We are back for another exciting weekend of combat sports for UFC 43 in Las Vegas. Following an exciting fight night card with many finishes, we have another fun little card before the week off next week.
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 or in the MMA DFS Discord with any questions that you have leading up until fight night Saturday.
Luana Pinheiro vs. Sam Hughes
Pinheiro, -425; Hughes, +320, DraftKings Sportsbook
Pinheiro is coming off a first-round victory over Randa Markos via disqualification due to an illegal up kick. It was a controversial outcome, because it was clear Pinheiro was fading fast; her cardio was failing her after a high-paced explosive four minutes. Had the fight continued, I am confident Markos would have clearly won the next two rounds considering how tired Pinheiro already was and her not having reached the second round in her last six fights prior. Pinheiro is an explosive athlete and capable of finishing her opponents early with power on the feet or her submission grappling as she holds a brown belt in BJJ.
Hughes is coming off a decision loss to Luma Lookboonmee in May. Hughes is one of the worst fighters in the promotion, as she does not do anything particularly well. She gets hit way too much on the feet and does not have much in terms of power coming back the other way. Additionally, she was taken down four times by Lookboonmee, who does not have much skill in terms of wrestling and the takedowns will be there for Pinheiro is she wants them.
As many concerns I have about Pinheiro, this is a showcase matchup for her so the UFC can try to build her up and I expect her to get the job done. Pinheiro by submission is the official pick but she is a high-risk option at her expensive DraftKings price.
Sean Soriano vs. Shayilan Neurdanbieke
Soriano, -275; Nuerdanbieke, +220, DraftKings Sportsbook
Soriano is coming off a second-round submission loss to Christos Giagos in May. Prior to that, he was on a three-fight win streak on the regional scene before making his return appearance in the UFC. He is one of the striking coaches at Sanford MMA and should have a clear striking advantage in this matchup. His biggest weakness has always been his inability to defend submissions and we saw that in his last fight as he was winning until getting submitted by Giagos.
Neurdanbieke is coming off a decision loss to Josh Culibao in his UFC debut in May. I did not see much from Neurdanbieke on the regional scene to think he could make a difference at the UFC and his debut confirmed that notion. His striking looks awkward, and he landed just 17 significant strikes over 15 minutes in his debut. He did land two takedowns in that fight, but he is not a very strong wrestler and Soriano should be able to keep the fight standing and piece him up on the feet.
Soriano by knockout is the official pick.
Cody Durden vs. Qileng Aori
Durden, -150; Aori, +130, DraftKings Sportsbook
Durden is coming off a first-round submission loss to Jimmy Flick in December of last year. He comes from a wrestling background and is typically a finisher as only two of his 14 career fights have gone the full 15 minutes. He is a quick starter as he will go to the wrestling early but also has some nasty leg kicks while the fight plays out at range. The concern with Durden is he has yet to show he has the gas tank to push a hard 15-minute pace.
Aori is coming off a decision loss to Jeff Molina in his UFC debut which earned them “fight of the night” honors. He is an aggressive striker that is going to move forward and swing with power. I expect this to be a firefight early while the fight plays out on the feet before Durden goes to the wrestling. Once the fight hits the mat, I expect Durden to have the grappling advantage as Qileng has shown suspect defense on the mat at times and has three career losses by submission. I consider to Qileng to be a live underdog in this matchup as he should be the more physical fighter with a clear punching power advantage.
However, both guys tend to slow down in fights and Durden’s wrestling and grappling advantages could be the difference maker. Durden by decision is the official pick.
Terrance McKinney vs. Fares Ziam
McKinney, -110; Ziam, -110, DraftKings Sportsbook
McKinney is coming off an impressive first-round finish over Matt Frevola in his UFC debut in June at UFC 263 that took just seven seconds. He is an extremely explosive fighter with all 14 of his career fights ending inside the distance and just one of his last 10 fights having reached the second round. He has legitimate knockout power on the feet but also has a solid wrestling base with capable submission grappling once he gets his opponents down. His lack of defense along with his cardio being more of a question mark are the only real concerns with him moving forward.
Ziam is coming off a majority decision victory over Luigi Vendramini in June. He is a high-level kickboxer and clearly wants to keep the fight at range where he has his most success. He has shown some improvements with his takedown defense and defensive grappling but is still basically a one-dimensional striker who does not throw in volume despite being very technically sound.
This fight is easy to read — if McKinney wins, it likely comes by an early finish, and if Ziam wins, he likely takes over late and earns a late finish or decision. This makes me have much more interest on the McKinney side as his upside on DraftKings is significantly higher in a win, which makes him my preferred play. McKinney by submission is the official pick.
Loopy Godinez vs. Loma Lookboonmee
Godinez, -155; Lookboonmee, +135, DraftKings Sportsbook
Godinez is coming off a decision loss to Luana Carolina last month after stepping up a weight class on just a few days’ notice. That fight was just seven days after winning by submission over Silvana Gomez Juarez in the first round. Godinez is a well-rounded fighter with powerful boxing and a solid wrestling base. She averages over four takedowns per 15 minutes and will have a clear advantage in that area and on the mat in this matchup.
Lookboonmee is coming off a decision victory over Sam Hughes her last time out in May and is now on a two-fight win streak. She comes from a Muay Thai background and is a high-volume striker. She should have a slight advantage on the feet but the biggest factor to me is the wrestling advantage for Godinez. Lookboonmee currently defends takedowns at 76% but she has yet to face anyone with competent wrestling and the takedowns should come with little resistance from Godinez. I expect her to land multiple takedowns and have an opportunity to submit Lookboonmee as well.
Godinez by decision is the official pick and she has the higher upside on DraftKings as well.
Rafa Garcia vs. Natan Levy
Garcia, -125; Levy, +105, DraftKings Sportsbook
Garcia is coming off a decision loss to Chris Gruetzmacher in July. He was a big favorite in that matchup and never looked the part from the opening bell. Prior to that he lost a decision to Nasrat Haqparast in his UFC debut in March where he showed toughness and heart which may be his best assets.
Levy is making his UFC debut after earning a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series last November with a submission victory in the third round. He comes from a striking background and holds a black belt in karate and kung fu. Aside from the striking pedigree, Levy has shown a well-rounded game on the regional scene with a solid ground game and competent wrestling. He should be the more talented fighter in this matchup but his low volume striking is concerning if he cannot get his offensive wrestling going.
Overall, I expect this to be a competent fight, but I favor the wrestling and ground game of Levy enough to favor him in this matchup. Levy by decision is the official pick.
Pat Sabatini vs. Tucker Lutz
Sabatini, -135; Lutz, +115, DraftKings Sportsbook
Sabatini is coming off a first-round submission victory over Jamall Emmers in August and is now on a four-fight win streak. He comes from a collegiate wrestling background and is a high-level submission grappler and holds a black belt in BJJ. He trains out of Renzo Gracie in Philadelphia with Sean Brady who is also on this card. His ground game is good but his striking leaves more to be desired as he typically likes to dance around the outside and play the Youssef Zalal gameplan. That is the concern with backing Sabatini is that if he cannot get the fight to the mat then he is likely losing the round as his low volume and evade approach is not a minute winning strategy.
Lutz is coming off a decision victory over Kevin Aguilar in his UFC debut in May. He is 12-1 professionally with six wins coming by knockout and is currently on a 12-fight win streak. Lutz should have a striking advantage although I doubt it is as clear as people think. He comes in with a heavy leg kicking approach and leaves his hands low which causes him to eat a lot of clean punches. He has shown some solid wrestling on the regional scene and on Dana White’s Contender Series and that is the most interesting dynamic in this fight. Whoever can implement the wrestling advantage will likely win the fight.
I expect this to be a competitive fight and I do have interest in both sides on DraftKings as I expect the winner to score decent and both fighters are affordable. I favor the wrestling edge of Sabatini along with the clear grappling advantage if the fight does go to the ground. Sabatini by decision is the official pick.
Adrian Yanez vs. Davey Grant
Yanez, -320; Grant, +250, DraftKings Sportsbook
Yanez is coming off a firefight with Randy Costa back in July that resulted in a second-round knockout victory for Yanez who is currently 3-0 in the UFC. He previously earned his UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in August of last year with a highlight-reel knockout over Brady Huang in the first round. Yanez is a crisp boxer with fast hands and legitimate knockout power for the Bantamweight division with nine of his 14 wins coming by knockout. He is a patient striker who makes good reads especially as the fight goes on. The main concern with Yanez is his defense as he does not move his head off the center line and gets hit more than you feel comfortable seeing.
Grant is coming off a decision loss to Marlon Vera in June which snapped a three-fight win streak for the seven-fight UFC veteran. Grant is a capable striker who throws powerful but looping punches and tries to mix in the wrestling as he averages just over two takedowns per 15 minutes. To this point, Yanez has shown solid takedown defense and holds a black belt in BJJ if the fight were to hit the mat. I expect him to be able to keep the fight standing and despite eating some big shots from Grant, he should begin to piece him up as the fight goes on.
Yanez by knockout is the official pick and this is a strong fight to target on DraftKings as I expect the winner to score well.
Taila Santos vs. Joanne Wood
Santos, -380; Wood, +290, DraftKings Sportsbook
Santos is coming off a dominant performance over Roxanne Modafferi her last time out in September. She comes into this matchup on a three-fight win streak since dropping her UFC debut to Mara Romero Borella in 2019. Santos seems to be a completely different fighter to the point where I am basically discarding that fight altogether as she has looked the part of a legitimate contender over her last three bouts. She has powerful striking and has implemented her power wrestling style over her last three opponents landing 11 takedowns in that span and banking just under 29 minutes of control time. She is a difficult matchup for any opponent, and Wood is no different.
Wood is coming off a split-decision loss to Lauren Murphy in June. She is a high-volume striker and is decently well-rounded. However, this is just a brutal spot for her as Calderwood will not be able to maintain range and implement her kicking game against Santos. I expect Santos to land the much heavier shots and to close distance easily before landing takedowns. Wood has always struggled to defend takedowns at just 63% and is not good at urgently working back to her feet. Santos is heavy on top and has shown great control and I expect it to be no different here.
Santos rolls in this matchup and is a strong play on DraftKings with a high floor and ceiling combination. Santos by decision is the official pick.
Kyung Ho Kang vs. Rani Yahya
Kang, -115; Yajya, -105, DraftKings Sportsbook
Kang is coming off nearly a two-year layoff, having last fought in December of 2019 when he won a split-decision against Pingyuan Liu. He is currently on a three-fight win streak and 11 of his 17 professional wins have come by submission. That may not be the smartest game plan in this matchup though as he squares off against BJJ specialist Yahya.
Yahya is coming off a second-round submission victory over Ray Rodriguez in March. Of Yahya’s 27 professional wins, 21 have come by submission. He does not have much striking offense or defense and is basically drawing dead if the fight plays out standing or is tied heading to the final round. His cardio has failed him repeatedly and at almost 37 years old, I doubt that is changing any time soon. Yahya’s path to victory is getting the fight to the ground early and finding a submission.
As dangerous as he is on the mat, that is always within the range of outcomes, but more than likely Kang is able to dictate where the fight goes and has good enough grappling to stay alive until Yahya gasses out. Kang by decision is the official pick but a late finish would not surprise me one bit. I will have exposure to both sides on DraftKings.
Sean Brady vs. Michael Chiesa
Brady, -165; Chiesa, +145, DraftKings Sportsbook
Brady is coming off a third-round submission victory over Jake Matthews in March. He is a 14-0 undefeated prospect quickly climbing the ranks of the welterweight division. The former CFFC champion is currently 4-0 in the UFC, but this is clearly his toughest test to date against battle tested, UFC veteran Michael Chiesa. Brady is very well-rounded with solid boxing and a strong ground game as he holds a black belt in BJJ and will mix in the takedowns when able. However, I do not expect him to have the wrestling advantage against Chiesa, who I consider to be a top three wrestler in the division.
Chiesa is coming off a first-round submission loss to Vicente Luque in August that snapped a four-fight win streak. Chiesa has shown improved striking over his last few fights, but I still expect Brady to be having more success while the fight plays out at range. But it is the wrestling exchanges that I am most excited to see as I expect Chiesa to land takedowns here as he has landed multiple takedowns in nearly every UFC fight against some better defensive wrestlers than Brady. The bigger question is if Chiesa can avoid getting submitted during the grappling exchanges. He has a tendency to put himself in bad spots similar to what we saw in his last fight.
This is my most anticipated matchup of the fight card and I cannot help but feel there is some recency biased baked into the line here. Chiesa is more proven and should be able to land takedowns which has me favoring him in this matchup, but I will have exposure to both sides on DraftKings. Chiesa by decision is the official pick.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Meisha Tate
Vieira, -120; Tate, +100, DraftKings Sportsbook
Vieira is coming off a decision loss to Yana Kunitskaya in February. She was largely dominating the fight early, but her cardio failed her pretty badly, and she basically did nothing the final eight minutes of the fight which cost her the decision. She is not someone that I am particularly high on as her striking is very low-volume and her cardio is a major red flag. She typically needs to rely on her wrestling and control which I am not convinced will be an advantage for her in this matchup against Tate.
Tate is coming off her return fight against Marion Reneau in July, which resulted in a third-round knockout victory. Tate is clearly not the fighter she was back in her prime, but she still has some positive attributes, mainly her ability to land takedowns. She averages just over two takedowns per 15 minutes, and I expect her to land takedowns here especially if Vieira’s cardio starts to fail her.
It is an interesting dynamic as I expect Vieira to look like the more explosive fighter early and likely win the first round. However, with the likelihood that this fight goes 25 minutes, I favor Tate’s cardio and wrestling advantage especially since the striking is relatively close on both sides. Tate by decision is the official pick.