WATCH: FIGHT PREVIEW WITH ROB FONT – JEDRZEJCZYK VS. NAMAJUNAS
Saturday night, the UFC will put forth one of its biggest cards of the year, UFC 217. The star-studded event will see three titles on the line (middleweight, strawweight and bantamweight) as well as a plethora of other intriguing matchups. The biggest story is the return of former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre after a four-year hiatus from action. He not only returns to compete for a title, he’s challenging at the middleweight limit of 185 pounds for the very first time.
To say this is must-see TV would be an understatement. Title fights aside, there are some that look as though they could be reasonably positioned as possible title contender eliminators, especially the one featuring welterweight strikers Jorge Masvidal and Stephen Thompson.
Before I get too far off track here, I’m going to steer the ship back to the course it’s intended to be on, the underdogs. I’ve selected the four fighters I feel have the best chance to upset the favorites. These athletes could make all the difference to your Draftkings fantasy teams. Let’s get started:
Cody Garbrandt $8,300 / TJ Dillashaw $7,900
Cody Garbrandt is a fantastic boxer, there’s no two ways around it. Before he joined Team Alpha Male, he trained out of Team Strongstyle in Cleveland with Stipe Miocic and Brian Rogers under striking coach Joe Delguyd, where he refined his raw talent initially. Once he moved to TAM, he polished the rest of his game, which was showcased in his fight with Dominick Cruz, a fight he absolutely dominated. The weakest part of his skillset is his wrestling, an area Dillashaw excels in.
Dillashaw is also an accomplished striker with great footwork and once trained alongside Garbrandt at TAM. He left under a hailstorm of controversy a few years back, and these two competitors have had beef ever since. Dillashaw works angles well and also has knockout power, evidenced by six (T)KOs. He’s a strong wrestler with a great takedown game, which he’ll no doubt put into action Saturday night.
This is another instance where my gut is telling me Dillashaw might have what it takes to hand Grabrandt his first professional loss.
TJ Dillashaw via (T)KO
Stephen Thompson $8,600 / Jorge Masvidal $7,600
Stephen Thompson, the two-time title challenger to Tyron Woodley’s welterweight crown, is a tall, rangy kickboxer with an excellent striking skillset. He’s got power and great footwork, as demonstrated by seven (T)KO wins over a 16-fight professional career. The hole in his overall game is his wrestling, and his last two fights, both against Woodley, ended in lackluster decisions that didn’t see him victorious, which might prey on his confidence, especially because Masvidal and Woodley are teammates at ATT.
Masvidal has been in the sport for 14-years and has 44 professional fights under his belt. He has experienced continual evolution over the years, a feat rarely seen with longtime veterans of the sport. Masvidal has a traditional boxing style with a crisp jab and real power. His ground game is very underrated, likely because he does so well standing, so we don’t get to see it too often.
This will be a very close fight, especially because these two are so well matched, but I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing Masvidal spoiling Thompson’s night, as he’s done with so many others.
Jorge Masvidal via DEC
Joe Duffy $8,500 / James Vick $7,700
Joe Duffy is a great striker and submission artist. He’s got five wins by (T)KO and 10 wins via submission. He’s not an overly gifted wrestler, but once the fight is on the ground, he shines in the scrambles and is dangerous from both top and bottom position. He’ll be giving up five inches in height and three inches in reach to Vick, who will likely use that as an opportunity to land heavy kicks from the outside to soften up the Irishman for an inevitable war.
James Vick has had an impressive run in the UFC, losing only to Beneil Dariush in eight fights under the promotion’s banner. At 6’3”, he’s got the long man’s game down to a science. He’s a polished striker with a solid jab and a very good submission game of his own. He’s faced better quality competition than Duffy has, and that experience combined with his aggressive style and physical advantages should see him get the W.
James Vick via DEC
Aleksei Oleinik $8,200 / Curtis Blaydes $8,000
Aleksei Oleinik is an amazingly accomplished Ukranian grappler who has 45 submission wins over the course of a 65-fight career. Ten of those submissions are by the ultra-rare Ezekiel choke, and he actually holds the record for most Ezekiel chokes in MMA competition. Despite his sterling record, Oleinik is getting quite long in the tooth, and at the age of 40 with lots of shopwear, his cardio has begun exhibiting a serious deficit.
Curtis Blaydes will enter the Madison Square Garden Arena 14 years the junior of his opponent and with much less experience than the veteran Oleinik. That said, he packs quite a punch, having won all his fights by TKO, with the exception of a unanimous decision to Daniel Omielanczuk, who just so happens to be the last man to beat Oleinik. He’s a powerful wrestler with excellent takedowns and great cardio considering how big he is.
This is a risky pick, but I’m taking Blaydes here based on power, durability and cardio.
Curtis Blaydes via DEC
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is crooklyn949) 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. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.