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We are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC 288 in Newark, New Jersey! We have an action-packed 14-fight slate on DraftKings and a very solid PPV lineup with the headliner being the Bantamweight matchup between Aljamain Sterling and Henry Cejudo.

It also helps that on DraftKings we are back to $200,000 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.

Daniel Santos vs Johnny Munoz
Santos, -155; Munoz, +135

Daniel “Willycat” Santos is coming off an impressive second-round TKO victory over John Castaneda last October. He is an explosive striker with six of his 11 wins coming by knockout. He has a variety of tools on the feet and will throw a lot of spinning attacks along with constant forward pressure and volume. His cardio seems to check out as well, but his defensive grappling seems to be a clear weakness in his game.

His opponent, Johnny Munoz is coming off a dominant decision victory over Liudvik Sholinian in November. Munoz is a dangerous submission grappler with seven of his 12 career wins coming by submission and he holds a black belt in BJJ. On the feet, his striking is not very diverse, but he does have some powerful kicks and will primarily look to stay on the outside and force striking exchanges. He is at his best when he can implement the grappling and he averages 2.32 takedowns per 15 minutes. The main concern with Munoz is his durability as he may be in trouble if he cannot get this fight to the ground.

On the feet, Santos is going to have a clear volume and power advantage. Munoz needs to get this fight to the ground early and often. This is a great fight to target right off the bat as Santos pushes a high pace and has knockout upside while Munoz has clear grappling upside if he were to pull off the upset. For that reason, I will have exposure to both sides on DraftKings, but the official pick is Santos by TKO.

Claudio Ribeiro vs Joseph Holmes
Ribeiro, -190; Holmes, +160

Claudio Ribeiro is coming off a second-round knockout loss to Abdul Razak Alhassan in January. That loss snapped a six-fight winning streak for him and he is looking to get back in the win column this weekend. Ribeiro previously fought on Dana White’s Contender Series last season. He is a very explosive athlete with clear knockout power in his hands. Of his 10 career wins, all of them have come by knockout and eight of them were inside the first round. The issue with Ribeiro is that he is very one-dimensional and needs to find the early knockout or he will fade as the fight goes on.

His opponent, Joseph Holmes is coming off a second-round submission loss to Jun Yong Park in October. Holmes is very long for the division and is going to have a three-inch reach advantage in this matchup. But Holmes has never been good about being able to use his length to his advantage. He is extremely hittable on defense and regularly allows his opponents to close distance. He is an opportunistic submission grappler, but his wrestling is not very good, so he is not always able to get the fight to the ground. Lastly, his cardio is an issue as well as he is known to gas out and fade away as the fight goes on.

This is another great fight to target as I am expecting the fight to end early. I have never been a Holmes guy and his lack of defense is going to be an issue against someone that hits as hard as Ribeiro. Ribeiro by knockout is the official pick.

Rafael Estevam vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Estevam, -165; Zhumagulov, +140

Rafael Estevam is another former Dana White’s Contender Series contract winner from last season. He is an 11-0 prospect with seven of his 11 wins coming inside the distance. He is primarily a grappler as he has solid takedowns, good control and holds a black belt in BJJ. He is very well-rounded and could compete on the feet as well with some powerful leg kicks and volume. The only real concern is the level of competition as he has spent most of his career on the Brazilian regional scene.

His opponent, Zhalgas Zhumagulov is coming off a split-decision loss to Charles Johnson in November. He is currently on a three-fight losing streak and has lost five of his six UFC bouts although a few of those were due to bad judging. Zhumagulov is explosive on the feet with a powerful overhand right that he will repeatedly look for. He is also a capable grappler as well and can control his opponents along the fence and averages just under 1.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. His biggest issue is his inability to put a stamp on rounds as he is notorious for getting robbed in close decisions.

I expect this fight to be competitive on the feet and it will likely come down to who is having more success in the grappling department. I slightly lean Estevam as I believe he has the stronger ground game and the ability to win rounds more convincingly than Zhumagulov. Estevam by decision is the official pick but there are better fights to target this week.

Ikram Aliskerov vs Phil Hawes
Aliskerov, -205; Hawes, +175

Ikram Aliskerov is a 13-1 prospect fighting out of Russia and is another Dana White’s Contender Series contract winner from last season. He is a former multiple time combat sambo world champion, and his only professional loss came against Khamzat Chimaev back in 2019. He is a very complete fighter, and arguably the best prospect from Contender Series last season. His takedowns and grappling are when he is at his best, but his striking is serviceable as well and he clearly has knockout power.

His opponent, Phil Hawes is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Roman Dolidze last October. Hawes is a powerful striker with eight of his 12 career wins coming by knockout. He also comes from a collegiate wrestling background and averages just under 2.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. He is a complete fighter but his glaring weakness has always been his durability as he has been knocked out in three of his four career knockouts.

I think Aliskerov is likely the first person to have success grappling Hawes. He is also likely to hurt Hawes as he will have the cardio advantage and will make Hawes pay if the fight gets extended. Aliskerov by TKO is the official pick and this is a great fight to target on DraftKings.

Parker Porter vs Braxton Smith
Porter, -175; Smith, +150

Parker Porter is coming off a first-round knockout to Justin Tafa in February. He is currently on a two-fight losing streak and will look to rebound this weekend. Porter is a high-volume striker for the Heavyweight division and has shown the ability to mix in takedowns as well as he averages just under 1.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. His durability is his biggest issue as he has been knocked out four times in his career and finished in seven of his eight professional losses.

His opponent, Braxton Smith is making his UFC debut this weekend. Smith lost his professional debut to Chase Sherman back in 2014 and took eight years off before returning to the sport. Since then, he has rattled off five straight victories with all five of them coming inside the first round. He is entirely unproven in terms of his cardio and defensive grappling, but it is clear he has early knockout upside.

Porter has durability issues so it would not be the craziest thing to see him get clipped early but the more likely scenario is that he is able to survive the early storm and drag Smith into deeper waters and drown him. Porter by TKO is the official pick.

Marina Rodriguez vs Virna Jandiroba
Rodriguez, -135; Jandiroba, +115

Marina Rodriguez had her four-fight winning streak halted when she faced Amanda Lemos last November and lost by third-round TKO. Rodriguez is a powerful striker for the division and has six of her 16 career wins coming by knockout. She is typically high volume on the feet as well and has some devastating elbows in the clinch. Her biggest weakness has always been her defensive grappling as she struggles to defend takedowns at just 65% in the UFC. Once taken down, she is not good at working back to her feet and tends to give up control time.

Her opponent, Virna Jandiroba is coming off a decision victory over Angela Hill last May. She is primarily a grappler and averages 2.31 takedowns per 15 minutes. She is also a dangerous submission grappler with 13 of her 18 career wins coming by submission. Jandiroba is low volume on the feet and not known for her striking whatsoever, but she is so good when she gets you to the ground that she is always a threat against any opponent.

This is more great matchmaking as each of the fighter’s strengths play into the weakness of their opponent. Jandiroba is likely to have some early grappling success, but Rodriguez has never been submitted in her career and at some point is going to get the fight back on the feet where she has a big advantage. Damage over control should be the difference here and I expect Rodriguez to be doing most of the damage which should allow her to get the job done. Rodriguez by decision is the official pick.

Khaos Williams vs Rolando Bedoya
Williams, -305; Bedoya, +255

Khaos Williams is coming off a split-decision loss to Randy Brown at UFC 274 last May. That loss snapped a two-fight winning streak for him, but he is still 4-2 under the UFC banner. Williams is primarily a striker and has clear knockout power with seven of his 13 career wins coming by knockout including three of his last four victories. He pushes a pace on the feet and will throw in volume while he tries to land something heavy, but he struggles against competent wrestlers and can be controlled on the mat.

His opponent, Rolando Bedoya is making his UFC debut and previously fought on the regional scene in Peru. He is a 13-1 prospect with six wins coming inside the distance. He wants to move forward and throw volume, but he is very hittable and open to counter shots which may be an issue against someone like Williams. This is also the toughest competition he has faced in his entire career, so it seems like an uphill climb for him.

Williams is simply more polished at this stage in his career. He should have a clear striking advantage to go along with his power. Williams by knockout is the official pick.

Kennedy Nzechukwu vs Devin Clark
Nzechukwu, -190; Clark, +160

Kennedy Nzechukwu is coming off a second-round TKO victory over Ion Cutelaba in November. He is very long for the division and will hold an eight-inch reach advantage in this matchup. Unlike Holmes, Nzechukwu has improved from fight to fight on ways to use his length and athleticism to his advantage. He is a high-volume striker with eight of his 11 victories coming by knockout. He has also improved his defensive grappling over the years as well which makes him even more difficult to deal with.

His opponent, Devin Clark is coming off a decision victory over Da Un Jung in February. Clark comes from a collegiate wrestling background and it is clear what his gameplan is in each of his fights. He averages nearly 2.5 takedowns per 15 minutes and wants to get his opponents to the mat or control them up along the fence. He is not much of a finishing threat as nine of his 14 career victories have come by decision and he prioritizes control over hunting for a finish on the mat. His biggest issue has always been his durability as he has been knocked out three times in his career and been finished in six of his seven professional losses.

I expect Clark to attempt to get his grappling going but because of the improvements Nzechukwu has made, I do not think he will have extended success doing so. While the fight plays out at space, I expect Nzechukwu to be landing much more volume and have the potential to hurt Clark as well. Nzechukwu by TKO is the official pick.

Drew Dober vs Matt Frevola
Dober, -205; Frevola, +175

Up next, we have one of the most exciting fights on the entire card as Drew Dober squares off against Matt Frevola. Dober is coming off a second-round knockout victory over Bobby Green in December. He is currently on a three-fight winning streak with all three coming by knockout. In fact, his last six wins have all come in that fashion. Dober has devastating power and is constantly looking to land his big left hand which typically puts his opponents out cold. He has always struggled against good grapplers that can take him down and put him in bad spots on the mat. But on the feet, he is looking to go to war and will trade in the pocket until someone falls.

His opponent, Matt Frevola is coming off a first-round knockout victory over Ottman Azaitar at UFC 281 in November. Frevola is known as more of a wrestler as he averages nearly 2.5 takedowns per 15 minutes, but it has been his hands that have got the job done recently. Despite the wrestling ability, Frevola loves to brawl and he is capable of landing some big shots of his own. The issue with that is his durability is not nearly on the same level of Dober as Frevola has been knocked out in two of his three losses and has been hurt on separate occasions as well.

This one should be a firefight from the opening bell. Even if Frevola comes in with the right gameplan and tries to wrestle, I doubt he will have sustained grappling success and eventually it will turn into a brawl on the feet. In that scenario, I have Dober getting the knockout all night long. Dober by TKO is the official pick and he is a strong target on DraftKings.

Charles Jourdain vs Kron Gracie
Jourdain, -180; Gracie, +155

Charles Jourdain is coming off a decision loss to Nathaniel Wood in September. He is currently on a two-fight losing streak and looking to get back in the win column this Saturday. Jourdain is an exciting striker and throws in high volume on the feet. Eight of his 13 wins have come by knockout and 12 of those wins came inside the distance as he is always looking for the finish even in fights that he is up on the scorecards. His biggest weakness has always been his inability to defend takedowns as he defends at under 50% in the UFC. He is typically pretty good at working back to his feet and defending submissions but it still makes a difference in competitive rounds.

His opponent, Kron Gracie is making his return to the UFC after nearly three years since his last fight against Cub Swanson. The fight against Swanson was concerning because he did not land a single takedown and only attempted two of them. He comes from a high-level grappling background and all five of his career wins have come by submission so he needs to be attempting more takedowns if he wants to succeed.

The layoff is concerning but Gracie is going to have the biggest advantage in this fight and that comes in the grappling department. Because of Jourdain’s inability to defend takedowns, I expect him to be put in some very dangerous spots on the mat and I am not sure he will be able to fight out of them. Gracie is tough to trust considering the variables, but the upside is undeniable and I like targeting him as an underdog this weekend. Gracie by submission is the official pick.

Movsar Evloev vs Diego Lopes

Movsar Evloev was originally scheduled to fight Bryce Mitchell, but Mitchell pulled out of the fight this week and Diego Lopes is stepping in on just a few days’ notice. Evloev is primarily a grappler and averages just under five takedowns per 15 minutes. He pushes a relentless pace and most opponents are unable to deal with the constant pressure and wrestling.

His opponent, Diego Lopes is coming off a TKO finish last November. He is the former Featherweight champion in LUX promotion and he fought on Dana White’s Contender Series two seasons ago and lost to Joanderson Brito. He is more of a grappler himself with 11 of his 20 career wins coming by submission. However, he is going to be at a clear grappling disadvantage in this matchup.

I expect Evloev to wrestle Lopes repeatedly and cruise to a dominant decision. Evloev by decision is the official pick and he is a strong target on DraftKings as well.

Jessica Andrade vs Yan Xiaonan
Andrade, -195; Xiaonan, +165

Jessica Andrade is coming off a second-round submission loss to Erin Blanchfield in February. That loss snapped a three-fight winning streak for her, but she did take the fight on very short notice. Andrade is one of the more powerful fighters in the division. She is very explosive and 17 of her 24 professional victories have come by finish. She throws in high volume and has the skills to land takedowns as well as she averages over 2.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. Her biggest weakness is that she is very hittable in striking exchanges and she can be outgrappled by others with a solid ground game.

Her opponent, Yan Xiaonan is coming off a majority decision over Mackenzie Dern in October. Yan is also a high-volume striker and she carries power in her own right with seven of her 16 career wins coming by knockout. She is likely able to match the pace of Andrade and should have success while the fight plays out on the feet. Historically, the way to beat Yan is to take her down and outgrapple her but if you are unable to do that then she is a very tough opponent for anyone in the division.

I believe Andrade has the skills to land takedowns here but I do not trust her fight IQ or her ability to control Yan for extended periods. On the feet, I favor Yan as she is very durable and much better defensively than Andrade. This is going to be a close fight and I am interested in the value on the underdog for DraftKings. Yan by decision is the official pick but I will have exposure to both sides on DraftKings.

Gilbert Burns vs Belal Muhammad
Burns, -125; Muhammad, +105

Gilbert Burns just fought a month ago as he largely dominated Jorge Masvidal back at UFC 287. Burns is known as one of the more dangerous submission grapplers in the division with nine of his 22 career wins coming by submission. But he has some explosiveness on the feet as well with some powerful hooks when he lets his hands go. But his striking defense is where he struggles and he has notoriously had cardio issues in the past as well.

His opponent, Belal Muhammad is coming off a second-round TKO victory over Sean Brady at UFC 280 in October. He is currently on an eight-fight winning streak with the exception of the no-contest against Leon Edwards due to an eye poke. Muhammad is a very well-rounded fighter that is capable both on the feet and on the mat. He has a strong jab and will mix in the leg kicks as well but has also shown the ability to land takedowns as he averages over two takedowns per 15 minutes. Lastly, he has great cardio and that will likely play a role in this matchup.

Burns is likely to look good early as he usually starts out with explosiveness. But I expect Muhammad to take over as the fight goes on. He is a difficult fighter to grapple and Burns is going to tire himself out if he aggressively tries to get him to the ground. I expect the cardio advantage for Muhammad to be the difference in this one. Muhammad by decision is the official pick.

Henry Cejudo vs Aljamain Sterling
Cejudo, -115; Sterling, -105

Henry Cejudo makes his highly anticipated return to the octagon after three years away from the sport. It is tough to know exactly what to expect from him but when he is at his best, he is truly one of the best fighters on the UFC roster. He comes from a high-level wrestling background and averages over two takedowns per 15 minutes. But his striking is very good as well and he has some heavy leg kicks to go along with explosive power in his hands as well. I worry he is going to struggle with the size difference in this matchup along with the long layoff which is another concern.

His opponent, Aljamain Sterling is coming off a second-round TKO victory over TJ Dillashaw at UFC 280 in October. He is currently on an eight-fight winning streak with three of those coming inside the distance. Sterling is one of the best submission grapplers in the division and he is very good at controlling his opponents on the mat after taking their back. He averages right around two takedowns per 15 minutes but he is also a high volume striker on the feet and is going to be working with a seven-inch reach advantage as well.

This fight should play out closely in the early rounds as I expect both fighters to start slow while they feel each other out. There are many variables surrounding Cejudo but I feel that Sterling is a tough test for him even if we assume he has not lost a step. I expect the size and striking advantage to be the difference in favor of Sterling and he is much more proven over five rounds recently as well. Sterling by decision is the official pick but I will have exposure to both sides on DraftKings.