UFC 290 takes place on Saturday from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and the card is stacked as part of International Fight Week. The main event is a featherweight title bout between Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez. Volkanovski is coming off a loss, but he moved up a weight class to fight lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in an attempt to become a two-division champion. Volkanovski is undefeated in the UFC at featherweight and has won five consecutive featherweight title fights.
The co-main event is a flyweight title fight between Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja. Moreno and Pantoja have history, as Pantoja has beaten Moreno twice, although only one of these wins is officially counted on his pro record—the other win was via submission on The Ultimate Fighter.
The third fight on the main card is a middleweight bout between Robert Whittaker and Dricus Du Plessis. The winner of this fight could get into the title picture at middleweight, especially if Du Plessis is able to upset Whittaker, as champion Israel Adesanya looks for fresh challengers.
Super prospect Bo Nickal is also on the card. Nickal is one of the best UFC prospects in recent memory and has destroyed his competition so far, winning all three of his fights under the UFC umbrella in the first round.
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Bo Nickal ($9,800)
Bo Nickal’s $9,800 price tag is one of the highest you’ll see in any DraftKings fantasy UFC contest, but there’s good reason for it. Nickal is one of the most exciting UFC prospects in recent memory. Nickal is a three-time NCAA Division I National Champion wrestler and destroyed his competition on both Dana White’s Contender Series and in his UFC debut. Nickal won each of his two DWCS fights in roughly one minute and finished both fights by submission, and in his official UFC debut at UFC 285, Nickal rolled through Jamie Pickett, winning by submission in the first round. Nickal also displayed explosive striking prior to DWCS, starching his opponent by KO in roughly 30 seconds in his professional MMA debut.
Nickal’s explosive offensive grappling and strong timing have kept him safe from strikes, as opponents have landed just one significant strike on Nickal through three fights under the UFC’s umbrella.
Nickal was originally scheduled to face Tresean Gore this weekend, but Gore was forced to withdraw during fight week due to a wrist injury. Instead, Val Woodburn will step in to face Nickal with less than a week’s notice. As a result, Nickal will likely enter his fight as the biggest favorite in UFC history, carrying a moneyline of about -2400 on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Nickal’s elite skills make him highly likely to produce an excellent fantasy score in a matchup that he is widely expected to finish in the first round. Nickal is also an incredibly safe fantasy play given his elite skills and obscene moneyline.
Jack Della Maddalena ($9,700)
Editor’s note: Jack Della Maddalena vs. Josiah Harrell has been taken off UFC 290.
Tomorrow's (07/08) UFC fight between Jack Della Maddalena and Josiah Harrell has been canceled. These fighters will not accrue points in contests.— DraftKings CX Team (@DK_Assist) July 7, 2023
UFC 290 has an unusually high number of massive favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook, and Della Maddalena is another huge favorite, carrying a moneyline close to -1000 for his fight against Josiah Harrell.
Through four UFC fights, Della Maddalena has run an incredibly fast striking pace, landing over eight significant strikes per minute, which is the most striking volume on the DraftKings fantasy UFC slate. Della Maddalena’s overall striking metrics are excellent, landing about twice as many strikes as he has absorbed. Della Maddalena also has elite striking defense on a rate basis, avoiding 68% of opponent significant strike attempts.
Visually, Della Maddalena’s striking looks very sharp, which supports his strong statistics. Della Maddalena is excellent at managing distance and getting in and out on his opponents, where he lands clean and precise strikes on the way in without taking much damage on the way out. Della Maddalena has a stinging lead jab that serves as a safe lead, and he can slide back and land retreating power shots on opponents who attempt to close the distance on him.
Della Maddalena’s opponent, Josiah Harrell, is making his UFC debut and taking this fight on a week’s notice as a late replacement for Della Maddalena’s original opponent, Sean Brady. Taking the fight with only a week to prepare puts Harrell at a substantial disadvantage, especially for a UFC debut bout against a fighter as talented as Della Maddalena.
Like Bo Nickal, Della Maddalena is an incredibly safe fantasy play due to his massive moneyline and also carries upside with his fast striking pace.
Jimmy Crute ($8,200)
Crute and Alonzo Menifield are having an immediate rematch after an exciting scrap in February. The first fight ended in a majority draw after Menifield got penalized one point for grabbing the fence to defend a Crute takedown attempt. In that fight, Menifield had the clear edge in striking and Crute had the clear edge in grappling. Both fighters appeared to get saved by the bell at different points, with Crute surviving the first round after being hurt by Menifield’s strikes and Menifield surviving the second round with Crute hunting a rear-naked choke.
Crute converted six of 12 takedown attempts on Menifield and threatened with multiple submission attempts, but Menifield lit Crute up on the feet early in the fight, knocking Crute down twice. Menifield out-struck Crute 56 to 31 in significant strikes landed, and had Menifield not been penalized for grabbing the fence, he would have won a decision due to his striking impact in Rounds 1 and 2.
However, Crute got a second wind after he shook off the cobwebs of getting hurt and started to take over as the fight went on. Crute nearly finished Menifield as the clock was winding down in Round 2 and easily won Round 3, controlling Menifield for 80% of the final round while landing more strikes in the process.
After the fight, Crute said he was surprised by Menifield’s range, and Crute appeared to make adjustments later in the fight, which bodes well for the rematch.
Crute’s takedown-heavy and control-time-heavy style gives him fantasy scoring upside, and a submission win or decision win this time around is very realistic.
Alexandre Pantoja ($7,500)
Pantoja has beaten Brandon Moreno twice, although only one of these wins is officially counted on his pro record—the other win was via submission on The Ultimate Fighter, which is officially considered an exhibition bout. Despite Pantoja holding two wins over Moreno, Moreno enters this fight as the favorite on DraftKings Sportsbook with a moneyline of about -200. Moreno has improved significantly since he last faced Pantoja, which was over five years ago, so this will likely be a much tougher test for Pantoja this time around.
Despite entering this fight as the underdog, Pantoja still carries fantasy appeal at his price tag. This is a five-round title fight, which potentially creates 10 extra minutes to generate fantasy scoring. There is also a good chance this fight goes the distance, as both fighters are very tough and very difficult to finish. Pantoja has never been finished in his pro career, and Moreno’s only career loss via finish was to Pantoja on TUF.
This fight being prolonged could create extra fantasy volume over five rounds, where Pantoja could realistically position himself to win a decision. Pantoja has slightly better striking metrics than Moreno in the UFC, landing more significant strikes per minute while posting a slightly better strikes landed to absorbed ratio.
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.