Hey fight fans, we’re back with the MMA DFS Playbook for UFC 214. The UFC sets up shop in Anaheim, California at the Honda Center for UFC 214: Cormier vs. Jones 2. The headlining fight is the extremely heated rematch between champion Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones. In the co-main event, Tyron Woodley defends his title against Demian Maia. A third title is up for grabs as Cris “Cyborg” Justino fights Tonya Evinger for the vacant women’s featherweight belt. Here’s my take on how the fights will go down, and who you should be targeting in DFS.
Main Card (PPV)
Jon Jones ($8,900) vs. Daniel Cormier ($7,300)
I had just finished typing the final word for my breakdown of the rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 when my phone rang. My buddy was on the other line, explaining to me that I should check Twitter, that Ariel Helwani had tweeted that Jon Jones was pulled from the card for a flagged USADA test. Fast forward almost a year to the date later, and here we are again for a breakdown of the biggest MMA bout of the year so far.
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Jon Jones last appeared at UFC 197, winning a unanimous decision over Ovince St. Preux, and has been inactive since due to the USADA infraction. That fight has been the only appearance for Jones in 2 and a half years, dating back to his decision win over Cormier in their first encounter in January 2015. He’s won an incredible 13 bouts in a row, and would be undefeated if not for the fluke loss to Matt Hamill in 2009. Since the loss to Jones, Cormier has won 4 in a row, including his latest bout, his second submission win over Anthony Johnson. The Jones loss is Cormier’s lone blemish on his record, so this bout is an immensely important one for both men.
Jones looked rusty in his win over St. Preux, as the long layoff between that bout and the first meeting with Cormier surely affected him. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we saw Jones labor through this bout as well, due to another lengthy layoff. This bout could be a carbon copy of the first, much to the fans’ dismay. Both men are incredibly skilled in the grappling department, but despite Cormier’s long list of credentials, I think Jones will still have the advantage there. In my opinion, Cormier must get Jones to the mat to even have a chance in this one. That becomes problematic from the jump, as Cormier was thoroughly out-grappled in the first fight. Jones owns a 94.6% takedown defense rate in his UFC career, and held Cormier to just 1 takedown in 8 attempts. Meanwhile, Jones landed 3 takedowns of his own in 5 attempts I think that leads to most this bout being a striking affair, favoring Jones. Jones out struck the light heavyweight champ by a wide margin, landing 51% of his blows compared to 35% for Cormier.
The hatred between these guys is legitimate, and that could lead to a wild fight. I’m hoping it is more exciting than the first, but regardless, I see the same result. Jones is still the king at 205 lbs., and he should capture his belt back. He looks absolutely jacked, and focused on winning this bout. I’m taking Jones to win by unanimous decision, and I fully expect him to dominate every round.
Tyron Woodley ($8,700) vs. Demian Maia ($7,500)
Demian Maia has waited over 7 years for another crack at UFC gold, and he finally gets his opportunity against welterweight champ Tyron Woodley. Woodley will attempt to defend his title for the second time, and a win for either man sets up a potential bout with a returning Georges St. Pierre. This is a bout that should be an interesting chess match.
Woodley managed to keep his title that he took from Robbie Lawler despite 2 absolutely bizarre matches with Stephen Thompson. Woodley looked almost mesmerized by Thompson in both bouts, yet managed to do just enough to retain his title both times according to the judges at cage side. Maia has slowly but surely made his way back into the title picture after winning 7 bouts in a row following a 2-fight skid between 2013 and 2014. He looked dominant in his wins over Neil Magny, Matt Brown, and Carlos Condit, defeating all 3 opponents by rear-naked choke. That earned him a number 1 contender bout with Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211, which Maia won by the narrowest of margins, again relying on his heavy jiu-jitsu game to just eke out a win.
This bout will certainly be interesting, and I can’t wait to see who will be able to enforce their game plan successfully. Maia surely needs to be able to get Woodley to the mat to make this competitive. Maia’s back control has been beyond dominant, and if he can manage to lock Woodley up, he could submit the champion. Getting the champ to the floor is going to be a tall order, as Woodley owns a 91% takedown defense rate in the UFC, and is an imposing wrestler himself. He also possesses devastating power in his hands, and Maia will need to be wary. As big of a Maia fan as I am, I can’t help but think he’s in trouble here. He struggled to get Masvidal down at times in his last bout, and Woodley will be much tougher to take down. If they stalemate grappling, then Woodley will own this bout on the feet. I believe that happens. Woodley dodges enough takedown attempts and eventually floors Maia with a brutal KO blow. The pick is Woodley by stoppage late in the fight.
Cris Cyborg ($9,600) vs. Tonya Evinger ($6,600)
Cyborg will finally get her chance to claim a UFC title as she takes on a debuting Tonya Evinger, who replaced original opponent Megan Anderson. Evinger makes her debut after a successful run in Invicta, where she was the bantamweight champion prior to the move to the UFC. She’ll move up 10 lbs. to take on the women’s pound-for-pound best fighter in Cyborg. The vacant featherweight strap is on the line, as ex-champion Germaine de Randamie refused to fight Cyborg, prompting the UFC to strip her of the title.
Evinger will be a game opponent to a degree. She has not tasted defeat since 2011, going 10-0 with 1 no contest since her last loss. Despite her being a willing and capable fighter, she’s up against huge odds here. Cyborg has been on another level since her rise to prominence in Strikeforce, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. As much as I’d like to see Evinger provide a tough test for Cyborg, I don’t see it happening. I was intrigued by the Megan Anderson match-up and I hope that bout comes to fruition at some point. Props to Evinger for stepping up, but she’s in real trouble. The pick is Cyborg by KO early in the first round.
Robbie Lawler ($8,500) vs. Donald Cerrone ($7,700)
After twice failing to make this match-up materialize, we finally get a potential fight of the year when Robbie Lawler fights Donald Cerrone. As far as fan-friendly stylistic match-ups go, they don’t get much better than this. We last saw Lawler when he lost his belt to Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 a year ago. He has wisely taken his health into account following the devastating KO loss, putting off the original bout targeted for UFC 205 in November. Cerrone last appeared in January when his momentum was brutally halted by Jorge Masvidal, losing by TKO. Cerrone appeared to be on the fast-track to a welterweight title shot, but will now need a win over Lawler just to remain a fixture in the top 10.
This bout has the potential to be spectacular, and I just hope that it can deliver on the hype. Both men are devastating strikers in their own ways, and that should lead to a fight that every fan can appreciate. Cerrone will use many more kicks than Lawler, who will rely on his power punching advantage. Cerrone lands significant strikes at a 47% clip, while Lawler checks in at 44%. This one could go either way, but for a few reasons, I feel like Lawler gets his hand raised at the end of this one.
As I stated earlier, Lawler did the right thing in letting his brain heal up following such a brutal KO loss. Cerrone is making a much shorter turn around, appearing just 6 months after his own devastating KO loss. Lawler has always been able to take a fair amount of punishment, and being the fresher fighter will be a huge advantage. Also working in Lawler’s favor, is the manner in which he operates in the cage. He’s extremely aggressive, and puts it on his opponents from bell to bell. That kind of opponent has always given Cerrone issues, including his latest in Masvidal. In my opinion, Lawler is a better version of Masvidal, with much more power in his punches. If he stalks Cerrone, it will be over sooner rather than later. After some wild exchanges, Lawler’s power overwhelms Cerrone, leading to a stoppage victory. The pick is Lawler by KO in the 2nd round.
Jimi Manuwa ($8,800) vs. Volkan Oezdemir ($7,700)
Opening the main card is a compelling light heavyweight showdown between surging contenders Jimi Manuwa and Volkan Oezdemir. Since losing to Anthony Johnson by KO, Manuwa has rattled off 2 impressive knockouts of his own over Ovince St. Preux and Corey Anderson. Manuwa is in the thick of the light heavyweight title picture, with dominating wins, but has failed to deliver in his most important fights. Oezdemir has quickly jettisoned up the 205 lb. ranks, as he defeated Ovince St. Preux in his UFC debut on short notice, and most recently with a brutal knockout of Misha Cirkunov in just 28 seconds. Oezdemir currently sits at #4 in the light heavyweight rankings, and an impressive win over Manuwa could have him on the fast track to a title shot.
I think this is going to be a tough fight for both men. Manuwa and Oezdemir are similar fighters in that they obviously prefer to strike, so this one should be fairly exciting. I expect this bout to be a closely contended one, with both men having their moments. Manuwa has landed significant strikes at a higher rate than Oezdemir to this point in their UFC careers, owning a 59% success rate compared to 46%. Oezdemir will also have to contend with Manuwa’s reach, with the brit owning a 79” to 75” advantage. For Oezdemir to won this bout, he’ll need to make the bout a dirty one. Manuwa is the cleaner striker, and to stand on the outside trading shots wouldn’t be wise. Oezdemir could hold his own, but over 15 minutes, Manuwa would more than likely emerge victorious. I see Oezdemir clinching with Manuwa and trying to dirty box with him, nullifying the reach disadvantage. It won’t be pretty but I think Oezdemir keeps the magic rolling and wins a close, contentious split decision.
Preliminary Card (FXX)
Jason Knight ($8,100) vs. Ricardo Lamas ($8,100)
The featured preliminary bout on FXX is a good one, with Jason Knight fighting Ricardo Lamas at featherweight. Knight has been on a run since dropping his debut with the promotion to the always tough Tatsuya Kawajiri. He’s really been able to showcase his ever-evolving skill set in his last 2 victories, stoppage wins over Alex Caceres and Chas Skelly. He earned Performance of the Night honors in both of those wins, and has positioned himself for big fights from here on out. I picked against Knight in the bout against Skelly, as I thought he was being brought along rather quick, and wasn’t ready for the jump in competition. The manner in which he dispatched of Skelly, who was ranked in the top 10 and always a tough competitor, erased any of those doubts I had about him. Lamas will represent by far the toughest test to date, as he owns an 8-3 record inside the UFC, and has only lost to the truly elite of the division. Lamas has an incredibly rough top game, and will hunt for submissions. Knight will have to be wary of the takedown, as Lamas would love to make this a grueling fight on the mat.
This is a tough fight to call. As with the Manuwa-Oezdemir fight, this is an incredibly competitive fight on paper. The “Bully” will try to bully Knight to the floor with takedowns, to slow him down and win the fight in a grinding fashion. Knight is a capable submission artist, and owns a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, so he won’t be lost if he’s planted on his back. With a takedown defense rate of 54%, Knight should be able to stuff the shot from Lamas, and keep the fight standing, which I think is in his best interest. I’m taking Knight to win and keep the momentum going forward. Lamas is a great fighter, but his skill set relies on his ability to force his opponents to the mat. Knight is too good to be continually brought there, and should have his way with Lamas on the feet with his creative striking game. It won’t be easy, but the pick is Knight by unanimous decision, as he’ll land the cleaner, more damaging significant strikes.
Aljamain Sterling ($8,400) Renan Barao ($7,800)
Aljamain Sterling looks to pick up the biggest win of his career when he faces former bantamweight champion Renan Barao at a 140 lb. catchweight bout. The California State Athletic Commission would not license Barao to fight at bantamweight due to past weight cutting issues, so a catchweight was agreed to instead of scrapping the fight. Sterling last appeared in the cage in April, getting back into the win column after dropping 2 straight controversial split decisions to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao. After going 1-1 at featherweight, Barao has his sights set on the bantamweight division again, and should be granted a license to fight at the weight class should he make the 140-lb. limit without issue. He dropped his featherweight debut to Jeremy Stephens before rebounding against Phillipe Nover.
This is a bout that both competitors desperately need to win if they want to make headway in the bantamweight division. Sterling’s split-decision losses have slowed an otherwise impressive start to his UFC career. Barao was once the king of the division, but is now just fighting to stay relevant on the roster. Sterling will likely try to employ his unorthodox style of wrestling to control Barao on the mat, which will be no easy task, as Barao is a jiu-jitsu wizard. A 39% takedown success rate also isn’t going to get the job done, as Barao owns an incredible 97% takedown defense rate. Both men have capable striking, and it should be close if it stays on the feet. This is a tough one to call, but I’m going to go with Barao’s big fight experience to give him a slight edge. Barao has beaten many fighters better than Sterling currently is, and while I don’t expect him to be making a title run any time soon, he should have enough left in the tank to get the job done in this one. It’s going to be close but the nod goes to Barao by close decision, possibly split.
Renato Moicano ($8,200) vs. Brian Ortega ($8,000)
Buried behind more high-profile matches is this little gem of a fight at featherweight between Renato Moicano and Brian Ortega. Moicano is a perfect 3-0 to start his UFC career, but has yet to really impress, earning his last 2 victories by split-decision. Ortega is also 3-0 to start his UFC tenure, but with 1 no contest after his victory in his debut was overturned after a drug test failure. Moicano is another Brazilian who excels at jiu-jitsu, and has 5 submission wins in 11 total wins. Ortega is also highly successful in the jiu-jitsu game, but has also shown a developing striking game that will come in handy in this bout.
I’m surprised this bout is so evenly priced on Draftkings, as I think Ortega should be a favorite in this one. Moicano obviously possesses a dangerous grappling game, and Ortega will undoubtedly have to contend with that. However, Moicano will have more things to contend with. Ortega is just as skilled in the grappling department, but is evolving his striking game into something dangerous. He’s a fighter who is going to come forward and put it on you, forcing to win a fight with the opponent in your face. Moicano is not that type of fighter. He prefers to stand on the outside and soften up an opponent to take them down. Ortega isn’t going to fight passively enough for that opportunity to arise for Moicano. Ortega will pressure Moicano from the opening bell, wearing him down with significant strikes, before finally mercifully ending the night with a TKO victory. The pick is Ortega by TKO in the 2nd round.
Andre Fili ($9,200) vs. Calvin Kattar ($7,000)
Originally scheduled to fight Doo Ho Choi, Fili will now fight Calvin Kattar who replaces the injured “Korean Superboy.” Fili is 4-3 inside the UFC, which isn’t super impressive, however he has been fighting some of the very best fighters at featherweight since his debut with the promotion. Aside from a bad loss to Godofredo Pepey, losses to Yair Rodriguez and champion Max Holloway are the only blemishes on an otherwise promising UFC career. Training out of Team Alpha Male, he’ll undoubtedly mature into a better fighter with each outing. Kattar makes his debut sporting an impressive 16-2 record on the regional circuit, and will have to adjust to life in the UFC quickly with a tough match to open his career with the world’s biggest promotion.
First fight jitters are real in the UFC, and we’ve seen it time and again. Without a doubt, Kattar is going to have to fight back nerves in addition to fighting a tough kid in Fili. Beating Fili would already be a tough enough task, but to have to do it in your debut, and on somewhat short notice is going to be tough sledding. Until we’ve seen anything out of Kattar, it’s hard for me to pick against the vet, especially one as talented as Fili. The pick is Fili by unanimous decision.
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
Alexandra Albu ($8,300) vs. Kailin Curran ($7,900)
A women’s strawweight bout headlines the UFC Fight Pass portion of the card, as Alexandra Albu takes on Kailin Curran. Albu makes her return to the UFC after just over 2 years away, and looks to build upon her last impressive victory over Izabela Badurek at UFC Fight Night 64 in April 2015. Curran will attempt to keep her spot on the roster, as it’s desperation mode for the Hawaiian. She’s started her UFC career at 1-4, and will likely be shown the door if she can’t get back into the win column.
This is a tough fight to break down, as both fighters remain a relative mystery. Albu looked solid in her only UFC bout, but 2 years away from the cage will make this harder than a normal bout for her. As for Curran, she’s hardly looked UFC-caliber to this point, but since she’s training with Team Reign, she is going to get better every day. I’m just not sure she’s good enough yet to beat Albu. Curran hasn’t shown the ability to avoid submissions effectively, especially the armbar, so Albu could have an advantage there. I’m going to take Albu by submission here, but my best advice is to avoid the contest all together.
Jarred Brooks ($8,600) vs. Eric Shelton ($7,600)
After having his UFC debut canceled on the day it was to take place, Jarred Brooks finally gets to fight, opposing Eric Shelton in a flyweight bout. “Uncle Creepy” Ian McCall was forced to withdraw from the ill-fated contest with Brooks after experiencing symptoms of a gastrointestinal illness. Shelton will be making his second trip into The Octagon after he was defeated in his debut by Alexandre Pantoja.
Brooks is an exciting young prospect with an undefeated record of 12-0, and will look to showcase his skill set against the outmatched Shelton. Shelton doesn’t look ready for the big show at this point in his career, and was unimpressive in the loss to Pantoja. I think Brooks would dismantle Pantoja if they fought today, so Shelton looks outmatched. I think he will be. Brooks cruises to a clear-cut unanimous decision.
Drew Dober ($9,000) vs. Josh Burkman ($7,200)
Josh Burkman looks to quiet calls for retirement, hoping to get back on track against Drew Dober to open the UFC Fight Pass card. Since his return to the UFC in January 2015, Burkman has lost 5 of his last 6 bouts, and it would have been 6 of 7 if not for Hector Lombard flunking a post-fight drug test. With a record of 3-4 inside the UFC, Dober also needs a victory in the worst way here, or he could be shown the door himself.
I think this is the end for Burkman. While he was once a very talented fighter, father time has caught up with him, as it does for every fighter. He’s being dominated by guys who aren’t the cream of the crop, and he’s essentially just collecting a paycheck at this rate. Dober hasn’t exactly taken the UFC by storm since his debut in 2013, but he’s still capable enough to pick up a victory here and there in the promotion. He had an impressive KO victory over Jason Gonzalez back in September, and has shown he can hang with average UFC caliber fighters. He should work Burkman, beating him up for 3 rounds en route to a unanimous decision win.