We get an 11 fight card for this Fight Night that leaves something to be desired in terms of star power, but should pull its weight from a viewing perspective. The main event has the potential and even likelihood to see a new middleweight contender emerge as Edmen Shahbazyan will be tested by divisional gatekeeper Derek Brunson. Joanne Calderwood has a title shot at flyweight locked up, but didn’t want to be inactive and will fight Jennifer Maia in a fight that has a puzzling betting line. These fights headline a card that includes exciting fighters Vincente Luque and Kevin Holland as well as some promotional debutants. Let’s get to the fights.
Chris Gutierrez -340 vs Cody Durden
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +130 to end inside the distance.
We kick off the night with Durden making his debut against middling bantamweight Chris Gutierrez. This fight also features what is perhaps the most puzzling betting line on the card as there is far too much respect being put on Gutierrez’s name. I suspect the reason for this is Gutierrez’s previous fight, in which Vince Morales allowed Gutierrez to chew up his lead leg to the extent that it led to a KO via leg kicks. This outcome was certainly more about his opponent than it was about Gutierrez himself and to find Gutierrez last win via finish, we would have to go back to 2018, before his UFC debut. He is simply not a fighter that will secure finishes at a high rate, but he will have the technical striking advantage in this matchup. He will win most iterations of this fight that take place predominantly on the feet.
Durden debuts with a fairly defined and well-rounded skill set, but brings question marks on the level of competition that he’s faced. When digging into the matchup, it becomes apparent that Durden will hold the stylistic advantage in this matchup. Durden has a strong enough wrestling skill set, but more importantly, he will come in with a wrestling game plan and will not be deterred from that approach. This is exactly where Gutierrez shortfalls come into play. Both fighters he’s faced in the UFC with any sort of grappling skill set have been able to take him down multiple times. This is where Durden will shine in this fight. As mentioned, the question mark on him is the level of competition faced and whether he will be able to implement his game plan on a UFC caliber opponent. Ultimately I believe he will go to the well enough times to get the fight to the floor and kick off the card with an upset.
Timur Valiev -170 vs Jamall Emmers
Fight is at 145 lbs and is +175 to end inside the distance.
We get another debutant in Timur Valiev in this fight. The first note to make is that Valiev is a bantamweight up a weight class in his debut. In this particular matchup he will be giving up 4” of height and 6” of reach to the larger Emmers. Valiev does bring a strong skill set and he throws dynamic strikes and can crack. He will have to force his way inside in this one, and the smaller octagon in The Apex will likely help create those opportunities. I believe Valiev to be the more dangerous striker in this matchup and certainly the more likely to find a KO finish. While he likely is not the better wrestler, I would give him the edge in scrambles and on the floor.
Jamall Emmers has embraced striking as an MMA fighter despite having something of a wrestling pedigree. This is at least somewhat problematic for him as he essentially shows some low fight IQ in every fight he doesn’t use some of the most useful tools in his tool box. Emmers truly has a path to victory as an underdog here by simply utilizing movement and keeping Taliev at range and using his length to keep Taliev’s power out of range. Emmers also would be wise to mix in some takedowns as Taliev has shown his takedown defense could use improvement. All in all I do expect the pressure and power of Valiev to win out, but this is certainly a fight with a wide range of outcomes. If looking for a value wagering spot, the +420 ITD (inside the distance) line on Valiev presents the most value.
Markus Perez -205 vs Eric Spicely
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -230 to end inside the distance.
Eric Spicely has become something of a lovable loser in the UFC, as this marks his second fight of his return stint with the promotion and he’s currently lost four straight in the UFC, with his last win coming in 2017. Spicely is a fighter whose strength lies in his BJJ and finding submissions in MMA. With Perez being similar in that respect, he could be granted the gift of having the fight take place on the mat where he prefers. It’s difficult to assign an edge to either fighter in the BJJ realm, where both are likely most comfortable. On the other side, Markus Perez clearly has the edge in the striking department. Spicely is quite hittable, and two of his last three losses have ended via KO and while I don’t believe this fight is a runaway, I do think there is a defined path to victory on the Perez side in the striking. The fight gets dicey if Perez embraces grappling.
Ray Borg -235 vs Nathan Maness
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +190 to end inside the distance.
At this point we know exactly what we’re getting with Ray Borg. We know he was much better suited at flyweight but we also know he can’t make that weight. With his weight class now being bantamweight, we’re getting a high end wrestler with solid BJJ that will attempt to push the fight to the mat, albeit one that will often encounter size disadvantages. That will be the case in this fight as the debutant Nathan Maness will have a massive 6” height and 9” reach advantage. Maness will be the more dangerous striker, but this comes with a grain (boulder) of salt. I believe the sole path to victory for Maness in this fight will be scoring a KO, and it likely needs to be an early one. The reason for this is both the lack of movement from Maness which will allow Borg to force his grappling game at every turn. Even if Maness is able to keep his back off the mat early, he will eventually end up on the floor where Borg will run away with the fight. This is too much too soon for Maness and he will need to end the fight with striking before he is ground down by Borg.
Edmen Shahbazyan -325 vs Derek Brunson
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -320 to end inside the distance. *Three round main event*
This fight replaces the original Irene Aldana vs Holly Holm main event, and despite it being three rounds, it is an upgrade for the viewers. Edmen Shahbazyan is an ascending prospect with a complete skill set and a truly bright future. The matchmaking with weight class gatekeeper Derek Brunson is a sound one and the correct step up in competition for Shahbazyan. Shahbazyan has pop in all strikes and he is a finisher. His last three fights have all been first-round stoppages featuring a combined three minutes seventeen seconds of fight time. Now, Derek Brunson has won his last two fights via decision, but it should be noted that he was against a pair of fighters that are generally point fighters and not finishers. His two fights leading up to those saw him put out in the first round by fighters who know how to finish, much like Shahbazyan. Brunson is no slouch, as he does have a real wrestling pedigree and has pop in the left hand (he’s a southpaw), and the vet has no shortage of finishes himself. He has eight first-round finishes in the UFC, but note that the most recent was in 2017. There is a bit of concern on the Shahbazyan cardio as the one decision we saw him take in the UFC was one in which he was certainly gassed by the end of the fight, so the longer the fight goes the more even it will become. Even with the above concerns, I feel confident Shahbazyan will turn the lights out early on Brunson and potentially put himself one win away from a title shot.
Gerald Meerschart -185 vs Ed Herman
Fight is at 205 lbs and is -150 to end inside the distance.
This is a short notice fight for Meerschart and a weight class up for him. I don’t believe Meerschart will be undersized in this matchup by any means, but the weight advantage will be with Ed Herman. We’ve seen the grappler Meerschart make some strides with his striking in recent fights, but I do believe that portion of his game is being oversold, and the betting line reflects that. Herman will be the better and more dangerous striker in this fight and I believe the favorite Meerschart will have to force the fight to the floor to win. Herman is not a high end opponent by any means, but as mentioned, I do believe the advantage to be his in the stand up department, and he is no slouch on the floor either, as he does have a BJJ black belt. That said, I believe Meerschart to be the better MMA grappler, but a finish for him on the floor, were it to get there, is far from a foregone conclusion. All in all I believe the value lies with the underdog Herman and believe this fight should be much closer to a pick’em.
Jonathan Martinez -250 vs Frankie Saenz
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +135 to end inside the distance.
This is an odd fight with a wide range of outcomes, but one which still has the betting line at least resembling a correct spot. Frankie Saenz will be turning 40 years old in two weeks, so what he has left in the tank and left in the chin is a massive question mark. Jonathan Martinez is still a developing fighter that does great work with his kicks and does have the ability to put Saenz out. Martinez will be the quicker fighter and will threaten a finish with kicks and knees throughout. Saenz however has the motor and skill set to force a grappling heavy fight on Martinez where he will have the distinct advantage. It should be noted that Martinez has defended just 33% of takdowns in the UFC and that both fighters that attempted takedowns on him, landed three apiece. It should also be noted that both of those fighters have since been cut from the promotion. While I would deem it at least somewhat likely that Saenz chin fails, there truly is a defined path to victory for him, and at over a 2:1 return, the value lies with the underdog in this fight.
Kevin Holland -215 vs Trevin Giles
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -150 to end inside the distance.
Kevin Holland continues to have a sky high ceiling, and we saw a glimpse of what a focused version of him can do as he finished Anthony Hernandez with knees in just 39 seconds in his last fight, without absorbing a single strike. This is a development of sorts, as Holland is more comfortable as a grappler and has a high end MMA grappling skill set. The issue with Holland has been his focus and fight IQ, and that will remain a concern going forward, but I am choosing to believe the last fight was just a snapshot of what’s to come. A focused Kevin Holland blending his striking and grappling is a nightmare for the middleweight division.
Trevin Giles was also a touted prospect, but he seems to have peaked in his development. He is also a low IQ fighter and one that tends to overestimate his own grappling skill set. He did get a narrow win in his last fight against a fighter fighting up a weight class on just one day’s notice, and that fight can be regarded as more of a failure than a success. His two fights before that both saw him losing via guillotine. It also should be noted that Giles remains a full time police officer and there is simply no conceivable way he is training properly.
At the end of the day, Giles probably has a bit of a power advantage, but that is likely where the advantages end. I believe that Holland just outclasses Giles and that he would win even if Giles were training full time. Given the fact that he can’t be, Holland will walk away with the win.
Lando Vannata -145 vs Bobby Green
Fight is at 155 lbs and is +185 to end inside the distance.
I’m just going to lead this fight with, I simply cannot make sense of this line. Simply put, the wrong fighter is favored. Now, this fight is a rematch from 2018 that resulted in a split draw. For what it’s worth, I scored that fight for Green, which has been an unfortunate trend for Green. His fight previous to the Vannata fight was a razor thin split decision loss, and since the Vannata fight, by my view, he was robbed of two decision calls against Drakkar Klose and Francisco Trinaldo. In those two fights he landed one more takedown than his opponent in each fight and was a combined +54 in significant fights. I thought each fight was a robbery when watching live and still felt that way upon rewatching. That is all to say, I believe the record books are playing a significant factor in where this line currently sits. Lando Vannata will come out with a fast pace in the first round as he always does, but he certainly does not keep the same pace throughout his fights. Vannata landed four takedowns in the first fight, but that was the most takedowns he’s landed in any of his nine UFC fights and is an outcome highly unlikely to be repeated. I believe Vannata needs to secure a first round finish to win this fight and if and when he doesn’t, Green will pick him apart and perhaps even find a late finish. Vannata is a fighter that has fully peaked and perhaps even declined, that is getting far too much respect from the oddsmakers.
Vincente Luque -185 vs Randy Brown
Fight is at 170 lbs and is -170 to end inside the distance.
Vincente Luque remains one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster. His durability is massive and he is willing to go in the cage, brawl and prove he’s simply tougher than his opponents. The smaller octagon at The Apex can only help with this style as he forces his way inside to brawl with the taller and longer Randy Brown. Randy Brown has an unfortunate claim to fame, and that is from being KO’d by Niko Price while in top position. While that was embarrassing, there is much more to Brown’s game than that one unfortunate moment. He does well to use his length and touch opponent’s at range and to not get hit. That strategy, particularly in the smaller cage against a fighter like Luque, is just such a massive test and one I find it highly unlikely Brown can pass. Brown may have advantages in the clinch, but he will have to be quite careful as Luque is crafty with sliding in and finishing opponents with front chokes in those situations. All in all Luque has the advantage in the grappling department, but credit to Brown for having something of a ground game as well, as he survived a rear naked choke in his last fight and went on to win the fight via triangle. This should be a very fun fight, but one that I see the favorite Luque running off with as the smaller cage forces more engagement.
Joanne Calderwood -155 vs Jennifer Maia
Fight is at 125 lbs and is +240 to end inside the distance.
Some might argue taking this fight is a poor decision from Joanne Calderwood. She is next up for a crack at the flyweight title, and this fight was almost certainly unnecessary to take. No matter which side you’re on whether she should have taken the fight, I think we can all agree that the money rolling in on Jennifer Maia on Tuesday and Wednesday was the worst decision making of all. Now, Maia is a sound striker and probably one of the more underrated flyweights, but I have a difficult time envisioning a path to victory for Maia. Maia probably has a bit more power than Calderwood in that right hand, but there isn’t a defined path to victory for her outside of finding an insanely low percentage KO. She will be looking to counter Calderwood at every turn, and there will be opportunities to do so as Calderwood will be laying the volume on her. Now, even if the striking ends up going in the wrong direction for Calderwood, she has developed her grappling game to the point that she can force the fight to the floor, and Maia has real problems returning to her feet. All in all, I believe Calderwood runs away with this one and the current betting line is a silly value.