UFC returns to pay-per-view this weekend as the company travels to Cleveland, OH, for the very first time for UFC 203 on Saturday. The event is headlined by a UFC Heavyweight Championship bout as champion Stipe Miocic defends against challenger Alistair Overeem.
Also, you may have also heard of another significant bout as CM Punk makes his debut against Mickey Gall.
Below are fighters to target when setting your fantasy line-ups for the event.
Stipe Miocic ($10,000)
Stipe Miocic is making his first title defense when he defends the UFC Heavyweight Championship against Alistair Overeem in the main event of UFC 203 on Saturday. Miocic won the championship by knocking out Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 in May, going into the enemy territory of Brazil and getting the biggest win of his career. Miocic now makes his first title defense in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and he comes in with a ton of confidence.
Miocic has won three straight fights and six of his last seven while Overeem earns his title shot on the heels of four straight wins. Overeem disappointed early in his UFC career, but he has earned his shot at getting the belt out of the hands of Miocic.
This is a tough match-up to predict as both men are equally close in skillsets. Miocic is the better pure boxer of the two and has a ton of power in his hands, but Overeem has more technique on his feet with his kickboxing. Overeem has punishing kicks and knees that end fights, and Miocic is going to need to be light on his feet and use a lot of movement. Miocic is the better wrestler of the two should he choose to go that route, but Overeem has good takedown defense and is good at getting back to his feet.
I expect Overeem to be on the attack of the legs of Miocic with kicks and to keep enough distance to negate Miocic's strong counterpunching game. Miocic is very durable and has shown a stronger conditioning game than Overeem has. Any time Overeem has been past the second round, he has slowed considerably. He has been lucky his opponents slowed quicker than him. That won't happen with Miocic.
I expect Overeem to give Miocic some trouble but for Miocic to start coming on after the first round. Either man can win by knockout, but I see the hometown crowd giving Miocic a lot of confidence and him feeding off of that en route to a win inside of three rounds. Miocic is my top target on this tough card.
Joanne Calderwood ($9,500)
Joanne Calderwood meets Jessica Andrade in a high-level strawweight battle that will kick off the main card of UFC 203 on Saturday. Both ladies are strong, high-volume strikers and both looked super impressive in their most recent wins. This will be Andrade's second time fighting at 115 pounds while Calderwood goes back down to 115 pounds after fighting her most recent bout at 125 pounds.
It was Calderwood's first full camp with Tristar and she looked much improved and more confident having the better coaching staff behind her. Andrade is short for the division, but she has a ton of power and has shown devastating finishing abilities at both womens' weight classes in the UFC.
A big difference between the two is Andrade starts out fast and slows down while Calderwood is a slow starter who comes on late. If Calderwood has a slow start, Andrade can make her pay early. Andrade mixes her attack to the head and body well, and she goes right after opponents.
Calderwood is a solid kickboxer and likes to work in the clinch, and her kicks and knees come into factor in a grueling bout. Calderwood is also a good wrestler and has solid submission skills. Andrade has been finished in four of her five career losses, two each by submission and knockout. More importantly, all of Andrade's UFC losses have seen her stopped.
Calderwood is the slight underdog in this fight, but I see her having more tools to win this fight out of the two women. Calderwood is going to have to survive an early attack from Andrade, but the later this fight goes, the more it favors Calderwood. She scores a lot of points in fantasy and is a sneaky pick for a late finish, and her salary makes her a very good value pick.
DO NOT TARGET
CM Punk ($8,000)
There are a multitude of reasons to avoid CM Punk on your fantasy team for this weekend's card. I think he's going to do better than a lot of people think he is, but it is still a big risk, and his low salary reflects that. He is making his professional debut, at 37-years-old, coming off of years of his body being beaten up in pro wrestling.
The fact that he is debuting 21 months after his signing and coming off of two surgeries isn't a great sign either. He has a top training camp and top coaching staff behind him, so that is going to play a big factor.
Everything is pointing to him not doing so well, and that is where I think he will surprise some people. Everyone watching his reality show has seen the holes in his game, but don't let that be a true reflection of where he stands today as the show isn't going to show everything for a number of reasons. As inexperienced as he is, Mickey Gall is a real opponent.
He has just two professional fights, both wins, and while he is a raw prospect, he has the ability and he has done everything to show that he would eventually make it to the UFC, but he is there quicker than he should have been because they needed an opponent for Punk, and he was in the right place at the right time. Punk may actually surprise some people and he could sneak out a win as while some should think he has all that pressure on him, he really should have no pressure on him at all.
There really isn't much for him to lose because everyone expects him to lose, and everything for him to gain if he is better than people expect. For fantasy reasons, with Punk being in his first career fight, I don't recommend playing him at all unless you want a Hail Mary pick. This is a very interesting situation, though, to say the least.
Travis Browne ($8,700)
Travis Browne makes a quick turnaround on short notice as he looks to avenge one of the losses in his career when he takes on Fabricio Werdum in the co-main event of UFC 203. Browne is coming off of being finished in the first round by Cain Velasquez at UFC 200 in July, and he steps in on short notice as a replacement for Ben Rothwell.
Browne and Werdum fought in a five-round bout in April 2014 that was dominated by Werdum, who won by unanimous decision. That was Werdum at his best, and now he is coming off of him being at his worst when he lost by first-round knockout, losing the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
Neither man has been terribly active in the 29 months since their first fight as Browne has fought just four times and Werdum just three. There are a lot of factors to show that Werdum may be done. He looked different in his bout with Stipe Miocic in May, looking like another man than the one who won the championship. Perhaps that has to do with more stringent drug testing, or other factors coming into play such as Werdum getting older.
Browne has the power to finish Werdum with one shot, much like Miocic did. Werdum was happy to engage with Browne in their first bout, and that shook Browne, who didn't look like he did prior to that fight. Both men have lost a step in recent times, but they are also fighting much quicker than their recent schedules have.
The short notice, in my opinion, actually favors Browne. I think Werdum's chin may be done as it has been cracked a lot, and I see Werdum wanting to engage with Browne on the feet. Browne has one of the lower salaries on the card, and you have to pick at least one big underdog on every event. Browne is a good one and I see him as my top underdog target.
Brad Tavares ($9,800)
Brad Tavares fights for the first time since May 2015 as he returns to the Octagon to take on Caio Magalhaes in a preliminary bout at UFC 203. Tavares has been battling injuries that have forced him from fights since his last fight, but he gets an opponent who has also been out for a while as Magalhaes hasn't fought since July 2015, but his inactivity has been due to suspensions and injuries.
Tavares was actually a rising middleweight who found himself in the top 15 rankings after going 7-1 in his first eight UFC bouts, but he has since lost three of his last four, including being knocked out by Robert Whittaker in 44 seconds in his last fight.
This is a great match-up for him as Magalhaes is an opponent who cuts a lot of weight and it shows in his performances. He comes out aggressive but is unable to keep up the pace for very long while Tavares has excellent conditioning. Magalhaes also telegraphs his takedown attempts too easily and Tavares has strong takedown defense.
In fact, the only opponent who hasn't had trouble taking Tavares down has been Yoel Romero, and he is one of the best wrestlers in the UFC. Tavares has solid striking, mixing kicks with knees and solid jabs and punches. Tavares also has good takedowns of his own. Magalhaes is going to have to hit him with a hard shot early, but Magalhaes also has a questionable chin.
Tavares is in big need of a win, and I think he gets the job done here, and a first-round finish is always there. I like his chances for a surprise finish with a lot of points being scored.
RYAN FREDERICK- Mickey Gall ($11,400), Jessica Eye ($10,100), Stipe Miocic ($10,000), Joanne Calderwood ($9,500), Travis Browne ($8,700)
Mickey Gall has his chance to make a name for himself at the expense of CM Punk, and I think he's too good of a pick to pass up, even at his salary. If he is going to win, and I think he will, I think it will be by a finish and in the first round.
Jessica Eye is coming in with her back against the wall, but she has a ton of confidence fighting in front of her hometown crowd, and she fights a favorable opponent. She is going to bounce back in a big way in Cleveland.
Stipe Miocic also has a lot of confidence fighting in front of the Cleveland crowd, and him and Alistair Overeem are going to have a battle. Miocic will land a lot of punches and some takedowns and finish the fight and retain his championship.
Joanne Calderwood has good value at her salary and I see her finishing Jessica Andrade after wearing her down after the first five minutes.
My last pick is Travis Browne. I'm not sold that Fabricio Werdum is the same fighter that he was when Browne and him first fought, and I think his chin is done. Browne is big and hard with his punches, and I think he can finish Werdum.
PAUL FONTAINE- Yancy Medeiros ($10,500), Stipe Miocic ($10,000), Caio Magalhaes ($9,600), Michael McBride ($9,200), Travis Browne ($8,700)
Medeiros is very underrated and I think he's going to have a lot more power at welterweight where he'll be fighting for at the first time in UFC. He had fought as high as 185 in Strikeforce and had KO power at that weight. I look for him to finish Sean Spencer since he has his back against the wall, having lost 2 of 3.
Miocic is a killer and will have the hometown crowd behind him. He should KO Alistair Overeem in fairly short order. Caio Magalhaes is a beast in more ways than one and he's going to blitz Brad Tavares, who hasn't fought in 19 months and has only one win in the last 2 1/2 years.
Michael McBride makes his UFC debut with all of his career wins coming by submission. Nik Lentz grappling style leaves him vulnerable to getting caught and I'm going with the newcomer to score the upset here.
My last pick is Travis Browne. I think the former champion Werdum is coming back too soon after getting KO'd by Miocic. At 39 years old it can't be easy for him to come back from that and Browne should enter the title picture with a win over Werdum.
PEACH MACHINE- Drew Dober ($11,200), Jessica Eye ($10,100), Urijah Faber ($9,700), Alistair Overeem ($9,600), CM Punk ($8,000)
I'm not convinced Miocic is the champ. He got lucky against Werdum and I don't think he'll get lucky against Overeem. Like I wrote about in my column a few days ago, Punk is playing opossum. Eye is really tough as is Correira but Eye needs the win badly here.
Faber is woefully underrated in my book. Sure he's never won the big one, but this isn't the big one. I've been impressed by Dober in his last few outings. I expect him to cruise here. I'll be live at the event, and if Punk wins, I may crash the cage with my posse and call him out. Look for that.