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We are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC Vegas 54 in Las Vegas. This may be lacking from a superstar talent perspective following the big PPV last week, but we still have a fun slate on DraftKings with $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.

Nick Maximov vs Andre Petroski
Maximov, -380; Petroski, +290

Nick Maximov is coming off a split-decision victory over Punahele Soriano in February. He is an 8-0 prospect with five of his wins coming inside the distance. He comes from a high-level grappling background as a former collegiate wrestler and black belt in BJJ. His striking defense is a concern, but his aggressive wrestling is tough for any opponent to overcome.

His opponent, Andre Petroski is coming off a third-round submission victory over Yaozong Hu in October. Petroski is 2-0 in the UFC and has seven career wins all coming inside the distance. He also comes from a collegiate wrestling background and averages 4.29 takedowns per 15 minutes. His striking is stiff but powerful and his gas tank is always a concern as he tends to slow after round one.

I expect Petroski to be the more dangerous striker of the two and neither guy blocks punches well. But it is the cardio and the grappling that I expect Maximov to have the advantage in this matchup. Petroski is powerful but his cardio will drain even faster when he is forced to defensively grapple like I am expecting here. Maximov by decision is the official pick but I will have some exposure to both sides on DraftKings.

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.

Virna Jandiroba vs Angela Hill
Jandiroba, -165; Hill, +145

Virna Jandiroba is coming off a decision loss to Amanda Ribas at UFC 269 in October. She is a dangerous submission grappler with 13 of her 17 wins coming by submission. The only three losses in her career came against high level wrestlers or grapplers in Carla Esparza, Mackenzie Dern and the Ribas fight. Her striking is low volume but has improved over the last couple years and she even hurt Ribas briefly in her last fight. But she is clearly looking to get things to her world on the mat and she averages over two takedowns per 15 minutes.

Her opponent, Angela Hill is coming off a split-decision loss to Amanda Lemos in December. Hill has now lost four of her last five fights and this is a very difficult matchup for her as she has always struggled against good grapplers. Hill comes from a Muay Thai striking background and should even have the advantage while the fight plays out on the feet but I’m not sure how long that will be.

I expect Jandiroba not to waste too much time on the feet and to get the fight to the ground where she will have a clear advantage in the grappling department. Hill defends takedowns at 78% in the UFC and she has improved in that area but once Jandiroba gets her down she likely isn’t getting up. Jandiroba by submission is the official pick and she is a solid target on DraftKings.

Michael Johnson vs Alan Patrick
Johnson, -150; Patrick, +130

Michael Johnson is coming off a decision loss to Clay Guida in February and is currently on a four-fight losing streak. It has been a frustrating run as of late for Johnson, but he looks to get back in the win column in what should be a favorable matchup against Alan Patrick.

Johnson is a technical striker with fast hands and will have a massive volume advantage in this matchup. I expect Johnson to try to keep this fight on the feet where his speed and footwork should play a big factor in the striking exchanges. He defends takedowns at 77% and that is going to be tested repeatedly this weekend.

Patrick is coming off a no contest against Mason Jones but let’s be honest, we all know how that fight was going. Prior to that, he had lost two straight and I do not have much faith in the Brazilian. He has historically been very low volume on the feet and will have a grappling advantage here, but the gas tank is always a concern. He also turns 39 in two months, so I doubt the cardio is improving all of a sudden.

Johnson may get taken down early in the fight, but he is going to box Patrick’s face off in the striking exchanges. As the fight goes into the second and third round the gap will widen in Johnson’s favor as well. Johnson by decision is the official pick but a late TKO would not surprise me but there are better fights to target on DraftKings this week.

Andrea Lee vs Viviane Araujo
Lee, -110; Araujo, -110

Andrea Lee is coming off a second-round TKO victory over Cynthia Calvillo her last time out in November. She is currently on a two-fight win streak with both of those wins coming inside the distance. She is a high-volume striker with a strong jab and will mix in takedowns as well as she averages just under two takedowns per 15 minutes.

Her opponent, Viviane Araujo is coming off a decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 262 last May. Araujo is a high-volume striker in her own right and will likely have a power advantage early in the fight. She is the better wrestler of the two and averages over two takedowns per 15 minutes. However, her cardio has always been as she tends to slow down after round one in most of her fights.

I expect Araujo to be aggressive early in the fight, but Lee is very solid wherever the fight goes and I am not convinced that Araujo will be able to out muscle her like some of her other opponents in the past. Lee is the more well-rounded striker and should have a ton of success sticking and moving on the outside especially as the fight goes on and Araujo starts slowing. The concern with Lee is that she can get stuck on bottom if Araujo lands takedowns, but I have a hard time seeing Araujo be able to do that for 15 minutes. Lee is also strong in the clinch with knees and elbows and is liable to land a judo toss of her own and get in good position on the mat as well.

In a fight that I expect to be competitive early, I am always going to lean on the fighter with the positive intangibles. In this case, Lee has better cardio and durability, and you know you’re always going to get 100% effort from her. Lee by decision is the official pick but I doubt I will have much exposure to either fighter on DraftKings as I am not expecting either fighter to be optimal this weekend.

Jake Hadley vs Allan Nascimento
Hadley, -210; Nascimento, +175

Jake Hadley is making his UFC debut fresh off a submission victory on Dana White’s Contender Series in October. He is an aggressive style grappler with four of his eight career wins coming by submission. He has a solid wrestling base as well and should be able to land multiple takedowns in this matchup.

His opponent, Allan Nascimento is coming off a split-decision loss to Tagir Ulanbekov in October. He is a one-dimensional grappler with 13 of his 18 wins coming by submission. The biggest issue with him is that he cannot defend takedowns as he has been taken down on five of six tries through his two UFC bouts. He has a very active guard and is a tricky grappler but that is all he has going for him.

I expect Hadley to be the one landing takedowns and to bank some valuable control time in this fight. Nascimento has never been submitted in his career but if this goes the full 15 minutes then Hadley should land multiple takedowns and still score well for DraftKings in a victory. Hadley by decision is the official pick.

Manuel Torres vs Frank Camacho
Torres, -130; Camacho, +110

Manuel Torres is another Dana White’s Contender Series fighter from last season and is making his UFC debut after winning by first-round TKO in October. Torres is an aggressive style fighter with 11 of his 12 career wins coming inside the first round. His cardio is entirely unproven, and the level of competition is suspect, but he does have legitimate knockout power and can fight behind his jab and use his length well.

His opponent, Frank Camacho is coming off a two-year layoff since getting knocked out in the first round by Justin Jaynes. Camacho has now lost four of his last five fights, but the level of competition was much stiffer than that of Torres outside of the Jaynes fight. The power is still there for Camacho and 17 of his 22 career wins have come by knockout.

It is the durability that is a major concern for Camacho as he has been knocked out five times in his career including his most recent fight. This is a high variance fight where either guy can get an early finish. I am willing to take some chances on the younger guy who is a fast starter and has better durability as well. Torres by knockout is the official pick but I will be hedging my exposure on DraftKings as I am expecting the winner to score well.

Katlyn Chookagian vs Amanda Ribas
Chookagian, -170; Ribas, +150

Katlyn Chookagian is coming off a decision victory over Jennifer Maia in January. She is currently on a three-fight win streak since getting knocked out by Jessica Andrade in 2020. Chookagian is going to bring her usual style as she likes to dance on the outside and throw a ton of volume with jab and will mix in the kicking attack as well. Her biggest issue has always been her takedown defense and lack of physicality in general.

Her opponent, Amanda Ribas is moving up to 125 lbs. for the first time after winning a decision over Virna Jandiroba at UFC 269 last October. Ribas is 5-1 in the UFC with her only loss coming against Marina Rodriguez in January of last year when she lost by TKO. Ribas has all the tools of an underdog that I would like to back in this spot as she can fight behind her jab and mix in the takedowns.

The problem is the size factor as she was never a big 115 lb. fighter and Chookagian is going to be six inches taller and will have a two-inch reach advantage. If Ribas does not have success mixing in the wrestling, then she is liable to get stuck at range and get outpointed by Chookagian as the judges love her empty volume and sound effects. I still have more interest in the underdog as Ribas clearly has more upside in a victory, but the matchup is not as favorable as I originally thought early in the week. Chookagian by decision is the official pick but I will have more shares of Ribas on DraftKings.

Davey Grant vs Louis Smolka
Grant, -300; Smolka, +235

Davey Grant is coming off a split-decision loss to Adrian Yanez in November and is currently on a two-fight losing streak. But the level of competition over his last few fights is much higher than what his opponent, Louis Smolka has fought recently.

Grant has an unconventional striking style with winging hooks that carry some real power. He is not a great grappler though and has been submitted in four of his six professional losses. He does mix in takedowns at 1.77 per 15 minutes but is generally not a great control grappler as he is typically hunting for submissions with eight of his 13 wins coming that way.

Smolka on the other hand, is just uninspiring to me as he has historically been very untrustworthy. Since moving up to 135 lbs., he has had little success outside of knocking out a dusty Jose Quinonez and Ryan Macdonald. That is the thing about Smolka though, he does have real finishing ability so you can never fully count him out. He is a kill or be killed type of fighter and his last nine fights have ended inside the distance.

I expect this to be a fun fight for as long as it lasts, and I have interest in both sides on DraftKings. Grant is obviously much more expensive so I will likely be targeting Smolka more in most of my lineups but both men have finishing upside. I trust Grant’s minute-winning ability and durability more than Smolka so I lean him, but the price gap is too wide and Smolka is a live underdog. Grant by knockout is the official pick.

Ion Cutelaba vs Ryan Spann
Cutelaba, -220; Spann, +180

Ion Cutelaba is coming off a unanimous decision victory over Devin Clark in September. Cutelaba has historically been an early knockout or bust fighter as he comes out like a bat out of hell trying to get you out of there. He leans on his combat sambo background and averages just under 4.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. If he connects cleanly with one of his punches, then his opponents generally don’t get up with 12 of his 16 wins coming by knockout.

His opponent, Ryan Spann is coming off a first-round submission loss to Anthony Smith in September. Spann is a high variance fighter as well as he has some power on the feet and is a decent grappler for this division as well and 16 of his 19 wins have come via finish. The glaring red flag on the Spann side is his lack of durability as he has been knocked out three times and finished in five of his seven career losses.

I see this fight playing out so clearly with a first-round knockout by Cutelaba. He is the more skilled fighter and has better durability and power. Worst case scenario, he can mix in his wrestling and win that way as Spann is much more dangerous in favorable positions on the mat and not when he is on his back. Cutelaba by knockout is the official pick and he is my favorite play this week on DraftKings.

Aleksandar Rakic vs Jan Blachowicz
Rakic, -190; Blachowicz, +160

Aleksandar Rakic gets his second main event slot as he squares up against Jan Blachowicz in what is likely a number one contender fight. Rakic is a powerful striker with nine of his 14 wins coming by knockout. He has some heavy leg kicks that he should have success with while this fight plays out at range. He has also shown flashes of good control grappling as he blanketed Anthony Smith for the majority of his last main event which was only three rounds.

His opponent, Jan Blachowicz is coming off a second-round submission loss to Glover Teixeira at UFC 269 in October. He is the former Light Heavyweight champion and I feel he is getting slept on a bit in this matchup. For starters, he has power in his hands as well with three of his last five wins coming by knockout including the win over Dominic Reyes for the strap back in 2020. He is very well rounded and won a striking based decision against Israel Adesanya so I do not think that it is a given that Rakic will have more success while the fight plays out on the feet.

Where Blachowicz struggled against Teixeira in his last fight was on the mat and if Rakic mixes in takedowns, then he could control Blachowicz for extended periods on the ground. But outside of that style of fight, I think this should be very competitive especially if it turns into a low-volume fight where not much happens on either side like Rakic last fight against Thiago Santos. I have been high on Rakic as a prospect and still am, but this is a tougher test than most people seem to think, and the market does not reflect that at this price. Blachowicz has also been tested going five rounds and won before which is a notable factor as well. Blachowicz by knockout is the official pick and this is another solid fight to target on DraftKings, although it is not a must-play main event.