This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
UFC Vegas 65 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex, 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 $350k Throwdown with $100k 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 - Heavyweight
Set to turn 38 years of age this coming February, time has essentially run out for Lewis in terms of him being any sort of legitimate contender in the heavyweight division. That said, because of his immense popularity, he is still getting main event fights such as this one. Lewis is 1-3 in his last four bouts, with all ending via knockout. His two most recent setbacks -- to Sergei Pavlovich and Tai Tuivasa -- were extremely concerning.
Spivac is a pretty boring fighter, and he hasn't fought much quality competition over the course of his UFC run, but it's difficult to argue with the results. He's 5-1 in his last half-dozen fights, with three of those wins coming via knockout. Of course, those five victories came against Augusto Sakai, Greg Hardy, Aleksei Oleinik, Jared Vanderaa and Carlos Felipe. The one time Spivac fought a high-end opponent (Tom Aspinall), Spivac was knocked out in less than three minutes.
It shouldn't come as much of a shock that Lewis is beginning to struggle. He's a one-dimensional knockout artist with zero secondary offensive skills. The power is still there, but I'd go as far as to say Lewis is nothing more than a fringe-roster fighter if these recent durability issues are here to stay. Between the advanced age, his limited skill set and the fact he has been injured over the course of his career, I have little faith the "old" Lewis will be returning.
Spivac is going to have a massive edge in terms of grappling. He's averaging 4.09 takedowns per 15 minutes, while Lewis defends the takedown at a paltry 56 percent clip. Sergei should shoot over and over, if for no other reason than to limit Lewis' ability to fire off unanswered power shots. In short, Spivac should win this fight going away as long as he avoids getting knocked out.
All that said, Lewis looks like a halfway decent value play here given his extremely cheap salary. He seems quite likely to be massively owned in large tournaments because the potential payoff is massive.
Spivac is almost exactly a decade younger, an immensely better athlete and has multiple ways to win, so he's the pick, but I don't feel as great about it as I would like given the gap in overall talent between the two. "The Black Beast" is a live underdog.
THE PICK: Spivac
Co-Main Event - Light Heavyweight
This is last call for Cutelaba, who has lost back-to-back fights and has just a single victory in his last six bouts (1-4-1) dating back to February 2022. All of Cutelaba's success inside the Octagon has come against far lesser competition. Not only has he been losing to better fighters, but he's been dominated. Each of his last four defeats have come via first-round stoppage, two via knockout and two via submission. Ion will turn just 29 years of age in mid-December, but I see no real reason to be optimistic moving forward.
Nzechukwu is in better shape, if for no other reason than the fact he is coming off a knockout win over Karl Roberson this past July. It was a performance that likely saved Kennedy's job considering he entered that fight off back-to-back defeats against Nicolae Negumereanu (split decision) and Da Un Jung (knockout).
Kennedy didn't land a single takedown in any of his first six bouts with the UFC before firing off five successful attempts in the win over Roberson. My initial instinct is that the change in game plan was simply the result of exploiting a weakness of his opponent, but being a consistent threat in the grappling department would greatly enhance Nzechukwu's overall long-term outlook.
Cutelaba struggles with his submission defense and has durability issues. He's also giving up four inches and height and eight inches in reach to Kennedy. That's the bad news. The good news is that he lands 4.68 takedowns per 15 minutes and has a clear path to victory if he is able to get Nzechukwu to the mat repeatedly. I certainly wouldn't term Kennedy an above-average athlete, but his 81 percent takedown defense to date has been impressive.
Any Cutelaba victory will almost certainly be a slow, boring affair. He's going to have to rack up multiple takedowns and secure a boatload of control time in order to win a decision. It's possible, but I'd term it unlikely. His durability issues swing me in Nzechukwu's direction, even if I don't love the play outright.
THE PICK: Nzechukwu
A former member of both Bellator and the PFL, Fialho has proven to be an all-or-nothing fighter during his brief run with the company. He's 2-2, with one of the wins and both of the defeats coming via knockout. Fialho has legitimate power, but his striking defense (6.65 significant strikes absorbed per minute) is horrific, and it's difficult to believe any sort of change is forthcoming. It makes for entertaining television, but will almost certainly prohibit Fialho from running off any type of prolonged winning streak.
Salikhov had a five-fight winning streak snapped in a knockout defeat to Li Jingliang this past July. A former professional kickboxer, Salikhov's main issue has been the fact he rarely fights. Already 38 years of age, Muslim fought twice in 2019, and once in 2020, 2021, and 2022. He's going to have to pick up the activity level if he hopes of making any sort of serious impact at 170 pounds.
Fialho is frustrating. He would seem to have legitimate potential if he simply calmed down and fought smarter. It hasn't happened yet, and I'd be shocked if it ever happens. That makes him virtually impossible to pick in a tight fight unless the knockout materializes. The good news for Andre is that he enters with a four-inch reach edge -- a potentially massive development if this fight remains standing.
On the flip side, Li is one of the most underrated welterweights on the UFC roster and I'm willing to give Salikhov a pass for that defeat. That said, he needs to rebound here.
This is the very definition of a pick 'em, as the Vegas odds essentially indicate. Fialho is a decade younger and has more power, Salikhov is a better athlete and much better defensively. Flip a coin. I tend to go with athleticism and fight IQ when undecided, and that makes Salikhov my pick, albeit it with little confidence.
THE PICK: Salikhov
One of the brightest prospects in the sport today, the 26-year-old Della Maddalena arrived on the scene with a unanimous decision win over Ange Loosa on Dana White's Contender Series in September 2021. He has made two official appearances with the UFC since, scoring first-round knockout wins over Pete Rodriguez and Ramazan Emeev. Jack is a high-volume striker with a ton of power. It's still too early to accurately identify his long-term potential, but his run with the company could not have started any better.
Roberts has lost three of five dating back to March 2019, with one of those wins -- a split decision over Emeev last October -- being the result of a brutal judges decision. A native of England, Roberts was seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He's fought just twice since November 2019, a massive issue for a guy that turned 35 years of age this past July. "Hot Sauce" has some impressive knockout wins on his resume, but the inactivity is a real problem.
Della Maddalena is getting a ton of respect for a guy we have barely seen inside the Octagon. He's the highest priced fighter on the entire card, $400 more than the next closest competitor, which is Spivac.
I would typically shy away from a virtual unknown like Della Maddalena given his price tag. The risk would outweigh the reward in a normal case. This is not a normal case. This is an extremely thin card and betting on Della Maddalena, despite his salary, seems like a wise move given the lack of depth and the question marks the further down the card you go. I don't even hate using Roberts as a total punt plan in event of an emergency. Regardless, this is an easy pick.
THE PICK: Della Maddalena
Chase Sherman (16-10-0) v. Waldo Cortes-Acosta (8-0-0)
DK Salaries: Sherman ($7,100), Cortes-Acosta ($9,100)
Vegas Odds: Sherman (+160), Cortes-Acosta (-190)
Odds to Finish: -280
THE PICK: Cortes-Acosta
Vanessa Demopoulos (8-4-0) v. Maria Oliveira (13-5-0)
DK Salaries: Demopoulos ($8,000), Oliveira ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Demopoulos (+100), Oliveira (-120)
Odds to Finish: +135
THE PICK: Demopoulos
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 Vegas 65 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.