Youngster Edmen Shahbazyan looks to skyrocket the middleweight rankings with a compelling performance against perennial gatekeeper, Derek Brunson, at UFC Fight Night 173, 1 August 2020.
Praise the higher deities! Forget that the main event is a three-rounder, ignore the fact that neither man is a pay-per-view draw, put aside the disappointment of the recently retired fight island. You no longer are forced to watch a Holly Holm five-round snoozer with the commentators drooling over her boxing background. On a sad note, Holm’s fight fell through due to her opponent, Irene Aldana, testing positive for COVID-19 – on which, we hope for a speedy recovery for the exciting striker. We will be forced to watch Holm decision her way to victory against Aldana at UFC Fight Night 180, but for now we must enjoy our reprise.
In regards to replacement fights, it would seem this whole card is cursed for matchmakers:
- Viviane Araújo (tested positive for COVID-19) replaced by Joanne Calderwood
- Jun Yong Park and Da Ung Jun (COVID-19 South Korean travel restrictions) replaced by Kevin Holland and Gerald Meerschaert respectively
- Luke Sanders (undisclosed reasons) replaced by Cory Durden
- Timur Valiev (undisclosed reasons) replaced by Vincent Cachero
- Ray Borg (undisclosed reasons) replaced by Johnny Muñoz
To add more salt to the wounds, Jonathan Martinez missed weight by a ridiculous four and a half pounds for his bantamweight scrap with Frankie Saenz. As a result, we’ll be watching a 140.5lb catchweight bout, in what may well be a damaging mismatch.
On a more positive note, the return to the smaller APEX octagon is very much welcomed. Maybe it is the more casual side of me talking, but the reduced distance has resulted in shorter fights with more frequent, extended periods of action leading to stoppages. With fighters that I have become accustomed to, I prefer a larger octagon to allow for the execution of strategy and to watch a chess match develop over several rounds. But for fight night cards that are stricken with last-minute replacements, filled with debutants and lesser-known fighters, I want to see immediate action.
Derek Brunson (20-7) vs Edmen Shahbazyan (11-0)
Derek Brunson is a strange fighter, you simply cannot tell what version will turn up on the night. Between 2015-2017, Brunson was a knockout specialist that would swarm opponents with loopy shots carrying enough power to flatline them. First-round victims of the Brunson windmill phase include: Ed Herman, Sam Alvey, Uriah Hall, Dan Kelly and Lyoto Machida. These are tough men, especially Hall and Machida, who are certified UFC calibre fighters. After being humbled in the first round, back-to-back, to Jacare Souza and Israel Adesanya, Brunson has fallen back on his wrestling background. A 3-time NCAA Division II All-American wrestler at North Carolina, Brunson utilises single and double leg takedowns that aided him in his dominant victories over Elias Theodorou and Ian Heinisch. If Brunson is to be successful he will need to implement a wrestling centric game plan early.
Why does Brunson need to focus on grappling early? Well, Shahbazyan has finished nine of his eleven fights in the first round – all stemming from his supreme stand-up ability. Perhaps of greatest interest is the three-minute dismantling of tough slugger, Brad Tavares, who had taken the current middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, to the scorecards. Don’t mistake Shahbazyan for a meme just because his coach is the infamous Edmond Tarverdyan – Rasputin-esque in his mismanagement of former female GOAT, Ronda Rousey. If Shahbazyan stops Brunson early, he would have followed Adesanya’s path and will throw his hat into the middleweight rankings at just 22yrs old.
Brunson has a norti left hand that can stop hype trains in their track. Shahbazyan has also shown flaws in his gas tank during his decision victory over Darren Stewart. Unfortunately for Brunson, his front foot striking involves bull-rushing with his chin on a platter. Forgoing any mishaps, Shahbazyan should be a competent enough counter striker to time a crisp punch that will end up on his highlight reel.
Predicted Result: Shahbazyan TKO Round 1
If this had been a five-round fight, Brunson chances drastically increase as he may have been able to take Shahbazyan into deep waters. Instead, Shahbazyan should be comfortable in getting the job done early.
Result: Brunson def. Shahbazyan // TKO (punches) Round 3 0:26
Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ❌
Women’s Flyweight (125)
Joanne Calderwood (14-4) vs Jennifer Maia (17-6-1)
Calderwood is risking her title shot to fill in last-minute against Jennifer Maia. A loss would be heartbreaking for Calderwood as she would surely lose her prime position, but a victory would solidly her status as challenger. Calderwood shocked the odds against Ariane Lipski and Andrea Lee when she consistently cut into their range to unload hurtful elbows and knees. On the ground, Calderwood often finds herself lost at sea with the elite grapplers, lucky then that Maia is predominantly a striker.
Calderwood and Maia are extremely similar in their striking output, TDD and athleticism. Maia shares the same loss with Calderwood, both dropping decisions to lay and prayer Katlyn Chookagin. Chookagin aside, Maia has proven slippery to takedown, and has preferred to bang it out on the feet. Both women are levels below the current flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko, but this should be an entertaining scrap nonetheless.
Predicted Result: Calderwood Decision
Close scrap between two fighters who opt for the ‘take one to give one’ approach. Calderwood’s strikes are often flashier, and with a varied offence that mixes straight shots with stylish knees/elbows it should swing the judges in her favour.
Result: Maia def. Calderwood // Submission (armbar) Round 1 4:29
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Vicente Luque (18-7-1) vs Randy Brown (12-3)
Recently I have become loco for Luque. Relying so often on his chin, it surprises me every fight that it has still not shown any signs of cracking yet – the thing will be analysed by scientists for years to come. Luque is also a pleasure to watch due to his slick counter-striking, meaty power and submission arsenal (mostly used as a deterrent for those wanting to take him down). Luque has taken a lot of damage in the past few fights, and it is certainly not a style that will age well long-term, but for now, Luque is a genuine threat to anyone at welterweight.
Randy Brown is a machine who works hard on the inside with knees and punches in the clinch. Stopping Barberena and Warley Alves are no easy feats, and Brown is an underdog who deserves some credit in this matchup. Of course, it never looks good to have lost (by hammerfists from the bottom – ridiculous) to a man (Niko Price) that your opponent has decisively beaten twice. Brown has a nice jab, but he’s going to have to use it smartly, masking it with feints, and changing levels from head to body, lest he wants to eat a deadly countershot.
Predicted Result: Luque TKO Round 3
Luque’s chin should hold up once again, and through virtue of attritional warfare, Luque will stop Brown late.
Result: Luque def. Brown // KO (knee and punches) Round 2 4:56
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Bobby Green (25-10-1) vs Lando Vannata (11-4-2)
Once again, I have to announce my love for Green. The man is an excellent counter striker, but often switches off at the most inopportune moments due to his tendency to trash talk opponents. In his last outing against Clay Guida, he showed solid TDD and far superior striking. Green should still count himself fortunate to have edged the scorecards, choosing to spend far too long with his back against the cage, with his striking just out-valuing Guida’s control time.
Lando Vannata is a win one, lose one, type of fighter who has tried to adapt and enhance his style each fight – an admirable, and praiseworthy path to take. Irrespective of his record, Vannata thrives in slower-paced affairs (which Green will offer plentifully) where he can control the pace and distance to set up his more powerful shots. With a split decision draw against Green back in 2017, I expect Vanatta has improved more so than his counterpart.
Predicted Result: Vanatta Decision
I love watching Bobby Green, and I think he will out-‘significant’-strike Vanatta, but unfortunately that is not the sole stipulation to win rounds. Vanatta will win based on volume and activity, weak-spots that have plagued Green’s career.
Result: Brown def. Vanatta // Decision (unanimous – 30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
Kevin Holland (17-5) vs Trevin Giles (12-2)
Kevin Holland deserves some respek on his name. Holland showed his arsenal over three rounds against the unranked but technically sound Gerald Meerschaert; incorporating strikes alongside defensive grappling that prevented Meerschaert from utilising his submission offence. Moreover, Holland looked phenomenal most recently against Anthony Hernandez. Holland didn’t allow Hernandez to breathe, pouring the pressure on him early before landing a disgustingly powerful elbow-knee combination that left Hernandez crippled on the floor.
Giles is defensively suspect, often relying on his aggressive power striking to stop opponents pressuring him onto his back-foot. Rookie mistakes (i.e. moving backwards in a straight line, chin up in the air) leaves Giles in danger when facing a fighter who holds their power deep into the fight. Giles is exciting to watch on the ground, though, often risking it all to search for an offensive submission.
Predicted Result: Holland TKO Round 3
This could end up a submission victory for Holland, perhaps the recency bias of his incredible TKO over Hernandez is swaying my heart in this prediction.
Result: 🚫 CANCELLED 🚫
Trevin Giles fainted prior to the walkout which led to the Nevada Athletic Commission cancelling the bout. Wishing a speedy recovery for Giles – the dangers of weight cutting!
Light Heavyweight (205)
Ed Herman (24-14) vs Gerald Meerschaert (31-13)
Ed Herman is a strange veteran. On the one hand, you have a man who has lost to Gian Villante in 2018, a terrible mark against your record. Yet, on the other hand, Herman’s 2019 involved a frightening KO victory over Pat Cummins and the defensive soundness/gas tank to cruise to a decision over Khadis Ibragimov. Since starting his UFC career back in 2006, Herman is a grappler who has added somewhat competent striking alongside his array of submission.
Meerschaert is another fighter that I enjoy to watch, simply for his one-trick pony attitude to MMA. Aside from the occasional high-risk strike, Meerschaert attempts to get down to his bread and butter offence – taking the fight to the mat and actively searching for a submission. Meerschaert is most often caught out against fighters who are athletic enough to keep the fight standing and able to punish his non-existent striking defence.
Predicted Result: Meerschaert Submission Round 3
Herman’s victory over Ibragimov will age poorly, as it would appear Ibragimov’s gameplan of blowing his load in the first 30 seconds has now been exposed. Meerschaert sends Herman into a brutal submission-induced retirement.
Result: 🚫CANCELLED 🚫
Gerald Meerschaert was forced to pull out after a last-minute COVID-19 positive test. Once again, wishing a solid period of recovery and rest for the submission specialist.
Frankie Saenz (12-6) vs Jonathan Martinez (13-3)
Saenz is thirty-nine years old and is coming off a first-round starching at the hands of Marlon Vera. Saenz can grapple effectively with savvy transitions and the athleticism to hold an opponent down.
Martinez weighed in overweight by four and a half pounds and also has the advantage of being thirteen years younger. Comprehensive victories over Wuliji Buren and Pingyuan Liu illustrated the striking ability of Martinez, but he does tend to get suffocated by skilled wrestlers and grapplers.
Predicted Result: Martinez Decision
I’m going for the youth in this bout, it should be a tight affair in which Martinez is able to win the third based on gas tank.
Result: Martinez def. Saenz // TKO (knee and punches) Round 3 0:57
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Nathan Maness (11-1) vs Johnny Munoz Jr. (12-0)
Both men are making their debut but it is Munoz Jr. that is also a last-minute replacement on top of that (filling in for Mr. Unreliable, Ray Borg). Maness is the superior striker, destroying regional fighters with ease, and was set for a slug-fest with Borg. Munoz Jr. throws a spanner in the works. A slick submission artist fighting at King of the Cage, Munoz Jr. will get to test the grappling chops of Maness.
Predicted Result: Munoz Jr. Submission Round 1
Banger of a fight. Can’t see this one going to the scorecards with both men wanting to make a name for themselves in an explosive debut.
Result: Maness def. Munoz Jr. // Decision (unanimous – 29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Jamall Emmers (17-5) vs Vincent Cachero (7-2)
Emmers is 0-1 in the UFC, but that loss was a split decision to Giga Chikadze who has looked like a striking God at times. Owning a strong TDD, Emmers chooses to utilise a counter-striking approach that punishes opponents for unmasked strikes. Last-minute replacement Cachero has a job on his hands. Cachero is a volume fighter who likes to swarm his opponent with constant pressure.
Predicted Result: Emmers TKO Round 2
Expect a striking clinic from Emmers and his first win for the organisation.
Result: Emmers def. Cachero // Decision (unanimous – 30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Chris Gutierrez (15-3-1) vs Cody Durden (11-2)
Chris Gutierrez is a rising star at Bantamweight who utilises gorgeous legs kicks as part of lengthy, attractive combinations. Durden is a last-minute replacement who has never fought to the level of competition of Gutierrez.
Predicted Result: Gutierrez TKO Round 3
Result: Draw (unanimous – 28-28, 28-28, 28-28)
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
UFC Fight Night 173: Brunson vs. Shahbazyan
2020 MMA Season
Takeaway comments: Cursed card for match-makers, cursed card for predictions.