Main Card (7 p.m. ET on ESPN+)
– #3 Rob Font (-110) vs. #4 Cody Garbrandt (-110) – Bantamweight Bout
– #3 Yan Xiaonan (-125) vs. #4 Carla Esparza (+105) – W. Strawweight Bout
– Justin Tafa (-185) vs. Jared Vanderaa (+155) – Heavyweight Bout
– Felicia Spencer (-170) vs. Norma Dumont (+140) – W. Featherweight Bout
– Bill Algeo (-125) vs. Ricardo Ramos (+105) – Featherweight Bout
– #7 Jack Hermansson (-155) vs. #10 Edmen Shahbazyan (+130) – Middleweight Bout
Prelims (4 p.m. ET on ESPN+)
– Ben Rothwell (-325) vs. Chris Barnett (+250) – Heavyweight Bout
– Court McGee (-110) vs. Claudio Silva (-110) – Welterweight Bout
– Bruno Silva (-350) vs. Victor Rodriguez (+265) – Flyweight Bout
– Josh Culibao (-250) vs. Yilan Sha (+200) – Featherweight Bout
– #11 David Dvorak (-400) vs. Juancamilo Ronderos (+300) – Flyweight Bout
– Damir Hadzovic (-115) vs. Yancy Medeiros (-105) – Lightweight Bout
– Damir Ismagulov (-600) vs. Rafael Alves (+400) – Lightweight Bout
Rob Font (-110) vs. Cody Garbrandt (-110)
A pivotal top-5 matchup in the bantamweight division headlines Saturday’s card, as Rob Font (18-4) takes on Cody Garbrandt (12-3).
Despite being in the UFC for over seven years, Font somewhat rapidly jumped into the contender conversation. Font is the winner of three straight, those victories coming over Sergio Pettis, Ricky Simon and, most recently, Marlon Moraes. Oddly enough, there is exactly a year between each of those fights. He defeated Pettis in December 2018, Simon in December 2019 and Moraes in December 2020. Not exactly the most active track record, but this will be his fastest turnaround in three years.
Font’s performance against Moraes was magnificent. His boxing was crisp and his forward pressure immediately sent Moraes retreating before Font landed the knockout blow under four minutes into round one.
While the win was great and propelled Font up the bantamweight ladder, it should also be taken with a grain of salt. At the time, Moraes was less than two months removed from the highlight-reel head kick loss to Cory Sandhagen. A lot of fans furrowed their brows at Moraes for returning so quickly after suffering a knockout like that, and it backfired on him. Nothing should be taken away from Font’s performance, but Moraes’ physical condition is certainly worth noting.
If I were to chronicle the career of Cody Garbrandt, I’d need about 10 pages, so I’ll keep it brief. The former champion and certified bad boy of the bantamweight division, Garbrandt has had a roller coaster of a UFC campaign thus far. He won the title at just 25 years old, defeating Dominick Cruz in dominating (no pun intended) fashion. After that, things went a little sideways.
If you’ve followed the UFC in the slightest capacity over the past five years, you’re definitely familiar with the Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw rivalry. Arguably the most dramatic saga in the history of the promotion, there were a ton of emotional factors that played into Garbrandt’s back-to-back knockout losses to Dillashaw in 2017 and 2018. Then, of course, Dillashaw was popped for performance enhancing drugs, stripped of his title and suspended for two years. A lot of people believe that both of Dillashaw’s victories over Garbrandt should be overturned to a “no contest” due to the fact that he was likely hopped up on EPOs for both fights, but I digress.
Here’s what we do know: Cody Gabrandt is still a world class fighter. In terms of pure, raw talent, Garbrandt is about as good as it gets. His speed is unmatched, his footwork is masterful and he’s the hardest hitter in the division. Unfortunately, his fight IQ and mental fortitude, or lack thereof, has betrayed him at times. In his younger years, he had a tendency to come forward with no regard for striking defense and often got caught by a right hand that put him to sleep (see both Dillashaw fights and Pedro Munhoz).
That all seemed to change, however, when Garbrandt made his triumphant return to the Octagon last June against Raphael Assuncao. Garbrandt was more patient, more calculated and certainly in better shape. This resulted in a blistering, buzzer-beater knockout at the end of the second round that went viral. I think it’s fair to say that Gabrandt is back on track.
You’re going to hear a lot being made of Font’s 6-inch reach advantage in this matchup, but don’t read too much into it. Garbrandt has faced bigger guys before and hasn’t had much of an issue.
The exciting thing about this fight is that it’s going to be fan-friendly. While both fighters possess decent wrestling, neither guy will be inclined to take this fight to the ground. They’ll both be looking to stand and bang for the entire duration of the contest, however long that ends up being.
Font is a fantastic boxer but he typically begins to get flat-footed as his fights progress. That will not serve him well against a guy like Garbrandt, who is constantly moving, fainting and shifting around to attack all different angles.
I think Garbrandt will have the speed, power and footwork to get on the inside and piece up Font pretty violently. Also, if his last fight is any indication, Garbrandt’s new coach, Mark Henry, has shored up the mental aspect of his style. If that remains consistent, I really like Gabrandt in this spot and I wouldn’t be shocked if he turns the lights out on Font at some point.
Best Bet: Cody Garbrandt moneyline (-110)
Value Bet: Cody Garbrandt by KO/TKO (+185)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Jack Hermansson (-155) vs. Edmen Shahbazyan (+130)
In a bout that was supposed to take place on last Saturday’s PPV card, we’ll see middleweight contender Jack Hermansson (21-6) take on elite prospect Edmen Shahbazyan (11-1) trying to bounce back from his first loss.
The question for Edmen Shahbazyan following his TKO loss to Derek Brunson last summer, is can he bounce back and not have his confidence shaken from his first defeat. At his best, Edmen is an all around fighter with elite striking and serious KO power. A weakness was exposed in that Brunson fight however, as his conditioning hadn’t really been tested. Brunson forced him to grapple and took some of his better shots en route to seizing a tired Shahbazyan and finishing the fight.
So, has Shahbazyan fixed his conditioning issue that plagued him in his last fight? I’m not sure if I’m willing to wager on that, as we’ve never seen him rebound from adversity before. With that being said, he still is as dangerous as they get on the feet and Hermansson needs to be on high alert early on as he could get his lights shut out in a flash.
As for Hermansson, he is also coming off of a competitive loss to Marvin Vettori in December. Touting his grappling advantage in the leadup to that fight, he was unable to take advantage and was often on the wrong end of exchanges on the ground and the feet. In this fight, the strategy will be to grapple early and often trying to wear on Edmen. As the fight progresses and Shahbazyan tires, that would be the time to delve into the striking exchanges.
With Hermansson leaning at -165 at the time of writing this, that’s a little bit of a steep price to pay for him in a fight I think he could just as easily lose. So this leads me to turn to the props. I like Shahbazyan’s chances of finishing this fight early, or Hermansson tying up a quick submission. With that, I’ll take the under 1.5 rounds along with a smaller play on Edmen by TKO/KO at +290.
Best Bet: Under 1.5 rounds (+115)
Value Bet: Shahbazyan by TKO/KO (+290)
–William Burke (@w_burke22)