This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
UFC 279 takes place Saturday, and Jon Litterine is back to break down the top fights, plus offer his DFS picks and predictions for the key matchups on the card.
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, including a $750k UFC 279 Special with $200k to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring rules are noted at the bottom of the column. Let's get to the action...
Main Event - Welterweight
Khamzat Chimaev (11-0-0) v. Nate Diaz (21-13-0)
DK Salaries: Chimaev ($9,600), Diaz ($6,600)
Vegas Odds: Chimaev (-1100), Diaz (+700)
Odds to Finish: -1200
Diaz has wanted out of his UFC contract for quite a while. Nate says a lot of stuff, so it's hard to differentiate between what he's truly serious about and what's just talk, but it's difficult to believe this is the best use of his star power. Diaz has fought just four times since 2016, and once since November 2019. Nate was undoubtedly a terrific fighter at one point. He is still tough as nails and keeps himself in excellent shape, but he turned 37 years of age last April, and it's nearly impossible to believe this bout will turn into anything other than a rout.
Chimaev is a perfect 5-0 in the UFC with four stoppage victories on his resume. His most recent fight was the one that did not see the final bell, and that was a unanimous decision against a darn good opponent in Gilbert Burns. The upside here is arguably the highest we have seen in recent memory, although a dominant victory over Diaz won't tell us anything regarding what to expect from Chimaev moving forward.
Khamzat is averaging 3.23 takedowns per 15 minutes, while Diaz defends the takedown at a dreadful 41-percent clip. Chimaev is going to be have to be careful from top position because Nate has excellent submissions and is extremely tricky off of his back, but he should be able to plant Diaz on the mat whenever he wants, which should, in theory, eliminate any real chance Nate has of hanging around in this fight.
I don't see any way Diaz can win this fight unless he either gets lucky or Chimaev makes a mistake. Perhaps Khamzat leaves an arm exposed on the mat or he gasses himself early and Nate can take advantage in the championship rounds, but that figures to be about where it ends in terms of potential paths to victory.
Chimaev got reckless on the feet in the Burns fight at times, but Diaz's last knockout win came in November 2013 against Gray Maynard, so given the fact we're going on a decade, that doesn't seem like a likely result.
I'm always terrified to use a fighter with the salary of Chimaev in my lineup, but I think you have to here. He's as near of a lock to win as you will see, and I expect him to do so in resounding fashion. My lone concern is if Diaz quickly decides he has had enough and pulls the plug, but I think Nate has too much pride to do that.
UFC 279 PICK: Chimaev
Co-Main Event - Welterweight
Li Jingliang (19-7-0) v. Tony Ferguson (26-7-0)
DK Salaries: Li ($9,000), Ferguson ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Li (-305), Ferguson (+255)
Odds to Finish: -135
The lack of depth on this card forced the UFC to throw together a handful of fights at the very last minute, with this being a prime example.
As painful as it is to say, Ferguson is almost certainly fighting for his job. Now 38 years of age, Tony has lost each of his last four fights and is without a win dating back to June 2019. Yes, those four defeats came against some of the best the division has to offer in Michael Chandler, Beneil Dariush, Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira, but Ferguson looks like a shell of his former self. His athleticism and creativity isn't the Octagon has vanished, and his durability is gone. This is far from an easy fight, and I'm really worried the struggles are going to continue.
Li has won two of three, with his lone setback being a lopsided first-round lost to Chimaev. Now 34 years of age, Li is 9-3 dating back to July 2016. His power is legitimate and durability is legendary, having never been stopped via strikes in his professional career. Li might not be as good as the top welterweights on the UFC roster, but he's not that far off. I'd be surprised if he doesn't beat Ferguson.
The breakdown of this fight stops and ends with the durability of each man. Even if Ferguson suddenly looks like the old Tony offensively, there's virtually no scenario in which he gets Li out of there quickly. That allows Li plenty of time to generate offense of his own, and given what we have seen from Ferguson the past couple years, I highly doubt he will hold up.
I'd like to give Ferguson the benefit of the doubt because of his past body of work, but simply cannot do it. From a fantasy perspective, we are better off assuming that guy is gone and never coming back. Tony will almost certainly be more competitive than Diaz in the main event, but that's not saying much. I'm taking Li here in a possible leverage opportunity -- Ferguson's popularity among the general fan base should keep his ownership high.
UFC 279 PICK: Li
Catch Weight (185 pounds)
Kevin Holland (23-7-0, 1NC) v. Daniel Rodriguez (16-2-0)
DK Salaries: Holland ($8,700), Rodriguez ($7,500)
Vegas Odds: Holland (-195), Rodriguez (+165)
Odds to Finish: -180
This was another fight thrown together at the last minute, which is why it's happening at a catch weight of 185 pounds.
A winner of six of seven UFC bouts, Rodriguez deserves the opportunity. A pure boxer with excellent striking technique, Rodriguez is averaging a whopping 8.06 significant strikes landed per minute. He doesn't throw many kicks and is willing to eat a shot in order to land two of his own, but he's been extremely impressive considering Rodriguez joined the company as nothing more than roster depth in February 2020.
Never one to turn down a fight, Holland had a three-fight winless streak (0-2, 1NC) not all that long ago, but has since rebounded with back-to-back wins over Alex Oliveira (TKO) and Tim Means (submission). Both of those fights ended in Round 2, and Holland looked quite poor in Round 1 of each before figuring it out. Holland is a tall, lanky guy who has struggled with his grappling. He's spent long stretches of his defeats pinned to the mat and effectively has made improving his takedown defense a priority. He's at 50 percent right now, which is dreadful.
I'm curious to see how this plays out. Wrestling isn't exactly Rodriguez's game. He averages 0.84 takedowns per 15 minutes. That said, it's by far the easiest and safest way to go about attacking Holland. I know he just submitted Means, but that's not a big part of his arsenal. If Rodriguez is confident in his grappling, it could end up being the difference.
My guess is Rodriguez has a better chance of victory than his $7,500 salary would indicate, and I don't mind him at all as a salary-relief play on a card with limited options, but I still think Holland wins. Daniel is going to have to put forth an outstanding grappling performance in order to steal this fight.
UFC 279 PICK: Holland
Irene Aldana (13-6-0) v. Macy Chiasson (9-2-0)
DK Salaries: Aldana ($8,800), Chiasson ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Aldana (-170), Chiasson (+145)
Odds to Finish: +130
Aldana joined the UFC roster in December 2016 following a long run with Invicta. She's 6-4 in her first ten fights with the company, although she's struggled when tasked with anything approaching halfway-decent competition. Her biggest fight was an October 2020 main event against Holly Holm in which she didn't win even one of the five rounds on all three of the judges' scorecards.
Much like Aldana, Chiasson doesn't have as much future potential as her 5-2 career UFC mark would lead you to believe. The competition Chiasson has faced -- Norma Dumont, Raquel Pennington, Marion Reneau, Shanna Young, Lina Lansberg, Sarah Moras, Gina Mazany -- has been shockingly poor. Chiasson has bounced back and forth between both bantamweight and featherweight, and I really have no idea which is her better long-term option because she's never fought anyone good.
Aldana is not a small woman at 5-foot-9, but she's giving up two inches in height and four inches in reach to Chiasson.
I expect Aldana to have a technical edge on the feet, but her striking defense is quite poor, and Chiasson is definitely the better grappler, averaging 1.95 takedowns per 15 minutes. It should be noted Aldana defends the takedown at a very solid 84-percent clip.
On an average pay-per-view card, this is a fight I would avoid every single time. The range of outcomes seems extremely wide and neither woman is an attractive fantasy option. Owners may not have that option on a card like this which lacks depth.
I would pick Aldana to win, all things being equal, but they're not. The payoff on Chiasson here is great enough that I'll take her to pull an upset outright. I don't expect either woman to overwhelm the other physically, meaning the fighter who is $1400 cheaper is likely the correct play, regardless of the result.
UFC 279 PICK: Chiasson
Johnny Walker (18-7-0) v. Ion Cutelaba (16-7-1, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Walker ($7,600), Cutelaba ($8,600)
Vegas Odds: Walker (+170), Cutelaba (-200)
Odds to Finish: -325
Walker looked like a future title contender after picking up three straight knockout wins, all in less than two minutes, to begin his UFC run. It's been all downhill since, as he has lost four of his last five dating back to November 2019. Walker has predictably struggled as the competition level he has faced has increased, which is highly concerning, to say the least.
Cutelaba hasn't been much better of late, sporting a 1-3-1 mark in his past five fights dating back to February 2020. Two of those defeats came against stud 205-pounder Magomed Ankalaev, so those setbacks are understandable, but his submission defeat to Ryan Spann this past May is concerning.
In many ways, Walker and Cutelaba are the same exact fighter. Both possess legitimate, fight-ending power and they don't need a lot of opportunities to close the show. On the flip side, both also have way below-average fight IQ and struggle to generate secondary offense if those power shots aren't landing.
Walker is going to have a massive size advantage. He's five inches taller than Cutelaba and will enter with a massive seven-inch reach edge.
The difference figures to be Cutelaba's wrestling. This is a guy who averages 4.75 takedowns per 15 minutes. Walker's grappling is questionable, as evidenced by his 62 percent takedown defense.
If you believe in Ion's grappling advantage, the over is a sneaky betting play. He could keep Walker pinned to the mat virtually the entire bout, taking a dull, grinding decision. If the two remaining standing, Walker's power could be the difference maker.
UFC 279 PICK: Cutelaba
Hakeem Dawodu (13-2-1) v. Julian Erosa (27-10-0)
DK Salaries: Dawodu ($8,900), Erosa ($7,300)
Vegas Odds: Dawodu (-210), Erosa (+180)
Odds to Finish: +120
UFC 279 PICK: Dawodu
Denis Tiuliulin (10-6-0) v. Jamie Pickett (13-7-0)
DK Salaries: Tiuliulin ($7,900), Pickett ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Tiuliulin (+105), Pickett (-125)
Odds to Finish: -110
UFC 279 PICK: Tiuliulin
Jake Collier (13-7-0) v. Chris Barnett (22-8-0)
DK Salaries: Collier ($9,100), Barnett ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Collier (-425), Barnett (+340)
Odds to Finish: -120
UFC 279 PICK: Collier
Norma Dumont (7-2-0) v. Danyelle Wolf (1-0-0)
DK Salaries: Dumont ($9,200), Wolf ($7,000)
Vegas Odds: Dumont (-365), Wolf (+300)
Odds to Finish: +150
UFC 279 PICK: Dumont
Chad Anheliger (12-5-0) v. Heili Alateng (15-8-2)
DK Salaries: Anheliger ($7,800), Alateng ($8,400)
Vegas Odds: Anheliger (+150), Alateng (-175)
Odds to Finish: +120
UFC 279 PICK: Alateng
Melissa Martinez (7-0-0) v. Elise Reed (5-2-0)
DK Salaries: Martinez ($8,500), Reed ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Martinez (-165), Reed (+140)
Odds to Finish: +160
UFC 279 PICK: Martinez
Darian Weeks (5-2-0) v. Yohan Lainesse (8-1-0)
DK Salaries: Weeks ($8,200), Lainesse ($8,000)
Vegas Odds: Weeks (-125), Lainesse (+105)
Odds to Finish: -175
UFC 279 PICK: Lainesse
Note: All odds accurate as of time of posting, and taken from the DraftKings Sportsbook, if available, before searching elsewhere. Stay up to date for UFC 279 with more MMA betting content.
DraftKings MMA Scoring
Note: Scoring has been updated as of early-2021! Please review the scoring changes below.
Strikes: +0.2 PTS
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.2 PTS
Control Time: +0.03 PTS/SECOND
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
Quick Win Bonus: +25 PTS
(fight is finished in 60 seconds or less)
- Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
- A Significant Strike will count as both a strike and a significant strike and will be worth a total of 0.4 Pts
- Control Time is the time spent in the dominant position on the ground or in the clinch. +0.03 points are awarded per second.
- A Knockdown is awarded to a fighter who knocks his/her opponent down due to debilitation for what the official scorers consider an appreciable amount of time.
- A Quick Win Bonus is awarded to the winning fighter if they win in the first round in 60 seconds or less.