The UFC has finally packed their bags and departed their tropical getaway on Fight Island. Make no mistake, the fight train keeps rolling this weekend when the UFC returns to the APEX Center in Las Vegas with 10 fights on Saturday. Let’s take a look into what you can expect when you tune in:
The Main Event
Following last weeks middleweight main event, we have another one at 185 lbs on Saturday when violent striker Derek Brunson (20-7 Career, 11-5 UFC) takes on smoking hot young sensation Edmen Shabazyan (11-0 Career, 4-0 UFC) in the five round feature fight.
If you were to look up “gritty veteran” in a MMA encyclopedia, Brunson would be right on its front page. Making his UFC debut in 2012, he has earned a reputation of being a fighter who gives everyone hell, sprinting head on at his opponents no questions asked. In his 27 fight career, he had only lost by decision twice and 14-20 wins are by finish. He approaches all bouts with a kill or be killed mentality.
His fight with Robert Whittaker in 2016 legitimately made me anxious. He sprints at Whittaker with reckless abandon for 4 minutes before paying the price with a KO loss, but that high stakes approach is why you’ll never see me object to him headlining a card. He has won back to back fights coming into Saturday’s bout.
Opposite Brunson will be Shabazyan, a 22 year old super talent out of Glendale, CA. He is under the tutelage of Edmond Tarverdyan, famously known for training Ronda Rousey for the entirety of her career.
Shabazyan has taken no prisoners in his young career. He is unbeaten in 11 pro fights, Finishing 10 of the 11 opponents in the first round. He is well rounded, and already in the top 10 in the world at 22. Brunson will be the best fighter he has ever faced, but another first round clobbering of an opponent that well known can sneak him in the top 5 of the weight class.
What to Expect
The established veteran vs the rising talent is always an interesting crossroads in fighting. The young star who seems unbeatable runs into a man with more experience and tools to victory, a compelling test to observe. That it the type of bout we get to see Saturday night and I’m excited for it.
I think the hype is VERY real for Shabazyan. Sure he’s only 4-0 in the UFC, but the level of competition he has faced already is far from weak. His last three opponents have had at least 17 pro fights, and he has made them look like amateurs, especially his dominance over top middleweight Brad Tavares. Brunson is a maniac and always brings a pressure that fighters struggle to get used to, but I’m confident Shabazyan will adapt and dominate, bringing his name to new heights.
The Co-Main Event
The Women’s Flyweight division has had a lot of fights conducted since the UFC’s return, so it is no surprise that a co-feature of 125ers Joanne Calderwood (14-4 Career, 6-4 UFC) and Jennifer Maia (17-6-1 Career, 2-2 Career) would be booked here.
Joanne Calderwood is a tough Scottish fighter who has beaten a handful of the world’s best at 115 and 125. She is 6-4 in the UFC which doesn’t scream excellence on paper, but with her losses being to mostly the worlds best, she’s always a big fight or two away from challenging for a title. It’s worth noting she’s one of the only top contenders who has never fought champion Valentina Shevchenko. With Shevchenko’s reign being as dominant as it is, a one sided victory on Saturday may convince the world to let her fight for gold.
Jennifer Maia hasn’t made a major splash in her UFC tenure mainly because she hasn’t been in the organization very long. She made UFC her debut in 2018, after a three fight title run in all woman promotion Invicta FC. Her UFC tenure has had its ups and downs, but she is well rounded and dangerous against anyone, and finding a way to beat Calderwood would do big things for her reputation and ranking.
How is the fight going to go?
It’s hard to bet against Calderwood at flyweight. She has no joke knockout power and can absorb punishment all night. Her Muay Thai is top notch, and that aggressive style will serve her well against Maia who has missed weight in her last two fights and can fade as the rounds go on.
Maia‘a biggest threat in this bout is certainly her grappling. She isn’t the greatest grappler to ever walk the earth, but compared to Calderwood’s one dimensional striking style, if Maia can find away to get the fight there she’s in good shape.
The Fight To Watch
Lando Vannata vs Bobby Green 2
Traditionally in these previews I include a few fighters to keep an eye on during the night, ones I enjoy to watch and think have a bright future in the sport. For this one, I had to include this fight to watch, because there is not a shred of doubt in my head that Lando Vannata (11-4-2 Career, 3-4-2 UFC) vs. Bobby Green (25-10-1 Career, 6-5–1 UFC) is going to be the fight of the night on Saturday.
The first time Vannata and Green fought was at UFC 216 in October of 2017. The fight was an absolute war, a stand-and-bang spectacular that was a fight of the year candidate. Vannata landed an illegal knee in the fight that deducted a point, taking what would have been a win and turning it into a draw.
The UFC booked it again for this Saturday and I couldn’t be any happier. Neither fighter is really in lightweight contender range so the implications aren’t drastic, but the excitement these two will bring is undeniable. Absolutely no chance this will be a snoozer, enjoy.
Fighters To Watch
Young Riverside native Kevin Holland (17-5 Career, 4-2 UFC) is one of my favorite rising stars to watch right now. You can tel he is getting a lot more comfortable letting his strikes go, and he coming off a spectacular 39 second KO over Anthony Hernandez last May. He has won 4 of his last 5, and will start off the main card Saturday vs. the well rounded Trevin Giles (12-2 Career, 3-2 UFC) who is coming off a big win over James Krause in February.
If Holland can keep up his loose but wild striking that is so hard to time out and defend, I can see him scoring a big win and moving up the middleweight ladder.
On the prelims Saturday, the UFC will debut a sought after talent in Dagestan native Timur Valiev (14-2 Career, 0-0 UFC). I am big on Valiev, and think he is going to be a dynamic addition to the UFC’s featherweight division much like his teammate and training partner Zabit Magomedsharipov.
Valiev came up in the Word Series of Fighting (now the PFL) and pretty much had his way with his competition. He has won 14 of his last 15 fights, his only loss was an unbelievably close split decision loss to Chris Gutierrez who he defeated in the rematch. He usually outgrapples competition and rides out fights to a decision, unbelievably hard to stop and can put him in line to make waves like many of his Dagestani peers.
Valiev is set to face Jamall Emmers (17-5 Career, 0-1 UFC). Emmers is new in his UFC journey and recently lost a close fight by split decision to Giga Chikadze in March. Emmers will be a strong benchmark for Valiev, he has a real chance to prove he can hang with the big dogs on Saturday.
Main Card (6pm PST, ESPN+)
Edmen Shabazyan def. Derek Brunson (KO)
Joanne Calderwood def. Jennifer Maia (Decision)
Vicente Luque def. Randy Brown (KO)
Bobby Green def. Lando Vannata (CLOSE Decision)
Kevin Holland def. Trevin Giles (KO)
Prelims (3pm PST, ESPN+)
Frankie Saenz def. Jonathan Martinez (Decision)
Ed Herman def. Gerald Meerschaert (KO)
Nathan Maness def. Ray Borg (KO)
Timur Valiev def. Jamall Emmers (Decision)
Cody Durden def. Chris Gutierrez (KO)