Many of you are new to MMA DFS, in which case: Welcome to the sport and thanks for the support! MMA can be a crazy sweat and it’s one of the most high-variance sports that exist, so prepare for some crazy nights.
I wrote up the below information just to give you an idea of where to start. As with all my other content, most of the information is just a general guide. My subscribers who have the most success tend to use my breakdowns, rankings, projections, etc., in combination with their own thoughts/decisions to develop a process that can be fine-tuned over time. And it’s always important to play the long-term game with this sport.
STRATEGY: CASH GAMES vs. GPPs
MMA is very unique in the sense that it’s a binary sport. You can either win the fight, or lose it (or draw, but that outcome is far too unlikely to factor into projections). Because of this, MMA is completely different from most, if not all other sports. And since fight conclusion bonuses are worth the vast majority of a fighter’s points, the swings from one punch to the next can be drastic, and an extremely intense to sweat.
In cash games and 50/50s, the general strategy is to produce a lineup capable of beating more than 50 percent of competitors. The best way to do this, like other sports, is to construct a roster with a high floor, and one with little “boom or bust” risks.
It’s my belief that in cash games, you should generally be constructing a roster that produces four victories from your six fighters. Of course it’s ideal to earn five or six wins, but in a salary cap game, that’s quite difficult to do and often involves unnecessary risks.
One of my favorite techniques to employ in cash games is stacking a fight, especially the main-event. When I first tried it, people thought I was crazy because I was guaranteeing myself a loss. But in doing so, I’m also guaranteeing myself a win, which means I only need three more to cash. I prefer to do this with main events, because unlike every other three-round fight on the card, main events are five rounds. So even in a worst-case scenario, in which my fighters struggle through all five rounds to a judges’ decision, I’ve still accrued two rounds more of action than a standard fighter, and that adds up.
Additionally, DraftKings’ salary cap will force you into taking one or two underdogs, and if I’m going to sacrifice one, taking the main event underdog is a great strategy for the previously mentioned reason. The other types of underdogs I focus on are either obvious values, ones who are active and can last multiple rounds, or ones who are cheap and provide me with enough salary cap to roster the favorites I need.
The most important part of the DraftKings scoring system revolves around grappling, where you get 5 points for a takedown and 3 points for an advance. If you can locate a cheap fighter who has an active wrestling game, that’s gold! But those types of fighters are rarely significant underdogs and it’s hard to find many priced below 8k. So we are usually left with significant underdogs who may or may not make it out of the first couple rounds.
This is often where Vegas comes into play. Each fight will have an Over/Under prop that is set at either 1.5 or 2.5 rounds. The more likely that fight is to last longer than 2.5 rounds, the more likely I am to roster an underdog from that matchup. The more minutes of fight time I can get from my cash underdogs, the better. I don’t necessarily need them to score 100 points. Even 15-20 points is significant when you have several underdogs on each card that will get finished quickly and score 10 or less.
Another simple and effective way of searching for cheap fighters is to correlate their Vegas lines with the price. If any fighter is a favorite and priced below 8k, regardless of how I feel about them personally, I will put them into consideration for cash games. If we can roster a winning fighter at that price, our odds of winning cash games increase dramatically, and I will trust Vegas longterm from this perspective.
But sometimes, there are no value plays, and very few dogs that look like they can make it past the first round, in which case, I tend to punt. I will still look for a fighter who can last a while, but punting with one underdog in cash games can really allow you to take four or five significant favorites, and that alone gives your lineup a high floor.
Choosing my favorites is somewhat of a different process, and it’s what I tend to focus on in cash games. As I mentioned previously, we can win cash games with two losses in a lineup, so I’m not as concerned when my cheap fighters lose. However, I NEED my expensive fighters to win and score well.
One simple way of choosing a favorite is to line up the Vegas odds with their price. If you see a significant difference, for example a fighter who is only -120 but priced up at 9.5k, they are probably over priced and riskier than you’d like. But if you see a -300 favorite priced near the average at 8.2k, they are probably under priced and a good bet to win for your money.
After comparing odds and prices, my next step is to pick out the big risks, and there are many examples of this. One type of cash game risk is a solid favorite in a fight projected to last one round, usually heavyweights. As much as I’d like a first round finish, heavyweights are generally ones to avoid in cash games. No matter how much of an advantage they have on paper, one punch from the opponent can end the fight, and we see it time and time again in this weight class. And if that fight happens to get past the first round, we often see sluggish, slow-paced battles that are generally low scoring.
We often see UFC newcomers favored heavily, and that’s sometimes a concern for me. I always watch tape on newcomers, but in general, they bring more risk to the table than the average fighter. We want to know for sure what we are getting from a favorite we select, and no matter how much tape we watch on newcomers, it’s hard to know how they’ll react in a UFC fight. They simply haven’t been there before or fought against this level of competition, so unless I’m certain the fighter has a massive advantage in one area of the fight, I’ll tend to shy away.
Another risk is rostering low-output fighters. These fighters are often very good, but they don’t strike much or wrestle much. One example is Anderson Silva. He’s an amazing counter-striker and can knock anyone out, but he doesn’t throw many strikes, he relies on capitalizing off his opponent. And he doesn’t wrestle, so there’s very few ways for him to score points.
I want extremely active fighters, fighters who will give their all for three rounds trying to strike or wrestle. Especially the latter, if I can find a fighter with a significant wrestling advantage, he’s usually a cash lineup lock. I want fighters who can win the fight no matter where it takes place.
But no matter who you roster, the lineup as a whole needs to contain four winners to be profitable longterm. If I can’t look at my lineup and see a clear path to four victories, I will re-work it until I can.
I made this word up, but understanding the flow of a fight is as important as understanding game flow in the NFL or NBA. Watching fights helps, but learning the style of each fighter will help you determine their potential range of outcomes.
Some fighters will only look to take the fight to the ground and earn a submission. Some fighters will do the exact opposite, and will do everything in their power to stay on their feet because if the fight hits the mat, they are a fish out of water.
Some fighters don’t like to push the action, they like to sit back and counter. I rarely target these types of fighters, I want ones who are always pushing the action and looking for a finish. The more fights you watch and the more research you put in, like in any sport, the better feel you will have for how a fight will look.
As I’ve mentioned in both my cash game and GPP strategy, Vegas is an important tool to use, it’s often the most important tool. Many players simply don’t look or care about Vegas lines, and that’s where we can gain a significant advantage.
And unlike most sports, the Vegas lines on MMA fights shift dramatically throughout the week. A fighter may open as a -120 favorite, and come into fight night as a +150 underdog. Or we may see a favorite open at -150 who ends the week -350.
DraftKings usually releases prices early in the week, which gives the lines a full few days to shift. Essentially, as the odds shift, it increases or decreases each fighter’s value. But DraftKings cannot change a fighter’s salary once it’s set early in the week, which means sharp players have ample time to spot values that the average player will not find.
I personally use Vegas odds as my No. 1 tool to create lineups, and if you study them daily (or even bi-weekly) as the odds shift, and values change, you will already have a leg up on the competition.