Fight fans, welcome back once again to the MMA DFS Playbook. We’re here for another night of fights, with UFC 215: Nunes vs. Shevchenko 2 going down in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After a cancelation of the original main event between Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg, the women’s bantamweight title showdown will headline the card with Amanda Nunes defending her belt against Valentina Shevchenko. We went 6-2 overall last week with the UFC Fight Night 115 results, and I believe we can do even better this week. Here are my takes on the fights, and who I think you should target for DFS.
Main Card (Pay-Per-View)
Amanda Nunes ($8,100) vs. Valentina Shevchenko ($8,100)
Amanda Nunes looks to go 2-0 against Valentina Shevchenko when she defends her women’s bantamweight title in a highly-anticipated rematch. Since a loss to Cat Zingano in 2014, Nunes has been nothing short of dominant, winning 5 straight fights, and finishing every opponent not named Shevchenko. She defeated Miesha Tate in the main event of UFC 200 to capture the title, and then defended it against Ronda Rousey with a 48 second TKO. Shevchenko earned a rematch with dominant victories over tough competition in Holly Holm and Julianna Pena.
Nunes will likely stick to what got her here. She’s got lightning quick hands, and unreal punching power for the weight class. Her top game is excellent as well, as she displayed in the first fight with Shevchenko. In round 2 she nearly finished Shevchenko with brutal ground and pound, as well as a neck crank. It was a dominant round, and I had her winning that one 10-8.
Shevchenko has looked incredible since the loss to Nunes. She surprisingly out-struck Holm for 5 rounds en route to a lopsided victory on the scorecards. Then in January she defeated Pena via submission, despite being viewed by many as the inferior fighter on the mat. Nunes will need to be sharp defensively, as Shevchenko has some of the best counter strikes I’ve ever seen. She looks to have improved immensely since the loss to Nunes, and this bout should be a good one.
This is a competitive match-up, and I feel like both fighters are the class of the division. For the fight itself, I believe we are going to see a new champion crowned. My biggest takeaway from the first fight was that Nunes looked dominant in the first 2 rounds, but would have lost if it were a 5-round bout. She gassed badly in the 3rd round, almost leading to her demise. With 2 more rounds, I believe we may have had a different winner. I think Part 2 could start off a lot like the first fight, with Nunes landing harder punches, and possibly winning the first 2 rounds. We’ve seen her gas tank become an issue in a few fights, and in this one I think it’s her downfall. Shevchenko rallies in the later rounds to steal a victory with a late stoppage. The pick is Shevchenko by TKO.
Rafael Dos Anjos ($8,600) vs. Neil Magny ($7,600)
With the cancelation of the original main event, the new co-main event becomes Rafael Dos Anjos against Neil Magny. This will be the second fight at welterweight for Dos Anjos, who held the belt at lightweight. After dropping his title to Eddie Alvarez, Dos Anjos lost for the second time in a row against Tony Ferguson, prompting a division change. Since opening his UFC career with 2 losses in 3 fights, Neil Magny has become a stalwart in the 170-lb. weight class, winning 11 of his last 13. He’s beaten quality opponents in Johny Hendricks, Hector Lombard, and Kelvin Gastellum. He’ll face a stern test against Dos Anjos, and this should provide us with some clarity on his standing in the rankings.
I think for Dos Anjos to win this bout, he needs to do the same things that has made him successful to this point in his career. Dos Anjos has great power in his striking, and throws at a high volume. He also has a powerful shot, and superb jiu-jitsu. He needs to put the pressure on Magny, and somehow get inside on the lankier fighter. Magny will need to use his length to land his offense, as well as defend against the attacks from Dos Anjos. He’s 7 inches taller than the Brazilian, and owns a 10” reach advantage. If he’s able to use those perceived advantages, he’s got a real chance to spring the upset. Magny needs to keep Dos Anjos at bay with a long, strong jab, negating the bursts of offense coming from the smaller fighter. With a takedown defense rate at 59% he’s capable of staying off his back as well, where he’d risk being submitted. I think Magny gets it done and outpoints Dos Anjos with a smart, calculated approach. The pick is Magny by decision.
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Henry Cejudo ($9,100) vs. Wilson Reis ($7,100)
This is an intriguing match-up that few people are talking about, but has the potential to be a compelling fight. Top 5 flyweights Henry Cejudo (#2) and Wilson Reis (#5) are each looking for a win to stay competitive in a division dominated by the sport’s pound-for-pound best. Cejudo is on a 2-fight skid, losing a contentious split-decision to Joseph Benavidez following his crushing loss to champion Demetrious Johnson in April 2016. Reis is also competing on the heels of a loss, also to Johnson just 5 months ago. Both men were finished by Johnson, and neither really threatened the champ in any measure.
This is a fight with a great amount of meaning for both fighters, as a win puts them right back into the title picture, whereas a loss has potentially dire consequences for their career. The division is shallow enough to where I believe a loss doesn’t necessarily mean losing their job with the UFC, but a title shot is surely a long way away. Both guys bring intriguing skill sets into this bout, and I’m interested to see what approach they take. Cejudo is obviously an elite wrestler, winning a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics, and can dominate a fight using nothing else. He doesn’t have great striking, but defends strikes at a high rate (71%). He also uses his wrestling defensively, as his takedown defense rate sits at a whopping 100%. Reis may not have the wrestling chops, but he’s a solid jiu-jitsu player, and a fairly competent striker. He doesn’t land his strikes at a high accuracy, but he uses them to open his opponent up to be taken down. That’s a problem against Cejudo. He’ll need to be far more accurate against Cejudo, and win the striking battle, because chances are slim that he’ll be able to take him down. I think Cejudo controls this one with his wrestling, and grinds Reis out for 3 rounds on the mat. I’m taking Cejudo by unanimous decision, and it may be lopsided.
Ilir Latifi ($8,500) vs. Tyson Pedro (7,700)
Ilir Latifi represents a big step up in competition for Tyson Pedro, but one that is well deserved, and this should be a fun fight while it lasts. Latifi has been a must watch since his debut against Gegard Mousasi in 2013. Since the valiant defeat, he’s gone 5-2 and provided some fan-friendly performances in the process. He’s a finisher, and should give Pedro all he can handle. Pedro has just 6 bouts to his name, but has been impressive in each one. He’s won all 6, and none have even reached the second round. 2 big finishes in the UFC highlight his resume, and a win here could skyrocket his reputation with MMA fans.
Latifi is an absolute wrecking ball, and packs some truly terrifying punching power. He’s short for the division, standing just 5’10”, but what he lacks in height he makes up for in his physique. He’s stocky and has a good center of gravity, which he uses well in the striking game. He can end a fight in seconds, as evidenced by his KO victories over Hans Stringer and Sean O’Connell. Stringer lasted 56 seconds, while O’Connell was slept in 30 seconds. Pedro will have the height and reach advantage, standing 6’3” with a reach of 79”. He combines a solid boxing game with excellent offensive jiu-jitsu. In his 2 UFC bouts, he’s landed his strikes at a clip of 64%, and completed both takedowns attempted. I think for Pedro to have a good shot here, he needs to pressure Latifi from the jump. He can’t let Latifi settle in and throw bombs. Even then, he’s got a monster to deal with, and I’m just not sure he’s got the experience yet to be successful against an opponent like “The Sledgehammer.” It’ll be wild for a short time, but I think Latifi walks away a winner quick. I’m taking Latifi to win with a big KO.
Jeremy Stephens ($8,200) vs. Gilbert Melendez ($8,000)
Smart bout placement here for the UFC, as they look to open the pay-per-view portion of the card with a bang. Knockout specialist Jeremy Stephens welcomes former Strikeforce lightweight champion and one-time UFC lightweight title challenger Gilbert Melendez to featherweight in a match-up that has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. This is another bout that has big stakes, as both fighters desperately need a win to reverse losing streaks. Stephens has lost 5 of his last 7 bouts, including 2 in a row, while Melendez joins the featherweight ranks on the heels of a 3-fight losing streak. Since joining the UFC, Melendez is just 1-4, a far cry from his days of dominating in Strikeforce. With both men on the other side of 30 years old, there isn’t much time left to make a run at the belt, making this bout crucial.
This fight absolutely has the potential to become a candidate for “Fight of the Year,” and I think it will live up to that billing. As mentioned, both guys don’t have a clear path to the title any time soon, and have probably seen their days of being in the elite come to pass. With that kind of pressure relieved, I believe they’ll both go out there and leave everything in the cage. Stephens and Melendez have combined for 27 knockouts, so you can imagine what we may see here. Despite the aggressive approaches, neither man has been susceptible to the knockout themselves, with only Stephens ever being KO’d just once. From the opening bell, I expect this one to wow us, with both guys taking the center of the cage looking to do damage. I don’t expect many takedowns, if any, so whoever gets the better of the striking exchanges should leave the victor. I expect Melendez to win the slugfest, as I think he’ll have tighter combinations, beating Stephens to the punch. Stephens has the tendency to get wild, throwing looping punches. If Melendez times them well enough, he should counter effectively. The pick is Melendez with a razor-thin decision win.
Preliminary Card (FS1)
Sara McMann ($8,900) vs. Ketlen Vieira ($7,300)
#6 bantamweight Sara McMann looks to keep the momentum rolling against #13 Ketlen Vieira in the featured preliminary bout of the evening. Since opening her promising UFC career at a disappointing 2-3, McMann has found her footing, winning her last 3 bouts, and 2 of them by submission. She’s dominated opponents that she should beat, but has faltered against the elite of the division, dropping bouts against Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and Amanda Nunes. The 2004 Summer Olympics silver medalist in freestyle wrestling will likely earn another high-profile bout with a solid victory over Vieira. Fighting out of Manaus, Brazil, Vieira has yet to taste defeat, and is 2-0 inside of the UFC, including a great victory over Ashlee Evans-Smith in April.
This is a big test for Vieira. A win over a highly-ranked opponent like McMann could do wonders for her young career, but it surely won’t come easy. McMann’s immense potential seems to finally be coming to fruition, but at 36 years old, she can ill afford a loss to a lower ranked opponent. She’ll rely on her imposing wrestling game as always, and with a takedown success rate at 70%, there’s no reason to stray from what works. She’s incredibly hard to take down to boot, defending the takedown with a perfect rate of 100%. With that being said, Vieira is going to have a hard time implementing any kind of offensive jiu-jitsu game. She’ll more than likely be planted on her back often, so I’m interested to see what kind of guard game she can employ. With a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, and a black belt in judo, she should have some tricks up her sleeve. I think she’ll give a valiant effort, but I don’t believe it’ll be enough to get her the win. McMann seems to be on another level at this point in their respective careers, and with the dominant wrestling game she employs, I don’t know how Vieira doesn’t get smothered here. I envision McMann taking Vieira down at will, landing rough ground-and-pound, and searching for the submission. I think she lands enough offense to get the stoppage, and the pick is McMann by TKO late in the fight.
Ashlee Evans-Smith ($8,700) vs. Sarah Moras ($7,500)
Though middling on the preliminary card, this should be a good scrap from 2 fighters looking to make headway in the women’s bantamweight division. Ashlee Evans-Smith will look to rebound from a one-sided decision loss to Ketlen Vieira when she takes on Sarah Moras. Moras will be competing for the first time in just over 2 years, but she’ll do so on home soil. The British Columbia native was last seen in July 2015, when she soundly lost a decision to Jessica Andrade. A win would do wonders for both women, while a loss could mean the end of their tenure within the UFC.
Evans-Smith is always fun to watch, as she employs a fan-friendly, aggressive style. She’s always tough, even in defeat, and unleashes brutal offense when given the opportunity. Her victory over Veronica Macedo was incredibly impressive as she halted the bout with elbow strikes. Moras is a much different fighter, and definitely not as ruthless. I think Evans-Smith is a horrible match-up for her, and I don’t envision this one lasting long. Evans-Smith is just a better athlete, and her aggressive approach is going to give Moras issues from the opening bell. Look for Evans-Smith to gain a quick advantage in the stand-up, and she’ll end the fight sooner rather than later. I’m taking Evans-Smith here, and she’ll overwhelm Moras with a TKO victory late in the first round.
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
Adriano Martins ($9,000) vs. Kajan Johnson ($7,200)
This is a great fight to open the card on Fight Pass, as Adriano Martins takes on the Canadian Kajan Johnson. Martins last fought at UFC 204, where he saw his 3-fight winning streak halted by Leonardo Santos in a close, contentious decision. Martins is an extremely underrated fighter, and always brings it every bout. He’s 4-2 in his UFC career, and has earned 3 Performance of the Night bonuses. Kajan Johnson fights on home soil for the second time in his UFC career, and is making his first appearance in almost 2 years. He’s 2-1 in his short UFC career, but has been a mainstay on the Canadian regional circuit since 2002, when he made his pro debut at 19.
I’m surprised that this fight is buried so far down the card, especially with home-grown talent throwing down. Martins is an elite level jiu-jitsu black belt, but has also developed an exciting striking game to complement the ground skills. During his 3-fight win streak, he finished 2 of those bouts with one-punch knockouts, results not commonly seen from high level jiu-jitsu players. Johnson is also solid on the mat, and possesses a brown belt in jiu-jitsu. He’s finished 11 of his 21 wins by submission, though he’s yet to submit an opponent within the UFC. He’s proven to be susceptible to the knockout, and that’s certainly a concern in this bout. I think it’ll be a rough night for the Canadian fans, as I see Martins finding Johnson’s chin early. I see Martins dropping Johnson in an early exchange, before finishing him on the mat with follow punches, earning him an important victory. Martins by TKO is the pick.