The UFC is back in action, as they return from Fight Island to the Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Headlining the event is a pair of Middleweights looking to make the leap up into contender ship in Derek Brunson and Edmen Shahbazyan. The winner undoubtedly aligns themselves into a top five opponent the next fight, so expect a neither to give in here.

UFC Fight Night 173 Main Card On ESPN+ (9 p.m. ET):

185 lbs.: Derek Brunson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan – As much as I like the patient and less overly-aggressive Brunson nowadays, he’s become less of a threat on the feet than he used to be. He’s more defensive to protect his chin and picks his shots offensively. I appreciate that, but it would be nice if he broke his habit of telegraphing his takedowns. He’s got excellent wrestling, but it’s better suited with proper execution. Shahbazyan is turning into a real contender. He’s got precise, yet powerful striking. He’s physically strong and works hard to bring the fight to the mat. His grappling is tough to deal with and his striking and takedown defense are all pluses.

While Brunson is a tough task, his iffy chin and lack of proper wrestling execution puts him at disadvantages he can’t recover from. Even with the more patient approach, I see Shahbazyan cracking and finishing Brunson via TKO.

125 lbs.: Joanne Calderwood vs. Jennifer Maia – Something tells me that Calderwood wouldn’t take this fight if she didn’t believe she was definitely better than Maia. After all, a title shot promised equals the biggest pay day of her career. With logistics aside, I’ve got Calderwood. I believe her ability to stay on the outside and pump that jab, and add additional volume striking outweighs Maia’s average striking volume and pop. The ability of Calderwood to mix in takedowns will aid the decision too, as Maia hasn’t shown anything once on her back to be daunted about going into her guard. In the end, Calderwood gets a nice little paycheck and another three rounds of action before fighting for the title. So with that, give me Calderwood winning via decision.

170 lbs.: Vicente Luque vs. Randy Brown – I really like Brown and his maturation, but this feels awfully too soon to me. Less than three years ago, he struggled with a really raw Mickey Gall. His cardio ended up pulling him through there. He then got finished awkwardly against Niko Price, but bounced back with two stoppage victories over Bryan Barberena and Warlley Alves.

Two notable tough outs. Now, he’s tasked with Luque? The man whom has arguably the best chin in the game? Whom also throws punches in ridiculous volume, topping over 130 significant strikes twice in his last five fights. The ground game of Luque is excellent too, so Brown can wrestle, but will have to evade submission attempts and sweeps to remain on top. All in all, this seems too soon to me for a fight against a welterweight juggernaut per say. So with that, I have Luque winning via TKO

155 lbs.: Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green – The first fight was an all out war, and I’m not expecting anything different this time around. I however edge Green in this fight. While both men are similar in that they have iffy fight IQ, I’ll take Green’s consistent head shaking that a punch didn’t hurt him over the lack of consistency over three rounds Vannata struggles with. He’s dynamic and a dam buzzsaw, but instead of staying on the outside and picking apart his opponents, he likes to go punch for punch. Green actually shows off good striking defense albeit his tendency to make it known his opponent didn’t hurt him when they land. Green also has good wrestling and can mix that in, although I doubt it in this fight. In the end, Green edges it out via decision with the cleaner and more damaging strikes.

205 lbs.: Ed Herman vs. Gerald Meerschaert – Fight cancelled

185 lbs.: Trevin Giles vs. Kevin Holland – I really believe Holland is a talent whom can challenge for the Middleweight strap one day. I mean, he’s got such a well rounded game and a cast iron chin. His main flaw though is his ability to put himself in disadvantageous positions. Against the upper echelon, that won’t work. Hell its cost him a fight and nearly a few other. If he can shore up his fight IQ, we got a problem at Middleweight.

While Giles has power on the feet and good takedown defense, his work rate on the feet lacks. Against a busy fighter like Holland, that’s not going to get it done. So with that, I have Holland winning via decision.

UFC Fight Night 173 Prelims Card On ESPN+ (7 p.m. ET):

135 lbs.: Jonathan Martinez vs. Frankie Saenz – This fight is intriguing in that I see a lot of X factors. For one, the durability and cardio of Saenz has become a concern for the now 39 year old. The wrestling remains, but the willingness to stand a little too long can be an issue. Another factor is, can Martinez stop a takedown? His 33% takedown defense says otherwise. With youth on his side and being less of a concern to tire or get hurt, I’ll take questionable takedown defense and say that Martinez edges out some rounds by really hurting Saenz in the later rounds. So with that, I have Martinez winning via decision.

145 lbs.: Nate Maness vs. Johnny Munoz – This fight is as last second as it gets. It seemingly is your classic striker vs. grappler. And given the short notice of it, I got the grappler Munoz winning via decision.

145 lbs.: Jamall Emmers vs. Vincent Cachero – I don’t believe Cachero is not UFC caliber, but this debut isn’t doing him any favors. Emmers is a well rounded talent, whom features some legit stopping power. The man nearly edged out a superior striker in Giga Chikadze in his debut and up until Aljamain Sterling, he was the only man to defeat Cory Sandhagen. While Cachero will have the speed edge, coming up a weight class on short notice is going to be his downfall, as Emmers power will wane on him. In the end, I see Emmers walking away with a knockout victory.

135 lbs.: Chris Gutierrez vs. Cody Durden – Gutierrez has really come into his own of late, tallying three consecutive wins. The last being his most impressive to date, finishing Vince Morales with leg kicks. Durden enters this fight a winner of seven straight, finishing all of his opponents in that span. However, his resume leaves a lot to be desired. This is not the ideal welcome to the UFC, as Gutierrez is starting to find his stride and using his entire arsenal of strikes. While the first round might be competitive, I expect Gutierrez to thoroughly outpoint Durden en route to a decision victory.

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