This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Set your alarms for early-morning MMA on Saturday, as the UFC returns to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi with two championship belts on the line.
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 $500k UFC 267 Special with $100k to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring is distributed as follows:
Note: Scoring has been updated as of early-2021! Please review the scoring changes below.
Strikes: +0.2 PTS
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.5 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.
Main Event - Light Heavyweight Championship
As recently as just a few years ago, I would have guessed that both of these men would be closer to being released than fighting each other for UFC gold. Times change. Both Blachowicz and Glover– who were originally scheduled to fight late last month – enter on a five-fight winning streak.
Blachowicz won the vacant UFC title in September 2020 with a victory over Dominick Reyes. He successfully defended it this past March, handing Israel Adesanya his first pro loss. I wouldn't say Blachowicz looked great in the Adesanya fight, but he was the much bigger man, and that was enough to earn the unanimous decision. Regular readers of this column know I have consistently doubted Jan, and he has consistently proven me wrong. His career has turned out infinitely better than I ever would have imagined in my wildest dreams.
Teixeira turns 42 years of age two days before this event takes place. The only undefeated thing in sports is Father Time, but Glover has somehow turned back the clock to rack up wins over Thiago Santos, Anthony Smith, Nikita Krylov, Ion Cutelaba and Karl Roberson since January 2019. He deserves this opportunity. Teixeira fought once for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title in the past, dropping a lopsided unanimous decision to Jon Jones in an April 2014 fight in Baltimore I personally attended.
Glover's age is obviously a massive concern over the long-term and would certainly impact his ability to hold the belt through multiple title defenses should he win Saturday, but he keeps himself in great shape, and I doubt his advanced age impacts his performance in any way here.
Both men hit hard. The offensive striking numbers are similar, although Blachowicz tends to absorb about one less significant strike per minute than his opponent. I was worried about Glover's chin a few years ago, but that seemed to be a minor blip on the radar that has been corrected.
I would term Teixeira the better wrestler, but both defend the takedown at about a 60-65 percent clip, which isn't all that great. The vast majority of this fight is likely to be spent on the feet.
This is a six-fight main card and virtually all of the fights are lopsided in terms of the DK salaries and Vegas odds. That said, I think many of the underdogs have a chance and are fair tournament plays. That starts with Glover. I imagine Texieira will put forth a better performance than people think, but I still don't think he'll win. Win or lose, it's nothing short of a miracle he has earned another title opportunity, and he deserves it.
THE PICK: Blachowicz
Co-Main Event - interim Bantamweight Championship
Yan, the former UFC Bantamweight Champion, lost his belt to Aljamain Sterling via DQ this past March. It was a fight Yan was dominating before a blatant illegal knee to Sterling's head late in Round 4 cost him his title. The two were scheduled for a rematch here before Sterling was forced to withdraw due to a neck issue.
I picked Sterling in that fight and couldn't have been more wrong. I thought Aljamain's pressure and size advantage would give Yan all sorts of issues, but the Russian easily handle anything his opponent threw his way before unloading with everything but the kitchen sink. Yan has ridiculously fast hands and an excellent chin. He has serious long-term staying power at age 28.
Sandhagen has been excellent since joining the UFC in January 2018, but he's 2-2 in his past four fights and is coming off a split decision to T.J. Dillashaw this past July. The Sterling withdrawal forced the company to move things around, and Sandhagen may have have very well won the Dillashaw fight, but having a guy with a .500 record in his past four bouts fighting for a title doesn't look great.
The big thing here is the size differential between the two. Sandhagen is four inches taller, although I imagine it will seem like more than that once these two get into Octagon. Yan hasn't had a single UFC fight in which his opponent was bigger than him, so I'm fascinated to see how he goes about trying to attack Sandhagen. My guess is he doesn't change much, relying on volume and confidence in his chin to push the pace on the feet.
For a fighter who lands a ton on the feet (5.99 significant strikes per minute), Yan rarely gets hit (3.55 absorbed per minute). He also averages north of two takedowns (2.14) per 15 minutes. Toss in the fact he has an excellent chin, and you have a fighter capable of holding the belt for a long time.
Again, Sandhagen seems undervalued, as you will almost certainly never be able to find him at $7,400 once again, but I don't think he wins. That's simply the result of how good I think Yan is. I expect another competitive fight.
THE PICK: Yan
Hooker is fresh off beating Nasrat Haqparast from pillar to post just five weeks ago in a unanimous-decision win, but that didn't stop him from accepting this fight following the withdrawal of Rafael dos Anjos. Hooker is better than RDA at this stage of his career, so this isn't a positive development for Makhachev, although I doubt it makes a difference.
With Makhachev's teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov retired, there are plenty of educated people in this sport who feel Islam is the best lightweight on the planet today. He dropped his second UFC bout to Adriano Martins via a fluky knockout and has since gone on to win eight-straight fights, not being challenged in any of them. Makhachev is legitimately one of the very best wrestlers in the sport today, which isn't surprising considering who he trains with. He's averaging 3.31 takedowns per 15 minutes while connecting on 65 percent of his tries. Hooker is toast if Makhachev gets him to the mat with regularity, and I'm sure he knows that.
Hooker is two inches taller and has a massive five-inch reach edge, which could come in handy if he can manage to stay upright. I'd give Hooker a chance against any lightweight on the roster in a kickboxing match, but Makhachev is a tall ask for any man in the division right now. To Hooker's credit, his takedown defense – which now stands at 80 percent – has improved immensely over the course of his time with the UFC. Hooker was taken down at least twice in four of his first six bouts with the company. It hasn't happened since.
Hooker is very talented and widely respected around MMA, but the fact he's such as massive underdog tells you how good Makhachev is and what is expected of him moving forward.
We've seen some ungodly performances from Hooker in terms of toughness and determination, and that's exactly what he will need here. The thing I like about Makhachev is that he is going to fire off repeated additional takedown attempts even if the first few fail. The issue for Hooker is that he has no margin for error. Even one successful takedown should ensure he loses that round. I expect a statement with from Makhachev.
THE PICK: Makhachev
I've been a Volkov fan for quite a while and have long felt he is underrated. He an elite-level kickboxer and deceptively athletic for a man who stands at 6-foot-7. Of course, neither of those traits helped him in a lopsided unanimous decision loss to Ciryl Gane in late June. Gane is fighting Francis Ngannou for the UFC Heavyweight Championship early next year and has a legitimate chance to win, so I'm giving Volkov a pass there.
Tybura also fought in June, knocking out Walt Harris in Round 1. He has won five straight, including the last two via KO, each of which won him a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. I'm still not sold on Tybura despite the recent run of success. He turns 36 years old in a couple weeks, has never defeated anyone all that good and has a questionable chin. He's certainly better than the fringe-roster fighters he is going up against, but I need to see more. If he handles a quality opponent in Volkov, I'll be impressed.
Tybura may have back-to-back knockouts under his belt, but this is your typical striker/grappler battle. A prolonged kickboxing match favors Volkov is a major way. He possess length Tybura could only dream off, while also being the far more technical man in the stand-up. From a grappling standpoint, Tybura averages 1.67 takedowns per 15 minutes while Volkov defends them at a middling 67 percent clip.
When I first saw the DraftKings salaries and Vegas odds here, I thought they were a bit lopsided in Volkov's favor, but the more I think about it, the more I agree with them. Sure, Tybura can win a decision if he can pick up a couple takedowns and keep Volkov pinned to the mat, but the more likely scenario is that Volkov overwhelms Tybura with volume, ultimately taking a decision of his own.
THE PICK: Volkov
Li is a formidable foe, but the story of this fight is the return of Chimaev. It's been a long time coming. Khamzat won each of his first three UFC fights in dominating fashion over the course of a 66-day span a little over a year ago. Since then, Chimaev was scheduled to face Leon Edwards on multiple occasions, but lingering affects of COVID-19 forced Chimaev to withdraw each time the two were booked. This will be his first fight since September 19, 2020.
No one is giving Li much of a chance here, but he's miles better than anyone Chimaev has faced to date. The 33-year-old is 8-2 in his past ten bouts and is coming off a brilliant knockout of Santiago Ponzinibbio which earned him a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus this past January. Li has plenty of power and is durable, having never been knocked out in his pro career. I expect him to provide Chimaev a legitimate challenge.
The obvious question here is whether or not Khamzat is fully healthy. We sort of have no choice but to assume he is if he's stepping into the Octagon, but we don't know his financial situation or anything else.
Then there is the small sample size issue. Chimaev looked like the best fighter on the planet the three times we saw him, but the best guy he faced during that span was Gerald Meerschaert, who is fine, but far from a star.
I don't totally hate the idea of getting some minor exposure to Li in the off chance Chimaev isn't the guy we thought he was, or he is still suffering from some health/fatigue issues. Of course, the more likely scenario is that Chimaev simply runs Li out of the building, but I'm not as confident in that result as the numbers would indicate.
THE PICK: Chimaev
This is another fight that was originally scheduled to take place in early-September before it was pushed back.
Oezdemir began his UFC career with a bang, but it's been all downhill since suffering a second-round knockout loss to then-champion Daniel Cormier in January 2018. Oezdemir has gone on to drop four of his last six, with one of those wins coming via split decision. Volkan is a one-dimensional brawler. The power is legitimate, but his footwork is non existent and his chin is questionable. I seriously doubt he will ever be able to truly work himself back into the title picture at 205 pounds.
Ankalaev is a tank. He was submitted by Paul Craig in his UFC debut and has gone on to win six straight since. Four of those wins came via knockout, including back-to-back victories over Ion Cutelaba last year. Ankalaev can wrestle when he wants, which gives him a second method of generating offense, which puts him at an advantage over Volkan. In fact, I'd argue trying to get Oezdemir to the mat is Magomed's clearest path to victory. There is no way Volkan can carry his weight and properly defend himself on the ground.
I've been out on Oezdemir for a while because his path to victory is so limited. Any reasonable opponent is going to be well aware he can't compete in anything but a kickboxing match and will force him to move his feet. That alone is enough to beat Volkan on most occasions. I'm not convinced Ankalaev is a true contender, although I am confident he is better than Oezdemir, making this an easy pick.
THE PICK: Ankalaev
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (22-7-0) v. Benoit Saint-Denis (8-0-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Zaleski dos Santos ($8,500), Saint-Denis ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Zaleski dos Santos (-260), Saint-Denis (+180)
Odds to Finish: TBD
THE PICK: Zaleski dos Santos
Shamil Gamzatov (14-0-0) v. Michal Oleksiejczuk (15-4-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Gamzatov ($8,400), Oleksiejczuk ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Gamzatov (-145), Oleksiejczuk (+125)
Odds to Finish: +115
THE PICK: Gamzatov
Magomed Mustafaev (14-4-0) v. Damir Ismagulov (23-1-0)
DK Salaries: Mustafaev ($7,500), Ismagulov ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Mustafaev (+220), Ismagulov (-275)
Odds to Finish: +130
THE PICK: Ismagulov
Tagir Ulanbekov (13-1-0) v. Allan Nascimento (17-5-0)
DK Salaries: Ulanbekov ($9,400), Nascimento ($6,800)
Vegas Odds: Ulanbekov (-365), Nascimento (+280)
Odds to Finish: +110
THE PICK: Ulanbekov