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UFC 253 Cheat Sheet: DraftKings MMA DFS Predictions for September 26

Stephie Haynes preps you for Saturday’s UFC 253 slate with key factors and winning trends for your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups.

Saturday night marks the return back to Fight Island with UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa. The event is punctuated by compelling fights throughout, and it’s capped off by two title fights in the co-main and main events. Dominick Reyes will battle Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight belt and Israel Adesanya will defend his middleweight title against Paulo Costa in the headliner.

Keep an eye on Hakeem Dawodu and Zubaira Tukhugov (who is currently running on a treadmill just before the weigh-ins as I’m typing this post) because that one is going to be a barn-burner. Brandon Royval vs. Kai Kara-France is also another fight with a high probability for action.

Let’s take a look at some of the athletes on the card and determine where their strengths and/or weaknesses lie in an attempt to make your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineup choices a little easier.

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Paulo Costa, $7,700

Paulo Costa is an orthodox volume striker who likes to barrel straight down the middle, throwing everything but the kitchen sink right out the gate. He packs power and has an incredibly durable chin. His cardio is suspect as he’s only seen the third round once, in his fight with Yoel Romero. That said, he does have quite formidable offense, and Adesanya can be flustered if put on the back foot and made to fight while pinned against the cage. “Borrachinha” lands a staggering 8.43 strikes per minute, but absorbs 6.84 in that same 60-second span, so his defensive prowess isn’t anything to write home about. Kelvin Gastelum might have gotten thoroughly trounced by Israel, but there were moments, especially in the fourth round, where Gastelum came close to finishing the fight. Costa is a much more dedicated finisher, though. He’s aggressive and fearless, and swings bombs as easily as most use a jab. That said, this is just as dangerous a fight for him as it is for the champ.

Kai Kara-France, $8,900

Kai Kara-France is an orthodox volume striker with a penchant for standing and banging. He isn’t a naturally gifted athlete, rather, he’s what I like to call a blue-collar fighter that has propelled his flyweight standing with hard work and dedication. He has the heavy hands of a knockout artist (nine knockouts), but isn’t exceptionally fast, averaging 5.27 strikes per minute while absorbing around 3.79. He has great takedown defense but isn’t a particularly good grappler. He’s also insanely durable, especially when his opponents are fading down the stretch. Brandon Royval presents a big challenge for France in that he is a very good grappler. He’s also quite a reckless striker, chucking caution to the wind while he throws haymakers with abandon. Kara-France has plenty of power to put an early end to Royval’s night, but Brandon certainly matches up well with the New Zealander.

Hakeem Dawodu, $8,000

Hakeem Dawodu is an orthodox volume striker coming into this fight on one heck of a hot streak, winning his last four fights inside the octagon. His debut fight was a quick and unfortunate submission stoppage, but since then, he’s put one good performance after another together to have quite an impressive run of names, better than Tukhugov’s, but MMA Math is rarely a sound philosophy when trying to pick winners. Dawodu averages around 5.28 strikes per minute and only absorbs 2.31, impressive numbers considering his fight schedule. That said, his ability to dispatch his opponents over the course of his UFC tenure has been limited to just one, Yoshinori Horie, back in July 2019. He’ll need to be on the ball defensively, since Tukhogov is hyper aggressive and has head kicks that destroy consciousness, and that’s before we get to his stout wrestling chops. Anyway you slice it, this is an incredibly well-matched contest.

Shane Young, $7,900

Shane Young hasn’t had any octagon action since February of 2019 and the UFC is not giving him a soft touch in his comeback fight. Ludovit Klein is a Slovakian powerhouse who’s only been the distance once in his career. Young is an orthodox volume striker who begins a pressure assault from the jump. Averaging 6.10 strikes per minute, Shane still falls prey to getting lit up while trying to deliver his attack, absorbing 5.09 strikes per minute in the process. His lone loss in the UFC is to Alexander Volkanovski (no shame in that), but his wins aren’t wildly impressive either. Young is the better wrestler, while Klein has the heavier hands (and feet). They stack up very well, strength for strength, and this is an absolutely winnable fight for both men.

Aleksa Camur, $8,600

Aleksa Camur is an orthodox light heavyweight with a pressure heavy game that saw him comfortably outland Justin Ledet in every round, nearly 2-1 for overall landed significant strikes. He averages 5.96 strikes per minute while only absorbing 2.45, a refreshing change from most of our volume strikers that tend to give up defense in lieu of landing high volume. His opponent, William Knight, is a tough, durable athlete who has the intestinal fortitude to pull out wins while way behind on the scorecards. It’s a dangerous spot for both men, but Camur having the added benefit of training with Stipe Miocic at Strong Style could be what puts this fight over the top for Aleksa.

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Knockout Kings

Alex Da Silva, $7,000

Da Silva is a finisher with 13 knockouts and seven submissions. He’s a capable wrestler and his takedown game has proven effective against guys with weak takedown defense. Alex has sound striking technique, mixing a strong jab with good combinations. He’ll have his hands full with the fearless Brad Riddell, a flashy kickboxer who is in a state of perpetual motion. Alex is also a good kickboxer, so it will be interesting to see how these two pair up. Da Silva’s best bet is to get Riddell down to the mat where he can finish with some ground-and-pound.

William Knight, $7,600

William Knight is another big finisher with just two of his fights ever entering the third round (both finished inside the distance). He has eight wins and eight knockouts. Granted, his best win is Cody Brundage, but when you have this many knockouts, there might just be something to the trend. He is a decent wrestler, so the scales balance out a bit there, as well. We cannot rely on the stats available for Knight, as they only encompass his fights on the Contender Series, so the numbers are not dependable. Going by footage, “Knightmare” is good on top, with hard ground-and-pound and decent scrambling ability. He sometimes gets lost in a task, for instance, he is dogged about getting takedowns to the point of tunnel vision, and against the bigger, more defensively sound Camur, this may not be the best strategy. Both men are relatively green in their young UFC careers, so it’s still very much any man’s fight to win.

Kai Kara-France, $8,900

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Submission Threats

Jan Blachowicz, $7,200

Jan Blachowicz has wowed fans recently with his heavy hands, but outside his seven knockouts, he also owns nine wins by submission, a factoid that flies under the radar, despite a gnarly arm-triangle win over Nikita Krylov just two years ago. He’s not an athletic dynamo, but he is persistent and gritty, factors that go a long way in this sport. He’ll have a lot to contend with in Reyes—range, power, youth—but this is not an insurmountable task. Jan has beaten the odds before and he can do it again. His best path to victory seems like it could be in a ground battle, as a fight contested solely on the feet certainly favors Reyes. Blachowicz is the underdog here for a reason, but every dog has his day, and Jan’s might just be Saturday.

Brandon Royval, $7,300

Brandon Royval will certainly have his hands full with the excellent pressure fighter that is Kai Kara-France. He’ll need to rely on his capable, still-evolving grappling to get the job done, but it is an absolutely achievable goal. Royval has 10 finishes, seven of them being submissions, and against France, who has noted holes in his ground game, this is the most obvious path to victory. However, even the best fighters don’t always follow the path of least resistance, so Royval fans will need to keep their fingers crossed if they’re rooting for an upset. It certainly won’t be an easy task.

Jake Matthews, $9,400

Jake Matthews has come a long way in his UFC career. With much more refined boxing than his earlier days, and a really good grappling game that boasts seven submission victories, he possesses all the tools necessary to get a victory over the grizzled veteran, Diego Sanchez. That’s before we even get to the physical advantages, first and foremost, his youth. That said, we must note that Matthews has had fight IQ dips before, but the physical advantages he carries—speed, power, youth—are way too much to ignore. Diego is still a formidable grappler with good instincts, but it would be a crazy move to bet on him in this fight. Insane. Bonkers. Maybe?

Gas Guzzlers

Paulo Costa, $7,700

Paulo isn’t a known cardio risk, but he did slow down in round three against Yoel Romero. Being that we’ve never seen him in a five-rounder, I am erring on the side of caution by adding him to this category.

Sijara Eubanks, $7,400

I need Sijara to get another issue-free weigh-in under her belt and another win without reverting to her Hufflepuff roots before I concede that she is out of the woods with her cardio issues.

Diego Sanchez, $6,800

Age and physical deterioration takes its toll and as the old adage goes, “Time waits for no man,” so it does not wait for any fighter to be voluntarily ready for retirement. Diego’s cardio has traditionally held up in the past, but he’s been taking a lot more damage in his recent fights, thus putting a more pronounced dent in his stamina.

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