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We are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC 299! We have a stacked 14-fight slate on DraftKings and the Bantamweight strap is on the line as Sean O’Malley takes on the challenger, Marlon Vera. It also helps that on DraftKings we have another $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.

Maryna Moroz vs Joanne Wood
Moroz, -205; Wood, +170

Maryna Moroz is coming off a first-round submission loss to Karine Silva at UFC 292 last August. Moroz is a well-rounded fighter with solid striking and a decent ground game as well although she does not go for takedowns as often as she should. But that will likely be the biggest advantage in this fight so I expect her to lean on the wrestling more in this fight.

Her opponent, Joanne Wood is coming off a split-decision victory over Luana Carolina at UFC 286 last March. That win snapped a three-fight losing streak for her and at 38 years old, it is now or never to put a solid win streak together. She has always been a high-volume striker as she is active with her kicking attack, but she is very one-dimensional. Her strikes do not carry any power whatsoever and she has always struggled to defend takedowns at just 59% in the UFC.

This should be a competitive fight on the feet but the takedowns should be there for Moroz whenever she wants them and she is the much better submission grappler as well. Moroz by decision is the official pick but a submission wouldn’t shock me if Wood decides to call it an early night.

Asu Almabaev vs CJ Vergara
Almabaev, -455; Vergara, +330

Asu Almabaev made an impressive UFC debut with a submission victory over Ode Osbourne last August. He is a well-rounded prospect with an 18-2 professional record and nine of those wins coming by submission. He is primarily a grappler and he has good control on the mat along with finishing ability when the fight gets down there. But his striking is also solid as he has some sharp leg kicks and swings with big power as well. I worry about the gas tank as he pushes a big pace but it will take the right type of fighter to test him in that area.

His opponent, CJ Vergara is coming off a decision win over Vinicius Salvador at UFC 291 last year. He is a solid boxer and capable of landing a takedown if he needs to but his best weapon is his cardio. He has repeatedly turned it on later in fights and his pace has made him difficult to deal with over 15 minutes. But I do not trust the fight IQ or durability as he continuously gives up his back and puts himself in bad spots during grappling exchanges. He has also been rocked and submitted multiple times in his career.

Vergara’s only real path in this fight is to extend the fight and take over late as he likely will have the edge in cardio. But I doubt he makes that happen as Almabaev has enough power to hurt him on the feet or repeatedly take him down and outgrapple him. Almabaev by submission is the official pick.

Robelis Despaigne vs Josh Parisian
Despaigne, -375; Parisian, +270

Robelis Despaigne is making his UFC debut this weekend. He is a former Olympic medalist in Taekwondo and is a very powerful striker. He has just four professional fights and won all four by first-round knockout. The jury is still out on his overall skillset as his cardio and defensive grappling is entirely untested. But it’s very clear that he is dangerous on the feet and liable to get any opponent out of there if they stand and trade with him at space.

His opponent, Josh Parisian is coming off a first-round submission loss to Martin Buday last August. He is currently on a two-fight losing streak and has lost three of his last four fights. Parisian is arguably one of the worst fighters in the Heavyweight division and has been finished in four of his seven professional losses. But he has at least fought for 15 minutes before at the UFC level and in theory, should have a wrestling advantage in this fight.

I would be surprised to see Parisian be able to get inside and force clinch exchanges and wrestling. While the fight plays out at space, he is a sitting duck and likely to get cooked. Despaigne by TKO is the official pick and he is an obvious target on DraftKings this week.

Michel Pereira vs Michal Oleksiejczuk
Pereira, -155; Oleksiejczuk, +130

Michel Pereira is coming off a first-round knockout victory over Andre Petroski in October. He is currently on a six-fight winning streak and won four of those fights by decision. He has explosive power on the feet and eleven of his 29 wins have come by knockout. But he also has a solid ground game as well as he averages over 1.5 takedowns per 15 minutes and holds a black belt in BJJ. The concern with Pereira is always the same as it comes down to his fight IQ and gas tank.

His opponent, Michal Oleksiejczuk is coming off a first-round knockout over Chidi Njokuani in August. He has won three of his last four fights and all of them came by first-round knockout. He is primarily a striker and will throw in volume but has power as well as 14 of his 19 career wins have come by knockout. But his takedown defense has always been a problem for him as he defends at under 50% in the UFC.

This fight should be competitive on the feet with both guys having some success. But I favor the power of Pereira and he should be able to lean on the wrestling if things get dicey on the feet. Pereira by decision is the official pick.

ION CUTELABA VS PHILIPE LINS
CUTELABA, -148; LINS, +124

Just when I think I am out, he pulls me back in. Ion Cutelaba won by first-round knockout over Tanner Boser in April. That win snapped a three-fight losing streak for him and he looks to build on that this Saturday. Cutelaba has always had explosive power and the ability to land multiple takedowns and rag doll his opponents in the first round. His biggest issues have always been his cardio and durability as he fades after one round and typically gets himself finished.

His opponent, Philipe Lins is coming off a decision win over Maxim Grishin in June. He is currently on a three-fight winning streak and won two of those by way of decision. Lins is a former PFL tournament winner and was brought over to the UFC but started off slow with two straight losses. Since then, he has racked up a few wins over respectable competition but will likely have his hands full this weekend. Lins is low volume on the feet and has some wrestling ability but is rarely aggressive in getting the fight there. On the feet, I do not fully trust his durability as he has been knocked out in four of his five professional losses.

I am going back to Cutelaba this weekend as the explosive power is too much for me to pass against someone as chinny as Lins. Cutelaba has clear risks with the gas tank but I do see him landing a big shot early that has the power to put Lins lights out. Cutelaba by knockout is the official pick and he is a great target on DraftKings.

Kyler Phillips vs Pedro Munhoz
Phillips, -225; Munhoz, +190

We last saw Kyler Phillips last August when he beat Raoni Barcelos in a decision. He is an 11-2 prospect fighting out of Arizona and training at the MMA Lab. He is an explosive athlete and typically comes out fast right from the opening bell. He has power on the feet and five wins by knockout, but he is also a strong grappler as well. He averages just under three takedowns per 15 minutes and holds a black belt in BJJ. The main concern with Phillips is his cardio management as we have seen him fade multiple times if the fight gets extended.

His opponent, Pedro Munhoz is coming off a decision loss to Marlon Vera at UFC 292 last August. He has always been known as one of the hardest leg kickers in the division. He is also very durable as well as he has never been finished in his career. On the feet, he is going to throw volume but gets sloppy defensively and will eat some shots. He also has one of the best guillotine submissions in the UFC, so Phillips will need to be careful when shooting takedowns.

I expect Phillips to have the power edge on the feet with an advantage in the speed department and overall athleticism. But his cardio has been sketchy at times and Munhoz is tough to get out of there which makes this seem like a competitive decision. I still lean with Phillips because he should have the bigger moments, but Munhoz is a live dog and one that I will be looking to get exposure to on DraftKings. Phillips by decision is the official pick.

Mateusz Gamrot vs Rafael Dos Anjos
Gamrot, -410; Dos Anjos, +320

Mateusz Gamrot is coming off a TKO victory over Rafael Fiziev as Fiziev suffered a torn ACL. Gamrot is an aggressive wrestler and averages just under 4.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. But he is not the best at controlling his opponents and regularly lets opponents work back to their feet quickly. On the feet, Gamrot does not have much knockout power and I do not trust his durability either. He has never been finished but he has been knocked down four times in the UFC and seems like he is weak to the body.

His opponent, Rafael Dos Anjos is coming off a decision loss to Vicente Luque last August. His last time out it appeared that father time has finally caught up to RDA as he turns 40 years old later this year. The dropoff in skillset and overall explosiveness is hard to predict as fighters age but when it happens, it materializes quickly. A younger version of RDA would be a live dog in this fight but the version we saw last time out has little chance to win this fight.

I expect Gamrot to rinse and repeat takedowns and to be the more active fighter on the feet as well. He should have the cardio advantage and he likely gas pedals RDA in terms of winning minutes. Gamrot by decision is the official pick.

Maycee Barber vs Katlyn Cerminara
Barber, -205; Cerminara, +170

Maycee Barber is coming off a second-round TKO victory over Amanda Ribas last June. Barber is a very physical fighter and carries real power for the division with six career knockout victories. She is also capable of mixing in the wrestling as she averages 1.14 takedowns per 15 minutes. But her control is not great and she is basically no threat to submit anyone on the mat so she really needs the big moments on the feet.

Her opponent, Katlyn Cerminara is coming off a decision loss to Manon Fiorot at UFC 280 back in 2022. At her age, taking a longer layoff and the fact that she has previously contemplated retiring are legitimate red flags. But in terms of her skillset, she is still one of the better strikers in the division and she will try to keep a high pace on the feet. She is strong in the clinch as well and will be the better submission grappler in this fight. But her takedown defense has always been an issue as she defends around 50% in the UFC.

I expect this to be a very competitive fight and it could even come down to a split-decision. But I still favor the Barber side as she is more likely to land takedowns and have bigger moments in the striking exchanges with her obvious power advantage. Barber by decision is the official pick.

Curtis Blaydes vs Jailton Almeida
Blaydes, -112; Almeida, -108

Curtis Blaydes fought in a main event last April and was knocked out inside the first round by Sergei Pavlovich. Blaydes is a technical striker but is at his best when he goes to his wrestling as he averages just under six takedowns per 15 minutes. His striking has improved leaps and bounds over the last few years, but he seems to have gotten away from his biggest strength which is his ground game. His durability is always a concern as well as he has been knocked out four times in his career.

His opponent, Jailton Almeida is coming off a decision victory over Derrick Lewis in November. He is 6-0 in the UFC since coming off the Contender Series in 2021. Almeida is an athletic specimen and a killer in the Heavyweight division as he is an explosive athlete with clear knockout power. But he is an even better grappler and he averages over five takedowns per 15 minutes and holds a black belt in BJJ. When he gets you down on the mat, he is very physically strong and good at controlling his opponents while hunting for submission attempts.

This is an awesome matchup and one that was booked months ago so I’m pumped to see them rebook it for this weekend. Both fighters are capable of landing takedowns which could mean that this turns into a pure striking match. We have also seen Blaydes not pursue the wrestling as much as he should which is a concern. Blaydes is the cleaner striker and more active on the feet but the durability is a major concern to me. I trust Almeida to pursue the grappling path more and think he has more knockout upside on the feet as well. Almeida by TKO is the official pick but this one that you want to target both sides heavily on DraftKings.

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Petr Yan vs Song Yadong
Yan, -115; Yadong, -105

Petr Yan is coming off a decision loss to Merab Dvalishvili last March. It has been quite the fall from grace from the former champion as he has now lost four of his last five fights. But he has faced the top fighters in the division and I am not ready to put Song Yadong in that same category. From a skillset standpoint, Yan is a strong minute winner with good pace and volume along with the ability to mix in some grappling as he averages 1.71 takedowns per 15 minutes. He is very well-rounded and has no clear weaknesses unless he is facing someone with Dvalishvili’s level of cardio and work rate.

His opponent, Song Yadong is coming off a decision victory over Chris Gutierrez in December. He has now won five of his last six fights with his only loss coming to Cory Sandhagen. Yadong is a powerful striker with nine knockout victories and has proven to be very durable as well. But this is a significant step up in competition for him and he will need to be at his best to get his hand raised this weekend.

I do expect both fighters to have success at range but I favor the Yan side as the better striker with his ability to mix in multiple levels of his game. I doubt either guy has much grappling success in this fight but if someone does then I expect it to be Yan as well. It should be a close fight but I side with Yan as the better round winner in this matchup and think it is a solid bounce back spot for him. Yan by decision is the official pick but there are better fights to target on DraftKings.

Jack Della Maddalena vs Gilbert Burns
Maddalena, -166; Burns, +140

Jack Della Maddalena is coming off a split-decision win over Kevin Holland in September. He is 6-0 in the UFC since coming off the Contender Series in 2021 and finished four of those opponents. He is primarily a boxer and has power in his hands with 11 of his 16 career wins coming by knockout. But he is very one-dimensional and he has shown that he can be taken down and controlled by better grapplers.

His opponent, Gilbert Burns is coming off a decision loss to Belal Muhammad at UFC 288 last May. He is a dangerous submission grappler as he holds a black belt in BJJ and has nine submission victories. He averages just under two takedowns per 15 minutes and that is clearly his path to victory in this fight. The concern with Burns is that his gas tank has not always been there and if he does not get the fight to the ground then he is at major risk of being knocked out.

Despite the striking disadvantage, I still like Burns in this matchup. We saw in the Bassil Hafez fight that Maddalena’s defensive grappling issues can be exposed and Burns has the skillset to do it. Burns by submission is the official pick and this is a good fight to target on DraftKings.

Kevin Holland vs Michael Page
Holland, -135; Page, +114

Kevin Holland is coming off the split-decision loss to Jack Della Maddalena in September. That loss snapped a two-fight winning streak for him and he looks to rebound this weekend. Holland is primarily a striker and is very long for the division and uses his range well. He is powerful on the feet with 14 of his 25 career wins coming by knockout. He also holds a black belt in BJJ but can be taken down and controlled as he defends takedowns at just 53% in the UFC.

His opponent, Michael Page is making his UFC debut this weekend. He previously fought in Bellator and recently fought Mike Perry in Bare Knuckle Boxing as well. Page has an impressive resume with a 21-2 professional record. He is primarily a striker and similar to Holland as he likes to use his length to his advantage. But he fights with his hands down and can be clipped and I am not sure if I fully trust his durability at this stage in his career. He turns 37 years old next month and is surely on the backend of his career which is an odd time to make your UFC debut.

I am siding with Holland in this fight as he seems to be the younger version of Page with more speed and durability. He likely won’t use it but he has the better ground game as well. Holland by decision is the official pick.

Benoit Saint-Denis vs Dustin Poirier
Saint-Denis, -218; Poirier, +170

Benoit Saint-Denis is coming off a first-round TKO victory over Matt Frevola at UFC 295 in November. He is currently on a five-fight winning streak since dropping his UFC debut back in 2021 and he finished all five of those opponents. He is an aggressive style grappler and averages over 4.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. He is known for his relentless pace as he has been able to break most of his opponents and has only fought to decision once in his career.

His opponent, Dustin Poirier is coming off a knockout loss to Justin Gaethje last year at UFC 291. Poirier is a former champion and legend of the sport and has notable wins over Connor McGregor, Michael Chandler and Max Holloway. He is primarily a boxer and fights out of the Southpaw stance. He keeps a high-volume pace on the feet with sharp counter striking and heavy leg kicks. He also holds a black belt in BJJ but only defends takedowns at 63% in the UFC.

I think the Michael Chandler fight with Poirier is key when breaking down this fight. Poirier has the experience edge being this fight is scheduled for five minute rounds but Saint-Denis has a very similar style to Chandler, albeit less explosive. Saint-Denis also has the cardio to push a heavy grappling pace and has proven to be very durable as well. I expect him to get the takedowns and control Poirier on the mat for extended periods. Poirier is the cleaner striker but it will not be a blowout on the feet and I do not expect him to keep it there long enough to win rounds. Saint-Denis by submission is the official pick.

Sean O’Malley vs Marlon Vera
O’Malley, -258; Vera, +210

Which brings us to the highly anticipated rematch as these two fought back in 2020 and Vera won by TKO due to a leg injury for O’Malley. O’Malley looks to avenge that loss this weekend as a sizable betting favorite. He is one of the best strikers in the division with a variety of tools to attack his opponents. He has good footwork and fast punching combinations along with staying active with the leg kicks as well. His biggest issue is that he only defends takedowns at 62% so better grapplers may be able to take advantage.

His opponent, Marlon Vera is coming off a decision win over Pedro Munhoz at UFC 292 last August. Vera is a well-rounded fighter with legitimate finishing ability on the feet and on the mat. Historically speaking, he is a slow starter but naturally builds into fights which is catered nicely towards five rounders. He has some slick submission grappling but rarely goes to the wrestling as he is not physical enough to take many opponents down. On the feet, he is very active with the leg kicks and does nice work in the clinch but he is hittable in striking exchanges.

I expect O’Malley to get ahead early on the scorecards. Assuming the cardio holds up from O’Malley like I expect it to, it will be difficult for Vera to work himself back into the fight after losing the early rounds. O’Malley by decision is the official pick.

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