Here's some advice for who to pick in your DraftKings lineup for Saturday's UFC Fight 94 in Hidalgo, TX, headlined by Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Johnson on FS1.
TOP TARGET: Sam Sicilia ($11,200)
Sam Sicilia steps into the Octagon for the first time since November when he takes on Gabriel Benitez in the featured preliminary bout.
Both men are looking to get back into the win column after suffering knockout losses in their most recent fights, and Siclia is the betting favorite between the two. He is also the fighter I favor in this bout. He has struggled in the UFC, compiling just a 5-5 UFC record, but when he has won, he has been very impressive. He is a knockout artist by trade, having scored eight of his 15 career wins by knockout. He also has some solid wrestling, at least against lesser opponents.
Benitez is at a lower level than Sicilia, but do not let that fool you as he is a finisher himself, having scored 15 of 18 career wins by knockout or submission. Sicilia can be finished as four of his five UFC losses have seen him knocked out or submitted, but when he is on, he is tough.
Sicilia has the takedowns and the top control to plant Benitez on the mat and keep him there, but Sicilia likes to stand and try to knock out his foes. It has cost him in the past, but it has also been to his advantage. Benitez is coming off a big knockout loss to an opponent with less power, and Sicilia is looking to make a statement.
I like Sicilia to win, and I think he gets the job done in devastating fashion inside the first round. This is a tough card to predict good fantasy players for, and while he has the highest salary, I like Sicilia as my top target.
VALUE TARGET: Dustin Poirier ($10,400)
Poirier is in the headliner position Saturday against Michael Johnson. He is looking to continue his hot streak since moving up to 155 pounds (4-0) against the always-tough Johnson in a battle of top 10 fighters looking to make that push towards a title shot. Poirier is coming off an impressive first-round knockout win over Bobby Green at UFC 199 in June while Johnson looks to end his 2-fight losing skid since a tough loss to Nate Diaz last December.
Poirier has gotten much better on his feet as he has advanced his career, and he is a much better version of himself than he was years ago. A past legitimate title contender at 145 pounds, he finds himself just as close as a lightweight.
Johnson has great striking with a lot of power, and he is going to have to watch out for the excellent counterstriking from Poirier. Poirier is strong inside the pocket, but so is Johnson. Poirier has the better takedowns of the two though Johnson has strong takedown defense. Both men are southpaws and Johnson had a lot of trouble in his fight with Diaz, who is also a southpaw.
Poirier isn't the volume striker that Diaz is, but he has more power, and Diaz was able to rock Johnson multiple times. This is a fight made for Poirier to win, but Johnson is capable of pulling off the upset.
I'm actually surprised that Poirier doesn't have a higher salary, so his price of $10,400 is excellent value. I expect him to finish Johnson, even if it comes in the later rounds, which gives him more scoring opportunities.
TARGET TO AVOID: Chas Skelly ($10,300)
Chas Skelly is looking to rebound from a disappointing loss to Darren Elkins at March's UFC 196 when faces Maximo Blanco on Saturday night. Skelly was defeated by Elkins in similar fashion to the way he himself likes to work: scoring takedowns and dominating on the mat. Blanco had his three-fight win streak snapped by Luke Sanders in January, and he looks to get back into fringe top-15 status against Skelly here.
Blanco is one of the most exciting, yet wild and reckless, fighters at 145, while Skelly is a strong wrestler with a strong top game on the mat. Blanco is a solid striker with a lot of power, and he mixes solid combinations well and throws out flying knees and spinning kicks. Skelly isn't going to be able to hang with Blanco on the feet, so he will be looking for the takedown.
The problem there is Blanco has strong takedown defense, and can score some powerful takedowns of his own. Blanco does tend to falter when there is pressure on him, so Skelly needs to bring the fight to him quickly, much like Sanders did. Skelly is bad defensively on the feet as he looks to rush in for the clinch, but he doesn't have strong takedown defense despite being primarily a wrestler. Neither fighter has solid conditioning.
This fight actually favors Blanco although he has been known to make a lot of mental, and just plain bad, mistakes in fights. Skelly has too high of a salary to trust, and even if he is able to win, I see it by decision, and one where he doesn't get enough points to justify his salary. With all of that being said, Skelly is my top must-avoid target on the card.
UNDERDOG TARGET: Uriah Hall ($9,400)
Hall makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon as he takes on Derek Brunson. Both men are ranked inside the top 10 at 185 pounds, with Hall ranked ninth and Brunson ranked tenth. Brunson is looking to extend his four-fight win streak, and both men have been looking to fight each other for a while. Hall is going to come into the fight fired up as Brunson has made allegations of performance enhancing drug usage by Hall. Expectedly, Hall hasn't been happy about that at all.
Hall is still looking to live up to the potential given to him after his performances on TUF, and while he had a big upset win over Gegard Mousasi, he suffered a setback to Robert Whittaker in his last fight. Hall is a dangerous kickboxer who works well when he has a lot of space, so Brunson is going to be looking to pressure him quickly. Hall has trouble defending takedowns while Brunson has never been taken down in his career.
Hall should avoid being on the bottom as Brunson is a heavy ground-and-pound attacker, but he also has a solid submission game. Hall is going to be best served keeping this fight on the feet and at a distance. If Brunson is able to get on the inside, he packs a serious left hand.
Hall has a lot of tools, but he has been so up-and-down that it is hard to trust him. However, if he is able to put it all together, this is a very winnable fight for him. Hall is a solid underdog pick, and I think he has the ability to get the win, and the motivation to do so.
SURPRISE TARGET: Kenny Robertson ($9,300)
Robertson returns to action for the first time in almost 14 months when he squares off against Roan Carneiro on Saturday night. Robertson is coming off a close split decision loss in his last fight against Ben Saunders in July 2015, a loss that halted his three-fight win streak. Carneiro is returning to the welterweight division after suffering a February knockout loss to the aforementioned Brunson, ending his six-fight win streak.
This is a close fight on paper and in the betting odds, but Carneiro has a sizeable advantage in the fantasy salaries which makes Robertson an interesting play for someone looking to score a surprise. Carneiro is very well-rounded, but he struggles in putting it all together. Robertson is a hard-nosed veteran who has more skills than may appear, and he is a quality submission specialist.
Carneiro has good top control, but being on the bottom allows Robertson to go after one of his favorite attacks: leg locks. Robertson is an undervalued finisher as well as 13 of his 15 career wins have come by stoppage, and he has only been stopped once in his career. Robertson is also the better striker, and Carneiro has been knocked out three times in his career, and submitted four times in his career.
This is a close fight, but my official pick is Robertson. I think he stops Carneiro in some fashion, and is a good pick for a fighter to score a surprise.
Ryan: Randy Brown ($10,900), Dustin Poirier ($10,400), Uriah Hall ($9,400), Kenny Robertson ($9,300), Maximo Blanco ($9,100)
I'm not using all of my available salary as I think this is a solid team with the potential to score a lot of points. Brown has a high salary, but he has a ton of talent and a very high ceiling. He was stopped in his last bout against a tough opponent in Michael Graves, but I see him bouncing back against Erick Montano, a TUF Latin America winner.
Poirier is on a roll, and I think the matchup is too good for him, plus Johnson has trouble with the elite of the division. Poirier has established himself as an elite 155-pound fighter, and I see him wearing Johnson down for a late finish.
I'm buying in on Hall with Brunson. He is very streaky, but he is dangerous when he is in the right frame of mind. Brunson's accusations and trash talk are hopefully motivation, and if he wins, it'll be by finish. Robertson has excellent value at his salary, and Carneiro is a beatable and finishable opponent. I like Robertson's chances at winning by stoppage. Blanco is undervalued, and much like Hall, a wild card. I think he can expose Skelly on the feet, and his ground game is too good to pass up. I like him at his salary.
PAUL FONTAINE: Leonardo Augusto Leleco ($9,500), Kenny Robertson ($9,300), Rick Glenn ($8,700), Erick Montano ($8,500) and Alberto Morales ($8,400)
You'll notice I'm going with all underdogs on my team. On a show with no real standout stars, I have a feeling that some of these lesser known, but still talented, guys will try and make an impression before what will probably be nothing more than a hardcore audience.
Leonardo Augusto Leleco lost a decision in his UFC debut but it was against a late notice opponent. He had won seven straight against Brazilian opponents prior to that and here he's up against another fellow countryman. Robertson has finishes in 3 of his last 4 wins: all in the first round. I look for another quick one against aging veteran Carneiro.
Rick Glenn has been one of my favorite non-UFC fighters for years, and the former WSOF featherweight champion will make his UFC debut on Saturday. He's moving up a weight class to face veteran Evan Dunham and I'm calling for the big upset here. My pick of Erick Montano is more of one against his opponent Brown. Brown was found on Dana White's "Looking for a Fight" show, and guys from that show have not fared well of late in UFC.
Lastly, I'm going with the debuting Alberto Morales who has been tearing it up on the regional circuit. He's 6-0 in a young career that has seen him in fairly high profile non-UFC bouts. His fight Alejandro Perez should be quick either way as both guys have finishing power.
PEACHMACHINE: Poirier (10,400), Brunson (10,000), Wade (9,600), Glen (8,700), Benitez (8,200)
This is an easy 5-0 night for me. Poirier is going to steam roll Johnson. Brunson is going to flatten Hall. Wade is going to smash Makhachev. Those three are gimmes. Glen is a tough kid and I like the upset factor here in facing veteran Dunham. Despite RFred's high praise, I don't exptect much from Sicilia. I'm taking his opponent Benitez.