This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
A long-awaited title rematch headlines the UFC's annual trip to Madison Square Garden.
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 $600k UFC 268 Special with $200k 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 - Welterweight Championship
This is the rematch of a December 2019 fight which Usman won via fifth-round knockout. It was lopsided by the time it was over, but Covington was plenty competitive for the vast majority of the fight.
Usman has defended his title three times since the first bout between the two, twice against an overmatched Jorge Masvidal and once against Gilbert Burns. The champ was in all sorts of trouble after being knocked down by Burns in the early portion of the fight, but somehow managed to survive and turn the tables on his opponent. Usman's durability and ability to excel and battle through struggles when things aren't going his way inside the Octagon is remarkable. Combine those traits with the fact he has high-end power, is remarkably explosive and a brilliant wrestler, and you have a fighter who could keep his title for a long, long time.
Covington has fought just once since losing to Usman and that was a knockout win over a washed-up Tyron Woodley about 14 months ago. A win over Woodley means nothing these days, but this is a big fight between two guys who legitimately can't stand each other, and it's not as if this first one was a blowout. Leon Edwards is the only other realistic candidate for Usman right now, and he's scheduled to fight Masvidal in December. I have no problem with Covington getting another opportunity.
The first fight between the two lasted over 29 minutes and neither man attempted a single takedown. I remember thinking before the bout began that the man who was able to implement his wrestling game successfully would be the winner, and then it turned into a near 30-minute kickboxing match. All told, Usman landed 175-of-360 total strikes, while Covington landed 143-of-395. If Colby is going to pass on implementing his wrestling game, he needs to connect at a better percentage on the feet to have prolonged success.
I really wanted to take Covington here. Usman has had problems early in fights and Colby would be wise to blitz him right off the hop. Perhaps it's because Usman looked vulnerable against Burns or perhaps I'm being stubborn since Colby was competitive for the vast majority of the first bout. I ultimately couldn't pull the trigger due to the remarkable durability Usman has displayed up to this point, but I think Colby is a real value play from both a DK perspective and live betting line. I'd be shocked if Usman got him out of there quickly. This should be competitive the entire way.
THE PICK: Usman
Co-Main Event - Women's Strawweight Championship
Speaking of rematches, these two fought this past April, with Namajunas winning via first-round knockout with a head kick to become a two-time UFC Women's Strawweight Champion.
The improvement in Rose's stand-up game is one of the most underrated stories in all of MMA over the past few years. This is a woman who early on in her pro career was clearly below-average on the feet. She had no stopping power, struggled to string together combinations, and struggled to defend herself when her opposition returned fire. The turnaround in that portion of her game has been remarkable. Namajunas has always been excellent on the mat and blessed with terrific cardio, but her striking improvements are the main reason for her massive turnaround.
Prior to the Namajunas loss, Zhang came out of nowhere to win her first five UFC bouts. Included in that stretch were victories over Tecia Torres (unanimous), Jessica Andrade (KO) and Joanna Jedrzejczyk (split). Zhang and Joanna beat the holy heck out of each other in that fight and neither women gave an inch. That served to make the stoppage loss to Rose all the more surprising. Zhang is arguably the hardest hitter in the division. She averages 6.36 significant strikes landed per minute, although that comes at the expense of absorbing 4.42 per minute. She can mix in a takedown now and then, but Zhang is looking to knock your block off with every shot.
The main question we have to decipher is will this be any different than the first fight between the two, and if so, why?
As improved as Rose is on the feet, the head kick that ended the fight felt fluky in my opinion. You look at all the damage Zhang absorbed from Joanna and kept on ticking. On the flip side, all those shots could have a long-term impact.
In what is essentially a pick 'em, I'm going to wager Rose's striking improvements combined with her elite cardio and constant pressure, is enough to emerge victorious. It's far more likely to be a decision than the highlight-reel knockout we saw from her the first time around, but I think she wins.
THE PICK: Namajunas
Get your popcorn ready! This has a chance to be one of the most entertaining fights in recent memory.
We'll start with Chandler, who is two fights deep into his UFC career. After knocking out Dan Hooker in a little over two minutes in his company debut in late-January, Chandler fought Charles Oliveira for the vacant UFC Lightweight Championship this past May. Chandler, for all the world, appeared to have Oliveira defeated in the very early going, but the latter somehow managed to survive, and Chandler emptied his gas tank searching for a finish which never materialized. He ended up being knocked out just seconds into Round 2. It wasn't the result he was looking for, but Chandler has now put together two solid performances against two of the best lightweights in the world. The concerns that he made his name beating up inferior competition in Bellator have clearly dissipated.
It's been a year-plus on the sidelines for Gaethje, as he is coming off a submission defeat to then-champion and since-retired lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov last October. To the surprise of basically no one, Nurmagomedov blew past Gaethje like he wasn't even there. Khabib is one of the greatest of all time, so Justin gets a pass there. I expect this to be a much more competitive fight and a stylistic matchup which plays to Gaethje's strengths.
Gaethje has UFC victories over Michael Johnson, James Vick , Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone and Tony Ferguson under his belt. The main thing all of those fighters have in common is that that all seemingly fell off a cliff after losing to Gaethje. I still have a tremendous amount of worry regarding the punishment Justin absorbs during his fights. Yes, his 7.46 significant strikes landed per minute is amazing, but the 7.99 per minute he eats is astronomical. For the most part, he's held up under the intense pressure, but I think it's only a matter of time before he begins to bend, and eventually break.
Simply put, I can't get past the massive value Chandler provides in this spot. Everything here seems extremely inflated in Gaethje's favor. Yes, I'm worried that Gaethje and his legendary durability won't be able to outlast Chandler in a slugfest, and I'm worried that Chandler's cardio seemed questionable in the Oliveira fight, but he's clearly the more technical fighter. This is a three-round fight, and I still firmly believe it's going to fall apart on Gaethje sooner or later due to all the wars he's been in over the years. Facing a talented opponent with an extremely friendly price tag seems like a good place to make that stand.
THE PICK: Chandler
In desperate need of a victory on the heels of back-to-back losses to Josh Emmett (unanimous decision) and Edson Barboza (KO), Burgos is at risk of being left behind in a loaded featherweight division. Burgos is a brilliant striker. He has fast, fast hands and excels at stringing together combinations. He also has an excellent chin despite the Barboza defeat. This issue is his stand-up defense. Burgos lands 7.29 significant strikes per minute, which is ungodly, but also absorbs 6.11 per minute, a number far too high for any fighter who fancies himself as a true contender.
Quarantillo earned his UFC opportunity with a victory on Dana White's Contender Series back in July 2019. He's gone 4-1 since officially joining the company and is coming off an impressive knockout victory over the underrated Gabriel Benitez this past July. "Billy Q" possesses a solid all-around game. I expect this to be a kickboxing match, but Quarantillo is the more likely of the two to wrestle considering considering he averages 1.66 takedowns per 15 minutes. On the flip side, Burgos defends the takedown at a stellar 89 percent clip.
The fascinating thing here is the size of these two men. Both are massive for the featherweight division, with Burgos standing 5-foot-11 and Quarantillo 5-10. Burgos enters with a five-inch reach edge, which could be massive if it stays standing. It will be fascinating to see how Quarantillo attempts to handle this as the smaller man, something he rarely sees in his fights.
This is the lone fight on the main card in which I didn't have to think about my pick very long. While Quarantillo does have seven knockout wins in his career, I wouldn't consider him a power puncher. There should be a significant speed advantage for Burgos on the feet, and he should be fine as long as he picks his spots and pays attention to what Quarantillo is sending back his way.
THE PICK: Burgos
A staple of the featherweight division for nearly a decade and a half, Edgar will be making the walk for his third fight at 135 pounds. The early returns haven't been great. Frankie is coming off a 28-second knockout loss at the hands of Cory Sandhagen in February, and prior to that, he took a split decision from Pedro Munhoz in his bantamweight debut. Edgar was often undersized at featherweight, so I had no issue with the move down from that aspect, but making that decision in your late-30s is an odd one. Frankie is talented enough and keeps himself in good enough shape to have some success in his new haunts, but it's a stretch to think of him as any sort of true contender at bantamweight.
Vera himself has been a pro for nearly a decade, but won't turn 29 years of age until early-December. "Chito" has had a nice run with the UFC and is clearly underrated, but he's almost always struggled when tasked with facing better competition. The biggest win of his career came against Sean O'Malley in August 2020 and the only reason that one came to fruition was because O'Malley hurt his foot in the early portion of the fight. It's difficult to poke holes in a guy who is 7-2 in his past nine bouts, but I don't think Vera's ceiling is particularly high despite the fact he has a ton of experience and is still relatively young.
In terms of the stand-up, Frankie is considerably better at defending himself, while the two men land at a similar clip offensively. Vera is the bigger man by a couple inches, and it will be interesting to see if that dissuades Edgar from attempting to implement his wrestling game.
I'm still not sold on Vera. He's a perfectly capable bantamweight, but I don't think he's an upper-tier guy, and I really don't see the gap between him and Edgar. Frankie always shows up in elite shape and Vera doesn't possess the explosiveness to overwhelm Edgar. I'd probably take Vera all things being equal, but there's more than enough value on Frankie for me to roll the dice on him.
THE PICK: Edgar
Edmen Shahbazyan (11-2-0) v. Nassourdine Imavov (10-3-0)
DK Salaries: Shahbazyan ($7,700), Imavov ($8,500)
Vegas Odds: Shahbazyan (+105), Imavov (-125)
Odds to Finish: -155
THE PICK: Shahbazyan
Melsik Baghdasaryan (6-1-0) v. Bruno Souza (10-1-0)
DK Salaries: TBD
Vegas Odds: Baghdasaryan (-270), Souza (+220)
Odds to Finish: -110
THE PICK: Baghdasaryan