This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
The ninth installment of fights at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada features a few wild, sloppy bouts, as well as a few mispriced dogs for prospective owners to take a shot at.
As I will continue to point out, as long as we are at The Apex, research suggests more finishes occur in smaller cages like the one the fighters will occupy on Saturday, which should encourage players to look at fights that may not otherwise be thought of as good targets for finishes. As always, fighters will be listed in order from most to least desirable among the given choices.
One final note before we begin: here's a refresher on the scoring. If you're looking for general strategy tips, I wrote a FanDuel 101 article prior to UFC Brasilia on March 14, though there have been a few minor scoring changes since then that I've noted below.
Moves Scoring (MVP 1.5X)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.9 PTS
Takedown (TD): +9 PTS
Takedown Defense (TDEF): +4.5 PTS
Submission Attempt (SA): +7.5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +18 PTS
Moves Scoring (Standard)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.6 PTS
Takedown (TD): +6 PTS
Takedown Defense (TDEF): 3
Submission Attempt (SA): 5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +12 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses (MVP 1.5X)
1st Round Win (1stW): +150 PTS
2nd Round Win (2ndW): +112.5 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rdW): +75 PTS
4th Round Win (4thW): +52.5 PTS
5th Round Win (5thW): +37.5 PTS
Decision Win (DecW): +30 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses (Standard)
1st Round Win (1stW): +100 PTS
2nd Round Win (2ndW): +75 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rdW): +50 PTS
4th Round Win (4thW): +35 PTS
5th Round Win (5thW): +25 PTS
Decision Win (DecW): +20 PTS
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Oh Captain, my Captain
Best Option: Alistair Overeem ($22)
It's difficult to know what to make of present-day Alistair Overeem. His defense-first style can be frustrating to watch, but he is really built to fight five rounds, patiently waiting until a hole reveals itself. The main thing that has me picking him here is that Augusto Sakai looked downright surprised by the speed of Blagoy Ivanov, and Overeem is more explosive and carries more firepower than the big Bulgarian. A common (and valid) concern one might have when analyzing Overeem is his chin, but the fact that he was able to survive an absolute onslaught from Walt Harris should at least be enough to let us know that he won't just opt-out at the first sign of trouble.
Alonzo Menifield vs. Ovince Saint Preux is a fight that was rebooked after OSP tested positive for COVID-19. The fact that it was put together again so quickly may give some pause as to whether it will happen, but since we've heard no talk to the contrary, let's get to analyzing. Whoever you like as the winner of this fight should get love in the captain's spot, as this bout seems incredibly likely to end in a finish. It's so hard to figure out where OSP's head is at these days. He is obviously athletic and powerful enough to beat anyone on a given night, but he sort of aimlessly wandered around the cage in his fight against Ben Rothwell, despite having nearly every imaginable advantage. The former title challenger hurt Rothwell whenever he decided to strike, but those moments came few and far between, which is how Rothwell ended up taking the decision. By contrast, Menifield showed he had about a round of good cardio in him during his fight with Devin Clark. Menifield is quick, explosive, and powerful. He also appears to have made great strides in his takedown defense game. So why, in another matchup filled with boobytraps, am I going with Menifield? OSP has shown us in the past that he really doesn't handle pressure well (think Rothwell and Jimi Manuwa fights), and while he could theoretically wrestle Menifeld's energy away, it's not often that he's an active pursuer of takedowns. The last time we saw him stick to an active wrestling game was against Nikita Krylov. This resulted in him gassing out and getting finished. This fight will be wild while it lasts, but I have to take the fighter who has at least shown some direction in the cage.
Viviane Araujo's hype train was delayed after a fairly surprising loss to Jessica Eye in December. While that might sour some on Araujo going forward, it's important to remember that the things that made her such a stand out in her first two UFC fights were still present in that bout. Namely, her movement, power, slick striking and wrestling were all on display. So, what happened? It looked to me that the physicality and strength of Eye worked to stifle Araujo's game down the stretch, as she was able to make the fight dirty enough to mute the Brazilian's offense. Montana De La Rosa is a slick grappler who will bring the same kind of in-your-face pressure, but the strength and physicality simply will not be on the same level. I expect Araujo to overwhelm her opponent, as I don't think she can be out-grappled, and Montana doesn't have anything resembling Eye's fundamental kickboxing game.
Best Option: Hunter Azure ($21)
There really isn't any mystery as to why Cole Smith took the first loss of his career against Miles Johns in his last fight, as Johns is a fellow wrestler who was strong enough to fend off the then-undefeated fighter's attacks. This is a similar (but worse) matchup for Smith, as Hunter Azure is a decorated and committed wrestler who showed some nice new wrinkles in his standup game before being surprised by a punch from Brian Kelleher in his last outing. I expect Smith to go for his takedowns early and often yet again, but I just don't see how he can be expected to win fights if he can't dominate the grappling. His inability to do that this time will likely mean eating some crisp shots to the body and head.
Truth be told, I probably won't pick Michel Pereira to win a fight at this level until he shows me a consistent striking game that can survive on something other than cartwheel kicks and flying knees. While he dominated Diego Sanchez prior to throwing a foolish illegal strike, it must be said that Diego really had nothing to threaten Pereira with, as he was much smaller and content to stay on the back foot. By contrast, Zelim Imadaev puts constant pressure on his opponents while bringing a solid kickboxing game. It may not be central to his game, but we have also seen that Imadaev will wrestle, which is something that really gave Pereira fits against Tristan Connelly. He may be flashy and exciting, but there is a reason Pereira came into the organization with 10 regional losses: he doesn't like pressure. Imadaev will put enough pressure on him to make him break while relying on solid, fundamental striking.
Brian Kelleher was scheduled to face Ricky Simon on Saturday, but a failed COVID-19 test led to Kevin Natividad taking the fight on short notice. Natividad is powerful with a well-rounded game but seems to be too willing to wait on his opponent. This is a bad game plan to use against Kelleher, who likes to dart in and out of the pocket while putting combinations together. Natividad may have a future in the Octagon, but I expect that he will simply be outworked by Kelleher here.
Best Option: Jalin Turner ($14)
I am racking my brain but can't quite figure out why oddsmakers thought Thiago Moises should be a significant favorite over Jalin Turner. Moises is a BJJ ace who can do a bit of everything in the cage, but we've already seen him out-grappled by Beneil Dariush and outstruck for a round by Michael Johnson before an emergency heel hook got him a victory. Turner should be able to pressure Moises and use his slick and fast kickboxing to pick him apart. It also must be stated that Turner is a BJJ brown belt, so we don't have to just assume the fight is over once it hits the mat.
Bartosz Fabinski vs. Andre Muniz is really just a question of who can implement their game first. Both men are fantastic grapplers, with Fabinski focusing on control, while Muniz is more of a submission threat. So, who gets the nod? I am betting that Fabinski won't simply be able to hold Muniz down when he gets takedowns, as Muniz will likely use his aggressive guard to threaten submissions and get back to his feet. Muniz is also the more athletic of the two and can fire heavy shots with a pressure kickboxing game. In a fight where both men have similar skill sets, it doesn't make much sense to me to have one as a sizable favorite over the other, which is why I opt for the value here.
It's not often you see a late replacement come in as a favorite, but that's exactly the case for Karoline Rosa as she steps in to face Sijara Eubanks . I like Rosa as a high volume, crisp boxer who can implement some wrestling as well, but I think Eubanks is the cleaner boxer of the two. She also carries more power and should be able to impose her game physically on the mat. The play is not without risk, as Rosa's high-pressure style can work to exhaust Eubanks, whom we have seen get tired in fights before, but I think "Sarge" has too many advantages here to be an underdog to a late-replacement fighter.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
This section was invented for fights like Marcos Rogerio de Lima ($16) vs. Alexander Romanov ($17), as this fight will likely finish, score highly, and it's incredibly difficult to determine who will win. Generally, it's hard for me to pick Rogerio de Lima against anyone with any kind of wrestling game whatsoever, as his bottom game has to be one of the worst in the sport. We have seen him rendered defenseless and basically quit when stuck underneath fighters in the past, including OSP, Stefan Struve, and Krylov. The problem is that Romanov's wrestling generally consists of him bull-rushing his opponent before getting them in a body lock and slamming them down, and we just saw Rogerio de Lima knock out a fighter who was too eager rushing in. In conclusion, I don't really know. I guess I'm forced to pick the guy with a working MMA game in Rogerio de Lima, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Romanov makes quick work of him after bringing him to the ground.