This article is part of our UFC Picks series.
Cancellations and visa issues left the bulk of the card untouched, meaning we have 13 fights to analyze in this edition of The MMA Mashup. UFC 266 features some of the strongest wrestlers in the sport, and we'll take a look at everyone across four different platforms to ensure prospective owners have the best chance at a profitable night.
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Plays to consider on DraftKings
Jessica Andrade ($9,000)
For someone who has made a career out of being a bully in the cage, it was mildly shocking to see Andrade get tossed around at will by Valentina Shevchenko during their title fight in April. That hasn't soured me on going back to "Bate Estaca" here, as Cynthia Calvillo hasn't shown that she can be that physically imposing. Calvillo generally tries to implement her boxing prior to working into takedowns, but I expect Andrade to start fast and set a pace her opponent won't be able to keep up with. Ultimately, I think Calvillo's lack of urgency to get the fight to the floor will hurt her against such an aggressive and powerful fighter.
Merab Dvalishvili ($8,900)
The revised DraftKings scoring system seems like it was built with Dvalishvili in mind, as he has scored over 120(!) points in four of his eight fights. While the Georgian fighter is an undeniable cardio and takedown machine, he also has shown some good striking defense, absorbing just 2.22 significant strikes per minute. Marlon Moraes is an athletic striker with power but has had real issues with his gas tank of late. Unless he hits Merab with something hard early, it's hard to imagine that he doesn't get broken down over the course of 15 minutes.
Valentina Shevchenko ($9,500)
At this point, we basically just tune into Shevchenko fights to see if the opponent can give a good account of themselves. Unfortunately, I doubt this will be the case with Lauren Murphy, who was taken to the floor with ease and held for 4:50 in a three-round fight with Sijara Eubanks. Though she is a Muay Thai striker by trade, Shevchenko has used her strength advantage to perfection in the flyweight division, notching 15 takedowns in her last three fights. I expect the trend to continue here, as "Bullet" should pile up the points in this five-round affair.
Curtis Blaydes ($9,200)
Blaydes is another relentless wrestler, but the former title challenger has made strides in improving his stand-up skills of late. I doubt he will need them here, as Jair Rozenstruik has been taken down multiple times in fights by non-wrestlers such as Alistair Overeem and Junior Albini. It's also worth noting that Rozenstruik has shown almost no semblance of a bottom game once he gets to the mat, which is bad news when facing a heavy control grappler like Blaydes. "Razor" got detonated by one big shot from Derrick Lewis in his last fight, but he was winning every second of the bout prior to that moment, and I would not bet on lightning striking twice.
Cody Brundage ($7,700)
Regular viewers of the Contender Series will remember Brundage as the fighter referee Herb Dean instructed to "work" when he had William Knight completely flattened out in back mount. The unnecessary movement caused Brundage to lose the position and led to a TKO loss. He was robbed of his chance to secure a contract that night but will enter the organization as a late replacement for Karl Roberson, who had to pull out of the fight due to weight-cut complications. Conditions may not be ideal, but I think Brundage is a far better wrestler than Nick Maximov, who generally just gets a hold of his opponent and hopes he is strong enough to eventually get them to the ground. Brundage is a slick BJJ player in his own right and should be able to cancel any of Maximov's attempts from bottom position.
Plays to Consider on FanDuel
Omar Morales ($17)
Jonathan Pearce got back to his wrestle-heavy attack in a dominant win over Kai Kamaka but will face an opponent in Morales who comes into the contest with a stout 87 percent takedown defense rate. While it would be appropriate to point out that Morales has yet to face a skilled wrestler, I think his agility and balance should translate against some of the better takedown artists in the division. If he can't get Morales to the ground, Pearce will likely be in a world of trouble, as he has absorbed an astounding 6.65 significant strikes per minute in his three UFC (and UFC-adjacent) fights.
Matthew Semelsberger ($23)
Some may argue that Semelsberger is priced too high in this spot, but I wonder how many of those folks have seen Martin Sano fight. The second Nick Diaz associate on this card, Sano's fighting style mainly consists of walking forward with his hands down and throwing big strikes before attempting to get in on his opponent's hips. We saw just how powerful Semelsberger can be in his fight with Jason Witt, and it would hardly be surprising if he made short work of another opponent here.
Chris Daukaus ($19)
Daukaus has been an absolute force of nature during his time in the Octagon, using his quick hands and power to record first-round KO/TKOs in each of his first three fights. Shamil Abdurakhimov isn't a consistent wrestler, but he has turned to grappling in fights when it was clear he was outmatched on the feet, as in his bout with Derrick Lewis. The issue here is that Abdurakhimov has notched only a 24 percent takedown accuracy rate in his eight-fight UFC career. This should result in a few extra points for the Philadelphia native before he puts a fourth win on his UFC ledger.
Taila Santos ($21)
Roxanne Modafferi's awkward striking has been known to catch opponents off guard, but her game has always fallen flat when she can't get her wrestling going. "The Happy Warrior" also gets taken down quite a bit, as evidenced by a defense rate that stands at just 30 percent. Santos is a crisp striker who should be able to dominate this fight wherever it goes, making the 28-year-old a virtual must-play in cash games and giving her upside for GPP lineups.
Plays to Consider on SuperDraft
Nick Diaz – 2.1x Multiplier
I'm going to state at the outset that my pick here has not been influenced by 10 seconds of shadowboxing or tales of a KO in sparring. While the fact that Diaz wanted to compete at middleweight is a bit concerning, this comes down to the fighter I know vs. the fighter I don't. I know that Robbie Lawler has been extremely hesitant to pull the trigger in recent contests, which has contributed to a four-fight losing streak. Diaz hasn't fought since 2015, but I feel I can trust him to do what he has always done: apply pressure, dig to the body, and put combinations together. This one isn't easy to pick by any means, but the large gap in the multipliers makes me much more comfortable selecting the underdog.
Jalin Turner – 2.1 x multiplier
Uros Medic loves to play the hammer in the cage, blitzing after his opponents and overwhelming them with strikes. He looks to be something of a blank slate defensively, however, which is where Turner's six-inch reach advantage should come into play. Medic has only been out of the first round once in his career, which should allow Turner to seize an advantage if he can extend the 28-year-old.
Plays to Consider on Monkey Knife Fight
Dan Hooker UNDER 91.5 Significant Strikes and Nasrat Haqparast UNDER 84.5 Significant Strikes
Hooker has only cleared this line twice in three-round fights, and while Haqparast has several performances with 90 significant strikes or better, part of this play relies on the assumption that this fight doesn't see the scorecards. I expect Haqparast to lunge into his strikes as usual but run into trouble with the length and the counter striking of Hooker.
Alexander Volkanovski UNDER 133.5 Significant Strikes and Brian Ortega UNDER 95.5 Significant Strikes
This one almost plays a bit too close for comfort, but my reasoning here is that Ortega's defense (among other things) looked vastly improved in his bout with Chan Sung Jung, and the fact that he will look to mix in takedowns more readily means Volkanovski will need to be a bit more discerning when throwing strikes. Due to the fact that this fight should have more than just a standup phase, I don't expect it to be as up-tempo as either man's bout(s) with Max Holloway.