We are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC Vegas 53 in Las Vegas. We have a fun 12-fight slate on DraftKings and many fights that could end up being some fan favorite bangers. It also helps that on DraftKings we have another $100,000 to first place in the main contest.

As always, I give my analysis and DraftKings strategy based on how I see each fight matchup playing out. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter  with any questions that you have leading up until fight night Saturday.

Tatsuro Taira vs Carlos Candelario
Taira, -250; Candelario, +200

In our first matchup of the evening, we have two fighters both making their UFC debut in Tatsuro Taira and Carlos Candelario. Taira is a 10-0 prospect with eight of his wins coming inside the distance. His level of opposition is pretty suspect, but he does have some tools to be excited about. He is a slick submission grappler that transitions to the back quickly and should be the more dangerous grappler on the mat. His striking is not great as he is very patient and low volume, but he sits down on his strikes a lot and will continuously look to beat up the legs of his opponent. On the flip side, Candelario is coming off a split-decision loss to Victor Altamirano on Dana White’s Contender Series last Fall. Many people thought he should have gone his hand raised but it was a close fight either way and a decent showing for him on short notice. He should be the more active striker landing more while the fight plays out at range, and he is the better wrestler of the two but will need to avoid getting submitted while in top position. Overall, I see this being a competitive fight where Taira clearly has more finishing ability, but Candelario could be the better minute winner and it likely favors him if it goes the full 15 minutes. I will have some exposure to both sides on DraftKings and favor the upside of Taira, but the price is steep which makes it tough. Taira by submission is the official pick.

Gina Mazany vs Shanna Young
Mazany, -160; Young, +140

Gina Mazany is coming off a knockout loss to Priscila Cachoeira last May at UFC 262. The concerns with Mazany have always been her cardio and durability. She has gassed in a few of her recent fights and has been finished in four of her five career losses. That being said, she does have a solid wrestling base as she averages 4.7 takedowns per 15 minutes. I expect her to go to that wrestling against Shanna Young in this matchup and it just comes down to whether she can avoid gassing out and getting finished. Young is coming off a second-round TKO loss to Stephanie Egger in October. To be honest, I do not rate Young’s skillset very high at all and do not believe she is UFC level. She looks jacked but will repeatedly give up takedowns as she defends at just 53%. She was also previously out grappled and finished by Sarah Alpar on Dana White’s Contender Series. Even if she is able to keep it on the feet which I do not expect her to do, the striking is competitive, and I do not see any clear area where she wins against Mazany. Outside of landing a fluke head kick KO or something crazy, Mazany likely steamrolls her. Mazany by submission is the official pick.

Natan Levy vs Mike Breeden
Levy, -200; Breeden, +170

Natan Levy is coming off a decision loss to Rafa Garcia in his UFC debut in November. He comes from a technical striking background with a black belt in karate and kung fu. However, he is very patient on the feet and has mostly just a low volume kicking game from the outside. It is his ground game that is more impressive to me as he is a solid submission grappler with competent wrestling as well. His opponent, Mike Breeden is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Alexander Hernandez in his UFC debut in October. He is not someone I rate very highly as he is mostly a power puncher facing lower-level competition with eight of his 10 wins coming by knockout. However, he does train at Glory MMA, so it is possible we see some improvements from him in this fight. Either way, I expect Levy to have a clear ground game advantage and I expect him to go to it in this matchup. Levy by submission is the official pick.

Gabe Green vs Yohan Lainesse
Green, -145; Lainesse, +125

Gabe Green is coming off a decision victory over Phil Rowe in February. He is a high-volume fighter who has good cardio and will fight at a high pace for 15 minutes if needed. He is pretty reckless defensively at times, but he is solid wherever the fight goes. His opponent, Yohan Lainesse is coming off a first-round knockout victory on Dana White’s Contender Series in November. He is making his UFC debut and is an 8-0 undefeated prospect with six wins coming by knockout; four of which were inside the first round. However, he has yet to be tested at the UFC level and Gabe Green is a difficult matchup for him if he implements any grappling. Lainesse has power but outside of him hurting Green early in the fight, he likely fades and gets finished himself. Green by TKO is the official pick, and he is a solid play on DraftKings in the mid-range this week.

Alexander Romanov vs Chase Sherman
Romanov, -1500; Sherman, +850

Alexander Romanov was originally supposed to face Tanner Boser who pulled out of the fight, so Chase Sherman is stepping up on short notice. But this fight was supposed to take place last week until Sherman had a medical issue which was not disclosed until after lineups locked (don’t remind me). I do not have to spend much time on this fight as the betting odds suggest that this fight will not be competitive and all of us would agree. Sherman was actually cut by the UFC after getting submitted by Jake Collier in January inside the first round. He is doing the UFC a favor by taking this fight, but he is more than likely getting finished early in this one. Romanov is going to take him down and mix in some ground and pound while fishing for a submission. It is not a matter of ‘if he wins’ but when. Romanov by first-round TKO is the official pick and he is my favorite spend up on DraftKings this week.

Daniel Da Silva vs Francisco Figueiredo
Da Silva, -120; Figueiredo, +100

Daniel Da Silva is coming off a second-round TKO loss to Jeff Molina in what was a fun fight for as long as it lasted. That was a tough UFC debut for Da Silva and although he is not some impressive prospect, he does have some real finishing ability. He is a dangerous submission grappler and holds a brown belt in BJJ and should have the grappling advantage in this matchup. He fights like a wild man at times but carries some power as well and has never reached the third round in any of his fights. His opponent, Francisco Figueiredo is coming off a decision loss to Malcolm Gordon last July. It is no secret that Francisco is not half the fighter that his brother is and I do not expect him to stick around long in the UFC. He is extremely low volume on the feet and carries little power. The one good aspect of his game is his wrestling as he averages three takedowns per 15 minutes. But he will be at risk going to the mat with Da Silva and I expect him to pay the consequences. Both guys have gas tank issues, but Da Silva is the much better finisher, and he is my preferred play on DraftKings. Da Silva by submission is the official pick.

Gerald Meerschaert vs Krzysztof Jotko
Meerschaert, -170; Jotko, +150

Don’t look now but Gerald Meerschaert is on a three-fight win streak after his submission victory over Dustin Stoltzfus in December. We know exactly what Meerschaert brings to the table. His striking is not great, but it is serviceable enough before he takes things to the mat. He averages just under 2.5 takedowns per 15 minutes and is one of the most dangerous grapplers on roster when he gets the fight in his world. His opponent, Krzysztof Jotko is coming off a split-decision victory over Misha Cirkunov in October. Jotko is historically a low-volume fighter and consistently gets outworked by his opponents. He should have a striking advantage in this matchup, but it is not by much and he will not push the pedal enough to make it meaningful. I expect Meerschaert to be the more active fighter and get this fight to the mat where he will have the submission grappling advantage. Meerschaert by submission is the official pick.

Darren Elkins vs Tristan Connelly
Elkins, -165; Connelly, +145

Darren Elkins is looking to rebound after getting knocked out by Cub Swanson in December. That loss snapped a two-fight win streak for him and was his fourth career knockout loss. That is always the concern with Elkins is that he lives up to his nickname ‘the damage’ and at nearly 38 years old, it is clear that his body cannot handle it like it used to. Outside of the durability concern though, Elkins does still have his solid wrestling base and averages over 2.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. His opponent, Tristan Connelly is coming off a decision loss to Pat Sabatini at UFC 261 in April of last year. That loss snapped a five-fight win streak for him and was even able to win a round off Sabatini which has aged quite nicely. Connelly is more of a grappler as he holds a black belt in BJJ and has nine career victories by submission. This is an interesting matchup as Elkins is likely the better minute winner on pure output and wrestling ability. But Connelly is liable to hurt Elkins on the feet and Elkins is way too willing to not use his wrestling until he gets clipped. Elkins is my preferred play on DraftKings, but I am not confident enough to bet on him and will have exposure to both sides.

Grant Dawson vs Jared Gordon
Dawson, -165; Gordon, +145

Grant Dawson is coming off a majority draw against Ricky Glenn in October. He looked good early in the fight with his usual relentless wrestling style and controlled Glenn for the majority of the first two rounds. However, he gassed out hard in that fight and dropped a 10-8 in the final round. I am still relatively high on Dawson as a prospect, but he has shown some cause for concern in multiple recent fights. His striking is still developing and a bit awkward and his defense on the feet is nonexistent so you can expect him to eat some shots. The bright side is his ground game as he typically peels his opponents down early and often as he averages just under 3.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. His opponent, Jared Gordon is coming off a split-decision win over Joe Solecki in October and is now on a three-fight win streak. Gordon has a solid ground game as well and is very solid wherever the fight goes. His biggest issue is his glass chin as he has been knocked out four times in his career which were all four of his career losses. Outside of the knockout concern, Gordon does have many tools that can potentially give Dawson some fits. I expect Dawson to have his usual early success with the takedowns, but I would be surprised if he is able to blanket and control Gordon for 15 minutes. Gordon is a credentialed grappler and should be able to work back to his feet and potentially win some scrambles on the mat as well. Gordon will also have a clear cardio advantage which makes him a live underdog in this matchup. This should be a close fight with a lot of grappling exchanges and as long as Dawson can avoid gassing out and getting dominated in the third then he should get his hand raised in what should be a competitive fight. Dawson by decision is the official pick.

Andre Fili vs Joanderson Brito
Fili, -260; Brito, +210

Andre Fili is coming off a no contest against Daniel Pineda last June. It was a frustrating result for Fili who looked to be having one of his best performances inside the octagon up to the accidental eye poke. Fili is a technical kickboxer who will mix in his wrestling as well as he averages 2.5 takedowns over 15 minutes. His opponent, Joanderson Brito is coming off a decision loss to Bill Algeo in his UFC debut in January which snapped a 10-fight win streak for him. Brito is an explosive fighter with 10 of his 12 wins coming inside the distance. His striking is wild but powerful if he lands but he will typically look to get the fight to the ground and use his grappling. This is a difficult matchup for him as Fili has solid takedown defense and will have a clear striking advantage as well. I expect Fili to be landing much more often on the feet and that is where I expect this fight to play out for the majority. It’s possible Brito lands a takedown or two, but I highly doubt he will be able to control Fili like Bryce Mitchell was able to do and he tends to fade as the fight goes on as well. Fili by decision is the official pick.

Andrei Arlovski vs Jake Collier
Arlovski, -140; Collier, +120

Andrei Arlovski is coming off a split-decision victory over Jared Vanderaa in February. Despite turning 43 years old in February, Arlovski is now on a three-fight win streak and has won five of his last six fights. At this point, we know what to expect from Arlovski as he is going to use his technical striking and fight on the outside while trying to limit the damage coming back towards him. His opponent, Jake Collier is coming off a first-round submission victory over Chase Sherman in January. Collier is a high-volume striker in terms of the Heavyweight division and should be able to be the more active of the two in this matchup. I do not expect either guy to look for takedowns so we should have a competitive kickboxing match for 15 minutes. I do not have any interest in betting this fight as Arlovski has a way with being out landed but weaseling his way to split decision victories. Collier by decision is the official pick but neither guy has much upside on DraftKings.

Rob Font vs Marlon Vera
Font, -130; Vera, +110

This week’s main event brings us a fun matchup in the Bantamweight division as Rob Font squares off against Marlon “Chito” Vera. Font is coming off a main event loss to Jose Aldo in December in what was a showcase performance for Aldo as he won nearly every round on all three judges’ scorecards. We won’t fault him too much though as Aldo is clearly still a legitimate contender in this division. Font is a technical boxer that will throw in high volume and averages 5.64 significant strikes per minute. He arguably has the best jab in the division and that should serve him well in this matchup. On the flip side, Chito Vera is currently on a two-fight win streak after losing a close decision to Jose Aldo in December of 2020. Vera is typically a slow starter but is extremely durable and has cardio for days so it’s nice to see what he could look like for potentially 25 minutes. He keeps a high guard which is good for this matchup as Font likes to head hunt much of the time. Additionally, Vera is going to be the better submission grappler as well so if Font tries to mix in takedowns, then he needs to be aware of the constant submission attacks of Vera. I am very excited for this matchup, and I rate both of these fighters highly, but I favor the cardio and durability of Vera which is enough for me to give him the edge in what should be a competitive fight. Vera by decision is the official pick.