The Haymaker – Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale: Picks & Analysis
The Haymaker – Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale: Picks & Analysis
Hey fight fans, welcome back to another edition of The Haymaker. The UFC returns to Vegas this Saturday night for the TUF 24 finale. The main event features an incredibly lopsided matchup between Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and winner of the show Tim Elliott. Aside from the main event, there are a lot of very close fights on this card which make for some tough decisions in DFS. I will try to help make those decisions easier by providing some of my favorite plays for each format.
Main Event: Demetrious Johnson ($10,200) vs Tim Elliott ($5,400)
Odds: Johnson (-840) Elliott (+660)
Odds to finish: -170
While it wasn’t exactly a secret, it was officially announced this week that Tim Elliott had won the Ultimate Fighter 24 tournament and gets a title shot against Flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson. Elliott was a top 10 fighter in the division before the show, but was released from the company after 3 straight losses (against top competition). Winning the show was his ticket back to the UFC and was quite the accomplishment. Stepping right into a title fight is amazing, but it’s unfortunate that it comes against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Elliott is a tough fighter and has a decent chance of surviving a few rounds, but he has no realistic shot of beating Mighty Mouse and the odds reflect that. Elliott has an unorthodox striking style but is not very powerful and a lucky knockout shot is probably the only way that Johnson could lose the belt. Johnson should dominate this fight from start to finish and the only question is how long it will last. Vegas suggests that it will last at least 3 rounds with Johnson having and inside-the-distance prop of -120.
From a DFS perspective, Johnson is pretty much a lock for 100+ points, but as the highest priced fighter since the new pricing structure was installed, you have to decide whether or not he’s worth paying up for. Normally you want your fighters to finish early to score the 90 point first round finish bonus, but it might be to Johnson’s advantage if the fight goes the full five rounds. If he dominates for the full five rounds the way that I expect him to, he has a ceiling of over 130 points and maybe as high as 150 (although we have never seen that before). With a realistic floor of 100 points, Johnson will be a lock of mine in cash games, but the only way you can fit him into your lineup is to punt a position and stack him with Elliott. I typically only stack main events in cash that are closely contested, but Elliott is underpriced even for his odds. The combined total salary of Johnson and Elliott is much lower than a traditional main event, so it allows you to pretty much fit any other fighters you want in your lineup. On a card with so many close fights, I want to fit in as many heavy favorites as possible.
In tournaments, there are a lot of fighters in the mid-low pricing tier with high upside that will allow you to fit Johnson in your lineups without having to stack him with Elliott. The only issue with using Johnson is that I expect him to be popular and the number of lineup combinations is limited by his salary so the chances of having a unique lineup are greatly reduced. I will have some GPP lineups with Johnson, but I think I prefer a more balanced lineup with high upside fighters in the middle pricing tier. Fading the high priced fighter and going with a more balanced construction is very often the best strategy for winning MMA tournaments with the population gravitating towards the stars and scrubs style. Now that DraftKings has tightened up their pricing algorithm to reflect the Vegas odds, there is usually not a lot to like in the lower pricing tiers.
Cash Game Plays
For cash games, you want to seek out fighters with high floors. This means selecting fighters that strike at a high output or score lots of takedowns. I generally look to get as many favorites as possible into my lineups as you need to get wins. 3-4 wins are generally enough to cash in most double ups and 50/50s.
Rob Font ($8,700)
Rob Font is a -255 favorite over short-notice replacement Matt Schnell, who lost to the eventual TUF 24 champ Tim Elliott in the quarterfinals of the show. Font is the second biggest favorite on the card and is only the fifth highest priced fighter so he has solid odds value. Schnell is scrappy and has lots of heart, but he is in a tough spot here, jumping up a weight class and making his UFC debut on only one week notice. Schnell is aggressive and comes out of the gate strong but he has holes in his striking game and is very hittable. Font meanwhile, is a very technical boxer with great footwork and has proven he can take a shot after going the distance with John Lineker last time out. Font has decent grappling and should be able to keep this one standing. He is a good counter puncher and has KO upside as evidenced by his strong +126 ITD prop. Given the odds value and the upside, Font is a strong play in both formats, but keep in mind he will be popular in tournaments.
Alexis Davis ($7,800)
Alexis Davis gave birth back in March of this year and is returning from a two-year layoff so there are a lot of question marks here, but I think she is in the best position of any fighter under $8,000 to get the win. She is an underdog against Sara McMann at +145 but is not a high risk of being finished early like many of the other fighters in her price range. Davis is the much better striker in this one and loves to trade punches, while McMann does not like to get hit at all. McMann is a wrestler and should have a strength advantage, but Davis is a competent wrestler herself and has pretty good takedown defense. She also has a very crafty jiu-jitsu game and is dangerous off her back, in the event that she gets taken down. This fight is very likely to go the distance and Davis is the higher output fighter so I like her floor well enough to use her in cash games.
The key to tournaments is to select fighters with high upside. On DraftKings, that means seeking out early finishes and fighters that land a high number of significant strikes. With the new DK scoring system you can also find a high ceiling with grapplers who score lots of takedowns and are active on the ground. It’s fine to have some popular plays but it will usually take one or two low owned plays to win a tournament.
Ion Cutelaba ($8,900) vs Jared Cannonier ($7,300)
Odds: Cutelaba (-210) Cannonier (+190)
Odds to finish: -300
Vegas suggests this fight will not make it out of the first round and it will be a heavy target of mine in GPPs. Ion Cutelaba is a -210 favorite over Jared Cannonier and looks to be the better fighter, but both of Cannonier’s UFC fights have ended in the first round so we haven’t seen a lot of him. Cutelaba is an aggressive, all offense, and no defense type of fighter who loves to close the distance quickly and trade shots in the pocket. He throws punches at a very high rate and has shown a great chin in his first two UFC fights as he was able to take some big shots from Misha Cirkunov and Jonathan Wilson. This will become more of a concern as his career goes on, but he is still young and hasn’t absorbed that much damage yet.
Cannonier has fought at Heavyweight and is moving down to 205 for this one so there is some concern that the weight cut could hurt his gas tank here. He has a lot of power but not great footwork and was knocked out by the larger Shawn Jordan in his UFC debut on a glancing blow. He rebounded in his second UFC fight earlier this year by knocking out Cyril Asker in the first round, but Asker is widely regarded as one of the worst fighters in the division.
Cutelaba has been the smaller fighter in each of his first two UFC bouts so this one should be no different for him. From a DFS perspective, I will have heavier exposure to Cutelaba due to his better chin and ITD prop, but I will also have shares of Cannonier due to his power and the fact that Cutelaba is very hittable. Cutelaba will also be very popular in tournaments, so getting Cannonier at much lower price and ownership is an added bonus.
Dong Hyun Kim ($8300) vs Brendan O’Reilly ($7,900)
Odds: Kim (-125) O’Reilly (+115)
Odds to finish: -115
Both of these fighters are pretty terrible defensively, which makes me want to target it in DFS as it usually leads to good scoring and finishing opportunities. Kim is an action fighter and is coming off one of the fights of the year against Marco Polo Reyes in which he lost by TKO in the third round after absorbing 135 significant strikes. He was pretty much a punching bag in that fight, but it proved that he can take a beating. Kim has a black belt in Judo, but has also shown a weak grappling game in the UFC. In his first fight against Dominique Steele, he was taken down four times and finished with a powerful slam in the third round. Kim should have a sizable advantage over O’Reilly in the striking game though, and is definitely the more athletic fighter.
O’Reilly is moving down from 170 to 155 as he got crushed by Alan Jouban in his last fight. He is primarily a wrestler and is a former free-style champion out of Australia. He likes to pin guys against the cage and grind them out, so there is a chance that he could make this one ugly. O’Reilly does not have a very good chance of finishing this fight, but he does have the upside of scoring multiple takedowns in a decision win. At his price, a score of around 70-80 points gives him a very reasonable chance of ending up in the winning tournament lineup.
Kim has a solid finish prop of +190 and definitely has the higher upside in this fight with a great chance of earning an early KO. He will likely be popular in tournaments however, with his fight of the year performance still fresh in everyone’s minds. With a very low expected ownership, I also like having some exposure to O’Reilly in GPPs with the hope that he scores multiple takedowns and advances while on the ground.
Brandon Moreno ($8,500)
Brandon Moreno is a -140 favorite over Ryan Benoit in what should be a very fast and entertaining fight. Moreno lost to the #1 seed in the early stages of this season of TUF, but then pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year as he submitted Luis Smolka in the first round at Fight Night 96 two months ago. Moreno is a well-rounded fighter with a versatile striking game and is very aggressive. He is young and has been surrounding himself with great training partners so he is rapidly improving. This is a fairly close fight, but his style sets up very well against Benoit. I expect Moreno to be very popular at his reasonable price, but I will still use him in a lot of tournament lineups for his excellent value and I will try to differentiate elsewhere.
Benoit is an average Flyweight with decent power but has been submitted twice in his UFC career and was taken down five times in his last fight. He has good Muay Thai striking and a wrestling background, but folds when he’s pressured and makes mistakes. I don’t think he has a very good chance in this one but I might have him in one or two tournament lineups to hedge my heavy exposure to Moreno. He should also have very low ownership so it’s a decent move from a game theory perspective.