WATCH: MMA PRIMER WITH REED KUHN


UPDATE: The Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson fight has been CANCELLED.

All bouts have to start with two fighters standing at a distance, and when they do there’s always a chance that someone is going to get dropped. Once a fighter scores a knockdown in a fight, their chances of winning rise dramatically, and it often sets up an early finish. That means that identifying knockout potential on a card can mean big points for your fantasy team.

So where does that potential lie among this weekend’s competitors? Here is how they stack up in their historical performance of scoring and receiving knockdowns in the cage.

UFC209 KO Potential

Knockdown Rate here is defined as Distance Knockdowns per Distance Landed Power Head Strike. It’s not a perfect metric, but it’s a great proxy to understand how those highlight reel finishes happen. The UFC average for Knockdown Rate is 2.3%, meaning there are typically 43 power head strikes landed before a knockdown occurs, each with a 2.3% chance of being the strike that does the job. But there’s a lot of variation between weight classes and the individual athletes within them.

For fantasy players, this boils down to knowing who has a good chance to drop their opponent on fight night, and who is most at risk for getting knocked out. In both cases, it’s better to be at the top of the graph, and worse to be near the bottom.

UFC 209

In general, we’re seeing a lot of fighters score above average in terms of offensive Knockdown Rate, which is not unusual for a pay-per-view card. Heavy hitters are often promoted a little more than others, and so here we see a majority of fighters packing a lot of power. However, the trend on the defensive side of the equation is different. There are some clear “Have,” and “Have Nots” when it comes to durability. These dynamics will be important whenever the leather starts flying.


Heaviest Hitters

Tyron Woodley ($7,800) has been dropping opponents at an amazing rate. The former champion wrestler has added a key capability to his arsenal in the form of his right hand. He’s now had two title fights, and dropped his opponent in each. Although he wasn’t able to finish Stephen Thompson ($8,400), it will be interesting to see if either man changes their strategy in the rematch, having now faced each other for five rounds. As a mild underdog, Woodley will be an affordable addition with huge upside if he connects, but also has the possibility of a low output score over five rounds if he doesn’t.

David Teymur ($6,900) is only two fights into his UFC career, but already has two finishes by strikes. Sample size here is skewing things, as many of his striking metrics look crazy. This pairing against Lando Vannata ($9,300) will be a significant test, and likely a striking duel. Vannata for his part, should not be discounted here, but as the favorite, perhaps also less affordable.

Heavyweights Alistair Overeem ($8,300) and Mark Hunt ($7,900) both pack power in their hands, but use their strikes in different ways. Overeem is hesitant but highly accurate, while Hunt is a little more freewheeling and aggressive. The differentiator in this matchup is probably not which one has more power, but if either can withstand the first shots of their opponent.


Don’t Expect a KO

Only two fighters have yet to earn a standing knockdown, and both are primarily grapplers. Daniel Kelly ($7,200) is an Olympian-level Judoka, while Luis Henrique ($7,400) is a rare Heavyweight grappling specialist. However, given Kelly is facing Rashad Evans ($9,000), who has suffered more than his share of knockouts in the past, and Luis is still a Heavyweight, both men still have a chance for a shocking finish. Of the two, however, Henrique seems more likely to make the most of his grappling threat, while Kelly could be outgunned on his feet, and stifled trying to get things to the mat. The current prices for them reflect that.


At Risk for a KO

Many of the Heavyweights on this card have tasted heavy leather, and that leaves each at risk should they get into a firefight. That includes Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, and Luis Henrique. Picking the right Heavyweights that end up getting a KO is one recipe for success, but also an uncertain route due to the mutual vulnerability.

Also at risk is Rashad Evans due to the question marks about his age, five prior knockdowns and recently poor health tests. Fortunately, some risk is mitigated against Dan Kelly, who will likely not want to test Evans’s speedy hands.

And it’s interesting that Wonderboy (Thompson) is now above average in terms of having taken damage, and that’s considering that Woodley was only credited with knocking him down once in the first fight. Thompson was arguably dropped at least one more time, and that combined with a knockdown suffered to Jake Ellenberger puts him at elevated risk should he get caught at too close a range.

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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is “fightnomics”) 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.