WATCH: TOMMY TOE HOLD
After a two-week break, the UFC is back in action on Saturday, April 8th at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. The main event is a highly-anticipated light heavyweight championship rematch between titleholder Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson. Ex-middleweight champ Chris Weidman will seek his first win in nearly two years, as he faces the red-hot Gegard Mousasi in the co-main event.
This event may not be big on name value, but there are plenty of compelling matchups on the main card all the way down to the Fight Pass prelims. Before the fights start, here’s a breakdown of some of the fighters on this card who could deliver high scores for your DraftKings team(s).
Daniel Cormier ($8,100) vs. Anthony Johnson ($8,100)
Cormier has fought just twice since beating Rumble the first time, winning a thriller against Alexander Gustafsson before beating late-replacement Anderson Silva at UFC 200. DC’s two scheduled dates vs. Jon Jones were scrapped — once for a Cormier injury, the other time for a Jones drug test failure — while the rematch with Johnson was pulled from UFC 206 after another Cormier injury. Johnson has rebounded from the Cormier defeat by scoring three straight KO wins over Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader, and Glover Teixeira.
We know about Johnson’s vaunted power, but we also know Cormier can knife through his usually excellent takedown defense. Cormier has a great chin and a huge advantage on the ground. While the recent injury woes concern me, I’m looking for Cormier to repeat his feat from UFC 187, but you can never count out a Rumble KO. Getting either man at $8,100 is great value.
Number of Note: 4. Of Anthony Johnson’s six wins in the UFC light heavyweight division, four of them have occurred by first-round (T)KO. Cormier only has one first-round finish in his last nine wins.
Cynthia Calvillo ($9,100) vs. Pearl Gonzalez ($7,100)
Calvillo finds herself on a UFC pay-per-view main card for the second time in a month. Her first one was a short-notice debut against TUF 23 runner-up Amanda Cooper at UFC 209, and the 29-year-old impressed with her first-round rear-naked choke win. Team Alpha Male looks to have themselves another bright up-and-comer in this sport. Making her first UFC appearance is Pearl Gonzalez, who has won six straight after losing her pro debut. Her most notable win actually came at flyweight, when she submitted UFC veteran Cortney Casey in 2013 to win the XFC title.
Expect plenty of scrambles in this one, as neither fighter offers much on the feet, but I think Calvillo is both the better wrestler and craftier grappler, and she’ll get the finish on Saturday night.
Number of Note: 8. Calvillo only made her professional debut eight months ago, and still has more amateur bouts (6) in her career than professional (4).
Patrick Cummins ($8,000) vs. Jan Blachowicz ($8,200)
In this clash of struggling light heavyweights, Cummins is looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat. The former Penn State wrestler has suffered consecutive knockout losses to Glover Teixeira and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. His last win was a TKO of Rafael Cavalcante. Meanwhile, Poland’s Blachowicz is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Alexander Gustafsson, in a fight where he performed better than expected. Blachowicz’s only win in his last four bouts is a decision over Igor Pokrajac. To his credit, and unlike Cummins, Blachowicz hasn’t been stopped in any of his UFC losses.
This is a matchup of contrasting styles. Blachowicz has a better skillset but poor takedown defense and questionable cardio. Cummins has a shaky chin but has powerful takedowns and can mount serious ground-and-pound attacks. I’m going with Cummins to overpower Blachowicz, and with takedowns worth 5 points, I can see the American piling up the points even without a finish.
Number of Note: 33. Of the 12 takedowns he’s faced, Blachowicz has stopped only four of them, making for a dismal 33% success rate. Corey Anderson and Alexander Gustafsson both took him down four times.
Irene Aldana ($7,500) vs. Katlyn Chookagian ($8,700)
Former Invicta FC standout Irene Aldana had a Fight of the Night performance against Leslie Smith in her UFC debut, but suffered an early knockdown and lost by decision. It was the first time she ever went the distance in her 10-fight career. Chookagian also debuted last year, beating former Invicta champion Lauren Murphy by unanimous decision. Despite a late rally against ex-UFC title challenger Liz Carmouche, Chookagian dropped a split decision at UFC 205.
This is a high-octane matchup between two good prospects. Aldana has a dangerous striking arsenal but is defensively suspect, which makes for an all-action fight. I expect that this fight will be contested almost entirely on the feet, and Aldana’s volume and pressuring style will be too much for Chookagian to handle. At $7,500, Aldana is terrific value given the way she fights.
Number of Note: 108. In a losing effort, Aldana landed 108 significant strikes against Leslie Smith, with all but 1 of them coming from distance or in the clinch.
Magomed Bibulatov ($9,500) vs. Jenel Lausa ($6,700)
The 13-0 Bibulatov is arguably the best Russian flyweight in the world, and he’s making his UFC debut in the opening bout of the preliminary card. The native of Chechnya won the WSOF title over Donavon Frelow in 2015, but later vacated the belt and competed in the Akhmat MMA Grand Prix. Bibulatov won his three tournament bouts to take the title. Lausa has fought just once in the UFC, beating Yao Zhikui by unanimous decision last November. The Filipino fighter has pro boxing experience, boasting a 7-0 record (4 KOs), and in the regional MMA scene, he captured the PXC championship in his home country before signing his UFC contract.
I can’t wait for Bibulatov to showcase his talents. He’s not a high-volume offensive machine, but he’s efficient and very athletic. His sambo and wrestling background are a nightmare matchup for the striking-centric game of Lausa, whom I see getting overwhelmed, outmuscled, and submitted.
Number of Note: 6. Six of Bibulatov’s seven finishes have occurred in the opening round, including both of his TKO wins.
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.