Note: Sunday's card is down to 11 events, as the co-main event between Uriah Hall and Vitor Belfort was scrapped after Hall failed to show up for weigh-ins. An earlier bout between Zack Cummings and Thiago Alves was cancelled as well after Cummings suffered a head injury.
A pair of up-and-coming featherweights headline Sunday's St. Louis card, which highlights a mix of long-time veterans and prospects with future title aspirations. With a nice contrast of big betting favorites and close fights, there are many strategical possibilities on DraftKings.
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.)
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
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 - Featherweight
Jeremy Stephens (26-14-10) v. Dooho Choi (14-2-0)
DK Salaries: Stephens ($7,700), Choi ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Stephens (+150), Choi (-170)
Odds to Finish: -265
Coming off his December 2016 war with Cub Swanson that was on the short list for Fight of the Year, Choi will have spent more than 13 months on the sidelines by the time he steps into the Octagon on Sunday night. The 26-year-old is young enough that the time away should impact him as much as it would an aging fighter, but the situation is worth keeping an eye on. A pure striker, Choi showed in the Swanson fight that he can take a beating as well as give it. His first three UFC contests all resulted in knockout wins so his power is evident. Choi is willing to get hit in order to land but that is a bad strategy against an opponent with the power of Stephens.
Stephens is also coming off a Fight of the Night effort in a win over Gilbert Melendez in September. It was a much needed victory on the heels of a two-fight losing streak. Stephens is stupidly tough and I imagine that he would be willing to stand and trade with Choi because he believes both his power and his durability will ultimately win out. He may very well be right, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to mix in a takedown attempt or two. Stephens is a decent wrestler and throwing a different wrinkle at the young Choi could be the difference in the fight.
This has all the makings of an explosive, highly entertaining fight. Choi should be in peak shape after his recovery time, and Stephens always brings the heat. My lone issue surrounding Choi is how much punishment he absorbs. If he gets hit by Stephens as often as he was hit by Swanson, he isn't going to survive. That makes Stephens the favorite in my eyes (despite what the Vegas odds say), but not by a whole heck of a lot. The aggressive style of both men means that whoever you think will win becomes an instant DraftKings option.
THE PICK: Stephens
Co-Main Event - Middleweight
Uriah Hall (14-8-0) v. Vitor Belfort (26-13-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Hall ($9,100), Belfort ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Hall (-245), Belfort (+205)
Odds to Finish: -400
On the verge of a fourth straight loss and an almost certain release, Hall rebounded to knockout Krzysztof Jotko in September. It saved his job and earned him a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus in the process. As crazy as it sounds, Hall is almost too nice of a guy. He has problems being aggressive when he fights and the end result is him losing far more often than a fighter with his physical capabilities should. Saturday will be Hall's 13th UFC fight and he is currently sporting a .500 record with the promotion. He will show flashes of brilliance at times but has trouble sustaining it.
Belfort talked about retiring leading up to his fight against Nate Marquardt in June, a fight which he won via unanimous decision. Vitor ultimately decided against hanging up his gloves and we are all worse off for it. Belfort, at age 40, isn't half the fighter that he used to be for a variety of reasons. The most obvious of which is simply aging. Outside of a short spurt to begin a fight, Belfort is unable to sustain the trademark explosiveness that made him one of the most dangerous fighters in the world for a long time.
If Belfort insists on continuing to fight, the UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby needs to be careful with his booking. Fights against over-the-hill guys like Marquardt or inconsistent guys like Hall are fine, but the days of Belfort competing against legitimate top-10 middleweights are long over. I'm picking Hall because a) the rules say I have to pick someone and b) because any one of those insane sudden strikes he throws could be the beginning of the end for Belfort, but I have very little confidence in either man.
THE PICK: Hall
Paige VanZant (7-3-0) v. Jessica-Rose Clark (8-4-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: VanZant ($8,000, Clark ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: VanZant (+110), Clark (-130)
Odds to Finish: +175
We'll start with PVZ, who is another fighter who will be looking at a year-plus on the sidelines heading into Sunday. VanZant was due to fight Jessica Eye earlier this year, but the fight fell through. Sporting a 4-2 record in the UFC, Paige's two losses have come against Michelle Waterson and current UFC Women's Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas. Somehow still just 23 years old, PVZ's biggest asset remains her gas tank. She can push the pace to an extreme level in a three-round fight and she seemingly never gets tired. That is often enough to win in fights with little separating the two combatants. Clark was impressive in her UFC debut, but she isn't Waterson or Namajunas and Paige's pace should overwhelm her.
Clark parlayed a late-notice UFC debut against Bec Rawlings in mid-November into both a split decision win and this fight against PVZ. Clark, who was never really on the UFC's radar despite a few performances in Invicta, likely got the Rawlings fight simply because she is Australian (the card was in Sydney) and the company wouldn't have been able to find a suitable replacement in time given the likely visa issues the situation presented. Clark deserves full credit for performing well -- she deserved to win -- but I saw nothing that led me to believe that she is a quality prospect.
VanZant's marketability is undeniable, but Clark is pretty marketable in her own right. The difference is that despite her struggles against top opponents, we have seen flashes of brilliance from her. I need to see more from Clark than a split decision win over Rawlings (who is closer to getting released than anything else) before I buy in. I do expect her to last the entire 15 minutes, but I don't think she wins.
THE PICK: VanZant
Kamaru Usman (11-1-0) v. Emil Meek (9-2-1, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Usman ($9,400), Meek ($6,800)
Vegas Odds: Usman (-570), Meek (+435)
Odds to Finish: -115
One of the hottest and most dynamic fighters in the sport today, Usman is deserving of a better opponent than Meek. That's no slight to the Norwegian, but Usman is that good. The Nigerian Nightmare is a perfect 6-0 in the UFC and looks continuously better each time out. A freak physical athlete that possesses a unique combination of power and speed, Usman has one of the highest ceilings in the division. Already 30 years of age, I don't see why the UFC isn't pushing the envelope with Usman. They have a potential top-five 170-pounder on their hands here.
It will be more than a year between fights for Meek by the time he steps into the Octagon for this one. He surprised many with a strong showing in a unanimous decision win over Jordan Mein in his UFC debut in December 2016. It was a nice effort, but not one that led me to believe that Meek was a star in the making. He is most comfortable when striking, but standing and trading with the powerful Usman is a recipe for disaster.
The one knock on Usman is that he has had trouble finishing fights. Of course, he knocked out Sergio Moraes in Round 1 in his most recent fight this past September. He ability to close distance quickly and make his opponents uncomfortable is frightening. Meek has enough ability that I wouldn't term him "roster depth", but I have been a strong advocate for Usman for quite a while and I'm not stopping now. I think he wins easily and makes for an imposing DraftKings option, even with the high salary. Fantasy owners will surely have to make sacrifices elsewhere in their lineups, but few picks are safer than Usman. Just look at the betting odds.
THE PICK: Usman
Darren Elkins (24-5-0) v. Michael Johnson (18-12-0)
DK Salaries: Elkins ($7,600), Johnson ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Elkins (+145), Johnson (-165)
Odds to Finish: +135
THE PICK: Elkins
James Krause (24-8-0) v. Alex White (12-3-0)
DK Salaries: Krause ($8,400), White ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Krause (-150), White (+130)
Odds to Finish: +120
THE PICK: Krause
Matt Frevola (6-0-0) v. Marco Polo Reyes (8-4-0)
DK Salaries: Frevola ($8,900), Reyes ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Frevola (-220), Reyes (+180)
Odds to Finish: -280
THE PICK: Frevola
Thiago Alves (26-11-0) v. Zak Cummings (21-5-0)
DK Salaries: Alves ($7,400), Cummings ($8,800)
Vegas Odds: Alves (+175), Cummings (-210)
Odds to Finish: +115
THE PICK: Cummings
Kalindra Faria (18-6-1) v. Jessica Eye (11-6-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Faria ($8,100), Eye ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Faria (-125), Eye (+105)
Odds to Finish: +165
THE PICK: Faria
Talita Bernardo (5-2-0) v. Irene Aldana (7-4-0)
DK Salaries: Bernardo ($7,200), Aldana ($9,000)
Vegas Odds: Bernardo (+180), Aldana (-220)
Odds to Finish: +145
THE PICK: Aldana
Danielle Taylor (9-2-0) v. JJ Aldrich (5-2-0)
DK Salaries: Taylor ($7,900), Aldrich ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Taylor (+115), Aldrich (-135)
Odds to Finish: +190
THE PICK: Aldrich
Mads Burnell (8-1-0) v. Mike Santiago (21-9-0)
DK Salaries: Burnell ($7,500), Santiago ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Burnell (+155), Santiago (-175)
Odds to Finish: -125
THE PICK: Santiago
Kyung Ho Kang (13-7-0, 1NC) v. Guido Cannetti (7-3-0)
DK Salaries: Kang ($9,200), Cannetti ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Kang (-290), Cannetti (+245)
Odds to Finish: -135
THE PICK: Kang
All odds taken from BestFightOdds.com on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 9.
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.