Professional sports returns with the first live event in the U.S. (albeit with no fans) since UFC was shut down on March 16. UFC president Dana White has pulled enough strings to schedule three events at an empty VyStar Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. The first event, UFC 249, has a loaded 11-fight card and is slated to start at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 9.
The event originally had 12 fights, but the middleweight bout between Jacare Souza and Uriah Hall has been cancelled after Souza and his two cornermen tested positive for COVID-19.
DraftKings is holding its biggest MMA DFS contest ever with a $20 entry for a shot at a share of a $1M prize pool, and PlayPicks is providing our top DFS plays to help you build your lineups.
In this column, we will identify the top DFS plays to consider for Cash and GPP formats for the May 9 contests at DraftKings. We also highlight sleepers and values to consider.
Keep in mind the betting lines may shift prior to the fight and news may break regarding how prepared each fighter is for their respective bout, many of which were scheduled on relatively short notice.
UFC 249 Top DFS Plays
Tony Ferguson ($8,700) and Justin Gaethje ($7,500)
The first factor to consider on this 12-fight slate is that the final two fights can go up to 5 rounds, while the rest are capped at 3 rounds. The main event is an interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, and both fighters can serve as staples for Cash lineups.
Ferguson has a 26-3 career record with a 10:04 average fight time. Gaethje averages 8.57 strikes landed per minute and absorbs 9.67 strikes per minute, so there should be plenty of scoring. Ferguson, 36, is riding a 12-fight win streak and hasn’t lost since May 2012. Gaethje, 31, is a hard hitter with three straight first-round KOs recorded, but he’s unlikely to knock out the veteran early in this bout.
Francis Ngannou ($9,100)
While Ryan Spann ($9,300) is more of a lock to win his fight with -420 odds, Francis Ngannou is another heavy favorite with a better chance of scoring a knockout. The heavyweight takes on Jair Rozenstruik for the right to become the No. 1 contender in their division. Ngannou is a -260 favorite and a very good defensive fighter with only 1.97 strikes absorbed per minute. But “The Predator” still delivers plenty of punishment with his last 3 victories coming via first-round knockout. Another early victory would score big for Ngannou owners.
Vicente Luque ($9,000)
The Brazilian welterweight defeated Niko Price in 2017 via second-round submission and is justifiably favored (-270) heading into the rematch. Another early victory could score big for Luque owners, while hurting those who are chasing Price’s somewhat misleading spike in recent results.
Luque lands 5.18 strikes per minute compared to Price’s 3.06 strikes per minute average. While his scoring is down over his last two fights (which went to a decision after 3 rounds), Luque topped 100 DK points in 7 of his previous 8 fights, with 6 TKOs in that span.
UFC 249 Top DFS Value Plays
Yorgan De Castro ($7,600)
Another heavyweight capable of scoring big points with an early knockout, De Castro takes on former NFL player Greg Hardy. A blue collar worker from Fall River, Massachusetts, De Castro will certainly have plenty of support behind him, even if there won’t be any crowd to cheer him on.
Hardy is notably downcast for heinous assault allegations against his former girlfriend, and he’s delivered mixed results since joining UFC in 2019. His inexperience shows in the fact that he absorbs 3.21 strikes per minute, and he won’t last long taking punches from De Castro. “The Mad Titan” is 6-0-0 and lands 3.58 significant strikes per minute, so he could get inside Hardy and knock the hated Heel down early.
Dominick Cruz ($7,400)
Since there is so much uncertainty surrounding most fighters as they prepare for their matchups on short notice, the fact that Cruz hasn’t fought in four years can be taken with a grain of salt. The 35-year-old is a three-time champion with a 22-2 record and is only a slight underdog with +180 odds. Yet White was quoted as saying Cruz, “could pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport.”
Regardless of who wins this bantamweight title fight, Cruz should give Henry Cejudo ($8,800) a run for his money. The wily veteran only absorbs 2.15 strikes per minute with a 74% defense rate and Cruz averages 3.17 takedowns per 15 minutes. Since this is a 5-round fight, there will be ample opportunities for Cruz to rack up points and he comes at a much cheaper price tag than the favorite.