This is the first ever post about MMA on DFS On Demand. I make no promises about continuing to write them, but I think MMA is a growing DFS sport with some exploitable areas. My interest in MMA DFS has been growing rapidly and recently led to me pumping the max lineups into the UFC 200 slate. I certainly don’t claim to be an MMA expert, but since I am doing all this research on my own, I figured I would share it with you guys. If you enjoy this, please let me know on Twitter so I can continue to write these.
What you’ll notice about my MMA strategy is that it’s very much based on Vegas odds and game theory. There are few sports where the DraftKings pricing is as efficient as MMA. Basically, the Vegas odds very directly correlate to the fighter’s salary. Here’s a quick chart I made up for the purposes of this discussion. Each point is a fighter. As you can see, the better the odds of winning, the greater the salary. It’s really that simple. Finding inefficiencies in the market must come from elsewhere, since we rarely have “incorrect pricing”.
I rely heavily on the odds that a fight ends early. With the massive bonus points (100) on DraftKings for a first round win, this is where you can find an edge on the field. What most casual players don’t realize is that not all fighters are created equal. There are fighters who have gone the distance every single fight of their career. I don’t particularly care how big a favorite to win a fighter is, if he/she cannot end the fight early. I am willing to roster an underdog in a match that will likely end in the first round over a favorite in a match that will likely go the distance. Having fighters who can win/lose in the first round is that upside that wins a GPP.
Here’s another scatter plot. What you’ll notice here is that I changed the x axis to odds that the fight DOES NOT go the distance. Immediately we can see that there are some fighters we can exploit. For example, Dmitry Smoliakov is extremely likely to be in a fight that ends early and is a small favorite. I would much rather roster him, than Holly Holm who is $900 more expensive, a fairly large favorite, but has little chance of ending the fight early.
Okay, now that we’ve discussed some general thoughts, let’s talk fighters:
Holly Holm ($11,000) is the headliner and will likely be one of the more popular plays, so let’s start there. As much as I love Holly as a fighter, there is little upside when it comes to rostering her. She is going to cost you a robust $11,000 and likely get you a win. The problem is that it’s likely to come after five rounds and in a decision. Vegas thinks there’s only a 43% chance that this fight ends early and that’s with five rounds! In her 11 career fights, she has never had a fight end (win or lose) in the first round. She’s gone the distance in three of six and two others took until the 5th round before ending. She won’t get much help from her opponent, Shevchenko, either. Shevchenko would prefer to take this fight to the ground which could bleed the clock and hinder Holm’s ability to rack up significant strikes. All in all, I expect a win from Holm but it will come at the cost of her fantasy backers.
The real stud on this slate is Francis Ngannou ($11,500). He’s by far the biggest favorite on the slate at a whopping -650. There’s an 80.77% chance this fight ends early and in fact, Ngannou hasn’t seen the third round in any of last six fights. I don’t really need to sell you too much on a guy who can do this. The decision on Ngannou is really all about game theory. He should be the highest owned fighter on the slate, so can we use him in GPPs? I think you can simply because we NEED to have the top five fighters to take down a GPP. However, I will likely be fading him to an extent with only a small level of exposure. He will need to win in the first round to pay for his big salary. Even if this fight gets into the third round, he may not be able to pay for himself.
I feel like the natural pivot from Ngannou is Dmirtry Smoliakov ($10,100). As I showed above, Smoliakov’s fight is just as likely to finish early as Ngannou’s fight. The downside is that Smoliakov is “only” a 61.54% favorite. I say “only” comparing to Ngannou, but in reality, that’s still a sizable favorite in an MMA fight. He is likely my favorite GPP play because there’s a chance he is low owned. He is making his UFC debut, so there’s not much for the general public to know about this guy. In fact, he has a big fat whopping “0.0” next to his name for FPPG in the DK Lobby. That’s not scaring me away from a sizable favorite in a fight that will likely end very quickly. This guy is fast and shows no mercy towards cameramen. Also, fun fact on “Smoliakov”. It looks like DraftKings spelled his name wrong because the UFC and most other places have him listed as “Smolyakov”. Be aware of that if you’re Googling him.
If I am going to roster an underdog, it’s going to be Godofredo Pepey ($9,100). He hasn’t fought since March of 2015, but he’s everything we look for in a fantasy fighter. Each of his last five fights (3-2 record) have ended in the first round. That’s music to my ears when it comes to DraftKings scoring. He dazzled in his last three fights, winning all in the first round and notching “Fight of the Night” honors in each. He’s an underdog at +160, but that’s certainly nothing he cannot overcome. If he can avoid the takedown from Elkins expect this to end quickly.