This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
Israel Adesaya will once again put his high-caliber striking to the test on the big stage against the man he took the belt from back in 2019, Robert Whittaker.
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 271 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 - Middleweight Championship
This is the only fight that makes sense at the top of the middleweight division at the moment, and it will be a rematch of an October 2019 bout in which Adesanya won via second-round knockout to become the undisputed 185-pound king.
Adesanya is undefeated at middleweight in his professional career, with his lone loss coming against Jan Blachowicz at light heavyweight. Israel has defended his belt three times since defeating Whittaker, scoring extremely easy unanimous decision wins over Marvin Vettori, Paulo Costa and Yoel Romero. Adesanya is one of the best kickboxers this sport has ever seen. He throws a ton of volume and lands exactly 50 percent of his significant strikes. He can also eat a punch, which is imperative considering the number of firefights he often finds himself in. Israel has been a professional for less than a decade and still seems to be improving each and every time he steps into the Octagon.
Whittaker has been flawless since the Adesanya defeat, taking unanimous decisions over Kelvin Gastelum, Jared Cannonier and Darren Till. Rob has dealt with injury and illness over the years, but he has looked sharper than ever of late, which is saying something. Whittaker has been with the UFC since December 2012, but won't turn 32 years of age until next December.
There is a significant size difference between these two, and Whittaker didn't handle it well the first time. Adesanya is four inches taller and enters with a seven-inch reach edge. Both are overwhelming numbers considering these are two fighters who do virtually all their work in the stand-up game. Izzy throws a ton of kicks, and that is going to make it difficult for Whittaker to get inside with regularity.
Adesanya knocked Whittaker down twice in the first fight, once in each round. Rob has a reputation as one of the toughest and most durable men in the sport, and I tend to think that result – or at least how it happened – is somewhat of a fluke. If Izzy can knock Whittaker out again, I'll be extremely impressed. I expect more foot movement from Whittaker. He's going to be in trouble again if Israel can stand on the outside and pepper him with counter shots. Rob has to be the aggressor and thus try to limit Adesanya's space.
It goes without saying that I expect this to be far more competitive than the first bout between the two. The issue for Whittaker is that it still be too great of a gap to overcome. Sometimes certain opponents are just a bad matchup for a certain fighter. Daniel Cormier is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, and he simply couldn't never figure out how to defeat Jon Jones. It happens.
I'm going to take Adesanya again, likely via a tight decision. That said, I'd be all over Rob from a DK standpoint. Fighters of his ability rarely come along at just $7000. It gives you the ability to do a whole bunch of different things with your lineup on a card that is tentatively scheduled for 15 fights.
THE PICK: Adesanya
Co-Main Event - Heavyweight
I personally wouldn't consider either Lewis or Tuivasa a candidate to hold UFC Heavyweight gold at any point in the future, but both men are popular, and this fight makes sense as an action-packed co-main event.
Lewis almost always finds himself in a prominent spot on the card when the UFC is in his adopted hometown of Houston, and this will be no exception. Lewis is 5-1 in his past half-dozen fights, with his most recent bout being a knockout defeat of Chris Daukaus in December, and his lone loss in that stretch coming against Ciryl Gane in an interim title fight last August. Lewis will be turning 37 years of age on fight week. That would typically be concerning for your average fighter, but it's not as if "The Black Beast" relies upon speed and athleticism to be successful. I see no reason he can't continue to do what he is doing for the foreseeable future.
Tuivasa looked like a legitimate release candidate following a three-fight losing streak from December 2018 to October 2019, but the UFC stuck with him, and he has rewarded that faith with four-straight knockout defeats over Augusto Sakai, Greg Hardy, Harry Hunsucker and Stefan Struve. There isn't a high-end fighter to be found in that group, and Tai has typically struggled when tasked with facing better competition, but his recent run, at a minimum, has provided him with a nice payday for this fight, win or lose.
Normally I would say it would be unlikely this fight would go the distance since it's two massive guys who swing for the bleachers with every single shot, but both Lewis and Tuivasa are ridiculously durable for guys who find themselves in a brawl each and every time out.
Lewis is an inch taller and enters with a four-inch reach advantage. The latter is a massive number assuming this fight remains standing.
In a fight in which two men employ the same exact style, Lewis is bigger and has faced far better competition. More importantly, Tuivasa is willing to fight at the slow pace at which Lewis thrives. That makes this an easy pick. I don't have as much interest in Tuivasa as I likely should given his knockout ability and cheap price tag.
THE PICK: Lewis
Brunson is getting pushed pretty heavily in a prime spot on a pay-per-view, and he deserves it, having won five straight. Included in that streak are victories over Kevin Holland, Edmen Shahbazyan, Ian Heinisch, Elias Theodorou and most recently, Darren Till this past September in a lopsided main event. Brunson, who turned 38 years of age earlier this month, is attempting to defy the odds and make one more run at 170 pounds. So far, so good.
Cannonier is no spring chicken himself, as he too will be turning 38 years old in mid-March. "The Killa Gorilla" enters having won four of his past five, with the lone defeat coming against former UFC Welterweight Champion Robert Whittaker. Cannonier could walk away tomorrow and his UFC run would be an overwhelming success. He joined the company in January 2015 as a heavyweight (!!!!) before dropping down to light heavyweight in late-2016 and then middleweight in late-2018. Cannonier has really found his range at 185 pounds, as his power has really played up in the lower weight class.
Cannonier is going to have an edge in the power department, but I think Brunson has the edge most everywhere else. I think his cardio is better and his grappling way better. Brunson averages 3.15 takedowns per 15 minutes, and Jared defends the takedown at a middling 62-percent clip. I think there's a real chance Brunson pushes the pace from the very start and grinds out a victory with his wrestling. He just needs to make sure he doesn't get reckless and allow Cannonier an opening on the feet.
I realize one loss isn't the end of the world, but this is essentially an eliminator fight. Both of these men are going to have difficulty rebounding from a defeat considering their advanced age and all the depth in the division.
This, for all the world, appears like a prime buy-low spot on Brunson. I've been burned by him countless times in the past, but I have this as closer to a pick 'em, and I'm surprised in the gap in both salaries and in the Vegas odds. I'll roll the dice on the underdog at considerate plus money.
THE PICK: Brunson
Although he dropped a majority decision to Raulian Paiva in a Fight of the Night last July, Phillips entered having won three in a row, and the 26-year-old California native has had a quality start to his his UFC run. A training product of Arizona's MMA lab, Phillips has excellent size (5-foot-8) for a bantamweight and above-average stopping power in his hands. He's quickly developed into a solid prospect despite having little helium upon joining the company back in February 2020.
This is a big ask for Rojo in his second UFC bout. His first was a knockout loss at the hands of Charles Jourdain in March 2021. Rojo had real issues with his stand-up defense in that fight, as Jourdain landed 48 percent (128-248) of his total strikes. That fight took place at featherweight, and I'm interested in seeing how Rojo looks at 135 pounds, which is the UFC division he is almost certainly best-suited for. He's the same exact size as Phillips, so he will be big for the division if he is able to make weight without issue.
Rojo offers a solid all-around offensive game, with eight career wins via knockout and six via submission, but he has been especially susceptible to his opponent's ground game, tapping out four times in his pro career. Phillips doesn't offer much in terms of a ground game, but he is averaging 3.2 takedowns per 15 minutes, and Rojo is going to lose if he spends this entire fight on his back.
Phillips is the biggest betting favorite on the card and has the second-highest DraftKings salary. He should win with relative ease, but I have no interest in using him at $9400. We have no track record of him defeating better competition, and using him in this spot is essentially a bet that Rojo is really bad, as opposed to Phillips being really good. I'll pass.
THE PICK: Phillips
Now 35 years of age, Green was likely fighting for his job when he took on Al Iaquinta at Madison Square Garden last November. Green put forth a vintage performance, knocking "Raging Al" out in just over two minutes in a fight which sent Iaquinta into retirement and resulted in Green earning a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. The days of Bobby competing with the best lightweights on the planet have come and gone, but Green still has exceptionally fast hands and supreme confidence in his abilities. I still don't see a prolonged winning streak forthcoming, but Green bought himself some runway with the effort against Iaquinta.
Haqparast is no easy mark, however. He has shown more good than bad in his first eight UFC bouts (5-3), but his most recent effort, a lopsided unanimous decision defeat at the hands of Dan Hooker in September, was highly concerning. Haqparast is an excellent boxer with plenty of power. He can be very successful if those punches are landing, but he offers no ground game to speak of, and that severely limits his ceiling. Hooker is lightyears better than anyone Haqparast has faced to date, and facing Green should make for a more competitive fight.
This has the look of a 15-minute kickboxing match that will likely go the distance. Green has always been an underrated wrestler, but I'd argue he doesn't use those skills enough despite averaging 1.45 takedowns per 15 minutes. The easiest way to defeat Haqparast is to drag him to the mat, and I'm sure Green and his team realize that, assuming ego doesn't get in the way.
My thought process here is the same as the Cannonier v. Brunson fight. I have this as essentially a straight pick 'em, and although you aren't getting the same savings with Haqparast that you would with Brunson, Green's advanced age and inconsistent resume of late make Nasrat an underdog to back.
THE PICK: Haqparast
Douglas Silva de Andrade (27-4-0, 1NC) v. Sergey Morozov (17-4-0)
DK Salaries: Silva de Andrade ($7,200), Morozov ($9,000)
Vegas Odds: Silva de Andrade (+175), Morozov (-210)
Odds to Finish: +120
THE PICK: Silva de Andrade