a strong jab.

Burgos loves to paint the body with plenty of 1-2 combinations and reacts quickly to counter-attacks with more flurries. His biggest weapon in my opinion would be that he isn’t shy about body shots, willing to bide his time and not go crazy for a knockout. That’s the sign of a well-rounded striker, someone who doesn’t always look for the highlight reel KO. Kattar likely will try to use his wrestling as a change-up during exchanges to keep Burgos honest, but I think Burgos is just too smart and quick to get caught looking on a take-down attempt. He was able to shut down Godofredo Pepey’s entire offense just by being smart with his striking selection so he wouldn’t get taken down on a level change. It’s going to be a downright brawl between two contrasting striking styles, with Burgos bringing the heat and Kattar hoping to douse the pressure. I’m going with the higher volume and smarter fight IQ in Burgos.

Prediction: Burgos via unanimous decision

Daniel Cormier vs Volkan Oezdemir

We all know what happened to Cormier his last fight. It’s a weird situation obviously, but life goes on in the MMA world. Cormier will get a chance to get the belt back in a way against Volkan Oezdemir, winner of 3 straight UFC fights. Oezdemir brings one of the better overall striking in the division, having fast hands and a complete kick-boxing arsenal that helped him KO both Jimi Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov. He’s got fast hands and a good grasp on angling his way out of combinations. Oezdemir is one of those guys where you can’t really pinpoint a big weakness in his striking, outside of maybe not moving his head enough, which was an issue against Ovince St Preux. That was his debut on short notice, so I’ll forgive his mistakes then.

I fully expect Daniel Cormier to finally be able to put together his vaunted wrestling game against Oezdemir, something Cormier hasn’t been able to do since Anderson Silva in July of 2016. I don’t count the Rumble fights because Anthony Johnson was just an idiot then. Cormier’s skill-set is quite basic – bully into the clinch and land short elbows/uppercuts, then go to work with top-notch wrestling and destroy from top control. It’s what made him a champion and one of the toughest matchups in the division. Not to mention that his stand-up has actually improved so much that he held his own against Jon Jones for a round or two before….well, you know. I don’t expect Cormier to keep the fight on the feet for too long since Oezdemir has the speed and striking edge on Cormier.

I’m not entirely sure of Oezdemir’s defensive wrestling or if he can get out of the clinch versus Cormier. That will likely decide whether or not Oezdemir gets wiped out early or not. It feels a little too soon for Oezdemir to get a title shot, and we don’t really know how good he is since his last two fights lasted for a whole 70 seconds combined. What we do know is Cormier is by far one of the best, strongest wrestlers in the UFC with a stifling top control and clinch offense. Gotta go with the former (current?) champ.

Prediction: Cormier via unanimous decision

Stipe Miocic vs Francis Ngannou

What an exciting heavyweight battle! A worthy champion versus one of the hottest names in the UFC. Miocic has really grown into his own since becoming a champion, continuing to hone his craft and proving all the doubters wrong about his awkward stiff striking style. On the other hand, Ngannou has been wowing his critics and fans alike with vicious knockouts that had never been seen before, including a Pez dispenser uppercut from Hell against Alistair Overeem that earned Ngannou the eventual title shot. There’s also some stories flying around about his punching prowess, as Ngannou apparently owns the record for the hardest punch. That’s like….not fair. Especially for a guy who had just started doing MMA a few years ago. Insane!

All right, here’s the matchup in simple terms. Miocic will try to take Ngannou down much like he did against Mark Hunt (six take-downs) if he’s smart. And trust me, Miocic is smart enough to realize he shouldn’t engage Ngannou much if at all. Instead, he’ll let Ngannou come to him and try to jab around him, avoiding Ngannou’s obliterating counters for as long as possible before jumping into a take-down. That is the most viable strategy in my opinion for Miocic, as Ngannou’s defensive wrestling and basically anything on the ground has been largely untested. Sure, he was able to fend off Luis Henrique in his debut and completely embarrassed fatty Anthony Hamilton when he hit on a kimura from the freakin’ clinch! Those two fighters are not on the level of Miocic, nor do they even have his boxing skills. Not even close to it.

That is the biggest difference between Miocic and the opponents Ngannou has faced. Miocic actually can stand and bang versus Ngannou and is probably crazy enough to believe that he can just KO Ngannou outright. Ngannou is a difficult man to really indicate any sort of pattern or skill-set, as he’s just so damn powerful and athletic that anything he throws out basically makes his opponents spontaneously combust. Yes, he does have some really good countering ability and a devastating left hook, but he hasn’t exactly shown any mesmerizing combinations or great movement. He just touches someone’s chin and it explodes. Plain and simple.

Keeping that in mind, I have a hard time picking Ngannou if the same Ngannou from the previous fights show up. That Ngannou lacked tangible striking outside of “I touch you, now you die!” and immense physical power that let him throw other fighters out of the cage if they dared touch his massive pecs. Miocic has faced the best of the best the HW division has to offer, and he’s shown he can quickly adapt to different situations on the drop of a dime. He showcased his defensive skills against Fabricio Werdum when he knocked Werdum out while back-pedaling. Against Hunt, Miocic proved to the world that he can take the fight to the ground if necessary and absolutely dominate from top.

When Overeem dropped Miocic and had him in a guillotine choke, Miocic showed the kind of heart and willpower to survive long enough to eventually finish Overeem. Even in the rematch against Junior Dos Santos, Miocic proved he can improve upon his defensive liabilities and really turned up the heat on his counters, knocking out a man that he had struggled so mightily with in their first fight. It all comes down to whether or not Miocic can handle Ngannou’s strength. That includes taking a Ngannou punch as well as getting the big man down on the ground and keeping him there. I’m picking Miocic just because he has the experience Ngannou doesn’t, but you better hedge this damn fight!

Prediction: Miocic via first round TKO