This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
After another multi-week event layoff, it's time to get back in the game on DraftKings. Saturday's UFC 224 offers intrigue for all fight fans, featuring the roster's elite combatants, up-and-coming prospects and UFC legends.
If you're hoping to turn the event into an opportunity to build your DFS bankroll, DraftKings.com has you covered with a full slate of contests. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
(Please note that DraftKings altered their scoring system in December 2016 to add a new fighter to the lineup and adjust scoring. The most recent point values are listed below.)
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 PTS
Advance (ADVC): +3 PT
Takedown (TD): +5 PTS
Reversal/Sweep (REV): +5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +10 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses
1st Round Win (1rW+): +90 PTS
2nd Round Win (2rW+): +70 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rW+): +45 PTS
4th Round Win (4rW+): +40 PTS
5th Round Win (5rW+): +40 PTS
Decision Win (WBD+): +30 PTS
Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
Advances include: To Half Guard, To Side Control, To Mount, To Back Control
Now, on to the fights...
Main Event - Women's Bantamweight Championship(C) Amanda Nunes (15-4-0) v. Raquel Pennington (9-6-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Nunes ($9,500), Pennington ($6,700)
Vegas Odds: Nunes (-740), Pennington (+520)
Odds to Finish: -225
This is not a great fight and it is made even more disappointing by the fact that a bout between Nunes and UFC Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg seemed to be a real possibility for a while. That matchup still seems likely to take place if (when) Nunes defeats Pennington, but until then we are left with a main event that seems likely to draw a low buy rate.
Nunes has established herself as the clear No. 1 fighter in a division that suddenly lacks high-end depth. She has massive power and she hasn't lost a fight in more than three and a half years. Her cardio, which was once a weakness, no longer appears to be an issue. Nunes would be giving up a boatload of size and strength to Cyborg, but she is going to have an edge over Pennington in those areas. Since entering the UFC in August 2013, some of Nunes' victims include: Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Miesha Tate, Sara McMann and Germaine de Randamie. She has legitimately developed into one of the better pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Pennington has won four fights in a row so it's not as if she hasn't earned her opportunity, but there is nothing that would lead me to believe that she has a realistic chance of defeating Nunes. Viewed for the longest time as little more than roster depth, Pennington is tough and well-rounded despite being limited from an athletic perspective. She has trouble finishing fights, particularly on the feet, and she is going to be in a world of hurt if she allows Nunes to get her boxing game going.
Barring some unforeseen mistake, I think Nunes wins this fight easily. Pennington doesn't possess the Muay Thai skills of someone like Shevchenko or the submission skills of someone like Tate. Nunes has proven time and time again that she can beat a variety of different opponents and I would be very surprised, bordering on shocked, if Pennington gave her any real trouble. Her durability and toughness may allow her to see the final bell, but I don't see how she actually wins.
THE PICK: Nunes
Co-Main Event - MiddleweightJacare Souza (25-5-0, 1NC) v. Kelvin Gastelum (15-3-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Souza ($8,400), Gastelum ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Souza (-150), Gastelum (+130)
Odds to Finish: -245
If you're looking for a bout featuring two high-level fighters with contrasting strengths, this is the bout for you. The victor will find himself right in the mix for a shot at the UFC Middleweight Championship.
Jacare rebounded from his loss to Robert Whittaker last April with a first-round KO of Derek Brunson in January. It was a fight the 38-year-old Brazilian had to have and he passed the test with flying colors. Jacare's submission skills remain all-world, and he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down despite his advanced age. He keeps himself in terrific shape and is going to have a size and strength advantage over Gastelum. Jacare has the requisite tools to win a grappling battle with any man on the planet, so you know his goal will be to try to avoid Gastelum's power shots and get the fight to the ground.
Kelvin's only slip up in the past two and a half years came in a fight against former champion Chris Weidman in which he was simply unable to make up the massive size differential between the two men. Gastelum used to compete at welterweight and Weidman is big enough to compete at light heavyweight, so it's easy to see why Gastelum had a problem. Other than that fight, he has looked terrific since moving up to 185 pounds. He has more than enough power in his hands for his striking to play at the higher weight class, and his wrestling game, while we don't see it often, is severely underrated.
This is a close fight and one in which I had difficulty picking a winner. As good as Jacare is on the mat, I think Gastelum has a better chance of staying on his feet than Souza does of beating Kelvin in a kickboxing match. Jacare needs to turn this into a physical grind if he hopes to win. It certainly could happen, but the value in Gastelum as an underdog is too much for me to pass up.
THE PICK: Gastelum
Women's StrawweightMackenzie Dern (6-0-0) v. Amanda Cooper (4-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Dern ($9,100), Cooper ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Dern (-230), Cooper (+190)
Odds to Finish: -145
Realizing they have a potential marketing gold mine on their hands, the UFC is pushing Dern to the main card of a Pay-Per-View a little over eight weeks after her thoroughly underwhelming debut against Ashley Yoder. Dern won the fight via unanimous decision, but it wasn't pretty. The good news is that they are giving the 25-year-old former world Jiu-Jitsu champion another layup in Cooper. Dern is an elite mat specialist, but the rest of her game could charitably be termed a work in progress. She has youth, athleticism, and pedigree on her side, but there will almost certainly be bumps along the way.
A former Ultimate Fighter finalist, Copper has shown little in her four official fights with the company. She hasn't fought as well as her 2-2 record would lead you to believe. Her background is in boxing and I can guarantee you that she will do everything necessary to keep this fight standing. If the two women end up on the mat, Cooper is done.
Dern is probably going to win, but I saw a bunch of things in her first fight that worry me and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility that Cooper pulls off the upset. All (or at least most) of her issues will likely sort themselves out with better coaching and more experience, but I can't see Dern making monumental strides in a two-month span. Dern's athleticism advantage will be somewhat negated by the fact that she is still developing as a mixed martial artist. You should always bet on world-class athletes in this sport, but that doesn't necessarily make Dern much of a DraftKings play in her second fight with the UFC.
THE PICK: Dern
BantamweightJohn Lineker (30-8-0) v. Brian Kelleher (19-8-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Lineker ($9,000), Kelleher ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Lineker (-240), Kelleher (+200)
Odds to Finish: +155
Lineker's only loss in the last four plus years came against current UFC Bantamweight Champion T.J. Dillashaw. The Brazilian is 7-1 in that span and he has rarely been challenged in any of those bouts. Lineker hits like a Mack Truck. He struggled at flyweight because he had too much muscle mass to cut down to 125 pounds, but his power more than plays in the higher weight class. Lineker looks healthier, he's moving better, and his cardio issues are seemingly behind him. If he isn't currently a top-five bantamweight, Lineker is lurking on the fringes.
While Lineker is the known commodity, Kelleher remains one of the biggest wild cards in the entire division. The 31-year-old Long Island native has racked up a 3-1 record with the company, including a dominant unanimous-decision win over former long-time UFC Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao in late February. A win over Barao these days doesn't mean half as much as it would have four or five years ago, but it was still a heck of a performance from 'Boom'. With seven career wins via knockout and eight via submission, Kelleher is a legitimate all-around mixed martial artist.
You aren't beating Lineker these days unless you are a top-flight opponent. and we are going to find out how game Kelleher is very quickly. My guess is that he's a well above-average bantamweight, but not on Lineker's level. Then again, not many are. There are worse ideas than using Kelleher as a substantial underdog, but I don't think he is going to win. Facing Renan Barao in 2018 and facing Lineker are two entirely different animals.
THE PICK: Lineker
MiddleweightVitor Belfort (26-13-0, 1NC) v. Lyoto Machida (23-8-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Belfort ($7,300), Machida ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Belfort (+225), Machida (-265)
Odds to Finish: -145
Belfort (age 41) and Machida (age 39) should both retire, but if they insist on continuing to fight, the UFC needs to book them in fights such as this one: fights against older, aging veterans that aren't going to overwhelm them with athleticism.
Respect your elders, so we'll cover Belfort first. "The Phenom" hasn't been very phenomenal lately. His victory over the equally washed-up Nate Marquardt last June was his first since November 2015. Due to age and a variety of other reasons that I don't need to get into, Belfort's trademark explosiveness has evaporated. Sure, he can go full bore for a couple minutes, but his gas tank reaches empty in a hurry. He still has legitimate power, but no halfway decent fighter is ever going to let him unload on them early knowing full well Belfort is useless over the course of the final two rounds.
Machida was likely going to be released had he lost to Eryk Anders in February, but the judges in his native Brazil awarded him a questionable split-decision victory. I think it's safe to say that Machida has fallen further, and faster, than Belfort. The only thing you can say in defense of The Dragon is that his last four fights have all come against quality opponents (Anders, Derek Brunson, Yoel Romero, Luke Rockhold). Machida's unorthodox Karate skills have seemingly evaporated as he has aged. A pro for nearly 15 years, Machida has been fighting the best in the world for more than a decade.
Anyone that tells you they have any idea what is going to happen in the fight would be lying. It's a total crapshoot and I'm shocked that Machida is such a big favorite in both the Vegas odds and DraftKings salaries. I think I have more faith in Machida over the course of 15 minutes, but I'm not entirely convinced he is going to survive the first (and likely only) big flurry that Belfort throws at him. Being I am at the point where I basically refuse to pick Belfort in any fight, I guess I'm going with Machida, but he won't be in any of my lineups. Belfort is the better DraftKings play given his salary because he has a reasonable chance of overwhelming Machida with early volume.
THE PICK: Machida
MiddleweightCezar Ferreira (13-6-0) v. Karl Roberson (6-0-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Ferreira ($7,600), Roberson ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Ferreira (+125), Roberson (-145)
Odds to Finish: -170
THE PICK: Roberson
HeavyweightAleksei Oleinik (52-11-1) v. Junior Albini (14-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Oleinik ($8,000), Albini ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Oleinik (+125), Albini (-145)
Odds to Finish: -225
THE PICK: Oleinik
LightweightDavi Ramos (7-2-0) v. Nick Hein (14-2-0, 1NC)
DraftKings Salaries: Ramos ($8,500), Hein ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Ramos (-140), Hein (+120)
Odds to Finish: +180
THE PICK: Hein
WelterweightElizeu Zaleski dos Santos (18-5-0) v. Sean Strickland (18-2-1)
DraftKings Salaries: Zaleski dos Santos ($8,100), Strickland ($8,100)
Vegas Odds: Zaleski dos Santos (-135), Strickland (+115)
Odds to Finish: +195
THE PICK: Strickland
WelterweightWarlley Alves (12-2-0) v. Sultan Aliev (14-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Alves ($8,800), Aliev ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Alves (-230), Aliev (+190)
Odds to Finish: -125
THE PICK: Alves
MiddleweightThales Leites (27-8-0) v. Jack Hermansson (16-4-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Leites ($7,900), Hermansson ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Leites (+130), Hermansson (-150)
Odds to Finish: +105
THE PICK: Hermansson
WelterweightAlberto Mina (13-0-0) v. Ramazan Emeev (16-3-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Mina ($7,500), Emeev ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Mina (+175), Emeev (-210)
Odds to Finish: -170
THE PICK: Emeev
MiddleweightMarkus Perez (9-1-0) v. Jack Bochnovic (8-2-0)
DraftKings Salaries: Perez ($9,200), Bochnovic ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Perez (-270), Bochnovic (+230)
Odds to Finish: -175
THE PICK: Perez