UFC 252 gets underway on Saturday night with one of the most highly anticipated main events of the year. The main card, which starts at 10:00 p.m. ET, is headlined by a UFC heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic, and the winner of this fight has an outstanding case as the most accomplished heavyweight in UFC history. Heavyweight has not been the strongest division in the organization’s history, but both Cormier and Miocic possess all-world resumes. This is the third fight between the two: Cormier won their first fight in July 2018, and Miocic won the rematch in August 2019. The card also features some rising prospects, including bantamweight Sean O’Malley and featherweight Herbert Burns.
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DraftKings released fantasy MMA salaries for the event earlier in the week and below, we will take a look at the slate with a preview and some picks, predictions and betting odds. But first, here’s a look at the DraftKings fantasy MMA scoring criteria for mixed martial arts fans who may be new to fantasy MMA.
- A significant strike is worth 0.5 DraftKings fantasy points (DKFP). A significant strike is defined as any distance strike or clinch/ground strike that is considered a “power strike” by official scorers.
- Advances on the ground are worth 3.0 DKFP. Advances include to half guard, to side control, to mount and to back control.
- A takedown is worth 5.0 DKFP.
- A reversal or sweep is worth 5.0 DKFP.
- A knockdown is worth 10.0 DKFP. 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.
Fight Conclusion Bonuses
DraftKings fantasy points (DKFP) are awarded based on how quickly a fighter is able to finish the fight. Here’s a round-by-round breakdown:
- 1st round win: 90 DKFP
- 2nd round win: 70 DKFP
- 3rd round win: 45 DKFP
- 4th round win: 40 DKFP
- 5th round win: 40 DKFP
- Decision win: 30 DKFP
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Favorites to build around: Herbert Burns ($8,900), Merab Dvalishvili ($8,700)
UFC 252 is a much more evenly matched fight card than some of the recent UFC Fight Night cards, which featured more lopsided betting odds. Virna Jandiroba ($9,000) is the card’s biggest favorite with a -315 moneyline on DraftKings Sportsbook, and both Herbert Burns ($8,900) and Sean O’Malley ($9,200) aren’t far behind with a moneyline of -286 on DraftKings Sportsbook. Merab Dvalishvili ($8,700) is next with a moneyline of -240. We’ve seen some moneylines north of -700 on recent UFC cards, reaching a peak of over -1200 in a Khamzat Chimaev fight on July 25, so there are less rock solid fantasy plays to build around for UFC 252 than there have been on recent UFC DraftKings slates.
Of the safest plays to build DraftKings lineups around, I’m looking at Burns and Dvalishvili first. Herbert Burns ($8,900) is a rising prospect in the UFC and has been impressive. In his most recent fight in June, Burns’ elite grappling was on display, finishing Evan Dunham just 1:20 into the fight. Burns quickly got the fight to the ground by taking Dunham’s back and finished a rear-naked choke after securing a tight body triangle. Burns’ squeeze on the choke was so strong that he did not even need to get his elbow under Dunham’s chin to cut off blood flow to the brain.
A smart fight promotion will book rising prospects in favorable matchups to showcase their skills and put them over in front of the audience, and Burns is set up in good position against Daniel Pineda ($7,300), who is making his return to the UFC after fighting in smaller promotions in recent years. The 35-year old Pineda had his first stint in the UFC from 2012 to 2014, but was released after losing four of his last five UFC fights.
Pineda showcased weak takedown defense during his first UFC stint, stopping less than 50% of opponent takedown attempts. This could be a huge problem against a grappling wizard like Burns, who has been successful on 100% of his takedown attempts in the UFC. Pineda was taken down a total of 13 times in his last two UFC fights before his release and had his guard passed a total of seven times. This could mean instant death against Burns, who will likely pass the guard and finish the fight with a submission if he is successful in taking Pineda down. Fighting in the smaller cage at the UFC APEX Center in Las Vegas should also aid Burns, as he will have less distance to close to get a hold of Pineda to get him to the ground.
Merab Dvalishvili ($8,700) is another strong choice to build DraftKings lineups around. While John Dodson ($7,500) is a tough opponent, this could end up working in Dvalishvili’s favor in fantasy contests by prolonging the fight. Dvalishvili is super active and produces huge fantasy volume that gives him a massive ceiling and high floor. Dvalishvili is averaging just under nine takedowns per 15 minutes, which is a crazy high number. He has recorded double-digit takedowns in each of his last two fights and added on gigantic guard passing volume in his most recent fight in June, recording 14 advances. Dvalishvili peaked at a titanic 174 DKFP in that fight and is averaging a slate-high 107 DKFP in his six UFC fights. Dvalishvili has even been reasonably productive in his UFC losses, scoring over 70 DKFP in each of his UFC losses due to his high-output.
Dvalishvili’s opponent, John Dodson, has never been finished in his career and has gone into the third round in each of his last seven fights, so this fight has the makings of a lengthy one that could allow Dvalishvili to rack up big fantasy volume once again with potential takedowns and advances. At $8,700, Dvalishvili is only the sixth most expensive fighter on the slate and carries huge fantasy upside with a high floor.
Bargain Bin: Junior Dos Santos ($7,800)
Dos Santos, the former UFC heavyweight champion, is past his prime and is on a two-fight losing streak, but his losses have been to the top of the division. Dos Santos’ three most recent losses are to Curtis Blaydes, Francis Ngannou and Stipe Miocic, who make up three of the top four ranked heavyweights. Jairzinho Rozenstruik ($8,400) is a step down in competition, and this fight should stay on the feet, where Dos Santos will be in position to use his excellent striking. Dos Santos possesses both the power to end this fight with a stoppage and the skills to win a decision with precision and volume.
Main Event: Stipe Miocic ($8,200) vs. Daniel Cormier ($8,000)
Miocic and Cormier have recorded about 24 minutes of fight time against each other in two previous fights, and Cormier has been the better fighter for the majority of those minutes. In their first fight at UFC 226 in July 2018, Cormier recorded a first-round knockout after landing a right hand from the standing clinch. Cormier had an underhook with his left arm, and once Miocic lowered his left arm to attempt to prevent Cormier from getting double-underhooks, Cormier threw a short right that landed directly on the button and put Miocic’s lights out.
This is one of Cormier’s best ways to win on Saturday: get inside using his advantages in wrestling and quickness and throw short punches against the taller and longer Miocic. Miocic has about eight inches in reach and six inches in height over Cormier, who is an unusually short heavyweight. Cormier is officially listed at 5’11”, but that number is probably a little inflated. Of note, this fight is taking place in the smaller cage at the UFC APEX Center, which could benefit Cormier given Miocic’s advantages in length.
In the rematch, Cormier was even more dominant early in the fight. In Round 1, Cormier was successful landing strikes on his feet before finishing a powerful single-leg takedown off a huge slam midway through the round. Cormier logged two advances and 37 significant strikes in his dominant Round 1, where he mixed his wrestling with his striking to produce a highly impressive round.
After a dominant Round 1, Cormier began to get arrogant and became one-dimensional, which slowly allowed Miocic back into the fight. Cormier foolishly abandoned his wrestling and let his standing guard down, which allowed Miocic to start landing clean punches. After landing just seven total significant strikes in Round 1, Miocic landed 46 in Round 2. Despite that, Cormier maintained the upper hand, landing 56 significant strikes in Round 2. Cormier again out-struck Miocic in Round 3, landing 57 significant strikes, compared to 34 for Miocic. Miocic was largely standing in front of Cormier without much movement for the first three rounds, which allowed Cormier to keep logging significant strike volume despite abandoning his wrestling after Round 1.
However, the fight turned in Round 4 after Miocic landed a liver shot, which hurt Cormier. Miocic took notice and kept attacking the body with liver shots, and eventually Cormier was softened up enough for Miocic to land a combination to the head that finished the fight. This was a stunning turn of events given how much better Cormier looked for most of the fight, but it was a justified outcome given Cormier’s lapse in strategy.
Looking ahead to their third matchup, I think Cormier is the better fighter and has more ways to win. Cormier has some of the greatest wrestling credentials in the history of the UFC, and he possesses advantages over Miocic in quickness, athleticism and grappling. If Cormier does not foolishly abandon his wrestling again, he will be in excellent position to work Miocic over like he was doing in Round 1 of their second fight. Cormier needs to use his elite wrestling to set up his striking, because Miocic’s advantages in height and reach will make a pure striking match too dangerous given Miocic’s power. I expect Cormier to use his wrestling to get inside and use dirty boxing to beat Miocic and reclaim the title. The fact that the fight is taking place in a smaller cage at the UFC APEX Center should also benefit Cormier.
Despite losing the rematch, Cormier still racked up 102 DKFP in that fight due to his huge significant strike volume and has recorded over 100 DKFP in each of his last four fights. Cormier will be in good position to again find fantasy success provided he fights smart, which is what I expect will happen. Priced at $8,000, he’s a strong mid-tier consideration.
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Full Salary list with DraftKings Sportsbook Moneyline
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
Main Card (10:00 p.m. ET; ESPN+)
Stipe Miocic (-104; $8,200) vs. Daniel Cormier (-115; $8,000)
Sean O’Malley (-286; $9,200) vs. Marlon Vera (+225; $7,000)
Junior Dos Santos (+110; $7,800) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (-137; $8,400)
Merab Dvalishvili (-240; $8,700) vs. John Dodson (+188; $7,500)
Herbert Burns (-286; $8,900) vs. Daniel Pineda (+225; $7,300)
Prelims (8:00 p.m. ET; ESPN)
Jim Miller (+105; $8,300) vs. Vinc Pichel (-130; $7,900)
Virna Jandiroba (-315; $9,000) vs. Felice Herrig (+240; $7,200)
Danny Chavez (+125; $7,400) vs. TJ Brown (-155; $8,800)
Ashley Yoder (+130; $7,600) vs. Livinha Souza (-162; $8,600)
Early Prelims (7:00 p.m. ET; UFC Fight Pass)
Parker Porter (-124; $8,500) vs. Chris Daukaus (+100; $7,700)
Kai Kamaka (TBD; $8,900) vs. Tony Kelley (TBD; $7,300)
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