On Saturday night, the middleweights take center stage as a clash between Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum headlines UFC Fight Night at the APEX Center. After a week away, the UFC returns with its 34th “Vegas” themed card, live from Sin City. It’s a modest show on paper, lacking much name value or impactful fights outside a couple from the main card, but it has some scrappy pairings just the same.
Aside from the slightly top-heavy main card, there are some sleepers that should command some attention. Roosevelt Roberts vs. Ignacio Bahamondes is one of those and a chance for the winner to break free from the L column since both are coming off losses. William Knight vs. Fabio Cherant is another certified fresh fight, mostly due to Knight’s power. That said, Cherant is a savvy submission grappler, which adds an element of intrigue to this matchup.
Moving up the bout sheet we have the weirdest bout order with Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Royval as the main card opener, despite it being the only fight outside the headliner that is a ranked contender contest. This is a certified banger and my prediction for fight of the night. Another fight of note is Vinc Pichel vs. Austin Hubbard. Pichel’s very quietly put together a good run in the UFC with just two losses—Gregor Gillespie and Rustam Khabilov. Hubbard has been less consistent but is still a threat.
The co-main event features the oddest pairing of aging fighter vs. rising prospect with Clay Guida vs. Mark Madsen. Guida’s got 31 fights inside the octagon, 56 overall—quite a bit of mileage to say the least, but I’m not going to say he’s washed because he’s clearly not. Faded, yes. Shopworn, yes. Done? Nope. His win over Michael Johnson showed that there are still fights for him at the lower tiers of the roster. That said, this looks like a classic stepping stone match designed for Madsen to add a veteran name to his pristine resume.
Finally, the main event provides the other Top 15 contenders contest between No. 3 Jared Cannonier against No. 9 Kelvin Gastelum. The winner here could see themselves sitting with a bird’s eye view of title contention. All told, this show has good bones and should provide some fireworks.
We’ve selected four fighters from the event that will illustrate why they are worthy of their lofty or budget-conscious price tags in an effort to help you select your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups. Let’s get started.
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Jared Cannonier, $8,700
Jared Cannonier has looked very impressive in his run at middleweight. Even in his loss to Robert Whittaker, he’d managed to turn the fight around in the third, despite sustaining an arm fracture. He was really lighting Whittaker up and had the fight been scheduled for five rounds, we could have seen an entirely different result. He has nuclear power but is content to potshot singles and labors under a fairly slow work rate unless forced into a firefight. He’s become much better with his defensive wrestling, which should come in handy against Kelvin Gastelum, who can also be content to coast without really going full tilt unless forced to it. That fight he had with Darren Till is a perfect example. Kelvin has an iron jaw, so it’s not likely we see a knockout, even if he puts up the bare minimum defensively. Both men are capable of a win, but my feeling is that Cannonier puts in more effort to edge out a decision.
Pricing: Just right
Mark Madsen $9,100
Undefeated Olympic silver medalist vs. faded-but-not-completely-done veteran is the story of the co-main event. Madsen is a brilliant wrestler who utilizes his considerable power to muscle his opponents to the ground as fast as he can get them there. Whether he’s spamming big blast doubles or slamming the souls out of his foes, he makes haste in getting the fight where he needs it to be. Once there, he’s a master of control and has the finishing instinct. That said, Austin Hubbard gave him some trouble in the third round of their contest and gave the Dane some real trouble. It’s doubtful that Guida will present that sort of late-fight comeback, but he’s still got a good gas tank, even if it’s not what it once was. He also constantly works the jab and his own wrestling is solid. This is pretty much a no-brainer and those picking Guida are likely caught up in nostalgia.
Pricing: Just right
Brandon Royval, $7,300
Brandon Royval at $7,300 is a steal! I know I often find myself in hot water over these massive underdogs, but the temptation is too hard to resist, especially here. Royval is a wildly aggressive volume machine with dynamic striking and a raging bull mindset. He’s adept on the feet and on the ground and has quite the penchant for triangles. He faces an insanely talented opponent in Alexandre Pantoja, a gifted grappler who bears the distinction of holding two wins over current champion Brandon Moreno. Royval can be wild and undisciplined—he loves flamboyant, spinning strikes—but he has great instincts and is absolutely wicked in high-paced scrambles. Pantoja is much more disciplined and composed but could find himself forced into a firefight with Brandon, which is where I think the fight can be won. It’s a bold choice but I can’t help thinking Royval can get it done.
Pricing: Should be closer
Austin Lingo, $7,900
Austin Lingo is another wild man that often finds success by being the dogged bully that is constantly looking to get the fight done before the final horn. He’s not known for his composure, but he puts a pace on his opponents and is well-rounded enough to be a real threat to Luis Saldana, who has yet to really find his way. When Saldana faced Jordan Griffin, he was soundly out-grappled and controlled, even if the judges found the fight in his favor. Lingo is an excellent grappler and could easily find success on the ground or the feet. Saldana may have better technical striking, thanks to his kickboxing background, but when Lingo’s battle mode is engaged, he is absolutely relentless. It bears noting that Lingo has one helluva right hand and probably carries the power advantage. This is a very closely matched contest, but I’m of the notion that Lingo gets it done inside the distance.
Pricing: Just right
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