WATCH: TOMMY TOE HOLD – TIPS, TARGETS AND FADES
At long last, the UFC is at Madison Square Garden. After years of fighting for MMA’s legalization in the state of New York, the breakthrough finally happened in 2016, and fans will be treated to what looks (at least on paper) to be the greatest event in UFC history. Three title fights sit atop this phenomenal pay-per-view, none bigger than lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez putting his belt on the line against featherweight king Conor McGregor. This card is an MMA fan’s dream come true.
As we close in on what will surely be a memorable November night in New York City, let’s take a look at some of the fighters who could produce big scores for your DraftKings lineup(s).
Conor McGregor ($8,600) vs. Eddie Alvarez
Eddie Alvarez became the first former Bellator champion to win UFC gold, emphatically stopping Rafael dos Anjos back in July. A terrific achievement for a fighter who has been one of MMA’s best lightweights for years, and one of the most exciting ones. McGregor could’ve been the LW champion at UFC 196, but instead of fighting RDA, he ended up losing to Nate Diaz by rear-naked choke. That prompted an immediate rematch, again at welterweight, and McGregor won a thrilling majority decision. The sport’s biggest star will be gunning for lightweight gold on Saturday, and if he’s successful, he’ll be the first ever UFC fighter to possess titles in multiple weight classes.
There’s no denying that this is a ridiculously tight call. Alvarez is the more well-rounded fighter. He has knockout power, quality wrestling, and cardio for days. If there is a weakness in Alvarez’s game, it’s that he is hittable, and that’s a bad thing to be when you’re going up against the surgical striking game of Conor. The x-factor here is how Conor copes with Eddie’s takedowns. If he can mitigate them and work his striking, I think his reach advantage (5 inches) will keep Eddie at bay and he’ll slowly break him down for the TKO win. It’s not an easy task to stop Eddie, but if anyone can do it, it’s McGregor.
Number of Note: 7. Conor McGregor has recorded at least 1 knockdown in 7 of his 9 UFC fights. The two exceptions are Max Holloway and his first fight vs. Nate Diaz.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk ($9,300) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Joanna Champion has sat atop the strawweight throne since taking the title from Carla Esparza in March 2015. She’s defended the belt successfully 3 times, including a thrilling come-from-behind win over her main rival, Claudia Gadelha. Kowalkiewicz, who also hails from Poland, is also undefeated in her MMA career, with 3 of her wins coming inside the Octagon. She earned her title shot with a back-and-forth split decision over Rose Namajunas at UFC 201.
There’s a reason why Jedrzejczyk is the highest priced fighter on the card. Even though she’s only finished 2 of her 6 UFC fights, she is nonstop offense. Her striking is lethal and you’d be hard-pressed to find many strawweights capable of matching her pace all the way to round 5. Kowalkiewicz is a very good striker, makes great use of the clinch, but I think Joanna’s arsenal of strikes, angles, precision, and power will be too much for her foe to handle. I believe Joanna remains champion, but I don’t think it’ll be a finish.
Number of Note: 522. Jedrzejczyk has landed 522 significant strikes over her last 3 fights, which averages out to a staggering 174.
Editor’s Note: Both the Cerrone/Gastelum and the Evans/Kennedy fights have been cancelled.
Donald Cerrone ($8,900) vs. Kelvin Gastelum
With his days at lightweight seemingly over for good,
“Cowboy” has been an absolute beast at welterweight. Three fights, three finishes and the best of that lot was the insane 4-strike combination knockout of Rick Story, who’d never been knocked out before. Gastelum is not one to be overlooked, as he also holds a win (albeit by split decision) vs. Story, and is coming off a decision victory over former champion Johny Hendricks. The TUF 17 winner’s issue has been more on the weight cutting side, which led to a brief return to middleweight, but it looks as if those problems have been put to rest. Gastelum has a real shot here. He has a pressuring style combined with sharp boxing and kicks that has given Cerrone fits in the past. However, Cerrone’s performance against Story has me convinced he’s made serious strides under striking coach Brandon Gibson. Cerrone seems to be dialed in and making a serious push for title contention. I think he finishes Gastelum before the end of round 2, possibly by hurting him first and then using his slick jiu-jitsu skills to get the submission.
Number of Note: 5.
Cerrone has 7 career (T)KO wins (all in the UFC), but 5 of them have been via head kick.
Vicente Luque ($7,800) vs. Belal Muhammad
The 24-year-old Luque has been on a hot streak since losing his UFC debut to fellow TUF 21 competitor Michael Graves. Luque has won 3 straight, all by stoppage, including a ferocious KO of Hector Urbina back in September. Muhammad entered the UFC as the Titan FC welterweight champ, but suffered a close (but very entertaining) loss to Alan Jouban. He bounced back with a late stoppage of Augusto Montano to notch his first UFC win.
Luque has looked better and better with each outing, and training with the Blackzilians has done wonders for him. He’s more comfortable as a grappler than a striker, but he’s improved his striking considerably, and is a much bigger threat to record a finish than Muhammad. Even though Muhammad may be the better fighter and is extremely tough to finish (as Jouban found out), I think Luque has the higher upside and will get the win on short notice.
Number of Note: 3. Of Luque’s 5 submission wins in his pro career, 3 of them have come by d’arce choke.
Jim Miller ($7,800) vs. Thiago Alves
Filling in for the retired Al Iaquinta, Jim Miller will be making his 25th appearance inside a UFC cage. Miller himself nearly retired before he was diagnosed with lyme disease. Now that it’s been properly treated, the New Jersey native looks rejuvenated, stopping Takanori Gomi and winning by split decision in a grueling rematch with Joe Lauzon in his last two fights. Alves, a former welterweight title challenger who’s had an injury-plagued career, is making the drop to lightweight for the first time. “Pitbull” last competed in May 2015, losing by doctor’s stoppage TKO vs. Carlos Condit. His last win was a dramatic liver kick TKO vs. Jordan Mein.
As is the theme of this card, it’s an intriguing bout with no clear-cut winner. While both of them may be past their prime, Alves should hold an edge in the stand-up, and his leg kicks could be problematic for Miller. Jim is big on setting and dictating a grueling pace and is an ace on the ground, and Alves’ cardio and takedown defense has been a historical concern for him. I’m backing Miller here, most likely by submission.
Number of Note: 3. Jim Miller has not won 3 consecutive fights since his seven-fight winning streak from 2009-2011. Meanwhile, Thiago Alves hasn’t won 3 straight since his own seven-fight winning streak from 2006-2008.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is mookiealexander) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.