DraftKings MMA: UFC Vegas 54 Preview

DraftKings MMA: UFC Vegas 54 Preview

This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.

A showdown of top light heavyweight contenders headlines Saturday's card as the UFC makes its way back to the APEX in Las Vegas.

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$400k UFC Throwdown 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.

Moves Scoring
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)

Scoring Notes

  • 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

Jan Blachowicz (28-9-0) v. Aleksandar Rakic (14-2-0)
DK Salaries: Blachowicz ($7,500), Rakic ($8,700)
Vegas Odds: Blachowicz (+145), Rakic (-175)
Odds to Finish: -140

This fight was scheduled to headline a Fight Night card in Columbus, Ohio about six weeks ago before a minor injury suffered by Blachowicz forced it to be pushed back.

Blachowicz was champion of the UFC's light heavyweight division until the past October when he was submitted by veteran Glover Teixiera and lost his belt. It was Jan's first defeat in almost 2.5 years and came in a fight in which most people – myself included – thought he would win quite convincingly. I've consistently picked against Jan over the years, but I never would have guessed that would have been the one he lost. I've been light on Blachowicz from the start, mostly because I underrated his power. While he doesn't have the pure one-punch stopping power of an elite knockout artist, he still manages to do serious damage when he connects. He's also been durable over the years, being stopped just four times (two knockouts, two submission) in nearly 40 professional fights. 

Rakic comes in having won back-to-back unanimous decisions over Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos. He has won six of his first seven UFC bouts, with a unanimous decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir being the only setback. The Oezdemir loss is difficult to figure out. Rakic has far more power and is a better athlete than Volkan, but he could seemingly get nothing going in that fight. I'm willing to chalk it up to simply an off night until I see reason to believe otherwise, but he may have very well already earned a title shot if not for that performance. 

Blachowicz could walk away tomorrow and his UFC run would be an overwhelming success. This is a guy who was viewed as nothing more than roster depth upon joining the company in October 2014. He also appeared as if he would be released following a stretch of four losses in five fights from April 2015 to April 2017. Instead, he was given another opportunity and has since racked up wins over the likes of Israel Adesanya, Dominick Reyes, Corey Anderson, Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza, and Jared Cannonier

The thing I have a difficult time getting past is the fact Rakic is nearly a decade younger than Blachowicz. Jan turned 39 years of age in late February and doesn't have the offensive skill set that would appear to age all that well. It's a near certainty we have already seen the best he has to offer. Still, he has racked up numerous victories in which very few people gave him a chance of winning. 

I'm not thrilled about Rakic's DK salary – I would feel much better if he was in the $8300-$8400 range – but the Vegas odds seem about right. I think he's going to win, but Blachowicz is a live underdog once again. He's made a career of winning these type of fights and he clearly has value at his discounted price. Try to get a piece of Jan in some form or fashion.

THE PICK: Rakic
 

Co-Main Event - Light Heavyweight

Ryan Spann (19-7-0) v. Ion Cutelaba (16-6-1, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Spann ($7,300), Cutelaba ($8,900)
Vegas Odds: Spann (+180), Cutelaba (-220)
Odds to Finish: -450

These two were scheduled to go at it in late-February before an injury suffered by Spann resulted in the bout being pushed back nearly three months.

A product of Dana White's Contender Series, Spann began his UFC run with four straight wins. He has predictably struggled of late, as the competition level he has faced has increased. That has resulted in a 1-2 mark in his past three bouts, including stoppage defeats to both Anthony Smith (submission) and Johnny Walker (KO). Spann looks the part of a top light heavyweight because he's 6-foot-5, but he has far less power in his hands than most big guys, instead relying on his submission game. Spann's a decent athlete and is still just 30 years old, but I think it's far more likely than not that we have already seen the best he has to offer.

The exact opposite of Spann, Cutelaba is a pure brawler. He averages 4.39 takedowns per 15 minutes, including a whopping 17 in his last two bouts, but Cutelaba's poor submission game results in him generating limited offense when he gets his opponent to the mat. He snapped a three-fight winless streak (0-2, 1NC) last September with a unanimous victory over Devin Clark which likely saved his job, but Cutelaba still has little margin for error moving forward. 

Cutelaba would be smart to try and keep this one standing despite the fact Spann enters with a four-inch edge in both the height and reach department. Ion would almost certainly win a prolonged kickboxing match as long as his chin holds up.

Spann defends the takedown at just a 60 percent clip, but I don't think Cutelaba would be wise to be rolling around with him on the mat. His most direct path to victory is in the stand-up. 

It's so hard to pick Spann against halfway decent competition because it's so difficult to predict a submission. He's giving up a boatload of power to Cutelaba, and his offensive skill set isn't conducive to taking advantage of Spann's four-inch height and reach edge. I think Cutelaba will have to make a mistake in order for Spann to win.

THE PICK: Cutelaba
 

Women's Flyweight

Katlyn Chookagian (17-4-0) v. Amanda Ribas (11-2-0)
DK Salaries: Chookagian ($8,600), Ribas ($7,600)
Vegas Odds: Chookagian (-170), Ribas (+150)
Odds to Finish: +170

Chookagian continues to do her thing, that being winning far more fights than she loses, always via dull unanimous decision. Her latest winning streak is at three after victories over Jennifer Maia, Viviane Araujo and Cynthia Calvillo. Katyln's greatest attribute is her 5-foot-9 frame. She's a one-dimensional boxer with no ground game to speak of and little power, but she's tall enough and long enough that she can pepper the majority of her opposition with strikes and take decisions in what is by far the company's thinnest division.

Ribas has bounced back and forth between strawweight and flyweight of late. She's never had an issue making weight at 115 pounds and I can't for the life of me see why she would want to move up to a division that has nothing doing. Ribas has racked up a 5-1 record in her first half-dozen UFC bouts. There's a couple quality wins in there, as Amanda has taken unanimous decisions over both Mackenzie Dern and Virna Jandiroba

I am 1000 percent sure Ribas is a better all-around mixed martial artist than Chookagian. She's much more athletic, defends herself better on the feet and should have an overwhelming edge on the mat.

The problem for Amanda comes in terms of the size differential between the two. Chookagian is six inches taller and has a two-inch reach edge. If this turns into a prolonged kickboxing match at distance, Ribas is in trouble. If there's one thing Katlyn has mastered it's racking up plenty of volume on the feet against smaller opponents. 

No matter how many fights she wins, I will continue to happily roll the dice on Chookagian opponents at a discounted rate. She only has one method of victory – via decision – and that makes whomever she is going up against a potential value play. Ribas is in danger here of getting outpointed on the feet like many of Katlyn's past opponents, but I'll pay to find out.

THE PICK: Ribas
 

Lightweight

Michael Johnson (20-17-0) v. Alan Patrick (15-3-0, 1NC)
DK Salaries: Johnson ($8,400), Patrick ($7,800)
Vegas Odds: Johnson (-150), Patrick (+130)
Odds to Finish: +115

I'm shocked that the UFC is giving Johnson another opportunity here considering he has lost four fights in a row and has just a 3-9 mark dating back to August 2015, but it's possible the company is simply trying to do right by a guy who has been with them for nearly a dozen years. Johnson will be turning 36 years of age in a few weeks. He's always been extremely reliant on his boxing game, and it's fair to wonder if both his hand and foot speed, along with his durability, has simply evaporated as he has aged. I see no real reason to be optimistic moving forward.

Patrick is another guy likely fighting for his job on Saturday. He is winless in his last three (0-2, 1NC) and is without a victory dating back to February 2018, although Patrick didn't fight at all from October 2018 to September 2020. I've always been intrigued by Patrick's skill set, as he's a massive guy for the division at 5-foot-11 and has a solid ground game, but all the time away really hurt him. It's impossible to see him going on any sort of sustained run considering he turns 39 years of age this coming July.

It's important to note that a good chunk of Johnson's recent struggles have come against high-end competition (Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje, Josh Emmett, Nate Diaz, Beneil Dariush), but Johnson's ground game is a major concern, as nine of his 17 career defeats have come via submission. Although Johnson defends the takedown at a strong 77 percent clip, he has no chance of competing – particularly offensively – if he ends up on the mat. I expect Patrick – who averages 3.24 takedowns per 15 minutes – to lean heavy on his wrestling game here. 

Johnson and Patrick have both been around a long time but the recent struggles of each make it extremely difficult to predict what will happen here. 

I would avoid this fight if at all possible given it's wide range of outcomes, but if forced to choose I'll take Patrick as an underdog. This looks like a true pick 'em, and the Brazilian provides the better payoff.

THE PICK: Patrick
 

Other Bouts

Bantamweight
Davey Grant (13-6-0) v. Louis Smolka (17-8-0)
DK Salaries: Grant ($9,100), Smolka ($7,100)
Vegas Odds: Grant (-290), Smolka (+230)
Odds to Finish: -200
THE PICK: Grant

Lightweight
Frank Camacho (22-9-0) v. Manuel Torres (12-2-0)
DK Salaries: Camacho ($7,900), Torres ($8,300)
Vegas Odds: Camacho (+110), Torres (-130)
Odds to Finish: -300
THE PICK: Camacho

Flyweight
Jake Hadley (8-0-0) v. Allan Nascimento (18-6-0)
DK Salaries: Hadley ($8,800), Nascimento ($7,400)
Vegas Odds: Hadley (-210), Nascimento (+175)
Odds to Finish: -115
THE PICK: Hadley

Women's Flyweight
Viviane Araujo (10-3-0) v. Andrea Lee (13-5-0)
DK Salaries: Araujo ($8,000), Lee ($8,200)
Vegas Odds: Araujo (-110), Lee (-110)
Odds to Finish: +205
THE PICK: Lee

Women's Strawweight
Virna Jandiroba (17-3-0) v. Angela Hill (13-11-0)
DK Salaries: Jandiroba ($8,500), Hill ($7,700)
Vegas Odds: Jandiroba (-165), Hill (+145)
Odds to Finish: +170
THE PICK: Jandiroba

Flyweight
Tatsuro Taira (10-0-0) v. Carlos Candelario (8-1-0)
DK Salaries: Taira ($9,000), Candelario ($7,200)
Vegas Odds: Taira (-240), Candelario (+195)
Odds to Finish: -155
THE PICK: Taira

Middleweight
Nick Maximov (8-0-0) v. Andre Petroski (7-2-0)
DK Salaries: Maximov ($9,300), Petroski ($6,900)
Vegas Odds: Maximov (-380), Petroski (+290)
Odds to Finish: +115
THE PICK: Maximov

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Jon Litterine plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: JLitterine.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Litterine
Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.
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