After successfully staging four entertaining events on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, the UFC returns stateside for another exciting stretch at the Apex center in Las Vegas. This Fight Night is headlined by a clash of top ten middleweights, as veteran slugger Derek Brunson takes on undefeated upstart Edmen Shahbazyan. The lineup also features some intriguing prelim matchups and a crucial co-main bout between two top contenders in the women’s strawweight division. Check out our favorite bets on Saturday night’s card as we get you ready for UFC Vegas 5.
Main Card (9 P.M. ET on ESPN+)
– #8 Derek Brunson vs. #9 Edmen Shahbazyan – Middleweight Bout
– #3 Joanne Calderwood vs. #6 Jennifer Maia – Women’s Strawweight Bout
– #11 Vicente Luque vs. Randy Brown – Welterweight Bout
– Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green – Lightweight Bout
– Kevin Holland vs. Trevin Giles – Middleweight Bout
Prelims (6 P.M. ET on ESPN+)
– Frankie Saenz vs. Jonathan Martinez – Bantamweight Bout
– Ed Herman vs. Gerald Meerschaert – Light Heavyweight Bout
– Ray Borg vs. Nate Maness – Bantamweight Bout
– Eric Spicely vs. Markus Perez – Middleweight Bout
– Jamall Emmers vs. Timur Valiev – Featherweight Bout
– Chris Guttierez vs. Cody Durden – Bantamweight Bout
Derek Brunson (+250) vs. Edmen Shahbazyan (-325)
A replacement main event is a pretty rare occurrence in the UFC, but since the original headliner between Irene Aldana and Holly Holm was postponed, this middleweight bout was moved into the spotlight. It’s very important to note that because this fight was moved on short notice, it will only be three rounds as opposed to the typical five round main event.
Edmen Shahbazyan (11-0) is quite possibly the most exciting young fighter in the UFC right now. Up there with the likes of hot prospects such as Sean O’Malley and Khamzat Chimaev, Shahbazyan has made a name for himself as one of the most entertaining fighters on the roster. Following his 2018 victory on Dana White’s Contender Series, Shahbazyan is 4-0 in the UFC, including three straight first round finishes. Much like many of his fellow “new generation” fighters, Shahbazyan is a true mixed martial artist. He displays calculated and powerful striking alongside stellar jiu-jitsu skills, giving him a method of victory in just about any situation during a fight.
Shahbazyan will be making a big jump in competition on Saturday night when he takes on middleweight gatekeeper Derek Brunson (20-7). Brunson has seen it all; the epitome of a seasoned veteran. He has bounced around the top 15 for seemingly his entire career, moving from title contention to the middle of the pack and back again. Brunson’s pro losses have come at the hands of all-time great fighters, including Anderson Silva, Jacare Souza, Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker and the current middleweight king, Israel Adesanya. Brunson is one of the most powerful punchers in the history of the middleweight division, with a staggering 10 of his 20 pro wins coming by knockout. While he has typically been viewed as a showstopping slugger who likes to finish fights early, Brunson has taken a much more reserved approach in his most recent contests. After switching camps, he displayed his ability to put together 15 solid minutes of fighting in his last two wins over Elias Theodorou and Ian Heinisch, both of which were unanimous decision victories for Brunson.
This new-look Derek Brunson has some fans hinting at a possible career resurgence for the company devotee. Being 36 years old, he probably doesn’t have too many years left in the Octagon, so a win over a highly-touted prospect such as the 22-year-old Shahbazyan could be just what he needs to accelerate that narrative.
The odds for this bout are severely inflated, likely due to the fact that the UFC is diligently pushing the Shahbazyan hype train as the “next big thing.” While he very well could be just that, the discrepancy in the level of competition between Brunson and Shahbazyan’s previous opponents is worth noting.
Given that each of these guys have recorded so many first round finishes, it’s no surprise to see Vegas set a low round total for this one. However, Brunson’s recent decision victories and his performances throughout those fights could serve as a good indicator for what we may see Saturday night. To add to that, even though Shahbazyan typically comes out swinging early, I feel as if he may be a bit more tentative against an established warrior like Brunson. All in all, I think this fight lasts longer than most people are anticipating.
Best Bet: Over 1.5 rounds (+100)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Joanne Calderwood (-145) vs. Jennifer Maia (+130)
I will be taking us to the women’s flyweight division, where just about a month ago, Joanne Calderwood was expecting a shot at the title. She was set to take on Valentina Shevchenko until Shevchenko pulled out due to an injury. Maia also had a fight set but her opponent, Viviane Araujo, tested positive with coronavirus. That is how we ended up here. Calderwood is a 34-year-old Scottish fighter weighing in at 125 pounds, standing at 5-foot-6 with a reach of 66 inches. Her opponent, Jennifer Maia, fights out of Brazil at the age of 31. Maia is 5-foot-4 with a reach of 64 inches and should weigh in at 125 as well.
Calderwood opened as almost a 2-1 betting favorite but that has recently come down to -145, which means the money has been pouring in on Maia. It’s not too surprising that we’re seeing action come in on Maia as she was the Invicta women’s flyweight champion once upon a time. She has a Muay-Thai background to go along with some BJJ and lands with 46% striking accuracy in her UFC career. Maia will look to keep this fight on the feet as that is where 78% of her significant strikes come from, with only 2% coming on the ground.
As for Calderwood, she’ll want to keep this one on the feet for the most part as well. She’s going to bring the fight to Maia and she may look to change levels and go for an occasional takedown attempt. The third-ranked contender in the featherweight division averages 5.86 significant strikes per minute and also averages 1.61 takedowns per 15 minutes.
Ultimately, I have to go with Calderwood to win this fight by points. For starters, there is no chance this one doesn’t go the distance. The oddsmakers have it at -360 to go the distance, and I agree, as 17/31 of these fighters’ wins have gone to decision. Calderwood will get the win by points as she may get some control time due to a takedown and she should also win the fight standing up. Joanne has the height and reach advantage and will be able to mix in some kicks to keep some distance between the two. 32% of her significant strikes end up going to her opponent’s legs, so she uses her feet fairly often. I think this is our best way to attack this bout. Plus, let’s remember that Calderwood didn’t have to take this fight and could’ve just kicked back and waited until her opportunity to fight Shevchenko. Meaning, she likely feels she won’t struggle too much in this one.
Best Bet: Calderwood By Decision +105
– Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)
Lando Vannata (-145) vs. Bobby Green (+115)
An odd fight here and a rematch we never knew we needed, but who’s complaining? When these two lightweights met back in 2017 it was one of the most entertaining and unusual MMA fights I’ve ever witnessed. Lando Vannata (11-4-2) dominated Bobby Green (25-10-1) in the first round, nearly finishing the fight twice with nasty ground strikes and a standing guillotine in the span of about two minutes. It most definitely would have been scored a 10-8 round if 1) the new rules had been inherited, and 2) if Vannata hadn’t thrown an illegal knee to the face of a downed Green halfway through the period. The referee deducted a point from Vannata for the unlawful strike which resulted in a first round draw.
The rest of the fight was a back and forth brawl as both men landed damaging shots. However, to the eye of the fan, it was pretty clear Vannata had done enough to win. Unfortunately for Vannata, that point deduction in the first round came back to haunt him and the fight ended up being a split decision draw.
Regardless, a lot of time has passed and both fighters have had their fair share of ups and downs since that wild scrap at UFC 216. For Vannata, consistency and essentially willingness to fight have been major issues. In his last time out, Vannata picked up a solid unanimous decision victory over Yancy Medeiros. Before that, though, Vannata got pieced up by Marc Diakiese in a fight that looked as if Vannata had no interest in competing. Vannata is a masterfully creative striker who prides himself on unpredictability and unconventional attacks. He uses fluid boxing and accurate punch/kick combinations that keep his opponents guessing. In the first meeting, Green struggled with this aspect of Vannata’s game, taking a lot of damage early in the fight.
Green is similar in the sense that he likes to keep fights on the feet, but with a solid wrestling background he is never truly uncomfortable on the ground. He proved that his last time out against legendary wrestler Clay Guida. When Guida inevitably took him down, Green was able to keep his composure and wait for a good time to escape back to his feet. Green out landed Guida by a fairly large margin which was enough to earn himself the decision victory. That win can’t be given too much weight when looking at this fight, however. No disrespect to Guida, but he isn’t exactly in his prime anymore… far from it, really. Green should’ve been able to finish that fight easily, which makes me assume he has lost a step.
When looking at the first matchup between these two veterans and taking recent performance into consideration, it’s clear to me that Vannata is the safe pick. He’s five years younger, has displayed better cardio recently and throws so many atypical strike combinations that I feel as if Green will have a hard time finding success in any facet of this fight. I’ll ride with Vannata to pick up a win in what should be the fight of the night.
Best Bet: Vannata ML (-145)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Kevin Holland (-210) vs. Trevin Giles (+170)
This is a dream matchup for the Vegas favorite Kevin Holland (17-5) and I’m surprised to see the odds as close as they are. Holland is extremely long and rangy for a middleweight. In fact, aside from undefeated champion Israel Adesanya, Holland possesses the longest reach of anyone in the division at 81 inches. He has the ability to close gaps quickly with lengthy kicks and fast combinations from a considerable distance. This will be crucial against his counterpart Trevin Giles (12-2).
Giles came blazing into the UFC with consecutive stoppage wins in his first two appearances. Unfortunately for him, those wins were followed by two straight stoppage losses, forcing fans to wonder if Giles has what it takes to remain on the roster. His last time out, Giles defeated James Krause in a highly questionable split decision. It was later discovered that there may have been a conflict of interest in how the bout was scored, with rumors swirling that one of the judges at ringside had a relationship with a coach in Giles’ corner. Krause and his team never appealed the decision, so Giles was awarded the victory nonetheless. Still, there is an argument to be made that Giles should technically be on a three-fight losing streak.
Stylistically, this fight against Holland is a nightmare for Giles. Giles prefers to get in close and use clinch tactics to eventually initiate takedowns and use his wrestling skills. However, Holland’s uncanny range and precise striking should prove problematic for Giles if that’s his gameplan. Another thing working against Giles is his less-than-ideal cardio. It’s been wildly evident throughout his UFC career that once a fight moves into the later rounds, Giles tends to slow down and get fatigued.
I really expected Holland to be a heavier favorite in this bout. He’s simply the more experienced fighter and has beaten some notable opponents, including John Phillips and Gerald Meerschaert. In his losses Holland still looked competitive, taking Thiago Santos the distance and piecing up Brendan Allen before getting caught in a rear naked choke late in the second round.
Holland’s value on the moneyline is still worth a play even if the odds stay south of -200. I don’t really see any way Giles wins this fight so long as Holland sticks to what he knows and uses his long frame to his advantage.
Best Bet: Holland ML (-210)
Value Bet: Holland inside distance (+135)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Chris Guttierez (-310) vs. Cody Durden (+240)
I typically like to stay away from bouts that feature a UFC debut, but I couldn’t pass this one up. To start, Chris Guttierez (15-3-1) is possibly the most experienced fighter under 30 years old in the entire bantamweight division. On top of his 3-1 record in the UFC, Guttierez is a former SCS champion and was also a stalwart in the bantamweight division for the World Series of Fighting; two renowned MMA promotions. While bouncing around companies early in his career, he defeated guys like Aaron Phillips and Timur Valiev, both of whom are currently on the UFC roster, with Valiev scheduled to fight directly after Guttierez on Saturday’s card. In his last fight, Guttierez beat Vince Morales via leg kick TKO, recording just the ninth finish by such method in UFC history. Along with his gnarly leg kicks, Guttierez has good boxing skills and possesses a dangerous submission game if the fight ends up on the ground.
On the other hand, Cody Durden (11-2) is an up-and-coming prospect who will be making his first career appearance in the UFC. Durden has torn through regional tournaments and lower-tier promotions in the southeast United States, finishing opponent after opponent using a wide variety of methods, ranging from knockout punches to armbars to overhead slams.
It’s incredibly difficult to handicap any bout in which one of the fighters is making his Octagon debut, because you simply never know what you’re going to get. So what’s the angle here?
Durden has won each of his last seven fights by stoppage, with five of them coming in the first round. Granted, the level of competition he has faced is nowhere near that of Guttierez, which is why I’m staying away from picking a winner. Adding to that narrative, four of Guttierez’s last six fights have been finishes, two of which were in the UFC. The value on this fight ending in a stoppage is just way too high to ignore.
Best Bet: Fight does not go to decision (+140)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)