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DraftKings DFS MMA Picks & Preview for UFC 224

By UFC standards, the buildup to UFC 224 has been pretty quiet. After watching its main event fall apart 24 hours prior to UFC 223, maybe the world’s biggest MMA promoter is due for a normal fight week. Kicking off from the MMA hotbed of Brazil, this action-packed card will feature some big-money DFS MMA contests over at DraftKings.

From the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, UFC 224 marks a homecoming for women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. Opposite Nunes will be challenger Raquel Pennington. Despite not fighting since November 2016, she will get a crack at the title and occupy one half of the main event marquee.

In the co-main event, two middleweights who can ill afford another defeat meet: Brazilian Jacare Souza takes on Kelvin Gastelum.

With fight week upon us, there are several UFC fighters worth considering for your UFC 224 DraftKings lineup. Find our main card analysis below, plus three additional undercard fighters who may be underpriced.

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UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship: Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington

Once viewed only as a one-trick striking pony, Amanda Nunes ($9.5k) has evolved her game as a champion and is now the biggest favorite to win at UFC 224. A proficient boxer without one-punch power, Raquel Pennington ($6.7k) will need to pull off a major upset to topple Nunes on Saturday night.

Unbeaten since 2014, the 29-year-old Nunes may not have even reached her athletic peak yet. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the women’s bantamweight division. A winner of six straight fights, Nunes made her mark in 2016 when she submitted Miesha Tate to win the title and bounced former champion Ronda Rousey from the sport by KO six months later.

The year 2017 saw Nunes compete only once, when she went the full 25 minutes versus Valentina Shevchenko in September. Despite winning a close decision, Nunes was able to answer any questions about stamina that may have plagued her earlier in her career.

A MMA vet of six years, Pennington will carry a four-fight winning streak into the cage at UFC 224. Also 29 years old, Pennington entered the UFC with a modest 3-3 pro record after a stint on The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Following a loss to former women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm in 2015, Pennington began the winning streak that earned her this title shot.

On paper, Amanda Nunes has every advantage over Raquel Pennington. Striking, defense, athleticism, and jiu-jitsu all fall on the side of Team Nunes. Unless Pennington pulls out some amazing, previously unseen KO power, the safe pick is Nunes in blowout, in front a legion of her countrymen.

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Middleweight: Ronaldo Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum

These middleweights have something in common of late. One year ago, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza ($8.4k) was lit up and knocked out in the second round by Robert Whittaker. Ten months ago, Kelvin Gastelum ($7.4k) was outclassed and submitted by Chris Weidman.

Then, both Souza and Gastelum bounced back with devastating first round KO wins in their very next bouts. So which versions of these middleweights show up at UFC 224?

Now 38, Souza is still chasing his first UFC title fight. An all-world jiu-jitsu black belt, Souza is 8-2 in the UFC and 25-5 overall. Souza’s last win came over Derek Brunson via a vicious head kick in January.

Still only 26, Gastelum entered the UFC at 5-0 after winning The Ultimate Fighter reality show. A strong wrestler with punching power, Gastelum’s biggest problem is that his correct weight class does not exist. Too big to be a 170-pound welterweight and too small to be a 185-pound middleweight, Gastelum has bounced between weight classes for much of his UFC career.

This is a closer fight than DraftKings has priced. Both Souza and Gastelum have the talent to take home the victory. If Gastelum is able to avoid the dangerous submissions of Souza, his youth, power and wrestling could be enough to pull off a decision upset.

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Strawweight: Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper

What’s the best way to ensure the jiu-jitsu prospect you heavily invested in picks up a win? Book jiu-jitsu black belt Mackenzie Dern ($9.1k) versus Amanda Cooper ($7.1k), who has lost all of her pro fights by submission.

Only 25, Dern is one of the best female grappling prospects to crossover into MMA. She’s already 6-0 in her MMA career and 1-0 in the UFC. If the fight hits the ground, Dern has a huge edge over almost every strawweight on the UFC’s roster.

A contestant on The Ultimate Fighter, the 26-year-old Cooper won two amateur fight on the show to make it into the finals. A striker by trade, Cooper is 3-3 overall in MMA with a 2-2 record in the UFC.

Reading the tea leaves, all signs point to the UFC wanting Mackenzie Dern to pick up the win at UFC 224. Maybe Cooper comes out and shocks everyone with her striking skills, but the pick is Dern. She boasts big star potential in the UFC.

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Bantamweight: John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher

Showcase. Fight. Hailing from nearby Paraná, Brazil, bantamweight human highlight reel John Lineker ($9.0k) will be a favorite in the arena as well as on DraftKings versus New Yorker Brian Kelleher ($7.2k).

The owner of 13 career knockout wins, Lineker is one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC’s roster. Competing in both the flyweight and bantamweight divisions, Lineker owns a 11-3 mark in the UFC and a 30-8 record overall.

A solid 31-year-old fighter, Kelleher once owned a 10-7 pro MMA record before turning the corner. He’s now 19-8 in the sport. Kelleher’s lone loss in the UFC came at the hands of Marlon Vera, a fighter Lineker beat by decision in October 2017.

Going the distance in his last three UFC bouts, John Lineker will look to score another signature win at UFC 224 in front of a raucous crowd. Kelleher is a tough out, but look for Lineker to pull away late and score a big win.

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Middleweight: Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida

Two former UFC champions, two future Hall of Famers will open the pay-per-view portion of UFC 224. Lyoto Machida ($8.9k) squares up with fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort ($7.3k).

Once one of the most feared strikers in the light heavyweight division, Machida is now 39 and reaching the tail end of his career. Only one win removed from getting stopped in brutal fashion for three consecutive fights, Machida’s chin and slower defense makes him tough to pick in any fight in 2018.

With even more miles on his tires than Machida, Belfort claims this fight at UFC 224 will be his retirement bout. Mirroring his opponent, prior to a single win, Belfort lost three straight fights in the UFC, all by very violent knockouts.

This fight is closer than DraftKings pricing indicates, but it’s hard to trust either man at this late stage. Machida gets the small nod due to relative youth, and his unique striking style may match up well versus an aged Belfort.  

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Three Underdogs for UFC 224 DraftKings Lineups

Sean Strickland ($8.1k): In a coin flip pricing, Sean Strickland ($8.1k) and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos ($8.1k) are pretty evenly matched. Strickland is the younger, bigger welterweight and should be able to lean on his wrestling edge to grind out Zaleski.

Thales Leites ($7.9k): A former UFC title challenger, Thales Leites ($7.9k) is a slight underdog to Swedish striker Jack Hermansson ($8.3k). A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Leites may be able to tap out Hermansson in front of his hometown fans if he can get the fight to the floor.

Nick Hein ($7.7k): A big underdog to top-shelf grappler Davi Ramos ($8.5k), Nick Hein ($7.7k) does have the style to give his opponent problems. A winner of three straight fights in the UFC, Hein has the striking edge versus Ramos. If he is able to keep the fight standing up, he could pull off an upset. 

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