The UFC returns to Las Vegas after a two-week spell on Fight Island, with a main card lacking star power and some exciting prelims. Our experts preview the action.
While the UFC’s daring adventure on Fight Island may be over, its impressive string of weekly events certainly is not. As we return to the UFC Apex for the next few weeks of MMA action, be sure to check out the preliminaries this week, with the main event covered further down.
Notable names such as Ray Borg, Ed Herman, Jonathan Martinez and Timur Valiev all feature on a card that I expect to bring a variety of exciting finishes.
Here are my best bets for the early prelim action.
Ed Herman and Gerald Meerschaert are two of the longest-serving fighters in the sport at 185lbs, having both made their MMA debuts before 2008. Despite being 39 and 32 years old respectively, they both clearly still have a lot to offer the fans; Herman is currently riding a two fight-winning streak, while Meerschaert has two wins in his last five fights, with two losses coming from split decisions I believe he won.
Both men can certainly be applauded for their willingness to pursue a finish when they fight. Across their combined 84 career bouts, 68 have ended inside the distance. They are similarly well rounded, offering submission and knockout threats, which is why I believe there is a strong likelihood that we see a finish here as well.
While both fighters have a variety of strengths, they each have weaknesses that provide a path to victory for the other. Herman has struggled with takedown defence in his career, leading to six submission losses on his record. GM3 remains one of the UFC’s most opportunistic submission artists, getting the tap 23 times in his career.
Short Fuse certainly has a path to victory of his own here, as Meerschaert is returning on short notice. Having suffered a 74-second knockout loss in his last bout in early June, there are questions to be asked over how quickly he is returning to competition. Coupled with the fact that this fight is taking place at Light Heavyweight (20lbs heavier than Meerschaert is used to), there is a real possibility that we could see another knockout loss here.
Saturday’s card also takes place at the UFC Apex, which is notorious for its smaller cage size. The smaller cage means that fights are statistically more likely to finish before the final bell, as there is less room to manoeuvre and fighters are forced to engage with one another at a higher intensity than usual. This, along with both fighters’ historic tendency to exclude the judges, gives me confidence that we will see another finish here.
Chris Gutierrez is in career-best form. Now on a three-fight win streak, El Guapo caught the attention of UFC fans after a dominant performance in his last bout, finishing his opponent with leg kicks.
Cody Durden makes his UFC debut on short notice, having scored a dominant KO victory on the regional scene just two weeks ago. His style focuses largely on grappling, always looking to clinch up with his opponent and force the fight to the ground. From there he has good top control, as well as some viscous ground striking.
While I understand Gutierrez being the favourite in this matchup, I believe the newcomer has the right style to cause El Guapo problems. Leg kicks are widely considered as the most effective weapon in the sport these days, but they can only be thrown at a specific distance. Durden’s game plan always relies upon him crashing the pocket and competing at close range, which will nullify his opponent’s main weapon. As mentioned previously, the smaller cage will provide Gutierrez with less space to circle away from the oncoming Durden, which increases the likelihood of grappling exchanges.
UFC fans who have witnessed some of Gutierrez’s older fights inside the Octagon will know how much he has struggled in the grappling department. In his split decision victory over Geraldo de Freitas (which was certainly a controversial one), El Guapo was taken down twice, letting his opponent advance position on four occasions. In his debut against Raoni Barcelos, he hit the mat twice again and gave up three grappling advances. Barcelos was able to capitalise on this, landing a massive 32 significant ground strikes and ultimately creating the opening for a submission finish.
I think Gutierrez is simply being given too much respect for his recent TKO victory. While there is every chance he could keep the fight standing and dish out the same offence, Durden is far less likely to fall victim to it. If Durden can force this fight to the ground and spend a significant portion on top, I would then consider him a sizeable favourite. It is by no means a certainty, but I am willing to take a risk at the 13/5 odds available.
Posted at 1045 BST on 31/07/20
The UFC returns to Las Vegas after a two week spell on Fight Island, with card that is somewhat lacking star power.
Edmen Shahbazyan, a top prospect in the middleweight division, takes on gate keeper Derek Brunson in the main event of the evening, while Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood takes on Jennifer Maia, as she hopes to maintain her spot as the next title challenger at flyweight while champion Valentina Shevchenko recovers from an injury.
Shahbazyan comes into this fight as a heavy betting favourite despite being less experienced than his opponent Brunson, but for good reason.
The 22-year-old is undefeated and has marked himself out to be one of the deadliest strikers in the division, with nine knockout wins in 11 pro outings.
You also have to look at who Shahbazyan has surrounded himself with; he is a former training partner of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and he trains under Edmond Tarverdyan, the man responsible for making Rousey a megastar in MMA.
Brunson has also had issues with high level strikers in the past when he has been unable to utilise his wrestling background to take them to the floor, a prime example being his fight against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, where the American was unable to land any of the seven takedowns he attempted, before being blasted with punches from Adesanya that would force a stoppage.
If Shahbazyan can keep the fight standing (he has a takedown defence percentage of 75%) he should have the advantage.
To see just how good Shahbazyan’s striking is, just look at his last fight against Brad Tavares, where he strung some slick combinations together, including a jab-cross-lead leg roundhouse kick line, which he was able to knock Tavares out with, with the fight only lasting just short of half a round.
For me, the go to bet on this fight is for Shahbazyan to win by KO, and those looking to boost the price from a shade of odds-on to odds-against have the option of going for a first-round stoppage.
Calderwood has it all on the line in this fight - she was meant to be fighting for the flyweight title this year, but the current Covid-19 pandemic and an injury to the champion Valentina Shevchenko put that fight on hold.
Now the Scot must hold on to her position in the rankings, and that involves taking on the dangerous Jennifer Maia.
A product of the world famous Chute Boxe gym in Brasil, Maia is a well rounded fighter, who has finished eight of her 17 wins, with four knockouts and four submissions.
Maia has not yet shown that finishing ability in the UFC, and lost her last fight by decision against Katlyn Chookagian, but that doesn’t mean she can be overlooked.
The Scot holds an advantage in the striking, landing 6.19 significant strikes per minute with a striking accuracy rate of 47%, while Maia lands just over four significant strikes per minute and is caught by 47% of strikes that thrown at her.
Calderwood should utilise her Muay Thai style striking on the feet which is where she is the most comfortable, and rely on her takedown defence that has significantly improved since moving to the USA and training with her partner John Wood at Syndicate MMA.
Expect Maia to shoot for a takedown after trying to strike with Calderwood, but for it to be unsuccessful and for Calderwood to win via a decision.
Posted at 1335 BST on 30/07/20
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