The Octagon comes to Croatia for the very first time on Sunday with UFC Fight Night 86 airing on FOX Sports 1 from Zagreb Arena in Zagreb, Croatia. The main event will be a five-round heavyweight battle as Ben Rothwell puts his 4-fight win streak on the line against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior Dos Santos. Below are our studs, value plays and fighters to avoid when making your line-ups for your Draft Kings team on Sunday.
Mairbek Taisumov ($11,400)
Mairbek Taisumov has the highest salary and is the top play on this slate of fighters, and he is also our biggest stud for the fight card. He is a solid 4-1 inside the Octagon, and he has won three straight, all by stoppage. He is also facing an opponent making his UFC debut in Damir Hadzovic. Taisumov deserved a better opponent, but visa issues have limited him to fighting exclusively overseas, and it has hurt his growth inside the division. However, he should be too much for Hadzovic to handle. Hadzovic is a striker at heart while Taisumov mixes a well-rounded approach, and he can score a lot of takedowns and has a lot of power. I expect Taisumov to make easy work of Hadzovic, and with three straight finishes and 23 finishes in his 24 wins, Taisumov is a good bet to add to that. He is at the top of my play list.
Francis Ngannou ($9,800)
There are a lot of heavyweight fights on this card, five in total out of the thirteen fights. That could equal a good number of finishes, or could bring a lot of lackluster action to Zagreb. One heavyweight fighter I like to score a finish is Francis Ngannou. He has a low salary, but his UFC debut was very impressive, and he is facing an opponent in Curtis Blaydes making his UFC debut on short notice. The biggest question facing Ngannou is if he will be able to handle the wrestling of Blaydes, who was a junior-college champion. On the feet, with his striking ability and reach, Ngannou should get the win. He isn’t excellent on the mat, though, and it could pose trouble. I do think the fight will be primarily on the feet and that Ngannou’s power will come out early. I like him to get an early stoppage win.
Derrick Lewis ($9,100)
At the time of this writing, Derrick Lewis is a betting favorite over Gabriel Gonzaga, yet his salary is very low, that of an underdog, and is in a big contrast to Gonzaga. His salary makes Lewis an excellent value play. Lewis is a big striker with heavy hands and is a finisher. All 14 of his wins have come by stoppage, 13 by knockout. Gonzaga has lost a step and isn’t the same fighter he was, and his chin isn’t what it once was. He can be finished as eight of his ten losses have come by knockout. Gonzaga would be best served to try and grapple with Lewis, but Lewis has excellent defense. Lewis is taking this fight on short notice, but he has been impressive. With it being a heavyweight battle, there is still power on both sides, but Lewis is bigger, more explosive and hard to wear down. I see him getting a big finish.
Nicolas Dalby ($9,000)
Nicolas Dalby is another value play, and it is surprising that he is an underdog against Zak Cummings. Cummings has a lot of experience and is 3-1 inside the Octagon, but he is also taking the fight as an injury replacement without a full training camp. Meanwhile, Dalby is undefeated in 15 career fights, but he is coming off a draw with Darren Till in his last bout. This is a solid striker against wrestler fight as Dalby is very good and fluid on his feet. Cummings does have good power but he will likely lose a striking battle with Dalby, so he will be looking to get the fight to the mat. Dalby lands with a lot of volume, and those strikes will add up if it goes the distance. If it doesn’t go the distance, it likely ends with Dalby getting a finish. His salary makes him a very solid value play.
FIGHTERS TO AVOID
Lucas Martins ($10,200)
Lucas Martins seemed like a blossoming prospect early in his career, starting off with a 15-1 record. His loss came on short notice in his UFC debut to Edson Barboza, but he won three straight after that. He bounced between weight classes, and has fought in three weight classes so far in the UFC, but he has found a home at 145 pounds. Unfortunately, he has since dropped two straight fights. They came to solid foes in Mirsad Bektic and Darren Elkins, and now he takes a step down in competition to take on Robert Whiteford. Whiteford is 2-2 in his UFC career and is also coming off a loss to Elkins. Martins is the better finisher of the two, but Whiteford can hold his own. Martins has been disappointing recently, and though he is favored to win, I don’t see a finish happening here, and there are a lot of potential finishes on this card. I suggest avoiding Martins on this card.
Igor Pokrajac ($8,800)
Igor Pokrajac being back in the UFC is kind of perplexing. He lost his last five fights inside the Octagon (though one got overturned to a no contest), and he won just four of his 12 UFC bouts. He hasn’t scored a UFC win in almost four years. He has won three fights since being cut from the UFC roster, all by first-round stoppage, and perhaps he’s being brought back just due to the event being in his native Croatia. He is 37-years-old, and his best days are behind him, and he doesn’t get an easy bout in his return when he takes on Jan Blachowicz. Blachowicz has his back against the wall with two straight losses, and he knows he needs to win here. The match-up favors him, and he throws a lot more strikes than Pokrajac does. Pokrajac will have a hard time scoring a win here, so I would avoid him at all costs.
RYAN FREDERICK- Mairbek Taisumov ($11,400), Jared Cannonier ($10,700), Francis Ngannou ($9,800), Derrick Lewis ($9,100), Nicolas Dalby ($9,000)
I like four of my fighters to score finishes on a show where they are a lot of chances for finishes with heavyweight bouts and not a lot of UFC experience inside the Octagon. Mairbek Taisumov is my top pick, and with three straight finishes and 23 total in his 24 wins, coupled with the fact he’s facing a UFC newcomer, he is set up for a big win. Jared Cannonier is a heavyweight with a lot of power, and while he hasn’t fought in over 15 months, he hits hard and faces a UFC newcomer as well. Francis Ngannou is a power house, and if he can avoid the ground with Curtis Blaydes, his power will lead him to a finish. Derrick Lewis is a beast, and Gabriel Gonzaga doesn’t have much left in the tank. Short notice or not, Lewis finishes Gonzaga. Nicolas Dalby rounds out my team. He is undefeated, but he is getting a tested veteran in Zak Cummings. Dalby should keep this fight on the feet and get the win, whether by knockout or by going the distance.
PAUL FONTAINE- Mairbek Taisumov ($11,400), Maryna Moroz ($11,200), Ian Entwistle ($9,300), Derrick Lewis ($9,100), Igor Pokrajac ($8,800)
Taisumov is a bonafide G and a certified stud and you…..can’t…..teach….THAT. Sorry, a little WrestleMania hangover. But I do like him and his 4-1 UFC record with 3 straight KO’s here. Pokrajac has something to prove and returns to UFC competition after 3 straight first round finishes and his opponent, Blachowicz, has looked pretty bad in his last couple of fights. Moroz is a sparkplug with a lot of power at 115. Her loss to Valerie Letourneau looks a lot better in hindsight after Letourneau went five rounds with Joanna Champion. I like her to rebound here with a quick KO win. Speaking of quick KO’s, that’s what Derrick Lewis should get against Gabriel Gonzaga, who I truly believe is done. Rounding out my team is the Brit Ian Entwhistle, who has scored quick submission wins in 4 of his last 5 fights. Coincidentally, his opponent Perez was submitted in his only UFC loss.
PEACH MACHINE- Mairbek Taisumov ($11,400), Jan Blachowicz ($10,600), Junior Dos Santos ($9,700), Robert Whiteford ($9,200), Derrick Lewis ($9,100)
This is the perfect team. I used all 50,000 exactly. JDS, while on his way out, is still much faster than Rothwell. Speed kills. Same argument for Lewis, and Gonzaga is done. I’ve always like Whiteford, and I like him more at middleweight than welterweight. Taisumov is a killer. He should finish. Blachowicz should be motivated to come out strong against a returning Pokrajac. Who could possibly care about this show…