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We are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC Vegas 81! We have an action-packed 12-fight slate on DraftKings which is usually the sweet spot for me assuming we don’t lose any fights. It also helps that we have $100K up for grabs to first place!

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.

Emily Ducote vs Ashley Yoder
Ducote, -345; Yoder, +275

Emily Ducote is coming off a decision loss to Lupita Godinez in May. She is currently on a two-fight losing streak but gets a favorable matchup to get back in the win column this weekend. Ducote is primarily a striker and she can fight behind her jab and mix in the constant leg kicks as well. She keeps a high pace on the feet and has good takedown defense as well which is key in this matchup. The concern with Ducote is that when she is facing better strikers she has no backup plan and starts to wilt but that won’t be the case in this fight.

Her opponent, Ashley Yoder is coming off over a two-year layoff. She was injured and also participated in some sort of reality series as well. Neither of those things are positive signs, particularly when you are turning 36 years old and have lost four of your last five fights. Yoder does not have any power on the feet and she struggles defensively as well. She needs to get the fight to the ground and she averages 1.2 takedowns per 15 minutes. But her wrestling is not great and she will likely struggle with the physicality of Ducote in this one.

I expect Ducote to keep the fight standing where she will have a clear advantage on the feet. Ducote by decision is the official pick but there are better fights to target this week on DraftKings.

Chris Gutierrez vs Heili Alateng
Gutierrez, -265; Alateng, +230

Chris Gutierrez is coming off a decision loss to Pedro Munhoz in April. That loss was the first time he tasted defeat in the octagon since 2018. Gutierrez is a technical kickboxer with some of the best leg kicks in the division. He is very one-dimensional as he wants to keep the fight at range and constantly attack you with his legs. But he is very good at doing that and fighters that cannot close distance and deal with the leg kicks are always going to struggle.

His opponent, Heili Alateng is coming off a decision win over Chad Anheliger at UFC 279 last September. He is a powerful striker with five knockout victories on his record and he is able to mix in takedowns as well as he averages 1.78 takedowns per 15 minutes. But he is low volume on the feet and his durability is suspect as well as he has been knocked out three times in his career.

I do not think Alateng will be able to close distance to land his power punches or be able to take Gutierrez down. This seems like a classic Gutierrez striking masterclass and the only question is whether or not he is able to find a finish. Gutierrez by decision is the official pick but I prefer other expensive fighters this week on DraftKings.

Melissa Dixon vs Irina Alekseeva
Dixon, -148; Alekseeva, +124

Melissa Dixon is making her UFC debut this weekend. She is a 5-0 undefeated prospect fighting out of England. She has faced a low level of competition on the regional scene but has shown a good account of herself for the most part. Her toughest fight was her most recent one where she was getting lit up on the feet for the first few minutes but eventually got the fight to the ground and got the stoppage victory. On the feet, she struggles defensively as she is very hittable but she is aggressive on the mat and holds a brown belt in BJJ.

Her opponent, Irina Alekseeva is coming off a first-round submission victory over Stephanie Egger in August. She is big for the division and seems to have some power, but she is a complete brawler. She fights with her hands down and swings big shots with little to no setup or technique but will be the more powerful striker in this fight. She has also shown the ability to land takedowns but that likely will not be an advantage for her in this matchup. Lastly, I do not think her cardio checks out as all the big explosive movements seem to wear on her in extended fights.

I expect this to be a competitive fight with Aleskeeva having more power but Dixon having the cardio edge down the stretch. Alekseeva by submission is the official pick.

Terrance McKinney vs Brendon Marotte

Terrance McKinney is coming off a first-round TKO finish over Mike Breeden in August. Of his 14 career victories, all but one of them have come inside the first round. McKinney is going to come out hot and heavy and throw the kitchen sink at you to try and get the finish. He has powerful kicks on the feet and explosive wrestling with a strong ground game as well as long as he is fresh. But as per usual, if the finish does not materialize then he starts to fade and fade fast.

His opponent, Brendon Marotte is making his UFC debut on short notice. He is an 8-1 prospect fighting out of New Hampshire and trains with the New England Cartel. Of his eight career victories, four of them have come inside the first round. He is an aggressive striker with powerful knees in the clinch but has faced a very low level of competition on the regional scene. He will need to withstand the early storm to have a chance here.

I expect the burst of McKinney to be too much for Marotte to handle. McKinney by submission is the official pick and he is a strong target on DraftKings.

Tanaira Lisboa vs Ravena Oliveira
Lisboa, -360; Oliveira, +285

Tanaira Lisboa is coming off a third-round submission victory over Jessica-Rose Clark in her UFC debut at UFC Charlotte in May. All six of her career wins have come by finish but she faced very low level competition on the regional scene outside of Norma Dumont. She is primarily a striker and seems to have decent power on the feet and is nasty in the clinch. But if you can take her down then she can be controlled and potentially submitted on the mat.

Her opponent, Ravena Oliveira is making her UFC debut this weekend. She is a 7-1 prospect fighting out of Brazil. Of her seven professional victories, six of them have come by knockout. However, she has one of the most padded records that I have ever seen as most of her opponents were 0-0 at the time when they fought. There is also limited tape from these fights so she is likely the biggest wildcard of the night considering we do not fully know what to expect. She comes from a Muay Thai background and is primarily a striker but wants to close distance and operate in the clinch and along the fence. She holds a purple belt in BJJ but I do not rate her grappling very highly.

This is an obvious spot for DraftKings where I am just blindly going to take shots on the underdog in Oliveira. I do not think she is very good but the fight should be more competitive than the betting odds suggest and I already have little interest in paying up for Lisboa so it makes sense to take some shots on the other side. Lisboa by submission is the official pick.

TJ Brown vs Darren Elkins
Brown, -205; Elkins, +170

TJ Brown is coming off a second-round submission loss to Bill Algeo in April. Brown is always tough to trust at a favorite price tag because of his durability as he has been knocked out three times in his career and finished in seven of his 10 professional losses. He is a decent striker that will stay active with the leg kicks but his defense still needs work and I do not trust him if he engages in a brawl. He is at his best when he is leaning on his grappling as he averages over 3.5 takedowns per 15 minutes and 10 of his 17 wins have come by submission.

His opponent, Darren Elkins is coming off a decision loss to Jonathan Pearce in December. That was just a brutal matchup for him as Pearce is a better striker and a good grappler so there was nowhere for Elkins to have an advantage. At 39 years old, it is clear that Elkins best days are behind him, but he is still a good grappler and wrestler and averages 2.73 takedowns per 15 minutes. On the feet, he is always game to brawl but he is usually a step behind and seems to get hurt with nearly every punch that lands.

I expect this to be a competitive fight with both fighters landing takedowns and multiple grappling exchanges. Elkins is very difficult to submit which makes me think this fight hits the judges’ scorecards. I will have some exposure to both sides on DraftKings but the official pick is Brown by decision.

Christian Rodriguez vs Cameron Saaiman
Rodriguez, -155; Saaiman, +130

We last saw Christian Rodriguez when he derailed the Raul Rosas Jr. hype train at UFC 287 in April. He is 2-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming in his UFC debut against Jonathan Pearce which was up a weight class on short notice. Rodriguez is a well-rounded prospect as he is a good counter striker and difficult to control on the mat. My only critique is that he is low volume on the feet and I typically do not like to back favorites that win rounds on thin margins.

His opponent, Cameron Saaiman is coming off a first-round TKO finish over Terrance Mitchell at UFC 290 in July. He is a 9-0 undefeated prospect fighting out of South Africa and is the protégé of Dricus Du Plessis. He is a powerful striker with six of his nine wins coming by knockout. But he gets wild on the feet and is very hittable which never makes you feel comfortable. His grappling is still improving but needs some work, but he has excellent cardio and really seems to break his opponents in the later rounds.

This should be a fun fight with two solid young prospects but I am leaning with the underdog in Saaiman who should be landing a lot more volume on the feet and I trust him more to take over down the stretch if the fight is close. Saaiman by decision is the official pick but I think there is some finishing upside as well.

Edgar Chairez vs Daniel Lacerda
Chairez, -310; Lacerda, +250

These two fought last month but a premature stoppage deemed the fight a no-contest so they are running it back. Chairez is a 10-5 prospect fighting out of Mexico and all 10 wins have come by finish. He trains out of Entram gym in Mexico and is a regular training partner of Andres Luna and Brandon Moreno. He seems to have some power in his hands and is a finisher by nature, but the level of competition leaves more to be desired on the regional scene. The glaring issue of Chairez is his defensive grappling as he has been submitted twice in his career although he avoided it against Taira.

His opponent, Daniel Lacerda is coming off a second-round TKO loss to CJ Vergara in March prior to the fight with Chairez last month. He is 0-4 in the UFC and was finished inside of two rounds in each of those fights. Despite failing to find success in the UFC yet, he has had spurts of success in all of his fights and nearly even finished a few of those as well. He comes out like a bat out of hell and tries to put it on his opponents with powerful kickboxing and flashy submission attempts. The problem is when he cannot get the early finish, he typically wilts and gets finished as we have seen.

This is my favorite fight to target on DraftKings as the winner is a guarantee to score well (assuming we do not have another no-contest). I will have heavy exposure to both sides on DraftKings and am hoping the field has lost faith in Lacerda as a high-upside underdog. Chairez by TKO is the official pick.

Jonathan Martinez vs Adrian Yanez
Martinez, -115; Yanez, -105

Jonathan Martinez is coming off a decision victory over Said Nurmagomedov in March. Martinez is a technical kickboxer with some of the best leg kicks in the division. He is very good at managing distance and wants to keep the fight at range where he can blast away with leg kicks and many of his opponents cannot seem to figure out how to beat that gameplan. But he is chinny and has been dropped four times in the UFC and has been hurt in many of his fights. He can be taken down by good wrestlers, but he is hard to control for extended periods.

His opponent, Adrian Yanez is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Rob Font in April at UFC 287. That loss snapped a nine-fight winning streak and was the first time in his career that he got finished. Yanez is a good boxer with fast combinations and solid footwork as well. He also holds a black belt in BJJ but has never landed a takedown and I expect him to duke it out on the feet for the majority.

This is an interesting matchup with two good strikers who both have a future at 135 lbs. I favor the hands of Yanez but the kicks of Martinez and think it will be Martinez managing the range for the most part and really having success at distance. This is a closely lined fight and for good reason. I slightly prefer Martinez but it will not be a ‘make or break’ fight for me on DraftKings. Martinez by decision is the official pick.

Jennifer Maia vs Viviane Araujo
Maia, -162; Araujo, +136

Jennifer Maia is coming off a decision win over Casey O’Neil in March at UFC 286. Maia is one of the better boxers in the division but historically not a great round winner as she is typically being out volumed on the feet and struggles to defend takedowns at just 57% in the UFC. She does have some good submission attempts but has just one submission in 10 UFC fights. She regularly lets opponents control her on the mat which just does not translate to winning minutes which is a concern for me in this fight against someone with solid control like Araujo.

Her opponent, Viviane Araujo is coming off a decision loss to Amanda Ribas at UFC 285. She is currently on a two-fight losing streak and has lost three of her last four fights. Granted, she has faced some stiff competition but at nearly 37 years old, it is now or never for her to try to put together a little win streak. Araujo is a powerful striker and should have that advantage here but she is also very hittable and Maia may be able to counter her repeatedly. Where Araujo should have more success is by going to her ground game as she averages nearly two takedowns per 15 minutes and holds a black belt in BJJ. Lastly, her cardio is still an issue as she continuously slows in extended fights.

This is another competitive matchup and one where I see Araujo having a little upside despite the age and cardio concerns. In what should be a close fight, I am willing to side with her as she can turn this into the Andrea Lee fight if she goes to her grappling. Araujo by decision is the official pick.

Sodiq Yusuff vs Edson Barboza
Yusuff, -166; Barboza, +140

Sodiq Yusuff is coming off a first-round submission victory over Don Shainis last October. He is 6-1 inside the UFC with his only loss coming against Arnold Allen. He is a powerful boxer with very fast combinations and can fight behind his jab along with mixing in some grappling when he needs to. He keeps a high pace on the feet and can carry his power for 15 minutes. The only time we have really seen a chink in his armor outside of the Allen fight was the underwhelming victory over Alex Caceres.

His opponent, Edson Barboza is coming off a first-round knockout victory over Billy Quarantillo in April. That win snapped a two-fight losing streak for him and he looks to keep that momentum going this weekend. Barboza is a staple of the UFC roster across 155 lbs. and 145 lbs. He has some of the most devastating calf kicks the UFC has ever seen and 14 of his 23 wins have come by knockout. While the fight plays out on the feet, I expect Barboza to be very competitive and could even hurt Yusuff with those kicks. But where the concern lies is that Barboza can be hurt and has been knocked out four times in his career. He can also be controlled in the grappling department if you can get him flat and I am curious if Yusuff decides to show off some of those grappling improvements.

This is a great matchup and should be competitive for as long as it lasts. I am siding with the younger fighter in Yusuff who I trust his durability and power a bit more at this stage in their respective careers. I also would not be surprised to see him surprise some people with a takedown or two and some grappling as well. Yusuff by TKO is the official pick and this is a great fight to target on DraftKings.