Looking to learn more about MMA DFS? Alex “Awesemo” Baker, the world’s No. 1 daily fantasy player takes you through his process ahead of UFC 249 — how to build lineups, what to do with sportsbook odds and how to roster title fights.
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MMA DFS Introduction
UFC is back! MMA is resuming activity on Saturday with UFC 249 followed by two more events in the week following, and that’s not even mentioning Fight Island which is due in June. MMA has historically been a niche DFS offering, but now it’s front and center and that means there are going to be a lot of people playing for the first time.
There’s not much connection between NFL/MLB/NBA strategy and MMA DFS, so we have to start from the ground up. MMA has a dynamic that is different from most from other sports in the fact that a match can end before the scheduled time by a knockout or submission. About half of UFC fights end in decision and half in a stoppage. To compensate for the different match lengths, sites award bonus points for how quickly a fighter wins their fight. While it’s possible for a decision winner to be part of the winning lineup, it requires a faster-paced fight than usual. Generally the quicker wins are regarded as better performances in both the public opinion and fantasy scoring.
UFC fighters can have a variety of fighting styles, focusing on different ways to win a fight. Some may be grapplers, others strikers, and some play defensive and rely on countering the opponent. Determining whether a match will be on the mat or feet isn’t a primary focus of mine since DraftKings changed their scoring to give more points for grappling a few years back. Now, DraftKings does a good job balancing points scored while fighters are striking versus grappling, so I’m more concerned about how offensive versus defensive a fighter is.
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FanDuel doesn’t give points for advances and reversals, but they do give points for submission attempts. Overall, I think their system rewards fights at distance slightly more as a result. Only a small percentage of strikes on the mat are counted as “significant strikes” so scoring will slow down as a result. On SuperDraft the scoring categories are significant strikes, takedowns, and knockdowns, so you should focus on matches that are more likely to be fought standing up.
For fantasy points to be scored both fighters have to be engaged and not dancing around the octagon like you often see. That creates a situation where bouts between fighters that immediately go for KOs will have a much higher chance of being in a winning lineup than ones with a more defensive fighter. More often than not it’s more difficult to predict the winner of each fight than which fights will be the highest scoring. The way I determine which fights will be the best for fantasy is by looking at odds for a knockout and the pace of each fighter’s previous games.
MMA DFS Fundamentals
On average, there are about 6.5 DraftKings fantasy points scored per minute in the average UFC fight, so 3.25 per player per minute. Since 20-25 extra points are awarded for each round that the fight finishes early, a fighter in a decision has to exceed the average fantasy output to put up as good a score in a decision as they would in a KO. The best fights to target meet one of the following three conditions: there’s a good chance of a knockout, the pace is projected to be high or the fight is a five-round title fight or main event.
The lineup construction rule you probably don’t want to break is picking both players from the same fight. So many nights you look at the leaderboard after the first few fights and there’s always a bunch of people who have everyone from the first fights. The odds of this lineup construction working are very low because it’s hard to get the 100 points you need from a fighter without the 30-point win bonus. 3.25 pts/min x 15 minutes is only 47.5 points from statistical accumulation which is far from the 100 you need from each roster spot. The only condition when there’s a reasonable chance of a losing fighter making the winning lineup is in a five-round fast-paced matchup that goes the distance. Even then I wouldn’t recommend rostering both sides of a fight in the same lineup because the odds of the worst fighter to put up a top score are higher than any player putting up a winning score in a losing effort. I only would fight stack in cash formats where you don’t necessarily need an outlier score to win.
The second rule is that you should usually roster a player from each 5 round fight. Since scoring is tuned for three-round fights, when a fight goes five rounds, more often than not it results in a top-six score for the winner. Although these fights have more fantasy potential, the sites rarely make both fighters more expensive for the 10 more possible minutes. The end result is that these players are underpriced and the safest bets on any slate.
When I started playing MMA DFS you could count on Ronda Rousey to win by submission within the first couple minutes of a fight. That’s how I know I’m getting old. Usually when a knockout happens in the first round you’re going to need that fighter in your lineup to win. That’s because you get 10 points for a knock down or points for takedowns plus advances en route to the 90 point bonus. With a majority of finishes happening in round one, the premier options for DFS are going to be the players with a good chance to get a KO.
A major factor in who is likely to get a finish is weight class. Heavier fighters do a lot more damage with their strikes, while the featherweights and females can take a lot more hits before hitting the mat. The consequence is that higher weight classes are usually good for DFS but lower weight classes depend more on the individual fighters.
In UFC 249 the only women’s fight is Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson. Although sportsbooks have this one as about 80% chance of ending in a decision, the average pace of 7 is a bit above average. That means it has upside but the lack of knockout probability makes it the least likely of any fight to appear in the winning lineup for this event. An example of a fighter to fade in your lineups would be any Holly Holm fight. Although she’s one of the world’s best, Holm’s fights only average 4.25 fpts/min, which is more than two points below average. It’s hard to get to 100 at that pace; even a lot of her five-round fights have been underwhelming for fantasy purposes.
Title Fights/Main Events
On any fight card there’s at least one fight that is scheduled to be five rounds, and on good cards more than one. The extra two rounds make it far more likely that a fight will be one of the highest scoring of the night because when there’s not a knockout there’s an additional 10 minutes of fantasy scoring action. The only ways this goes wrong is if the fight ends up being very slow-paced or there’s a second- or third-round knockout without a lot of fantasy scoring before it. Or occasionally there are fluke events like an eye poke that causes a no-decision end to the fight. But you usually want to take fighters from each of these five-rounders if you can fit them in your roster. Assuming an extra 3.25 points per minute per fighter, these extra 10 minutes are worth 33 fantasy points a piece. That’s huge for your lineup.
Looking at a fighter’s game log or average fantasy points per game is a decent way to determine who has upside in MMA, but the best way is to hunt down the box scores of a fighter’s previous bouts. What I’m looking for is the combined fantasy output of both players per minute. That indicates how much fighting actually happened in a fight. The way the fantasy points shake out after that depend a ton on the skill gap between the fighters, and that can vary wildly from fight to fight.
MMA is a sport where there’s not a lot of data available. Fighters in the UFC can have anywhere from zero to 50 fights under their belt, but many fall under the zero-to-five category unless it’s a really dope card. As a result, I don’t think that sportsbook lines are driven as much by data as other sports. I think there’s a great opportunity in MMA to use subjective analysis to complement your process. Still, there’s a lot of information that we can glean from the sportsbooks.
Money lines are the most accurate markets in MMA and they are critical to a good strategy because you need all six of your fighters to win. Assuming that all six fighters average about 50% win odds, your chances of all six winning in any lineup are about 1.5%. The win odds are the main factor that drives pricing, ownership and projections. If you try to make a lineup where you maximize the chance you get six wins, though, your lineup will be heavily duplicated in a large-field tournament.
You can get a lot of info from the prop bets as well. My favorite bets to reference are the odds that a fighter will win in a decision vs. win via a finish. You’re going to get the best GPP value on fighters that have a high ratio of win by finish odds to win by decision odds, because the pricing algorithms value both equally.
Daily Fantasy Leverage
The success of one fighter inhibits the success of their opponent for fantasy, especially since the bonus for winning is so large in relation to the points awarded for stats. This creates a huge negative correlation between the fights in the same fight that you can use to your advantage in tournaments. If one fighter is going to be highly owned, it creates more advantage in picking their opponent in tournaments to predict the upset. Or in some rarer occurrences, a player that is an underdog will be highly owned and you can get huge leverage over the field by just picking the favorite.
In UFC 249, Justin Gaethje currently has a 38% chance to win but 45% projected ownership. Being part of a 5 round fight that’s high-paced and has great knockout potential, he’s an excellent play by all metrics except chance to win. Because of his lower price tag, you can get great lineups assembled and a piece of one of the five-round fights, but this only makes Tony Ferguson an even stronger play. With a 62% chance to win, you’re eliminating nearly half the tournament when that happens. The cost of putting him in your lineup is going to make your lineup weaker as a whole but the leverage is huge. I especially like high leverage players in small-field tournaments because you don’t necessarily need all five of your other fighters to put up 100 to beat everyone else.
Putting it All Together
The sweat in MMA DFS is unreal with each fight happening one after the other. You never know when the fight can be over in a blink getting you one step closer to victory. Never count your winnings until the final fight because it’s always a five-rounder with a high chance to change who’s winning. Even the worst fighters have the chance to put up a slate breaking performance. And don’t even get me started on the tilt of waiting until the decision and the wrong person wins!
At its core, you have to pick the six fights and then predict the winners. How you approach this problem is going to vary a lot on the tournament you’re playing. Large-field tournaments on DraftKings can approach 60,000 people, which is more than the possible intelligent lineup combinations so duplication of lineups is going to be a significant factor. Or maybe you like smaller tournaments. The more people you’re competing against, the more off the wall you can get with your lineup construction.
For more strategy, watch our MMA strategy shows with @Jason_Floyd and @PeteTheHeatMMA, and read our slate breakdowns by @stinewolverines. And of course, make sure to sign up for the membership to add my projections, ownership projections, and top fighters tool to your arsenal!
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