This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Two title fights headline the final pay-per-view of 2021 and set the stage for the course of the lightweight division in early-2022.
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 $700k UFC 269 Special with $150k 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 - Lightweight Championship
In the midst of a legendary nine-fight winning streak, Oliveira finally became king of the 155-pound division this past March, knocking out Michael Chandler early in Round 2 in a back-and-forth brawl. The stoppage was brilliant, but Oliveira's most impressive performance of the evening was somehow surviving Chandler's onslaught early in the bout. He appeared to be absolutely finished, but somehow powered through and eventually took advantage of Chandler gassing out.
In that nine-fight win streak I mentioned previously, "Do Bronx" has wins over Chandler, Tony Ferguson, Kevin Lee and Jim Miller (back when Miller was good). His last defeat came at the hands of Paul Felder in December 2017. In short, Oliveira is totally legitimate and nothing about his rise to the lightweight championship is a fluke.
As great as Oliveira has been of late, there's a real case to be made that Poirier has been even MORE impressive. Dustin is 7-1 in his last eight bouts, with the lone defeating coming against Khabib Nurmagomedov, which basically means it gets tossed because nobody was able to defeat Khabib before he retired. Included in Dustin's run are victories over Conor McGregor (twice), Dan Hooker, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis and Justin Gaethje, who is nearly certain to get the winner of this fight.
Oliveria's run directly coincided with his improvements in the stand-up game. He has always been one of the most decorated mat specialists in the history of the sport, but Charles now has the ability to threaten his opposition on the feet, which gives his opponent one additional thing to think about and gives him another opening to use his grappling skills.
That said, an extended kickboxing match would favor Poirier. Dustin has more power, and I trust his chin and durability more than Oliveira's. I expect Poirier to sell out to stop Oliveria's takedown attempts, as Dustin defends the takedown at a middling 61 percent clip. That's a low number for a fighter with the experience of Poirier.
I think Oliveira is a tad undervalued from a DraftKings perspective and he should be in your player pool as an underdog play, but everything else seems about right. Charles may have to survive an early onslaught here much the way he did in the Chandler fight. There is a significant physicality edge in Dustin's favor despite the fact Oliveira is the slightly bigger man. I really hate betting against Charles given everything we have seen from him the past many years, but I have Poirier here.
THE PICK: Poirier
Co-Main Event - Women's Bantamweight Championship
Pay-Per-Views headlined by Nunes have generally drawn poor buy rates for the company, although that is hardly Nunes' fault. The UFC is unable to find anyone to give her a competitive fight and thus they are better off positioning her in a co-main spot like this one.
Nunes and Pena were originally scheduled to fight at UFC 255 in August before the champion tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to withdraw.
Nunes hasn't lost a fight since September 2014. Since then, she has beaten Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm and countless others. She's a current two-division champion and looks better than ever at age 33. Nunes hits harder than any other woman in the sport today, and her technique is immaculate. With Khabib Nurmagomedov retired, there's a real case to be made that Nunes is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now. She's unquestionably in the top three.
Pena is 2-2 in her past four bouts, which means... she shouldn't be fighting for a title. Yet Nunes has to stay active, and there really wasn't a better choice at 135 pounds, so he we are. Pena had some promise early in her career, but the birth of her child coupled with a serious knee injury really halted her momentum. Pena has fought just three times since July 2019. She'll be 32 years old later this month, and it's a stretch to call her any sort of contender at this point. She may have gotten there at some point, but she isn't there now, with the knee issue and all the time missed being the main reason.
From a stylistic standpoint, this appears to be a potential disaster for Pena. She does virtually all of her damage on the mat, but Nunes is bigger and stronger and defends the takedown at an 84 percent clip. If Pena is unable to get Amanda to the mat and the two stand at distance, Nunes is going to obliterate her.
Outside of a potential third fight with Shevchenko, Nunes bouts don't do much for me these days. She's clearly more talented than anyone she steps in the Octagon against, and it's difficult to believe any opponent can come close to hanging with her, let alone winning. That said, I don't blame Nunes for continuing to fight inferior competition. She gets a nice paycheck every single time she steps into the cage, and she doesn't have to expend a ton of energy in order to retain her belt.
In closing, we're essentially in the same spot as every other Nunes fight, where we look at her salary and say it's probably too much, and then she goes out and is worth every penny. Make sure you have a piece of her in your lineups in some form or fashion.
THE PICK: Nunes
It's last call for Neal, who at age 31, has lost back-to-back fights to Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny. Neal is a boxer by trade, and Wonderboy is one of the most talented kickboxers in the history of the sport, so I can give him a pass there, but the Magny loss was ugly. Neal has legitimate power and has performed well for a fighter who joined the company in February 2018 as little more than roster depth, but he has no history of defeating better competition, and Ponzinibbio is far from a pushover.
Ponzinibbio won seven straight fights from December 2015 to November 2018 and appeared to be closing in on a title shot before a staph infection caused him to spend nearly three years on the sidelines. He returned in January 2021 and was promptly knocked out by the underrated Li Jingliang, before taking a unanimous decision from Miguel Baeza this past June. Ponzinibbio still didn't look like himself in the Baeza fight, and it's possible he's still finding his way after so much missed time. He turned 35 years of age this past September, so his margin for error is nil.
I'd be shocked if this was anything other than a stand-up affair. Both guys have legitimate fight-altering power in their arsenal and average less than a takedown per 15 minutes. All the advanced striking numbers between the two are eerily similar. Ponzinibbio is an inch taller, while Neal has a two-inch reach edge.
This is smart matchmaking. You hate to burn one of these guys with a defeat, but Ponzinibbio's age combined with Neal's mediocre resume prior to arriving in the company means the time is now for both men.
It should also be mentioned that Neal was arrested for driving under the influence and unlawful possession of a firearm just a couple weeks ago. Fighters are creatures of habit, and any deviation to a training camp is worth mentioning. Still, there's no indication that the bout is in jeopardy yet.
I was going with Ponzinibbio anyway. I think there's a real chance Neal made his name beating up some lesser competition.
THE PICK: Ponzinibbio
This will be Garbrandt's flyweight debut. He was scheduled to drop down to 125 pounds to face then-champion Deiveson Figueiredo a little over a year ago, but Cody tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the bout and was forced to withdraw. He decided to remain at bantamweight for one more fight, losing a unanimous decision to Rob Font this past May.
Garbrandt is 1-4 since winning the UFC Bantamweight Championship from Dominick Cruz in December 2016. He's dealt with numerous health and injury issues during that span, and I'm not at all optimistic that dropping down ten pounds will solve his problems. Cody has power, but he has never fought smart enough to get to it on a consistent basis. He's comfortable in brawls, though his chin is questionable. The move to flyweight might work out for him because it's a much thinner division than bantamweight and thus easier to move up the rankings, but I would wager we have seen the last of the guy who stunned Cruz back in the day.
Kara-France has been inconsistent, posting a 2-2 record in his past four fights, but he's no easy mark and will make Cody work in his first fight at flyweight. KKF lacks secondary skills, instead leaning on his volume in the striking game for success. It comes as no surprise that he's solid on the feet given the fact he trains with Israel Adesanya and the rest of the crew at the loaded City Kickboxing camp.
I'm curious to see if Garbrandt will use his wrestling game a bit more at flyweight. It's always been a strength of his despite the fact he has averaged just 1.05 takedowns per 15 minutes. He's four inches taller than Kara-France, and I expect him to have a severe strength advantage come fight night. On the flip side, Kara-France has a four-inch reach edge, something that could easily come into play if this turns into a kickboxing match.
I was extremely torn here. Fading Garbrandt feels like the smart play here. He's been banged up and is dropping down a weight class. On the flip side, Kara-France's is the type of opponent Cody can beat if his chin holds up. Garbrandt went five rounds with the hard-hitting Font not all that long ago, and I'm wagering he can hold up long enough to get to his offense against a notoriously aggressive Kara-France. I am not confident about it.
THE PICK: Garbrandt
O'Malley's skills aren't in question, as he is 6-1 in the UFC with four knockout wins and three Performance of the Night bonuses. The lone defeat came against Marlon Vera in a fight O'Malley was dominating before getting injured. O'Malley is really good and still just 27 years of age, but he's made his living thus far beating up inferior competition, and while Paiva is better than some of the guys O'Malley has faced thus far, it's not the huge step up in competition many were hoping for.
A long-time flyweight, Paiva moved up to bantamweight this past July, taking a majority decision from Kyler Phillips. Paiva – who is 5-foot-8 – was big for 125 pounds, but O'Malley is 5-foot-11, so the Brazilian has some work to do here if he hopes to land anything consistent on the feet.
O'Malley is one of the most creative strikers we have seen in recent memory. He throws a ton of kicks and throws virtually everything from awkward angles, making him impossible to train for. There is no way to bring in a sparring partner who can mimic his style because no one else fights like him at 135 pounds. His takedown defense is a mediocre 60 percent, but Paiva averages just 0.62 takedowns per 15 minutes.
The biggest concern for Paiva is how much he gets hit on the feet. He absorbs 4.9 significant strikes per minute, and it will probably feel like double that with O'Malley coming at him for every angle imaginable. I don't see any clear path to victory for Paiva and quite frankly, I'm surprised he's not a bigger underdog. I would have expected him to be +300 at least in terms of the Vegas odds.
I expect an easy O'Malley victory, and I also expect a significant rise in competition level his next time out if that does indeed come to fruition.
THE PICK: O'Malley
Miranda Maverick (11-3-0) v. Erin Blanchfield (7-1-0)
DK Salaries: Maverick ($8,400), Blanchfield ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Maverick (-150), Blanchfield (+130)
Odds to Finish: +185
THE PICK: Maverick
Gillian Robertson (9-6-0) v. Priscila Cachoeira (10-3-0)
DK Salaries: Robertson ($9,300), Cachoeira ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Robertson (-400), Cachoeira (+300)
Odds to Finish: -150
THE PICK: Robertson