MMA DFS Playbook – UFC 197

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I welcome you back fight fans! It’s been a few weeks since my last playbook, but we’re back with a big event. UFC 197 hits Las Vegas with the return of pound-for-pound king Jon Jones, who takes on Ovince Saint Preux in the main event. Demetrious Johnson defends his title against Henry Cejudo in the co-main event. Yes, believe it or not with all of the Conor McGregor madness going on, there is in fact a fight card this weekend. The usual notes apply as always. Values are for Draftkings, and pay attention to the weigh-ins for any mishaps and cancellations.

 

Will Jon Jones make a statement in his first fight back with the UFC?

Will Jon Jones have a successful return to The Octagon?

Jon Jones ($11,400) vs. Ovince Saint Preux ($8,000)

Bones is back! The king of the light heavyweight division returns for the first time since January 2015, when he faces short-notice replacement Ovince Saint Preux for the interim title. Jones was slated to fight rival Daniel Cormier before he was forced to bow out with a foot injury. After Anthony Johnson turned the fight with Jones down due to oral surgery, “OSP” jumped at the chance to take on the pound-for-pound king. Good on him for taking a shot, but he’s going to be in for a long night. OSP is a skilled fighter, an extremely gifted athlete, and has fought some of the best fighters in the 205 lb. division. All that being said, Jon Jones is arguably the best fighter in MMA history, and has fought much better fighters than OSP, dominating just about every one of them. OSP has looked unbelievably good at times, especially in his bouts with Shogun Rua and Patrick Cummins, winning both fights by knockout. He’s also dominated fighters such as Ryan Jimmo, Nikita Krylov, and Cody Donovan. On the flip side, he was dominated in high profile bouts against Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira. He’s set a trend of beating fighters he’s supposed to beat, and losing to guys that could put him over the top. Jones is the better boxer, the better wrestler, and has the better jiu-jitsu. He will absolutely win this fight, most likely in dominant fashion, and early. After 3 straight decisions over the elite of the division, Bones will nab a victory in the 2nd round by submission, setting up a unification bout with Cormier later this year, likely in New York City.

 

Demetrious Johnson ($11,000) vs. Henry Cejudo ($8,400)

The flyweight belt is on the line when Demetrious Johnson defends his title against Henry Cejudo in the co-main event of the night. “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is the first and only flyweight champion in the promotion’s history, and has been nothing short of dominant since claiming the title. Cejudo, an Olympic gold medal winner in wrestling, comes into this fight undefeated, including a 4-0 record in the UFC. This is the first flyweight fight in over 2 years that excites me at all. Mighty Mouse has destroyed every fighter he’s crossed paths with at 125 lbs. since he captured the belt at UFC 152. The only fight that has been close was that exact fight against Joe Benavidez, who he knocked out in a rematch. Cejudo had a rocky start to his UFC tenure, when he experienced a weight cutting issue before his first fight, and was forced to move up a division by Dana White. After one fight at bantamweight, he returned to flyweight and has won 3 straight bouts. Vegas believes Cejudo (+350) has no shot at winning this fight but I disagree heavily. This fight is going to be decided by Johnson’s speed as well as his boxing, or Cejudo’s elite wrestling. If Johnson can avoid the takedown’s of Cejudo, he should be able to pick him apart on the feet. That’s a big if for me. If Cejudo is able to land those takedowns, he’s big and strong enough to stay on top of Johnson to control him and land some ground and pound. It’s risky to pick against a guy who has dominated for so long, but I’m calling the upset. I think Cejudo puts on a clinic on the mat, and rides his elite wrestling to a close decision, possibly split, ending Johnson’s reign of domination. At $8,400, picking Cejudo helps lineup construction with many heavy favorites on the card.

 

Anthony Pettis ($10,600) vs. Edson Barboza ($8,800)

Is this a fun fight, or what? As far as stylistic match-ups go, I can’t think of a more exciting fight. Both guys are top-notch lightweights, and have some of the best muay-thai in the sport. This is a must win for both fighters, and a loss would be devastating for both, especially for Pettis. After losing his belt to Rafael Dos Anjos, “Showtime” dropped his second bout in a row when he lost a close decision to Eddie Alvarez. Barboza dropped his last fight against Tony Ferguson in a fight that had me out of my seat. I would imagine that this fight is going to have moments where I’m jumping out of my seat again. Both men are flashy, technical, and creative strikers. Pettis may be the cleaner, more technical striker, but Barboza has the obvious power advantage. I feel like Pettis will be the fighter under the most pressure, having been champion not too long ago, while Barboza will be fighting with not much to lose as the underdog. It’s incredibly hard to pick a winner in this fight. To make my pick, I’m going back to the Barboza/Cerrone fight from 2014. Cerrone landed a clean jab that stunned and floored Barboza, allowing “Cowboy” to grab a submission before Barboza could come back to his senses. A similar scenario could play out in this bout, as Cerrone and Pettis employ similar styles. I see Pettis catching Barboza with a crisp combination, following up with a submission to end it in the 2nd frame.

 

Robert Whittaker ($10,700) vs. Rafael Natal ($8,700)

In a middleweight bout, rising star Robert Whittaker takes on the Brazilian veteran Rafael Natal. This is a high stakes fight for both fighters, as they bring identical 4-fight win streaks into the bout. Whittaker has been impressive lately, winning his last 2 fights over stiff competition. He defeated Uriah Hall in his last fight by decision, and knocked out Brad Tavares in 44 seconds before that. Natal also defeated Hall, and most recently defeated fellow submission ace Kevin Casey by TKO. This fight is going to be decided by Whittaker. He has the obvious advantage in the stand-up game, and should be able to impose his will if it stays on the feet. It’s no secret that Natal is going to try to drag Whittaker to the mat, where he can try to submit him. Seeing the progression of Whittaker’s skills over the last 2 years, I know that he’ll be prepared to stop the takedowns and trips that Natal is going to try to employ. Whittaker stops the ground game of Natal, and cruises to a clear-cut decision win with his striking.

 

Yair Rodriguez ($10,500) vs. Andre Fili ($8,900)

This is a nice match-up to open the main card. Young prospects Rodriguez and Fili should give us a show to get us ready for the big fights with an exciting bout of their own. Rodriguez is the favorite, having won his first 3 fights in the UFC, while the underdog Fili has alternated wins and losses in his 5 fights with the promotion. Rodriguez has looked really exciting so far, showcasing some interesting striking skills. Team Alpha Male’s Fili hasn’t been able to put it all together yet in his tenure with the big show, looking very good in his wins, while showing some obvious holes in his losses. Fili will be the biggest test Rodriguez has faced thus far, and it isn’t even close, as the promotion has chosen to develop him slowly, and rightfully so. In what should be a closely contested contest, I see Rodriguez winning a razor-thin decision over Fili, with the majority of the fight taking place on the feet. For tournaments, Fili is a solid contrarian option at his price in a very even match-up.

 

Sergio Pettis ($10,100) vs. Chris Kelades ($9,300)

Showtime’s little brother Sergio closes out the preliminaries in his bout against Chris Kelades. While not as flashy as Anthony, Sergio definitely possesses a lot of skill that if refined, could propel him into the upper echelon of the division. Kelades needs a win here badly. He’s already 35 years old with only 3 fights in the promotion, so the time to make a run is now. Other than his TKO loss to Ryan Benoit in early 2015, Pettis has been turning in some impressive performances, especially in his latest win over title challenger Chris Cariaso. Kelades has looked good as well, just not against elite competition. I think Pettis is just too skilled for Kelades to beat at this point in his career. The pick is Pettis by decision.

 

Carla Esparza ($10,200) vs. Juliana Lima ($9,200)

“Cookie Monster” Carla Esparza finally makes her return, as she fills in on short notice against Julianna Lima. Esparza last saw action in March 2015 when she lost her title to current strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk in brutal fashion. After the loss, she underwent surgery to repair a shoulder injury, and is now finally healthy enough to make a run at the title again. Lima comes into the bout riding a 2-fight win streak after also losing to the current champ. If Esparza is 100% healthy, and I assume she is if she’s taking this fight on short notice, then she should have no problem dispatching Lima. Look for the elite level wrestling of Esparza to decide this one. The pick is Esparza by unanimous decision after 3 dominant rounds of ground work.

 

Kevin Lee ($10,300) vs. Efrain Escudero ($9,100)

Kicking things off on UFC Fight Pass is a lightweight bout between Kevin Lee and The Ultimate Fighter season 8 winner, Efrain Escudero. Lee enters the bout coming off of a loss, after winning an impressive 4 fights in a row. Escudero is in the midst of his 3rd stint with the UFC, and enters the bout also off of a loss. Lee has looked extremely good before his loss, and is facing a tough test in Escudero. Escudero is a decent fighter, but isn’t going to wow anyone at this point in his career. At only 23 years old, Lee is on the fast track to stardom, and has the skills to do accomplish it. He’s incredibly athletic, and should be able to outmatch Escudero pretty easily. Look for Lee to use a speed advantage in his favor, catching Escudero relatively quick in the fight with his striking. The pick is Lee by TKO in the 2nd round.

 

My Tournament Lineup:

 

Jones ($11,400)

 

Cejudo ($8,400)

 

Anthony Pettis ($10,600)

 

Fili ($8,900)

 

Lee ($10,300)

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