We’re back again for the MMA DFS Playbook. UFC Fight Night 119 takes place in Sao Paulo, Brazil at Ginasio de Ibirapuerra. The main card is headlined by a middleweight bout between Derek Brunson and Lyoto Machida. Also, Colby Covington takes on Demian Maia in a welterweight bout between 2 top 10 fighters in the division. The picks for UFC 216 absolutely killed it, so let’s keep the ball rolling with this card.
Main Card (FS1)
Derek Brunson ($8,400) vs. Lyoto Machida ($7,800)
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Derek Brunson looks to continue getting back to his winning ways, albeit in hostile territory, as he takes on Brazil’s own Lyoto Machida. Following a loss to Yoel Romero in early 2014, Brunson went on a tear, winning 5 fights in a row, with all but one win coming by knockout. He then lost 2 straight bouts, including a disputed unanimous decision loss to Anderson Silva. Following the skid, he destroyed Daniel Kelly in just a minute, and he’d like to keep the momentum riding high. He gets a tough match-up here with another Brazilian legend, as Machida makes his first appearance in the cage since mid 2015. Machida has seen much better days, as he’s lost 3 of his last 4 bouts, and has been thoroughly dominated in his last 2. A loss for “The Dragon” would almost certainly mean retirement.
As far as Fight Night events go, this is a fairly decent free fight for fans. It will definitely be highly competitive as both fighters desperately need a win for their own reasons. As for the fight itself, I think we could see a bout dominated by striking from both guys. Brunson’s last 5 wins have all come by KO, and Machida is obviously one of the most devastating and creative strikers in UFC history. Brunson has only landed 2 takedowns in his last 7 bouts, while Machida has just 2 successful takedowns in almost 7 years. Both men have solid striking accuracy and defense percentages, and I think we’re in for a good fight. While Machida’s awkward karate style will always keep him relative, I think he loses this fight. He’s had a great run, but at 39 years old and the wear and tear of the sport taking its toll, he’ll be in for another long night. I think the fight stays competitive until Brunson lands a devastating blow, ending Machida’s night. Hopefully “The Dragon” retires afterward, as he has nothing left to prove. The pick is Brunson by KO in round 3.
Colby Covington ($8,200) vs. Demian Maia ($8,000)
This is the fight that interests me the most on the card. #8 ranked welterweight Colby Covington looks for his biggest win to date, as he takes on #3 Demian Maia. Covington, a Division 1 wrestling all-American, is 7-1 since joining the UFC, but has yet to secure a win that’ll put him over with the mainstream fans of the sport. He’s obviously a talented wrestler, and relies on his background, but also possesses an improving jiu-jitsu game. He’ll need to be on his p’s and q’s, as he’s going up against arguably the most talented jiu-jitsu player in MMA history. Demian Maia again came up short in his second attempt at UFC gold, when he was defeated by Tyron Woodley in a fight I wish I never watched. Maia went an astounding 0-24 on his takedown attempts, and the fighters were largely inactive for the full 25 minutes. Prior to that, Maia went on an incredible run, winning 7 straight bouts, dominating them all with his superior grappling.
This is the big one for Covington. I think he has what it takes to get a win, but he’ll have to be really careful about how he approaches this bout. He’s going to have to walk through fire at times, because he can’t abandon his own grappling game. Going toe-to-toe with Maia on the mat is a death wish for most fighters, but with how dominant Covington is with his top game, he could sneak out of Brazil with a solid win. He needs to avoid the takedown from Maia, as well as do everything he can to keep him off his back, where the Brazilian is at his best with his rear-naked chokes. Maia is much more beatable when you force him to play off of his own back, where his jiu-jitsu game is less dominant. I don’t see a finish, but Covington should do enough with his ground-and-pound while avoiding submissions to pick up a decision victory. Covington is the pick here.
Rob Font ($8,700) vs. Pedro Munhoz ($7,500)
At bantamweight, Rob Font takes on Pedro Munhoz with both fighters looking to take another step forward in the 135 lb. rankings. Font has been impressive thus far in his career, going 4-1 in the UFC since debuting in 2014, and holds a 14-2 record overall. He’s won his last 2 bouts since dropping a unanimous decision to John Lineker last year. Munhoz is also 14-2 overall, with 1 no contest. He’s 4-2 in the UFC, and has won his last 3 fights in impressive fashion. Following the no contest verdict against Jerrod Sanders, Munhoz dropped an extremely close split-decision to Jimmie Rivera, who has a bout booked with Dominick Cruz, so you can easily see the type of potential Munhoz possesses.
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This will be an interesting fight to see which guy is more prepared to move on towards the upper echelon of the division. It’s peculiar to me that Font is such a heavy favorite according to DraftKings, as I see this fight being essentially a toss-up. That could and should give us a leg up on roster construction. In my UFC 216 preview, I advised taking John Moraga despite him being labeled the heavy underdog, as even a loss with a strong performance would help us cram the easy picks into our lineups. Well, Moraga did more than that, as he won in the first round by KO. We’ll take the salary relief here too. Again, this is a very competitive match-up, and both guys are equally skilled. They aren’t the most polished strikers, with both men having a low striking accuracy, nor are they the best grapplers, with each fighter having a low success rate with takedowns. Font is much worse than Munhoz at takedown defense, with only a 20% defense rate. That will be key, as I think Munhoz wins this fight taking Font down. It won’t be the prettiest fight, but I’m taking Munhoz to win on home soil by unanimous decision.
Francisco Trinaldo ($8,600) vs. Jim Miller ($7,600)
This is a compelling fight between 2 extremely talented lightweights with a large amount of success in their respective UFC careers. Francisco Trinaldo will look to get back on track when he faces longtime UFC veteran Jim Miller. Trinaldo saw his incredible 7-fight win streak snapped by Kevin Lee in March, and would love to get back into the winning column. Lee just competed for the title, so you can see how close Trinaldo is to claiming his spot amongst the elite of the division. He’ll have to work hard for a win, as Jim Miller has proven for almost a decade that he’s never and easy out for anyone. The New Jersey native is 17-9 in the UFC since his debut way back at UFC 89 in 2008. He’s never challenged for UFC gold, but has always been on the cusp. He had his own 7-fight win streak from 2009 to 2011 and won 11 of 12 bouts to open his UFC career.
The fans will enjoy this bout as both men bring exciting styles to the cage every fight. Trinaldo throws heat, and Miller has had his fair share of entertaining striking battles. In addition, both fighters are extremely skilled on the mat, with 19 combined career submission victories. I think this will be a competitive bout throughout its entirety, and a victory by either fighter wouldn’t necessarily shock me. Although Trinaldo is 39 years old, I think he has more left in the tank than Miller does at this point. While Miller is only 34, he has surely been slowed by his vast experience in the UFC. A decade of bloody brutal bouts will do that to a fighter. Trinaldo is far more explosive, and should be able to overpower Miller in the striking and grappling exchanges. I’m taking Trinaldo here in a good one, and he wins by unanimous decision.
Jack Hermansson ($8,300) vs. Thiago Santos ($7,900)
This is another fight that will pique my interest come fight night, as the Swede Jack Hermansson takes on the Brazilian Thiago Santos. Hermansson made his debut last September, and has gone 3-1 to open his UFC career. Following a loss to Cezar Ferreira in his 2nd UFC bout, Hermansson won 2 in a row, both by TKO. He looks to be hitting his stride, and gets a step up in competition here in Thiago Santos. Santos is a fighter I thoroughly enjoy watching, as he employs one of the more fan-friendlier styles I’ve ever seen. While his style will lead him to some glorious KO victories, it also leads him to end up on the receiving end of a KO blow from time to time. He looked to be one of the next fighters to rise to stardom following a 4-fight winning streak littered with highlight finishes, but a 2-fight skid against Gegard Mousasi and Eric Spicely derailed the hype train. Since then he’s rebounded with 2 straight TKO wins, and he looks like he could be back on his way to bigger and better opportunities if he can win dominantly here.
Despite 3 wins in the UFC, Hermansson is a virtual unknown to most fans, but his skills are very real. He excels on the defensive end, with a 66% striking defense rate, and a 75% takedown defense rate. He’s also decently accurate in his offensive striking game, with a 56% significant striking accuracy. Santos also excels defensively, and despite a lower offensive accuracy, he lands with devastating power and creativity that is innate and just can’t be taught. Santos is just one those guys who pass the eye test right away, and he has the results to back that up. While Hermansson is undoubtedly talented, I just see a gap in overall skill here with the fights I’ve watched from both men. I thought the same thing when Santos fought Spicely, and that didn’t work out, anything can happen in MMA. I think Santos avoids those mistakes here, and proves that he is the better fighter. I’m taking Santos by TKO in round 1.
John Lineker ($9,400) vs. Marlon Vera ($6,800)
John Lineker returns to the cage for the first time this year, and he’ll take on Marlon Vera in a bantamweight tilt. Lineker is an impressive 10-3 in his tenure with the UFC, and owns separate winning streaks of 6 and 4 fights during that time. He lost his most recent bout when he was thoroughly outclassed by T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 207. A solid victory over Vera would put him firmly back into the mix in the bantamweight division. Since debuting in 2014, Vera is 4-2 in the UFC and has won his last 3 bouts in impressive fashion. He retired Brad Pickett with a head kick and follow up punches in March, and followed that up with a submission win over Brian Kelleher in July. Vera is the face of MMA in Ecuador, and has a sponsorship deal there with Pepsi.
This is a pretty big mismatch in my eyes. While Vera surely deserves stiffer competition, giving him a bout with Lineker this early in his career seems to be jumping the gun a bit. He’s still only 24 years old, and there’s no hurt in working him along slowly if there’s potential for him to become a star, especially one that can open up new possibilities in untapped markets. Again, I love the potential that Vera has, but this one is going to be a lesson for him. Lineker loves to throw heavy leather, and sooner rather than later, one of his bombs will connect. Lineker should win this one early. The pick is Lineker by KO early in round 2.
Preliminary Card (FS2)
Vicente Luque ($8,500) vs. Niko Price ($7,700)
Vicente Luque steps in on short notice to face Niko Price in a welterweight bout, following the withdrawal due to injury from Luan Chagas. Luque takes the bout on about 3 weeks’ notice, and will have his hands full with Price. Luque dropped his official debut with the UFC in July of 2015, and then rattled off 4 straight wins by stoppage before dropping his most recent bout. He won Performance of the Night in 2 of those bouts, and would certainly enjoy a win here to get back into the winning column. If not for a failed post fight drug test, Niko Price would be 3-0 in the UFC with 3 dominant stoppages. Instead, he’s 2-0 with 1 no contest, but has still looked impressive nonetheless. A TKO victory over Alan Jouban in August highlights his resume, and he looks to be one of the brighter prospects currently.
While I credit Luque for his dominant 4-fight run on stoppages, none of those came against opponents that I would say are above average fighters outside of Belal Muhammad. Against a credible challenger in Leon Edwards, Luque came up short. Price has been tested continually since his debut against Brandon Thatch, and his win over Jouban was incredibly eye opening. Luque is skilled enough to make a home in the UFC, but nothing he does really jumps out at you. He hovers around 50% in all of the major categories, which says to me that he does everything fairly well, but doesn’t excel at any aspect. Price himself doesn’t possess incredible percentages in any important categories, but that’s due to him finding a finish without having to do much. He landed 10 strikes in 1 minute and 44 seconds against Jouban, and didn’t need the striking game at all against Thatch, as he easily submitted him. I expect Price to pay off his underdog salary with another stoppage victory here. The pick is Price by TKO in the 2nd round, but I’d only play this contest if you aren’t comfortable with any of the picks on the main card.
Jared Gordon ($8,400) vs. Hacran Dias ($7,800)
In a featherweight bout, Jared Gordon looks to build on a successful UFC debut when he battles Brazilian veteran Hacran Dias. Gordon made the most of his debut in June when he defeated Michel Quinones by TKO. Gordon has a very compelling personal story, as he’s battled and overcome drug addiction to make a successful career out of mixed martial arts. It’s hard not to root for a guy like that. He’ll get a tough match-up here with Dias, who is just 3-4 in his UFC tenure, but has been underrated in that time. 4 losses in 7 bouts jumps out at you at first glance, but when you look deeper, the picture becomes clearer. His 4 losses are to Nik Lentz, Ricardo Lamas, Cub Swanson, and Andre Fili. Every one of those guys are elite level mixed martial artists, and Dias went to the score cards in every one of those contests. His 3 wins are just as impressive, as he’s defeated Iuri Alcantara, Darren Elkins, and Levan Makashvili. Makashvili has gone 3-0-1 since the loss to Dias, Elkins has won 5 straight in the UFC since his own loss to Dias, and Iuri Alcantara is 9-5 in the UFC. Dias is undoubtedly someone who brings it every fight.
This is as tough as it gets for guy making their second trip to the UFC’s Octagon. Gordon takes on a savvy veteran whose credentials are obviously impressive, and he’s got to make the long trip all the way to Brazil. Usually that would be enough to sway me to pick against the less experienced fighter, but I truly think Gordon has a lot of potential, and I also think his battles with his personal demons were much more difficult than anything he’ll have to face here in Brazil. In the bouts Dias lost, he was thoroughly out-struck by his opponents, and I expect Gordon to employ a heavy striking attack early and often. He’s got the chops to outwork Dias on the feet, and I think he’s got enough defensive grappling to avoid being taken down. I’m taking Gordon here. He’s the fresher fighter, and his output will leave Dias on the wrong end of the score cards. The pick is Gordon by decision, but like the last bout, I’d rather play the main card fights before having to use this pick.