It has been a long break over the holidays but we are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC Vegas 84! We have an action-packed 12-fight slate on DraftKings which hopefully 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.

Joshua Van vs Felipe Bunes
Van, -198; Bunes, +164

Joshua Van is coming off a decision victory over Kevin Borjas in November at UFC 295. He overcame some early adversity after dropping round one and won the last two rounds convincingly. He is very young and primarily a striker with legitimate knockout power for the division. Five of his nine wins have come by knockout and he likes to push a pace on the feet with constant volume.

His opponent, Felipe Bunes is making his UFC debut this weekend. Bunes formerly fought over in LFA and became the Flyweight champion in that promotion. He is a 13-6 prospect fighting out of Brazil and is 33 years old. He seems to be well-rounded as he is a solid striker and capable submission grappler as well with eight of his 13 wins coming by submission. He is not the best wrestler though and can give up takedowns as he throws a lot of spinning attacks leaving his back vulnerable.

Bunes is the more experienced fighter and the better submission grappler but he is likely at a disadvantage on the feet in the volume and power department. If he is unable to force the grappling exchanges then I think the pace and pressure of Van will be enough to get to him. Van by decision is the official pick.

Tom Nolan vs Nikolas Motta
Nolan, -290; Motta, +235

Tom Nolan is coming off an electric knockout victory on Dana White’s Contender Series which earned him a contract and he will make his UFC debut this weekend. He is an undefeated prospect with a 6-0 record, fighting out of Australia. Of his six career victories, four of them have come by knockout and he previously fought in Eternal MMA promotion prior to the Contender Series. He seems to be a well-rounded fighter with power on the feet, but he also holds a brown belt in BJJ. He fights out of the southpaw stance and has powerful leg kicks and is always looking to land heavy knees and elbows in the clinch. If he gets in dominant position on the mat, he has some vicious ground and pound, but he can give up takedowns and be controlled by better grapplers.

His opponent, Nikolas Motta is coming off a controversial no-contest against Trey Ogden which he was on his way to losing handedly. Motta is a powerful boxer with nine of his 13 wins coming by knockout. But he is low volume on the feet and mainly relies on finding a big counter shot. The issue with Motta is that he is very hittable and his durability is a major concern as he has been knocked out four times in his career. His defensive grappling is not good either so he has a limited path to victory in most matchups.

Nolan is still green but he has some solid tools and he is huge for the division. I trust his power, pace and durability to be the difference here and he should have a huge advantage in the clinch. Nolan by TKO is the official pick and he is a strong target on DraftKings.

Jean Silva vs Westin Wilson
Silva, -750; Wilson, +525

Jean Silva comes in as the biggest betting favorite on the card, making his UFC debut as well. He is another Contender Series contract winner from this past season as he won a decision over Kevin Vallejos as a sizable underdog. Silva is a powerful fighter with eight of his 11 wins coming by knockout. He clearly has power on the feet and is very explosive as well. But he tends to fade as the fight goes on and I do not trust his defensive grappling once he starts facing some better opponents.

His opponent, Westin Wilson is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Joanderson Brito in July. Wilson has no business being in the UFC as he is a regional grinder in his mid-30s who was brought in on short notice when they needed a warm body. It’s not impossible for him to win a fight in the UFC but I think it is highly unlikely as he just does not have much of a skillset to compete at the UFC level. Maybe he can try to grapple Silva, but it will need to be early as his last 12 fights have ended inside the first round. He has also been finished in six of his eight professional losses, so I do not think we see the judges scorecards.

Silva is an unproven huge favorite off Contender Series which feels bad but this should be a cupcake matchup for him to get an early knockout finish. Silva by KO is the official pick and he is an obvious spend-up target on DraftKings as well.

Farid Basharat vs Taylor Lapilus
Basharat, -230; Lapilus, +190

Farid Basharat is coming off a first-round submission victory over Kleydson Rodrigues at UFC Paris in August. He is a 11-0 undefeated prospect and the younger brother of UFC fighter, Javid Basharat. Of his 11 victories, six of them have come by submission. He is a good striker with fast hands and sharp leg kicks but also has a well-rounded ground game and he has relied on that more at the UFC level.

His opponent, Taylor Lapilus is coming off a decision win over Caolan Loughran in his return to the UFC in August. Lapilus is a very technical striker and fights out of the southpaw stance with powerful punches and knees in the clinch. He is also very difficult to takedown and historically has had good submission defense as well which makes him a tough test for many guys in this division.

I expect this to be a competitive fight with Basharat likely trying to use his grappling advantage over Lapilus. However, Lapilus is going to make him work like nobody has done before but I doubt it will be enough for Lapilus here. Even if Basharat is working hard for the takedowns, the optics of Lapilus being stuck on the cage and neutralized is not going to win him rounds and Basharat is a good striker as well. Basharat by decision is the official pick and I expect this to go the full 15 minutes.

Marcus McGhee vs Gaston Bolanos
McGhee, -278; Bolanos, +225

Marcus McGhee is coming off a first-round TKO victory over JP Buys in August. McGhee is 2-0 in the UFC and won both of his fights inside of two rounds. Of his eight career victories, seven of them have come by knockout as he is very powerful on the feet and wants to keep the fight standing. I still have some questions regarding his defensive grappling ability but fortunately, it likely will not matter in this matchup.

His opponent, Gaston Bolanos is coming off a decision victory over Aaron Phillips in his UFC debut. Bolanos is primarily a striker and has some power in his hands as well. Of his seven career victories, six of them have come by knockout and he is completely game to keep this one on the feet with McGhee. Aside from the power, he gets sloppy defensively and can be taken down and out grappled as well as he has been submitted twice in his career.

I expect McGhee to be the cleaner striker getting the better of the exchanges. I also favor McGhee as the better wrestler and grappler if he were to take that path in this matchup. McGhee by TKO is the official pick, but I may be interested in the submission prop if the number is good enough.

Matthew Semelsberger vs Preston Parsons
Semelsberger, -125; Parsons, +105

We last saw Matthew Semelsberger when he lost by TKO to Uros Medic in the third round back in July at UFC 291. He is a very powerful boxer with six of his 11 career wins coming by knockout. However, he has landed a knockdown in seven of his nine UFC fights so it is clear that he can put your lights out at any time. He also has a little bit of a wrestling background, but he rarely goes to it as he averages just over one takedown per 15 minutes. The main issue with Semelsberger is that he can be taken down and put on his back as he defends at just 50% in the UFC.

His opponent, Preston Parsons is coming off a decision loss to Trevin Giles. Parsons is one of those fighters that tries really hard and will fight for your money but is limited in terms of his athleticism and skillset. He is primarily a grappler as he averages over three takedowns per 15 minutes, but his control is not great as he regularly loses positions on the mat. Additionally, on the feet, he is a bit of a punching bag as he moves forward recklessly and eats a ton of shots.

I favor Semelsberger significantly when the fight plays out on the feet. He has a real ability to sneak punches through his opponent’s defense and has big power when he lands and that is a stylistic nightmare for Parsons. It’s possible that Parsons could land a takedown or two, but I do not trust his control or ability to score point especially when he is getting tagged repeatedly on the feet. Semelsberger by TKO is the official pick.

Waldo Cortes-Acosta vs Andrei Arlovski
Cortes-Acosta, -575; Arlovski, +425

Waldo Cortes-Acosta is coming off a first-round TKO victory over Lukasz Brzeski in August. He is a high-volume boxer for the Heavyweight division and is willing to fight behind his jab for 15 minutes if needed. He keeps a high pace for this weight class but is one-dimensional so better grapplers can take advantage of him if you can get him down. His cardio and volume alone will take him pretty far against many Heavyweights these days.

His opponent, Andrei Arlovski is coming off a TKO loss to Don’Tale Mayes in June. It seems like his invincible resurgence is finally over as he has now been finished in each of his last two fights. Arlovski is an older version of Cortes-Acosta as he has mainly relied on his cardio and boxing over the years. However, at nearly 45 years old, it might be time to officially hang up the gloves.

I expect Cortes-Acosta to be the better striker over 15 minutes as he should be landing more strikes and the more effective ones as well. Whether or not this one makes it to the scorecards hinges on the waning durability of Arlovski. Cortes-Acosta by TKO is the official pick.

Brunno Ferreira vs Phil Hawes
Ferreira, -118; Hawes, -102

Brunno Ferreira is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Nursulton Ruziboev in July which was his first career loss. He is a very explosive fighter with seven of his 10 career wins coming by knockout. All 11 of his fights have ended inside of two rounds and that speaks to his kill or be killed fighting style. Aside from his power on the feet, he has shown the ability to land takedowns on the regional scene but that will not be a path for him in this fight.

His opponent, Phil Hawes is coming off a first-round knockout to Ikram Aliskerov at UFC 288 in March. At this point, we know what to expect from Hawes as he is a powerful striker with knockout power and comes from a collegiate wrestling background. He is a capable finisher in his own right with eight of his 12 wins coming by knockout. But his durability has always been a red flag as he has been knocked out in four of his five professional losses.

This is an obvious fight to target on DraftKings as the chance of someone getting knocked out early is extremely high. I slightly trust the durability of Ferreira which has me leaning towards him in this fight. But this will be one that I hedge on DraftKings and have exposure to both sides. Ferreira by TKO is the official pick.

Ricky Simon vs Mario Bautista
Simon, -166; Bautista, +140

Ricky Simon is coming off a main event against Song Yadong where he lost by TKO in the fifth round. That loss snapped a five-fight winning streak for him and he looks to rebound this weekend. Simon is a powerful wrestler and averages nearly six takedowns per 15 minutes. He carries some power on the feet as well and has four submission victories to his credit. The only concern with Simon is his durability as we have seen him rocked multiple times and he has been knocked out twice in his career.

His opponent, Mario Bautista is coming off a decision win over Da’Mon Blackshear at UFC 292 in August. He is currently on a five-fight winning streak and looking to build on that momentum with a big-name victory on Saturday. Bautista is a well-rounded fighter that pushes a high pace on the feet with constant volume and will look to mix in the takedowns as well. But he has faced much lower competition than Simon and only defends takedowns at 56% which is key in this fight.

This is a fun matchup with two prospects that have a bright future in the division. But I have to favor Simon as the better wrestler and more explosive athlete as well. He should be able to land multiple takedowns and that will be the difference here. Simon by decision is the official pick.

Jim Miller vs Gabriel Benitez
Miller, -115; Benitez, -105

At the ripe age of 40 years old, Jim Miller is not slowing down yet. Miller is still a solid gatekeeper in the division for younger up and comers. He comes from a wrestling background and averages over 1.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. Even if he is not forcing the takedowns, he is always dangerous with his submission grappling and is willing to pull guard as well. Of his 36 career victories, 19 of them have come by submission and he has finished four of his last five opponents. The cardio is the main concern of Miller as that has historically always been an issue so he likely needs to find a finish in the first two rounds.

His opponent, Gabriel Benitez is coming off a sizable layoff after winning by knockout over Charlie Ontiveros in August of 2022. It is clear that Benitez’ best days are behind him, but he is still a technical kickboxer with some of the nastiest leg kicks in the game. His issue lately has been his durability as he has been in some wars, and it is finally catching up to him as he has been finished in six of his 10 professional losses. It is also possible we see some ring rust as well with the layoff which is not encouraging.

Both sides have some red flags, but I trust Miller more in terms of durability and finishing upside which has me leaning him in this matchup. Miller by submission is the official pick and this is a great fight to target on DraftKings as I expect the winner to finish early.

Manel Kape vs Matheus Nicolau
Kape, -245; Nicolau, +200

Manel Kape is coming off a decision win over Felipe Dos Santos at UFC 293 in September. Dos Santos gave him a go in his UFC debut, but Kape fought smart down the stretch and got the job done. Kape is an explosive athlete with power on the feet and multiple tools to put your lights out. Of his 19 career victories, 11 of them have come by knockout. He also has a capable ground game although he rarely looks for takedowns, but he does have a black belt in BJJ.

His opponent, Matheus Nicolau is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Brandon Royval last April. That loss snapped a six-fight winning streak for him. Nicolau beat Kape by split-decision when they fought back in 2021 and he will try to replicate that performance this weekend. Nicolau is a well-rounded fighter with technical striking and holds a black belt in BJJ as well. But his chin is not good for the Flyweight division as he has been knocked out three times in his career.

I would be surprised to see Nicolau edge out another decision against Kape. The first fight was pretty boring as far as the lack of output and activity from both guys. Nicolau will likely try to land some takedowns but he will not be able to control Kape and I expect Kape to be more aggressive on the feet this time around as he is the better and more powerful striker. Kape by decision is the official pick but a knockout is in play as well.

Magomed Ankalaev vs Johnny Walker
Ankalaev, -455; Walker, +350

These two just fought in October but the fight was stopped in awkward fashion after Ankalaev landed an illegal knee. Johnny Walker seemed fine but appeared to have answered a question to the doctor incorrectly and the fight was ruled a no contest. We cannot take away too much from that fight as it did not even go five minutes, but I do feel that if the pace is fought the same this time around then this is not a must play fight on DraftKings.

Ankalaev is one of the most technical fighters in the division, but I still have issues with his round winning ability. He is not a big volume guy and averages just one takedown per 15 minutes so he typically wins on thin margins and that was evidenced by the Jan Blachowicz fight as well. He has also been susceptible to the leg kicks which could be a factor in this fight. Regardless, Ankalaev is the more skilled fighter, but it is just a question of if he will use his tools to the fullest to get his hand raised.

His opponent, Johnny Walker is coming off a decision victory over Anthony Smith in May prior to the no-contest in October with Ankalaev. He was on a three-fight winning streak and looking to play spoiler this weekend. Walker is historically not a good round winner, but he does have some physical intangibles to go along with his explosive early finishing ability. Of his 21 career wins, 16 of them have come by knockout and many of those were inside the first round. He is at a disadvantage from a technicality standpoint in this fight, but he is working with a seven-inch reach advantage which should help. He will need to keep the fight on the feet and attack the legs of Ankalaev to keep the rounds competitive outside of any big shots. The concern with Walker is that he can be controlled on the mat and has also been knocked out four times in his career.

I do not think Ankalaev is a huge knockout threat to Walker on the feet but he should be able to land multiple takedowns and control him on the mat if he elects to. But he has been content to stand and trade at times for too long and I question the ceiling for him on DraftKings. Ankalaev by decision is the official pick but I will likely be overweight to Walker as a live underdog.

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