It felt like a long one-week absence but we are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC Vegas 85! We have an action-packed 13-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.

Thomas Petersen vs Jamal Pogues
Petersen, -170; Pogues, +142

Thomas Petersen is making his UFC debut this weekend. He fought on this past season of Dana White’s Contender Series and won by second-round submission. He is an 8-1 Heavyweight prospect fighting out of Minnesota. Of his eight professional victories, seven of them have come by knockout and all but one were inside the first round. He has fought most of his professional career in LFA and fought for the Heavyweight title against Waldo Cortes-Acosta but lost by knockout as his only professional loss. He has your typical Heavyweight punching power, but he also has a solid ground game as well as he is capable of getting his opponents to the ground where he has some heavy ground and pound along with some submissions as well as we saw in his last fight.

His opponent, Jamal Pogues is coming off a decision loss to Mick Parkin in July. That loss snapped a three-fight winning streak for him and he looks to rebound this weekend. Pogues is a tough prospect to break down as his gameplan varies heavily based on the matchup. He fought twice on Contender Series and the first time, showed off impressive pace and wrestling with volume takedowns and a decision win but was not awarded the contract. His next Contender Series bout in 2022, he was content to fight behind his jab and show off his improvements striking. He followed that up with a decision win over Josh Parisian where he landed five takedowns before not using his wrestling against Parkin in his last fight. So it is tough to exactly know the gameplan that he will try to implement here.

I expect Petersen to have nearly all of the finishing upside in this fight, but I also do not trust this guy whatsoever and would like to fade him in the future. That being said, the low-volume of Pogues and lack of power are concerning especially if we cannot bank on him to wrestle here. I actually think Petersen may be the more likely of the two to land takedowns here and he is a legitimate threat to finish when the fight hits the mat. Ideally, we will get a Petersen exciting finish here and then can fade him in his next fight. Petersen by submission is the official pick.

Marquel Mederos vs Landon Quinones
Mederos, -162, Quinones, +136

Marquel Mederos is coming off a first-round knockout victory over on Dana White’s Contender Series this past season. He is making his UFC debut and sports an 8-1 professional record with six of those wins coming by knockout. He fights out of Factory X and is primarily a striker. He has power in his hands with solid footwork and a well-rounded ground game as he will mix in his wrestling as well. He does tend to get sloppy at times in grappling exchanges but has good enough takedown defense to keep the fight standing if he wants to.

His opponent, Landon Quinones is coming off a UFC debut against Nasrat Haqparast where he lost by unanimous decision. He still gave a good account of himself as he ate a ton of shots and landed a bunch of his own as well despite losing. He is a 7-2 prospect fighting out of Florida and trains at Kill Cliff FC. Of his seven professional victories, five of them have come by knockout. He is primarily a striker as well and fights out of the southpaw stance. He has also shown the ability to land takedowns and has good timing with his entries but I doubt he will be able to get Mederos down even if he tries.

This should be a fun fight with both guys willing to stand and trade. I favor the footwork and the power of Mederos along with the ability to mix in a takedown or two to cement rounds. Mederos by decision is the official pick.

Julija Stoliarenko vs Luana Carolina
Stoliarenko, -118; Carolina, -102

Julija Stoliarenko is coming off a first-round submission over Molly McCann in July. She is an easy fighter to break down as she is always dangerous early with her signature armbar as she has won 10 of her 11 career wins by armbar submission. However, she is a punching bag on the feet and has been knocked out three times in her career. She fades pretty badly in the later half of fights that get extended too so I still consider her early submission or bust.

Her opponent, Luana Carolina is coming off a decision victory over Ivana Petrovic in July. Carolina is primarily a striker and she is long for the division and wants to keep the fight on the feet. She keeps a solid pace on the feet but gets sloppy in both striking and grappling exchanges. She will need to avoid the early grappling swarm of Stoliarenko in this matchup but Carolina is not easy to takedown so I expect Stoliarenko to struggle. Carolina is clearly the better striker and outside of getting caught early with a submission, she should take over in the later rounds. Carolina by decision is the official pick but I have little interest in this fight on DraftKings outside of some Stoliarenko shares in case she gets the early submission.

Jeong Yeong Lee vs Blake Bilder
Lee, -130; Bilder, +110

Jeong Yeong Lee made his UFC debut in February and won a split-decision over Zha Yi. Lee is a 10-1 prospect fighting out of South Korea. Of his 10 professional victories, seven of them have come inside the distance. He is primarily a striker and has some serious power on the feet. But he gets very wild in striking exchanges and his defense is mostly nonexistent. Better grapplers can take advantage of him and we saw him get stuck along the fence multiple times in his last fight.

His opponent, Blake Bilder is coming off a decision loss to Kyle Nelson at UFC 289. That was his first professional loss and he looks to rebound this weekend. He previously fought on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2022 and is the former Bantamweight champion in Cage Fury. He is an explosive striker and has some powerful hooks on the feet. But he has a good ground game as well as he is able to mix in the takedowns and four of his eight career wins have come by submission. The one main concern with Bilder is that he is hittable in striking exchanges and he has been hurt multiple times on the regional scene and in the UFC.

This is a banger matchup between two explosive fighters that are willing to stand and trade. I expect Bilder to have a clear edge in the grappling realm but with the wild striking exchanges that I expect, I do not trust his chin to hold up. Lee by TKO is the official pick but I will have exposure to both sides on DraftKings as I expect the winner to score well.

Themba Gorimbo vs Pete Rodriguez
Gorimbo, -238; Rodriguez, +195

Themba Gorimbo is coming off a decision victory over Takashi Sato last May. He is primarily a wrestler as he averages right around 3.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. On the feet, he is long and rangy but is not a great striker and mainly uses his kicks before closing distance and shooting a takedown. He is also low volume on the feet and when he does go to the mat, he regularly loses position as he is not a technically sound grappler. Lastly, I do not fully trust the durability as he has been finished in three of his four professional losses.

His opponent, Pete Rodriguez is coming off a sizable layoff as we last saw him in October of 2022 when he knocked out Mike Jackson. Rodriguez is an explosive striker with all five of his career wins coming by knockout. He has never fought into the second round in any of his professional fights. I expect him to have a massive striking advantage with technicality and power as well. The concern with Rodriguez is that he is a front-runner, and his cardio and defensive grappling are unproven at best.

Gorimbo is going to want to get this fight to the ground early and often. If he is able to do that then he can grind on Rodriguez and drown him in the deep waters as the fight gets extended. That is probably how most people see this fight playing out. However, the striking advantage for Rodriguez is so clear to me and if he can keep the fight standing early then he has a good chance at hurting Gorimbo. Rodriguez by knockout is the official pick.

Azat Maksum vs Charles Johnson
Maksum, -198; Johnson, +164

Azat Maksum is coming off his UFC debut where he won a split-decision over Tyson Nam in July. He is a 17-0 undefeated prospect fighting out of Kazakhstan. Of his 17 victories, 12 of them have come inside the distance. He is primarily a grappler and he has shown some solid wrestling skills on the regional scene along with good submission grappling as well. He struggled to get his grappling going against Nam but Nam historically is tough to take down and control. The striking of Maksum is not great but has improved over his last few fights and is competent enough to be able to get the fight where he needs it.  

His opponent, Charles Johnson is coming off a decision loss against Rafael Estevam in November. He is currently on a three-fight losing streak and could be fighting for his job this weekend. Johnson is a good athlete and well-rounded fighter but never seems to do enough to convincingly win rounds. He is a good scrambler and works back to his feet quickly but struggles to defend takedowns at just 62% in the UFC. This is a reoccurring issue for him as any competent wrestler is likely going to have success taking him down repeatedly.

I am almost always going to side with a grappler against Charles Johnson. We have a giant sample of him not being able to figure out how to win rounds against guys that consistently try to take him down. I expect Maksum to be able to land multiple takedowns and do enough to bank the rounds against Johnson. Maksum by decision is the official pick.

Molly McCann vs Diana Belbita
McCann, -270; Belbita, +220

We last saw Molly McCann in the octagon last July when she lost by first-round submission to Julija Stoliarenko. She is always an exciting fighter as she wants to get out there and brawl with her opponents and put on a show for the fans. She keeps a solid pace on the feet as she looks to close distance and fight in the phone booth. She is also capable of mixing in the wrestling as she averages nearly two takedowns per 15 minutes and should be able to land some in this fight as well.

Her opponent, Diana Belbita is coming off a decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in October. She also likes to keep a high pace on the feet and I expect her to try to match the volume of McCann. However, she is sloppy defensively and gets hit a ton in those exchanges. She can also be taken down and controlled on the mat as she defends takedowns at 69% in the UFC.

This should be a competitive fight and one that will likely be fought at a decent pace as well. But I favor the boxing of McCann and she should also have the power and wrestling advantage enough to swing close rounds. McCann by decision is the official pick.

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Gilbert Urbina vs Charles Radtke
Urbina, -205; Radtke, +170

Gilbert Urbina is coming off a second-round TKO victory over Orion Cosce last May. He previously fought on The Ultimate Fighter and lost in the finale to Bryan Battle in his UFC debut. Urbina is a well-rounded fighter who is looking to push a pace on the feet. He is also a capable submission grappler and will look to mix in his wrestling as he averages nearly four takedowns per 15 minutes. My biggest issue with Urbina is his durability. Despite never being knocked out in his career, he has been hurt and stung multiple times throughout his nine professional fights.

His opponent, Charles Radtke is coming off a decision win over Blood Diamond in his UFC debut at UFC 293. He is the former Welterweight champion in Cage Fury promotion and seems to have a solid skillset. Of his eight professional victories, five of them have come inside the distance and he is pretty well-rounded wherever the fight goes. He has some legitimate knockout power on the feet, but his takedown defense is not great and he has been controlled in the past on the regional scene.

Radtke is live to hurt Urbina early but Urbina is going to have a significant size advantage and I favor him if this goes the full 15 minutes. Because both fighters have finishing upside and the potential to land multiple takedowns, I will have exposure to both sides but the official pick is Urbina by TKO.

Aliaskhab Khizirev vs Makhmud Muradov
Khizriev, -185; Muradov, +154

Aliaskhab Khizriev is coming off nearly a two-year layoff since his UFC debut which he won by second-round submission over Denis Tiuliulin. Khizriev is an undefeated prospect with a 12-0 professional record and is fighting out of Russia. He fights out of the southpaw stance and is very active with his kicking attack. But he is at his best when he goes to the grappling as he averages nearly six takedowns per 15 minute (small sample). He has four career wins by submission and all of them were by rear-naked choke as that seems to be his specialty.

His opponent, Makhmud Muradov is coming off a dominant decision victory over Bryan Barberena in July. Muradov is powerful striker and 17 of his 26 career wins have come by knockout. He is also a capable wrestler and will try to mix in takedowns in most of his fights. But he tends to struggle against grapplers despite having good initial takedown defense. He is tough to control on the mat and will not accept position but he does give up his back in some scrambles which could be an issue in this fight.

I expect the striking to be competitive with Khizriev looking to land the big head kick and Muradov trying to counter those kicks. But the grappling should be the difference in favor of Khizriev as he is very dangerous if you give your back up and I could see that happening here. Khizriev by submission is the official pick and this is a good fight to target on DraftKings.

Natalia Silva vs Viviane Araujo
Silva, -345; Araujo, +275

Natalia Silva is coming off a dominant performance over Andrea Lee where she won by decision. She is an explosive striker that will put a pace on her opponents on the feet. But she is also very well rounded with multiple submission victories and the ability to land takedowns as well if she wants to. You guys already know that I am a huge fan of Silva and think she could legitimately compete for the belt in the future assuming she keeps improving at this rate.

Her opponent, Viviane Araujo is coming off a decision win over Jennifer Maia in October. She is a well-rounded fighter in her own right with a solid ground game and she averages just under two takedowns per 15 minutes and holds a black belt as well. She has clear power on the feet and will try to take your head off early in the fight. However, her cardio is her biggest issue as she historically fades in all of her fights. Additionally, she is very hittable on the feet as she does not move her head whatsoever and it gets worse the more tired she gets in fights. Even when she is having grappling success, she gets sloppy and loses positions too. Lastly, she turns 38 years old later this year.

The value boys will probably try to hype up Araujo here but this one is all Silva. Silva is the better striker and round winner and will have a big cardio edge as well. Silva by decision is the official pick but a late round TKO is in the cards too.

Randy Brown vs Muslim Salikhov
Brown, -238; Salikhov, +195

 This fight was originally supposed to take place at UFC 296 but Randy Brown pulled out due to illness. He is coming off a decision victory over Wellington Turman in June. He is a high-volume striker that likes to dance around the outside of the cage and use his length to his advantage. He is very long for the division and will be working with an eight-inch reach advantage in this fight. The issue that I have with Brown whenever he is a large favorite is that he does not separate in rounds so his margins are thin to cover his price tag. Additionally, he does not carry much finishing upside in most matchups either so you really need to be confident that he will be clearly winning the striking exchanges. Lastly, his durability is a concern as he has been hurt multiple times and finished in four of his five professional losses.

His opponent, Muslim Salikhov is coming off a decision loss to Nicolas Dalby in June. He is nearly 40 years old and has lost two of his last three fights which certainly does not look good on paper. However, he is a very technical kickboxer and has clear knockout power with 13 of his 19 wins coming by knockout. Additionally, he is strong defensively, so he usually does not allow his opponents to get off on volume without countering them. I do not fully trust his durability at this stage in his career, but Brown does not have a ton on power anyway.

I expect this fight to be more competitive than the betting odds suggests. Salikhov is a good striker and should be able to keep it close on the feet as long as he can track down Brown and deal with the speed of him. Salikhov has more knockout upside and the potential to swing rounds with the bigger shots. Salikhov by decision is the official pick.

Renato Moicano vs Drew Dober
Moicano, -155; Dober, +130

Renato Moicano is coming off a first-round submission victory over Brad Riddell at UFC 281 in November of 2022. He is a very well-rounded fighter as he has some sharp leg kicks and a solid jab on the feet. But he is at his best when he goes the grappling as he holds a black belt in BJJ and averages 1.66 takedowns per 15 minutes. The issue with Moicano is his durability as he has been hurt multiple times and knocked out three times in his career.

His opponent, Drew Dober is coming off a first-round knockout over Ricky Glenn in October. He is a powerful striker and fights out of the southpaw stance. His last seven UFC victories have all come by knockout. He wants to stand and trade until he finds a chance to land his big left hand. If he connects clean, he can put anyone’s lights out in the division. However, he has taken some damage over the course of his career and the chin seems to be no longer as rock solid as it used to. Additionally, he has always had issues defensively grappling and has been submitted four times in his career.

Moicano as a small favorite makes sense because of the grappling disparity between the two but Dober is certainly capable of testing his chin early. That makes this an easy fight to target on DraftKings as I expect it to end inside of two rounds and for the winner to score very well. I will have exposure to both sides on DraftKings but the official pick is Moicano by submission. 

Nassourdine Imavov vs Roman Dolidze
Imavov, -166; Dolidze, +140

Nassourdine Imavov is coming off a no-contest against Chris Curtis his last time out in June at UFC 289. I consider Imavov one of the best prospects in the division as he is a powerful striker with good pressure, pace and durability. He has a solid ground game as well although he typically does not try to grapple as often as he should. But he is very well-rounded and is tough to beat in any area.

His opponent, Roman Dolidze is coming off a decision loss to Marvin Vettori at UFC 286. Dolidze is a dangerous finisher with knockout power on the feet and a sneaky good submission grappling arsenal. But despite the finishing ability, he is not a great round winner and you guys know that I generally look to fade that style once they start facing top-tier competition. Dolidze is reliant on big moments and he is facing someone that does not present many of those opportunities. He also repeatedly fades in fights that get extended so if this makes the championship rounds, I favor the other side.

I expect Imavov to be the better round winner by a significant margin. It is always possible a fighter like Dolidze can force a finish but I would be surprised if it happens in this matchup. Imavov by TKO is the official pick.

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