UFC 228: DraftKings Fantasy MMA Underdog Picks

Saturday night can’t get here fast enough. The past several weeks have been a barren wasteland with just a single UFC event taking place since Aug. 4. Thankfully, that will change with UFC 228 — a fantastic card with several compelling matchups fans really can sink their teeth into.

There are two title bouts in the main and co-main events, and while Tyron Woodley vs. Darren Till is likely to be a truly competitive battle, Valentina Shevchenko vs. Nicco Montano seems more like a formality than anything else, as Shevchenko is the biggest favorite in recent history — and rightfully so.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Shevchenko/Montano fight was removed from the card after Montano was hospitalized due to a kidney issue.

Jimmie Rivera returns after a brutal knockout loss suffered at the hands of Marlon Moraes, Tatiana Suarez will face her first elite-level competition in Carla Esparza and Niko Price returns against the heavy-handed Abdul Razak Alhassan. We also can’t forget New Jersey’s Jim Miller is making his 30th octagon appearance. THIRTY fights in the UFC alone!!

As of this writing, there are 14 fights set to commence, and I’ve selected four I believe will end in upsets. These four underdogs might just be the extra boost you need to take your fantasy MMA lineup from merely good to out-freaking-standing!

Irene Aldana ($8,200) vs. Lucie Pudilova ($8,000)

This, like the rest of the card, is a very evenly matched fight. Aldana has been underwhelming in her UFC run, though, having just one win to her credit inside the octagon. Her striking defense has more holes than an anthill, and her offense isn’t exactly memorable — if one can even count a steady jab as offense.

Pudilova, on the other hand, is in a state of perpetual motion, pushing a relentless pace and being hyper-aggressive right out the gate. The level of competition these two have fought aren’t worlds apart, either. Pudilova’s upside outweighs Aldana’s, so I’m leaning in her favor to get the W.

Prediction — Lucie Pudilova via decision

Jimmie Rivera ($8,400) vs. Jon Dodson ($7,800)

Rivera is a blue collar-style striker with real power. He likes fighting in a phone booth and does very well there. He’s also a talented wrestler and frequently utilizes that facet of his game against those who can stand and trade with him. This is going to be a litmus test for him, though, as he’s coming off a devastating knockout loss to Moraes. For some, that first trip back to Punchtown after getting the lights turned off in such violent fashion can lead to timidity and extreme caution.

Dodson is a notoriously slow starter, but once he gets going, his speed and agility usually can be counted on to balance those slow beginnings. His ability to keep out of harm’s way while still stepping in to potshot his opponents doesn’t seem to have eroded over a long, 14-year career, either. I don’t see a finish for Dodson, but I do see a victory for him.

Prediction — Jon Dodson via decision

Tatiana Suarez ($9,200) vs. Carla Esparza ($7,000)

This fight won’t be the massive blowout win for Suarez that oddsmakers would have you believe it will be. Suarez is undoubtedly a talented athlete, but Esparza will be her first top-five opponent. Hell, she’ll be her first top-10 opponent, too. And while Suarez is a strong wrestler, that particular discipline is Esparza’s bread and butter.

Esparza has the experience and wily veteran moves to handle those who seek to use her as a stepping stone for title contention, not to mention her obvious striking improvements she’s made. Before you say, “But Stephie, Suarez is so much taller, won’t she have a distinct size advantage?” let me just stop you right there. Carla’s been fighting taller opponents her entire career. Suarez’s height/size is average considering Maryna Moroz is 5’7” and Esparza won an easy decision against her without even breaking a sweat. As a matter of fact, Carla has never fought a single opponent shorter than herself — she’s always been the smaller combatant.

I do think Suarez is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the division, but I don’t think that run will start with Carla.

Prediction — Carla Esparza via decision

Abdul Razak Alhassan ($8,300) vs. Niko Price ($7,900)

This fight has “not going the distance” written all over it. Alhassan is a knockout machine with only a single contest going to a decision. He’s never been past the first round outside that one fight. He’s a man whose sole objective is to crush his enemies, see them driven before him and to hear the lamentations of their women. However, we must backtrack to the one fight that went the distance — it was a loss, to Omari Akhmedov, and the reason Alhassan lost was because his gas tank went from 100 to 0 in about four minutes. I believe that will be a problem in this fight.

Price is also a terminator, and if you want to see one of the best knockouts of all time, go watch his last fight against Randy Brown, where he KO’d him from the bottom — with hammerfists! While basically supporting Brown’s unconscious weight on his knees!

Here’s the nuts and bolts of this fight: While both men have undoubted finishing ability between them, Price has excellent grappling and fight IQ. He also has solid cardio, and he’s fought better competition. He’s just got a lot more avenues to victory, so it’s not a hard choice to pick him for the upset.

Prediction — Niko Price via (T)KO

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