After hosting its last four events at its "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi, the UFC has returned stateside. On Saturday, it will hold its first of five August events at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, with a middleweight clash between Derek Brunson and Edmen Shahbazyan headlining the card.
The UFC returned in May following a brief hiatus, and it held five events earlier this summer at the UFC APEX. This will be the first one to take place there since a UFC on ESPN event on June 27.
Brunson and Shahbazyan are currently ranked Nos. 8 and 9 in the middleweight rankings, respectively, so this is a huge bout to determine who may continue to move up and get closer to a potential title shot down the line. Shahbazyan is 11-0 in his professional MMA career, which includes winning his first four bouts since signing a UFC contract.
Here's a look at the full card for Saturday night's event, along with odds and predictions.
Main Card (ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET)
Derek Brunson (+285; bet $100 to win $185) vs. Edmen Shahbazyan (-350; bet $350 to win $100)
Joanne Calderwood (-150) vs. Jennifer Maia (+130)
Vicente Luque (-190) vs. Randy Brown (+170)
Lando Vannata (-150) vs. Bobby Green (+130)
Ed Herman (+135) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (-155)
Kevin Holland (-210) vs. Trevin Giles (+180)
Odds obtained via Caesars Palace
Prelims (ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET)
Frankie Saenz vs. Jonathan Martinez
Nathan Maness vs. Johnny Munoz
Jamall Emmers vs. Vincent Cachero
Chris Gutierrez vs. Cody Durden
Shahbazyan convincingly stays undefeated
Last year, Edmen Shahbazyan burst on to the UFC's middleweight scene, winning all three of his fights in the first round. He defeated Charles Byrd by TKO at UFC 235 in March 2019, beat Jack Marshman by submission at UFC 239 in July 2019 and knocked out Brad Tavares (the current No. 12-ranked middleweight) at UFC 244 last November.
In fact, Shahbazyan has never wasted much time in the Octagon. Of his first 11 professional bouts, he's won in the first round 10 times. His first three UFC fights have lasted only a combined four minutes, 17 seconds.
Now, Shahbazyan will face Derek Brunson, a UFC veteran who enters with a 20-7 record. Brunson began 2019 with four losses in his previous six fights, but he bounced back last year with wins over Elias Theodorou and Ian Heinisch, both by unanimous decision. He's never had a title shot, but he lost to current middleweight champ Israel Adesanya at UFC 230 in November 2018.
Brunson's last two victories showed he can go the distance and fight well enough along the way to pick up the win. So, perhaps he'll join Darren Stewart as the only fighters to make it past the first round against Shahbazyan.
If Brunson does, don't expect him to last much longer. Shahbazyan should win this fight in convincing fashion and add another solid victory to his growing resume.
Prediction: Shahbazyan via TKO
Calderwood wins, keeps her title shot
Originally, Joanne Calderwood was supposed to fight UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko for the title at UFC 251, but Shevchenko pulled out of the bout because of injury. Meanwhile, Jennifer Maia had been scheduled to fight Viviane Araujo on Saturday, but Araujo tested positive for COVID-19.
So, on two weeks' notice, Calderwood opted to not wait even longer for her return to the Octagon and accepted a fight against Maia in a matchup of highly ranked flyweights. And for Calderwood (No. 3), she may need to take down Maia (No. 6) in order to go on to still face Shevchenko for the championship.
Calderwood (14-4) has won three of her last four fights, including her last bout against Andrea Lee at UFC 242 last September. Maia (17-6-1) lost her last fight against Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 244 last November.
Although Calderwood has the height and reach advantage, Maia should be a solid competitor for her, and it's probable that this bout could go the full three rounds. However, the stakes are too high for Calderwood to not deliver a strong performance, so she'll control the fight and defeat Maia in impressive fashion.
Prediction: Calderwood via unanimous decision
Luque starts winning streak with victory
After losing to Stephen Thompson via unanimous decision at UFC 244 last November, Vicente Luque bounced back with an impressive third-round TKO victory against Niko Price at UFC 249 in May. Now, the No. 11-ranked welterweight will look to start stringing wins together when he fights Randy Brown.
Brown has shown an ability to finish fights the past few years, with four of his last victories coming by either TKO or submission. However, he was also knocked out by Price during that time in a loss in July 2018.
This bout seems unlikely to go the full distance, but it's possible either Luque or Brown could capitalize at the right time and put the other away. That's why jumping out to a strong start should be important in this matchup.
However, Luque is the more experienced fighter, and he's shown a tendency to go on rolls during his UFC career. He'll use his muay thai skill set to notch a victory against Brown for his second consecutive win.
Prediction: Luque via TKO