Tom Aspinall vs Alexander Volkov
Man what a fun matchup this’ll be. Aspinall has quickly turned himself into one to watch in the heavyweight division. He’s 4-0 to start his UFC campaign, all have come via finish, and he hasn’t surpassed 9mins of total fight time in any one fight. He gets his stiffest test in Volkov here, Volkov is no stranger to MMA, he has 43 professional fights to his name. His hopes of a UFC title are probably slim, but he often times has a chance to try and play spoiler, as was the matchup with Ciryl Gane. Gane, outside of Ngannou is my favorite Heavyweight in this division, his skill level is unreal to be as large as he is, but Volkov could never get ahead, he always seemed to be counter heavy. Volkov’s approach is simple, he leans heavy on the kickboxing, and employs a steady pace throughout the fight that he doesn’t deviate too much from. He doesn’t have the stopping power that some have, including Aspinall, and generally wins out with volume, but he does have some finishes to look back on. Aspinall, is by all accounts another freak of nature for the division; he has extremely quick & powerful hands, and generally likes to get the onslaught started immediately, pressuring his opponents to back them up to the cage where he can do big damage. The one concern we may very well find out is what does his gas tank look like should this hit late 3rd RD and beyond? Volkov has been in a couple 5 RDers, so he knows the pace to expect & keep up. One thing I think we could see more of from Aspinall in this one is his wrestling. Against Arlovski, he did just that, and got a submission win as a result. Volkov struggled mightily against Blaydes when things hit the mat. But Blaydes is a different animal in that regard, and I’m not confident Aspinall could keep that relentless of a pace and not has himself by the time this hits a 4th RD. I’ve gone back and forth on this one; there’s 3 outcomes I think that’ll come from this. The first is Aspinall truly is what he’s shown, and that’s a finishing machine, and he finishes him within the 1st two rounds; the second, is we see more of Aspinall’s skill set, and he has the same type of dominant control etc that Gane has on his way to a decision; and the third is, Volkov’s experience reigns through, and his pace wins the day once late RDs show itself. Could make a case for any of the 3, but I surprisingly lean towards the 2nd. Aspinall’s hands will be too quick, and he should be the one leading most exchanges. Not to mention the home crowd behind him. I 100% suggest playing some Volkov LU’s though, because who knows. There’s also a case to be made to stack this fight on FD. You’ll see why throughout the rest of the fight breakdowns. But the pick is Aspinall via decision.
PICK: Tom Aspinall $18 FD ($8300 DK)
Alexander Volkov $16 FD ($7900 DK)
Co Main Event
Arnold Allen vs Dan Hooker
Another great matchup here, and potentially underrated fight. Hooker makes the cut back down to Featherweight for the first time in several years. We’ll see if the results differ from his recent lightweight run. He was 1-3 over his last 4, albeit to some of the best in the division, but that kind of streak is not something someone with championship aspirations wants to maintain. Hooker is a really good kickboxer, and strings together combinations well. He’ll also benefit from being the more physically dominant one, especially with the drop back down a weight class. He had a large frame even for the lightweight division. He gets matched with the undefeated Allen, and Allen, while not the most fun fighter to watch, knows what he wants to do, and that’s grind his opponents out on the back of crisp counter striking and a wrestling/grappling game that most have trouble with. His matchup with Sodiq Yusuff was clear proof of that. Hooker got matched against Islam Makhachev on late notice, and we see how that went, he won’t face many at all with that skill level on the mat though, still, he does have a bit of trouble being able to get back to his feet against string grapplers if that’s what they plan to go after. Hooker’s only real chance is to keep this standing for north of 9mins if he stands a chance. His striking will he quicker and with more volume. This is another one that was just tough to call outright, there’s cases to be made for both. But I think we see another well put together performance from Allen here. At first look, this fight seems unappealing on FD if Allen just grinds him out on the mat. But on DK that’s what you want. I like Allen via decision, in what should be a great fight.
PICK: Arnold Allen $17 FD ($8000 DK)
Dan Hooker $14 FD ($8200 DK)
Paddy Pimblett vs Rodrigo Vargas
Paddy started his UFC campaign with a bang with a KO win over Luigi Vandramini. He’s got a knack for the excitement to say the least, but if we’re being honest, he got cracked a couple times in those exchanges before his power started to take over and he got it done. He has the tools to really make a run but he needs to take a less threatening approach, he hasn’t seen touch yet. He gets probably another layup opponent here in what’ll next a home crowd for him in Vargas. Vargas has never been KO’ed, so he’ll be willing to trade in the pocket if that’s what Paddy wants to do. He’s got solid technical striking and will utilize his kickboxing in his offense. To be honest, Paddy needs to lean on what makes him most dangerous, and that’s his wrestling. He can be a dominant wrestler because his gas tank is elite. He’ll be willing to trade on the feet early, mixing things up. But I think he knows he has to do the right thing here to not embarrass himself at home. If you’re feeling lucky and doing ME’s, it’s completely fine to take a shot on Vargas, he’s not a pushover, he’s just outmatched here IMO. I think Paddy takes the path of least resistance with his wrestling, in very dramatic fashion most likely. I’ve got Paddy via 2nd sub.
PICK: Paddy Pimblett $23 FD ($9400 DK)
Rodrigo Vargas $8 FD ($6800 DK)
Gunnar Nelson vs Takashi Sato
This marks the first bout for Nelson since 2019. He took decision L’s to Gilbert Burns & Leon Edwards that year, so that speaks to the toughness he offers to be able to deal with each of those guys. We know what Nelson wants to do, close distance and get his opponents back to the cage so he can work his wrestling/grappling to eventually get it to the mat and hunt for the sub. He has nice striking as well, so that’s not to be overlooked. He gets Sato in his return, we know what Sato wants to do, and that’s knock peoples lights out. He’s got the huge counter left to work with. Nelson knows this, and will be prepared. But there’s always a punchers chance. Sato has a history of struggling with wrestlers, especially elite ones. It’s hard to know what a fighter looks like coming off of a long layoff, but I’ve got to believe Nelson is ready to come back and try to make a run at it. He’ll figure out Sato’s timing with the left hand and get his TDs going. I think he’ll find the sub in his return, RD 2.
PICK: Gunnar Nelson $21 FD ($9200 DK)
Takashi Sato $9 FD ($7000 DK)
Molly McCann vs Luana Carolina
Interesting Flyweight matchup here, Meatball gets back to it, coming off of a 1-1 2021 campaign vs a young prospect who seems to get a bit better each time out. She went 2-0 in 2021 with wins over Lupita Godinez & Poliana Botelho. While not the stiffest of test in opponents, wins are wins. She generally has a size advantage for the division and will use her frame to help manage distance. She counter strikes really well. She has pretty good TDEF too, she stuffed 13 of 15 from Lupita, but even when she gets taken down, she does well enough off her back to try and hunt for a submission of her own or stay safe in guard. Molly Meatball is a relentless fighter, she’ll force the issue no matter what’s going on. Luana’s defensive approach could limit her output, but won’t be for lack of trying. She is extremely well rounded and doesn’t mind where the fight goes, she’ll be the much more physically imposing of the two. This seems like it’ll play out mostly on the feet, and if it does, Molly’s volume should reign supreme, especially having the more impactful strikes. This could be one that ends up a split decision depending on what Luana does when it gets to the mat at some point, but I personally see Molly winning unanimously. Her overall output could be nice to score decently from a DFS perspective, especially with such wrestling heavy style matchups on this card. Those are tough to gauge outcomes.
PICK: Molly McCann $18 FD ($8400 DK)
Luana Carolina $14 FD ($7800 DK)
Ilia Topuria vs Jai Herbert
Topuria is one of my favorite fighters right now, his skill set is elite, and it’s why he’s undefeated as a professional at 11-0. He’s extremely well rounded; his striking is beautiful to see, especially when he’s putting combinations together. He also has a really strong wrestling game, and if needed, can take over a fight that way as well. Jai Herbert is 1-2 to start his UFC campaign, he’s got a solid skill set, but functions better as a pressuring striker. He’ll also have what’ll basically be a massive size advantage over Topuria. He’ll have 7 inches in height and reach, but that may not matter much to be honest. Topuria will still be the one dictating where this fight goes, and he’ll probably opt to the wrestling early, where he can either notch a submission win, or start to maul him with ground and pound. Needless to say, I think this fight ends at some point in RD 1, Topuria’s power will come through and be too much for Herbert. The pick is Topuria via 1st RD KO/TKO.
PICK: Ilia Topuria $22 FD ($9300 DK)
Jai Herbert $9 FD ($6900 DK)
Mike Grundy vs Makwan Amirkhani
As I previously mentioned, this card features some very heavy grapple style matchups, and this is one of them. Amirkhani is coming off of a tough KO loss to Lerone Murphy back at UFC 267 in October, and he’s lost 3 in a row total, so a loss here doesn’t bode well for his future most likely. On the flip side, Grundy has lost 2 in a row. So both guys in a near must win. Both guys game plan are simple, get the fight to the mat, and their numbers show proof of that, per 15mins, Grundy averages 3.78 TDs, while Amirkhani is slightly better at 4.12 TDs (ufcstats.com). Grundy has overall less success in getting them though, at just 26%, while Amirkhani is at 43%. The biggest difference between these guys on the mat in my opinion is control time; Amirkhani doesn’t keep opponents down very long in order to do work on the mat, so he burns his gas tank doing that, and by the time late 2nd, 3rd round arrives, his opponents are able to take control. One thing Grundy has in this matchup is his cardio, while it’s not necessarily great, it’ll be better than Amirkhani’s down the stretch. I could see a scenario where each guy gets 4 or 5 TDs, but Grundy will do more with his. It’s tough to gauge an overall fantasy output for FD if it’s just a grapple war for 15mins, but if there’s some standup involved, it could be nicer than expected for whoever takes it. I favor Grundy here, I just think his overall work will be too much and he’ll wear Amirkhani down as it goes, likely a decision win.
PICK: Mike Grundy $17 FD ($8500 DK)
Makwan Amirkhani $12 FD ($7700 DK)
Sergei Pavlovich vs Shamil Aburakhimov
Sergei has been sidelined nearly 2.5 yrs due to visa issues & injuries, but now is trying to get back in the fold of things vs Abdurkhimov. Sergei sits at just 2-1 in the UFC thus far, while Shamil is 5-4. And one of the biggest outliers in this matchup is the age gap, Shamil is 40 years old now, while Sergei is 29. At Shamil’s age, he still moves well for the division, but his counter striking approach won’t work against much faster competition in the division, and that fits the bill here. His last 2 losses (Daukaus & Blaydes), came via KO and it was mainly due to a discrepancy in athleticism. Sergei features powerful, fast hands that are going to be a problem for Shamil in this matchup, and on top of that, Sergei is aggressive, and will press the issue early. He averages 6.55 SLpM so far in the UFC, while Shamil is just at 2.53 SLpM, so to slow this down and have any hope at a win, Shamil needs to try and get the fight grounded, but he doesn’t do so well in that department either, so we’ll see. Ultimately I see this fight playing out like the last 2 have for Shamil, he’s up against a much fresher, faster fighter who has the tools to get a finish. I think Sergei wins via KO/TKO late 1st RD.
PICK: Sergei Pavlovich $20 FD ($9000 DK)
Shamil Abdurakhimov $10 FD ($7200 DK)
Nikita Krylov vs Paul Craig
Don’t look now, but Craig has reeled off 4 straight wins and is looking to make it 5. His last one was a surprise to everyone, when he was able to submit Jamahal Hill after Hill made the mistake to try and wrestle with him a bit too long. Craig’s submission skills are elite, and he doesn’t need much to get someone in a bad position. Krylov, is another grinding wrestler who opts for that approach, so we could be in for a stalemate for as long as it last if someone gets caught in a bad position. On the feet, Krylov is probably the more technical striker, and will be the one more willing to stand and trade. Craig has more success with control time when things take place on the mat, and he can work off of his back, or in top control where he can lay some ground and pound if needed. Craig will utilize the low leg kicks to set up closing the distance, and if I had to guess, he’ll be the one that tries to change levels early on. This is another matchup that’s just a complete toss up on FD if you’re playing one side or the other because you just have no idea what the outcome will be. I lean that for most of this, it’ll be a grapple fest, and I favor Craig in those instances. If you’re feeling lucky and think Craig gets the sub, then I 100% would have him in my LU, but I somehow think we get a boring decision out of this with low output.
PICK: Paul Craig $13 FD ($7500 DK)
Nikita Krylov $19 FD ($8700 DK)
Jack Shore vs Timur Valiev
Man what a fight this could be. Has potential FOTN on the surface. Both guys are undefeated in the UFC, Shore sits at 4-0, while Valiev is 2-0. This could be another matchup that takes place primarily on the mat, because we know what Shore likes to do, and that’s use a powerful 1-2 striking game to set up his TDs and get the fight to the mat to try and work for a submission. Valiev, still sits perfect in the UFC after the Jones fight was ruled a NC after Jones tested positive for a non performance enhancing drug. Beyond that, Valiev is still a solid prospect to watch, and he had a lot of hype surrounding him as he came into the UFC. He’s a solid all around fighter who moves really well on his feet. He puts together combinations well, and showed most recently in his bout vs Raoni Barcelos that he can weather an early storm and bounce back. That does leave cause for concern though, because he likes to stay in the pocket and trade, but has obviously been clipped and at the least stung enough that it effected him to some degree. Shores striking, while not in great volume, still packs a decent punch, so if he clips him, it could be trouble. This is such a great matchup, and it makes sense why the odds and pricing is where it is. But I lean slightly on Shore, just because I think he’ll be able to have more impactful shots in his striking, and at several junctures in the fight, he’ll be able to get the fight to the mat, but in some instances, Valiev will be able to get it back standing. Really really close fight, but I like Shore via decision.
PICK: Jack Shore $15 FD ($7600 DK)
Timur Valiev $15 FD ($8600 DK)
Cory McKenna vs Elise Reed
Can someone explain why McKenna at one point was a -250 fav in this matchup? And currently around -280??? Did I miss something?? This is a low level fight, so it’s always tough to predict. But I’m assuming bettors saw Elise make a late notice debut, up a weight class, against one of the best the division has to offer and just wrote her off because of that? Ok, I’ll accept that. Doesn’t mean it’ll yield the correct result. McKenna is aggressive, and she likes to pressure forward, looking to get a TD or two. And while she *won* the fight vs Kay Hansen on the score cards, she absolutely did not win that fight, Hansen basically did what she wanted, so not sure what judges were looking at. Reed features a good kickboxing game, and uses that basically to try and control the pace, she’ll have a 5 inch reach advantage over McKenna, so that should help. She has good striking, and her wrestling should fare much better this time around. The only reason I could see why this fight is where it is is because of McKenna’s aggression, other than that, this should be a near pick ‘em, and because of that, I’m 100% backing the dog for the win via decision.
PICK: Elise Reed $12 FD ($7400 DK)
Cory McKenna $19 FD ($8800 DK)
Muhammad Mokaev vs Cody Durden
These two have been going back and forth all week on social media with words. They’ll get the chance to settle the score first up. Mokaev has a lot of hype surrounding him, he’s making his UFC debut and currently sits 6-0. To put it plainly, the kid is athletic and has an extremely high motor. He wants to grab hold of you, and slam his opponents to the mat, at least that’s what I saw him do to 3 of his opponents when I watched taped on him. Once on the mat, he looks to hunt for submissions or get a little GNP going. Durden gets back at it after and sits at 1-1-1 in his UFC career so far. His last outing was in November when he picked up his first win over Qileng Aori. One thing to watch for is what Durden’s gas tank does after RD 1, he comes out at such a high pace that he burns himself, and is basically fighting with fumes the rest of the way. That type of approach certainly won’t work against better competition in the division. This is a great first matchup for Mokaev, and if he can manage the jitters early, could be on pace for a great start to his UFC career. I think Durden will once again cook his gas tank early, and at some point in RD 2 Mokaev will find a finish.
PICK: Muhammad Mokaev $21 FD ($9100 DK)
Cody Durden $10 FD ($7100 DK)
by: Chris Joseph (cmj0009)