The Octagon returns to the FOX network on Saturday night for the UFC's annual July FOX event as UFC On FOX 20 takes place in Chicago, Illinois. The event is headlined by former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Holly Holm looking to get back to a title shot when she takes on Valentina Shevchenko in a five-round bout.
Below are our studs, value plays and fighters to avoid when making your fantasy line-ups for Saturday's event.
Francis Ngannou ($11,500)
Francis Ngannou has shown himself to be a big threat in the UFC's heavyweight division, and he enters Saturday night's card as the biggest betting favorite and the highest-salaried fighter on the card.
Ngannou is 7-1 in his young career and has won six straight fights, including his last two in the UFC. He has scored all seven of his wins by finish, and he is a huge heavyweight, a muscular 250-pounder with an 83" reach. He gets his third straight fight against an opponent making their UFC debut when he takes on Bojan Mihajlovic in a main card bout on FOX on Saturday night.
Mihajlovic has won ten straight fights as he enters the UFC, but he is a very small heavyweight. He will be giving up four inches in height, a lot of weight, and a good amount of reach. This fight is made for Ngannou to get another impressive win, this time in front of the largest audience to see him to date. Roll with him as your top play despite the large salary.
Kamaru Usman ($10,800)
Kamaru Usman is another solid top play on Saturday night's card as he looks to keep his current six-fight win streak going when he takes on Alexander Yakovlev. He is taking this fight as an injury replacement, but he was already in hard training for a bout at UFC 198 in May before he was pulled for visa issues, so the shorter notice shouldn't be much of an issue.
Usman is a strong wrestler out of the Blackzilians camp, and he has scored six of his seven wins by stoppage. His last win, over Leon Edwards, was his lone fight to go the distance, but it was a bout he still dominated en route to getting the decision. Yakovlev is tough opponent, but he has fallen to much better competition in his UFC career. Yakovlev does have solid power in his hands, but so does Usman, and Yakovlev will likely be unable to stop the takedowns that will be coming.
Usman has loads of potential, and a solid chance of scoring the finish, so even though he has a higher salary, he is a good pick for this weekend.
Gilbert Melendez ($9,000)
Gilbert Melendez makes his first appearance inside the Octagon since UFC 188 in June 2015 as he returns from a year-long suspension due to a failed drug test. Melendez has lost his last two fights, and three of four since moving over from Strikeforce. That recent slump makes him an underdog heading into his co-main event bout against Edson Barboza on Saturday night.
Barboza is coming off his best performance in the UFC to date, a decision win over Anthony Pettis in April. That Pettis wasn't near the best of his career, but it was still a solid win for Barboza. Barboza sometimes buckles underneath the pressure of a big fight, and if Melendez can pressure Barboza into making mistakes, that will bode well for him. This is a high-quality fight and Melendez has a solid chance at scoring an upset.
It's hard to find an underdog on this card that you can truly bank on scoring a win, but Melendez' history in the sport is too hard to pass up, plus Barboza can falter against tough competition. Melendez has some good value on Saturday night.
James Moontasri ($8,700)
James Moontasri is looking to score his second straight win since moving up to the welterweight division in the UFC when he takes on Alex Oliveira on Saturday night.
Moontasri had an impressive first-round TKO win in his last bout in November, his seventh finish in his nine career wins. He is very good on his feet, likely a better striker than his opponent, Oliveira. A striking battle will favor Moontasri, and he has a good chance of finishing Oliveira with his flashy striking. Both of Oliveira's losses inside the Octagon have come by submission, but both have come to strong submission fighters.
Moontasri has an underrated ground game, but Oliveira's is better, so Moontasri would be smart to keep this on the feet. It will likely be an explosive battle, and I see someone getting finished in it. Moontasri's skill level combined with his low salary makes him a very solid value play on this card.
FIGHTERS TO AVOID
Felice Herrig ($9,600)
Felice Herrig is one of the most experienced fighters in the women's strawweight division, with 16 career mixed martial arts bouts, and 28 career kickboxing bouts. That experience will be a huge factor when she takes on Kailin Curran in the main card opener on FOX as Curran has just six professional fights in her career.
Neither woman has been consistent either as Herrig is 10-6 in MMA and Curran is 4-2. That makes this fight a toss-up in the betting odds. Herrig hasn't fought in 15 months and has openly talked about personal struggles following her last fight. She wants to have a strong showing, but Curran is a tough match-up. Herrig has never been finished in her career, and I don't see that happening. She is too tough and durable and Curran could be forced into a difficult fight by her.
However, I like Curran to get the win by decision, which hinders Herrig's ability to maximize her points. It is still a toss-up, and even if a fantasy player likes Herrig, I don't see her scoring more points than any other fighter with a similar salary. That makes her a pass in my view.
Luis Henrique ($9,300)
Luis Henrique is looking to rebound from a disappointing UFC debut when he takes on the debuting Dmitry Smolyakov in the opening bout on Saturday's card. Smolyakov is undefeated as he makes his UFC debut and has scored all eight of his wins by stoppage. He has also scored all eight of those wins in the first round, with four wins coming in less than a minute.
Granted, it's all been against lower-level competition, but he comes into the UFC with a lot of momentum. Both of Henrique's losses have come by knockout, including one to Sultan Aliev, who competes as a welterweight. Henrique is a heavyweight. Smolyakov is a talented wrestler and a solid striker, and Henrique's goal should be to get this fight on the ground as he is the better ground fighter. I'm not sure I see that happening, though.
Henrique's history of losing by knockout combined with the talent on the feet and in the wrestling of Smolyakov makes Henrique a fighter to avoid drafting on this card.
RYAN FREDERICK- Francis Ngannou ($11,500), Darren Elkins ($10,300), Dmitry Smolyakov ($10,100), Gilbert Melendez ($9,000), James Moontasri ($8,700)
I'm going with my top play, Francis Ngannou, as one of my five on my roster. I don't forsee a lot of finishes on this card, but he is as close to a guarantee as there is. I also have Gilbert Melendez and James Moontasri on my team. I like them as value picks as stated above, and think they both have a good chance for upset wins.
I'm also going with Dmitry Smolyakov. Eight first-round wins in eight fights are hard to pass up, and I like his chances against Luis Henrique. Plus, it is heavyweights- a finish is the higher percentage outcome. Lastly, I'm going with Darren Elkins on my team. He scores a lot of takedowns in his fights, and he makes the most of them with repeated strikes on the mat. He shouldn't have a lot of trouble in getting Godofredo Pepey down on the mat, and I like his chances to win.
PAUL FONTAINE- Dmitry Smolyakov ($10,100), Eddie Wineland ($9,400), Jason Knight ($8,800), James Moontasri ($8,700), Valentina Shevchenko ($8,600)
My team is almost entirely composed of underdogs and there's a reason for that. Most of the favorites on this card are not finishers. Last week, my team finished in the money, despite only going 3 for 5 and it was because all 3 of the winners scored finishes. If the same happens this week, this team will be in the money again and if 4 or 5 win, which could happen, we could be looking at a team that scores huge points and wins a big prize in one of the mega-pools.
Smolyakov has finished every one of his pro opponents and is making his UFC debut. Wineland's an aging vet with something to prove and guys like that have been doing really well lately. Knight lost a tough fight to Tatsuya Kawajiri in his UFC debut but had won 9 straight prior to that, with 8 coming by finish. He's fighting to save his job here. Moontasri's last five wins have all been by stoppage and all in either UFC or on nationally televised regional shows. Shevchenko is a gamble but Holm choked against Miesha Tate and I'm not sure that she doesn't do the same here with the pressure of carrying an entire card by herself.
PEACH MACHINE- Francis Ngannou ($11,500), Edson Barboza ($10,400), Felice Herrig ($9,600), Eddie Wineland ($9,400), Valentina Shevchenko ($8,400)
Time to be perfectly honest here... I LOVE THIS LINE UP! And I still have 500 bones to play with. I'll put it on THIS line-up! Shevchenko last lost to Nunes i.e. the champ. Holm was at one point the champ, but she was bested by Tate who was bested by Nunes. So ya, Shevchenko is definitely winning by decision in what's going to be a war. Eddie B. is game and Gilly is fresh off a year long lay off from suspension, so he's going to be missing his juice. Ed B is on his way up, and Gillyboy M is on his way down.
Felice Herrig is just tough. Both these women have lost to P VanZ but Herrig wasn't finished and Curran was. So Herrig is definitely winning. Edward Wineland is one of my favorite fighters because he's really gutsy, and while he's been on a losing streak, I know he's going to be in a war and win that war against Frank S. I've never heard of Ngannou, or his opponent, and Ngannou is ridiculously priced, so I went with him, because I ball so hard.