UFC 280 takes place on Saturday from Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, and due to the location, the card has an earlier start time than usual. As a result, the DraftKings fantasy MMA slate locks at 10:00 a.m. ET, eight hours earlier than the usual lock time.
The card is headlined by two title fights. The main event is a lightweight title fight between Charles Oliveira and rising star Islam Makhachev. Oliveira entered his last fight as the reigning UFC lightweight champion, but missing weight caused him to be stripped of his title. Oliveira was not allowed to reclaim the title despite winning, and he will have to beat Makhachev to officially be recognized as the champion again.
The co-main event is a bantamweight title bout between current champion Aljamain Sterling and former champion TJ Dillashaw. Like Oliveira, Dillashaw did not lose his title inside the octagon. Instead, Dillashaw relinquished the bantamweight title after a failed drug test.
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Stud To Build Around
Muhammad Mokaev ($9,600)
At about -1150 on the moneyline, Mokaev is easily the biggest favorite on DraftKings Sportsbook for this slate. Mokaev is a 22-year-old phenom who is generating buzz as a potential future champion in the UFC’s flyweight division. Mokaev only has two UFC fights, but he was a strong fantasy scorer in each of those fights on the back of a quick finish and heavy takedown volume. Mokaev won his UFC debut in under a minute and racked up a titanic 13 minutes of control time in his second UFC fight after converting 12 takedowns. Mokaev recorded at least 120 DraftKings fantasy points in each of his first two UFC fights.
Mokaev’s opponent, Malcolm Gordon, has not stopped any takedown attempts in the UFC—opponents are 4-for-4 in takedown attempts on Gordon. Mokaev is in a good position to generate takedowns and control time in this matchup and secure another high fantasy score. Mokaev’s heavy moneyline of -1150 also makes him a very safe fantasy play.
Islam Makhachev ($8,400)
Makhachev is a monstrous offensive wrestler who has an elite top game that allows him to drag opponents into the deep end and either control them for a decision win or drown them with a finish. Because Makhachev is so good at smothering his opponents, he barely absorbs any strikes, absorbing under one significant strike per minute, which is amazing. Makhachev has been compared to his training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov due to a similar fighting style.
Makhachev’s opponent, Charles Oliveira, is a submission specialist who has a dangerous bottom game. Oliveira is a finishing machine and holds the record for most wins via submission in UFC history with 16. Makhachev fighting his normal style will be dangerous in this fight, because grappling with Oliveira is often a recipe for getting caught in a submission.
However, Makhachev’s top game is so good that he is probably best served grappling with Oliveira anyway. Oliveira has developed good striking, and Makhachev standing with Oliveira carries substantial risk for Makhachev. Makhachev’s only career loss is by TKO off a counter lead hook in the standup portion of the fight. Makhachev’s submission defense is probably good enough to avoid getting caught even by someone as dangerous as Oliveira, and by working a smothering wrestling game, Makhachev will be in position to record a strong fantasy score on the back of takedown volume, control time and close-distance strikes. This fight is also five rounds, which potentially creates 10 extra minutes to generate fantasy scoring.
TJ Dillashaw ($7,700)
TJ Dillashaw was once one of the most complete fighters in the UFC, but inactivity in recent years has left some questions as to how he will look at age 36. Dillashaw has only fought once since 2019 due to a combination of a suspension and a knee injury. In Dillashaw’s return fight against Cory Sandhagen in 2021, he grinded out a close decision win despite injuring his knee early in the fight, which he claims diminished his performance for the rest of the fight.
Aljamain Sterling is coming off a big upset win over Petr Yan. Despite being outlanded in strikes, Sterling won a close split decision in part due to taking Yan’s back twice off takedowns and controlling Yan for large portions of the fight from a dominant back position with a body triangle.
Sterling is going to have to find a different way to win against Dillashaw. Dillashaw has the defensive wrestling and scrambling ability to avoid getting caught in dominant positions on the ground and can dictate where this fight takes place.
Dillashaw is a better striker than Sterling and will likely have the edge in a striking match. Sterling’s takedown defense has also been leaky, stopping only 41% of opponent takedown attempts. Sterling has been taken down multiple times in five of his UFC fights. This could open up a path for Dillashaw to launch offensive wrestling, or at least threaten offensive wrestling with level changes and feints, which could open up more room for strikes to land on the feet.
Dillashaw is likely past his prime, but he still has the skills to beat Sterling. At $7,700, Dillashaw is the 11th cheapest fighter on the slate but has a good chance to win and produce a strong fantasy score. Dillashaw has produced over 100 DraftKings fantasy points in 11 of his 17 UFC fights. This fight is also five rounds, which potentially creates 10 extra minutes to generate fantasy scoring.
Sean O’Malley ($6,900)
O’Malley is the underdog in this fight at +255 on the moneyline on DraftKings Sportsbook, but there are a few reasons to consider him as a salary relief play in tournaments. O’Malley has elite striking metrics. O’Malley has the second-best striking volume in the history of the UFC on a time-adjusted basis, landing just under eight significant strikes per minute. His striking differential is one of the best in UFC history, landing about 4.5 more strikes per minute than he has absorbed. O’Malley is also longer than Petr Yan and will have a five-inch reach advantage and four-inch height advantage, which will aid him on distance strikes.
It’s possible O’Malley uses his length advantage to land striking volume from distance and win a decision on points. O’Malley is the third cheapest fighter on the slate, and while he carries risk against an elite opponent like Petr Yan, he has a legitimate path to produce a good fantasy score.
All views expressed are my own. I am an employee of DraftKings and am ineligible to play in public DFS or DKSB contests. The contents contained in this article do not constitute a representation that any particular strategy will guarantee success. All customers should use their own skill and judgment in building lineups.