The UFC has been rolling in the month of July and it continues with a loaded card on Fox. Rarely do we get to see a fight the magnitude of TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao outside of pay per view. It’s been a big month for UFC cards and an even bigger month for playing fantasy MMA. We get another chance to win money on Saturday night. Here are my selections for the top targets to fill out your lineups:
Best plays on the card
Edson Barboza ($9,700) vs. Paul Felder
If you’re looking for a stand-up battle between two strikers that will likely end in a finish, this is the fight for you. Barboza (15-3, 9-3 UFC) has nine knockout wins in 18 career fights. Felder (10-0, 2-0 UFC) has seven knockouts in 10 fights.
How unlikely is this fight to go to the ground? Barboza hasn’t recorded a takedown in his last 10 fights and Felder has only attempted one takedown in his two UFC fights. Felder probably won’t change his strategy in this fight. Barboza has an 82.5 percent takedown defense rate.
Felder is getting a lot of love after his spinning back fist knockout of Danny Castillo and while he certainly has potential, Barboza represents a big step up in class. Felder has yet to fight a skilled striker like Barboza and he only got this opportunity because Myles Jury was injured.
Barboza is coming off a loss to Michael Johnson and that’s actually a good reason to back the Brazilian. Barboza has been at his best when he’s motivated coming off a loss. Following the first loss of his career to Jamie Varner in 2012, Barboza annihilated Lucas Martins in 2:38. After losing to Donald Cerrone last year, Barboza annihilated Evan Dunham in 3:06. See a pattern?
Felder has a bright future but he’s getting Barboza at the wrong time in his career. Barboza will use his five-inch reach advantage to pick Felder apart before eventually finishing him off. In my view, Barboza represents the best bang for your buck on this card.
Joe Lauzon ($11,100) vs. Takanori Gomi
Fights don’t always play out the way you expect but this one should be action-packed. I would be shocked if it doesn’t end in a finish one way or another.
Both fighters desperately need a win here. Gomi (35-10, 4-5 UFC) is 3-2 in his five fights and Lauzon (24-10, 11-7 UFC) is 2-3. Lauzon takes way too many shots and Gomi could certainly put him to sleep. Gomi does have 13 career wins by knockout. However, Lauzon has a huge advantage if this fight goes to the ground.
Lauzon has won 17 of his 24 fights by submission. Meanwhile, six of Gomi’s 10 losses have come by way of submission. On paper this is a pretty even fight. Normally I wouldn’t pay such a high price to put Lauzon in my lineup but I just can’t ignore his major advantage on the ground.
Lauzon can also scrap if the fight stays standing. He does take too much punishment, which has gotten him into trouble in the past, but he should be able to control the fight against the 36-year old Gomi.
There’s a chance Lauzon could walk into a big punch from the Fireball Kid and get knocked out. Although, Gomi’s history of getting into bad situations on the ground and Lauzon’s skilled grappling gives him a big edge in this fight. Lauzon is worth paying for in this matchup, as he wins by submission.
TJ Dillashaw ($10,900) vs. Renan Barao
I expect the rematch to be closer than the first fight between these two when Barao (33-2, 8-1 UFC) looked completely outclassed. Before getting knocked out in the fifth round, Barao was out-struck by Dillashaw (11-2, 7-2 UFC) 140 to 64. It was a dominating performance by Dillashaw.
Let’s not forget though, Barao came into that first meeting with a 33-fight unbeaten streak and was made a -450 betting favorite. He rebounded from the loss to Dillashaw with a submission victory over Mitch Gagnon.
I can’t really criticize anyone for taking a shot with Barao and his $8,500 salary. The reason I like Dillashaw is because Barao has had trouble cutting weight in the past and I think it’s one of the reasons he looked lethargic last time out.
Some criticized Dillashaw for not looking sharp against Joe Soto in his first title defense but he took that fight on 24 hours’ notice when Barao was hospitalized for trying to cut weight.
I see Dillashaw’s pace and pressure once again being too much for Barao. Dillashaw attempts over 13 significant strikes per minute and lands 5.56 of those attempts. Dillashaw has landed over 100 significant strikes in each of his last three fights. The pressure Dillashaw puts on opponents is unmatched in the bantamweight division.
Again, I don’t expect this fight to be total domination like the first meeting but the result will be the same. Look for Dillashaw to eventually wear down Barao and get the finish to retain the Bantamweight Title.
Jim Miller ($10,100) vs. Danny Castillo
I love fading Castillo (17-8, 7-5 UFC) when he faces tougher competition and while Miller (24-6, 13-5-1 UFC) has lost two fights in a row, he should get back in the win column Saturday.
Castillo has lost three of his last four fights and appears to be fading at this point in his career. The same can be said about Miller who was stopped by Donald Cerrone and then dominated by Beneil Dariush. However, I think Miller has more left in his tank than Castillo.
Age is starting to catch up with the 35-year old Castillo. He only landed 21 percent of his strikes against Tony Ferguson and if Castillo tries to use his wrestling to take Miller down, he’ll be in for a long night. Miller is an excellent grappler. He’s won 13 of his 24 fights by submission.
Both of these fighters need a win but in my opinion one is clearly in a much steeper decline. Castillo hasn’t impressed me since 2011 when he first joined the UFC. Castillo has only been submitted twice in his career. Miller will make it three times.
Best value plays for the price
Gian Villante ($8,600) vs. Tom Lawlor
You have to wonder if DraftKings knows something the rest of the world doesn’t in this fight. Despite being more than a 2-1 favorite, Villante’s (13-5, 3-2 UFC) DraftKings’ salary is $8,600, while Lawlor’s (9-5, 4-5 UFC) comes in at $10,800.
Sometimes things look too good to be true. Perhaps this is one of those times but I’m jumping in on Villante with both feet. I’m big on fading long layoffs and Lawlor hasn’t fought since April of 2013.
Villante isn’t a world beater by any means but he has won three of his last four fights and two in a row. At a price of just $8,600, you almost have to take Villante or you won’t be able to live with yourself.
Villante is going to want to keep this fight standing and if he’s successful that will spell trouble for Lawlor. As I write all the time, long layoffs negatively impact timing and often lead to finishes.
Lawlor’s best course of action will be to take Villante down to the mat and grind out a win. However, Villante possesses an 89 percent takedown defense rate and Lawlor only takes down opponents at a 31 percent clip, so there’s a good chance this fight remains standing.
Villante has had problems with stamina in the past, so if Lawlor can get this into the third round he’ll have a shot. It’s hard to see that happening with the long layoff though. I expect Villante to finish this fight within two rounds.
Ben Saunders ($9,400) vs. Kenny Robertson
We’re always looking for fights that will end in a finish and statistically, this one won’t last three rounds. Saunders (18-6, 5-3 UFC) and Robertson (15-3, 4-3 UFC) have combined for 42 professional fights and only nine of them have gone to a decision.
So with the likelihood that this fight will end before it gets to the judges, which fighter has the advantage? Both guys come into the fight hot. Robertson has won three in a row, while Saunders has won two straight. I give the edge in this matchup to Saunders.
The reason I like Saunders is because I think he’s a better overall fighter. Saunders is a more accurate striker and if the fight goes to the ground I see him having the advantage.
Robertson is a former wrestler but surprisingly he’s only succeeded in 22 percent of his takedown attempts in the UFC. Robertson did win his last fight over Sultan Aliev by knockout and his striking is improving. He’s going to be a tough out for Saunders.
I’ve always been very impressed with Saunders’ ground game. He defends 75 percent of his opponent’s takedowns and Saunders has never been submitted in 26 career fights.
I’m perfectly comfortable with Saunders whether this fight stays standing or goes to the ground. I think he can win it either way. My guess is Robertson uses his wrestling to try to take Killa B down and Saunders gets the win by submission.
James Krause ($9,100) vs. Daron Cruickshank
Sometimes value comes down to price point. I see this being a dead-even fight that Krause 21-7, (2-3 UFC) has a shot to win, so on some of my lineups, I’m throwing him in as my final fighter at his $9,100 salary.
Breaking down this matchup, Krause is 2-3 in his last five fights but two of those losses are to Jorge Masvidal and Bobby Green. Cruickshank (16-6, 6-4-1 UFC) is 1-2-1 in his last five fights. He also lost to Masvidal.
Krause lands 4.42 significant strikes per minute, is a more accurate striker and has better standup defense than Cruickshank. Krause is also tough to finish. He’s only been knocked out once in 28 career fights.
Cruickshank is a strong wrestler but Krause has 13 submission wins in his career. That’s a big stat in this fight because three of Cruickshank’s six career losses have come by way of submission. Even if Cruickshank uses his wrestling to take this fight to the ground, Krause won’t be at a big disadvantage because of his jiu-jitsu.
I won’t be shocked if this fight goes either way but based on the pricing I see value in Krause. He’s hard to finish and if the fight goes to the mat Krause can submit Cruickshank from his back.
In a fight that could go either way, I’ll call for an upset by The James Krause. He should look for a new nickname though.