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We are back at the UFC Apex for this weekend’s 14-fight fight card, which is headlined by two of the top-ranked bantamweight contenders in #3 Rob Font and #4 Cody Garbrandt, in a fight that has title implications written all over it. Even though this fight card may not have a ton of big names, there is still a lot of money that can be won come fight night. So let’s dig in deep and break down this fight card.
Jack Hermansson (-150) vs Edmen Shahbazyan (+122)
Opening the main card is a fight between Middleweight contenders #7 Jack Hermansson and #10 Edmen Shahbazyan. It was supposed to be fought at UFC 262, but one of Hermansson’s cornermen tested positive for COVID-19. It was a bummer that the fight had to be pushed back a week, but it’s great that it has not been canceled because it is a fight that you will not want to miss!
Edmen Shahbazyan is coming off the first loss of his entire professional mixed martial arts career, at the hands of Derek Brunson. Brunson, with his high-level wrestling, just seemed to be a little too much at that time for Shahbazyan. Expect a much better Shahbazyan this time out, especially when it comes to his takedown defense. He is still a young fighter, but he has shown a ton of promise in his time in the UFC and he has the skills to really make a run in the middleweight division.
Jack Hermansson is coming off of a loss to now title challenger Marvin Vettori in a fight that was a one-sided affair. He was just beaten in every facet of that fight and couldn’t get things going. Expect a much better Hermansson this go-round against Shahbazyan. Hermansson has shown he can finish the fight anywhere the fight takes place, and he is going to need to in order to get his hand raised come Saturday night.
This is a very evenly matched fight, but as long as this fight remains on the feet, Shahbazyan has the clear advantage. His striking is crisp, sharp, and powerful and can put Hermansson away as long as he avoids getting stuck on the bottom. The wars that Hermansson has been in are really going to show here, and Shahbazyan should capitalize and get the finish.
The pick: Edmen Shahbazyan +122
David Dvorak (-162) vs Raulian Paiva (+132)
We have an exciting fight here in the flyweight division between #11 David Dvorak and #12 Raulian Paiva. Both fighters are riding two-fight win streaks in the UFC and are looking to keep the momentum going to make a run in the flyweight division.
David Dvorak is riding a very impressive 15-fight win streak coming into his 3rd career fight in the UFC. He is also coming off of his best outing in the UFC with a dominant decision victory over UFC veteran Jordan Espinosa. He uses his pace and pressure to overwhelm his opponents, whom he has out-landed by a combined 135 to 95. If he wants to win three straight, he is going to need to be the aggressor and put the pressure on Paiva to break him, much like previous foes have done before.
Raelian Paiva has had some mixed success in the octagon with a 2-2 record. He is one of the taller flyweights at 5’8” but only sports a 1” reach advantage in this matchup. Paiva is a very diverse striker, using a ton of different long-range strikes to keep his opponents at bay. He will need to use his front kicks, knees, and jab to keep Dvorak from just barreling forward and landing heavy shots. If he lets Dvorak dictate the pace of the fight, it could be a long night for him.
We have seen pace and pressure break Paiva before, even in his most recent fight against Zhalgas Zhumagulov. That is what Dvorak will be bringing to the table in this fight. Expect this fight to be a back and forth battle between two closely contested strikers, but in the end, Dvorak will be the one landing the harder shots and controlling the center of the octagon and will get his hand raised.
The pick: David Dvorak -162
Felicia Spencer (-162) vs Norma Dumont (+132)
We have a fight in the women’s featherweight division between Felicia Spencer and Norma Dumont. These two women are trying to keep the featherweight division alive as they are two of the only four fighters left. They hope to put on a show for the fans to keep the momentum going.
Felicia Spencer comes into this fight off of her title fight loss to the women’s MMA GOAT Amanda Nunes. Spencer was able to hang in there tooth and nail to the very end, something most are not able to do when fighting Nunes. She has a pretty big grappling advantage, if she is able to take this fight to the mat. Her BJJ skills are so good that she has been able to rack up 6 wins on the mat (4 submissions & 2 TKO). If she is able to implement her grappling, she should have little to no problem getting the win over Norma Dumont.
Norma Dumont is coming into this fight after missing weight for a second straight time. Missing weight again made her make the jump back up to featherweight for this short notice fight against Spencer. She has the clear striking advantage in this fight, throwing a ton of volume with some heavy power. Dumont has shown good takedown defense thus far in her time in the UFC but has yet to face anyone with the grappling prowess of Spencer. If she is able to keep this fight standing, it is her fight to lose.
This is a classic grappler vs striker matchup between Spencer and Dumont. Whoever can implement her game plan the best will be victorious. Being as Dumont has yet to face a credentialed grappler like Spencer, it is hard to pick her here in this spot. Spencer should be able to get this fight to the mat and dominate Dumont from top control and get the finish.
The pick: Felicia Spencer -162
Justin Tafa (-192) vs Jared Vanderaa (+150)
In the heavyweight division, we have a fight between two heavy hitters in Justin Tafa and Jared Vanderaa. Both fighters are coming off of losses and are looking to build some momentum with a win here on Saturday night.
Justin Tafa is coming into this fight on the wrong end of a controversial split decision loss where many thought he beat Carlos Felipe. Tafa, looking like a young Mark Hunt, fights very similarly to him as well. He has fight-changing power in each one of his limbs where he can knock anyone out with just one single strike. He is going to need to be more active and land his power to get his hand raised here against Jared Vanderaa.
Jared Vanderaa, a Contender Series alum, didn’t have a great UFC debut when he was viciously beaten down and finished by Sergey Spivak. Vanderaa is the far larger man in this fight with a 4” height and 6” reach advantage. He must use his length to keep out of the range of Tafa’s power, or things will end up much worse than it did in his UFC debut.
Both fighters are desperately in need of a win here, which should make for an exciting fight. Tafa should be winning the exchanges on the feet, using his kicks when the fight is at distance, and then landing heavier punches as Vanderaa comes in range. Vanderaa is going to have to use his grappling much like he did to get a contract in the UFC if he wants to get his first win inside the octagon. That is easier said than done, as Tafa has yet to be taken down in the UFC and should land some devastating shots as Vanderaa tries to close the distance putting him out once again.
The pick: Justin Tafa -192
Yan Xiaonan (-130) vs Carla Esparza (+105)
In the co-main event of Saturday night’s fight card live at the Apex is a fight in the women’s strawweight division between #3 Yan Xiaonan and #4 Carla Esparza. Both fighters have been on impressive runs as of late, and a win here can put one of their names at the top of the list for a title shot against the new champion Rose Namajunas.
Yan Xiaonan has been on an absolute tear since making her UFC debut back in 2017, sporting a 6-0 UFC record. She has beaten legitimate competition in her time as well, beating the likes of Claudia Gadelha, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Angela Hill. Xiaonan is a fierce striker who has the output to drown any opponent that is put in front of her. She is going to need to use that volume and movement to keep this fight at distance. Her illustrious takedown defense is going to be the utmost test here against the grueling Carla Esparza, but if she is able to keep this fight standing, it is her fight to lose.
Carla Esparza looks to be in her best form ever since making her UFC debut and being the first-ever Strawweight Champion. She is coming off of 4 impressive wins over very tough competition, and it has been her stout wrestling and dominant top control that has been getting it done. Her striking has been much improved over the years, but she will want to get this fight to mat as early as possible to avoid striking for long periods of time against Xiaonan. A lot of people have overlooked Esparza in the past, and if Xiaonan does the same, she will suffer her first UFC loss.
This is yet another grappler vs striker matchup, and one the fans should be excited for. These two women will give it their all come Saturday night. Xiaonan has shown great takedown defense in her time in the UFC, defending 70% of the takedowns attempted against her. She will need to avoid being stuck on her back for long periods of time, or Esparza could run away with this. If she is able to defend the takedowns or get back to her feet, she should have no trouble at all out-striking Esparza by a wide margin.
The pick: Yan Xiaonan -130
Rob Font (-110) vs Cody Garbrandt (-110)
In the main event for this weekend’s fight, we have a clash between two of the top bantamweight contenders the UFC has to offer between #3 Rob Font and #4 Cody Garbrandt. Both fighters are coming in scorching hot with finishes over top competition and are looking to put their name in the hat for a chance to fight for the Bantamweight Championship.
Rob Font has really turned the corner in his professional mixed martial arts career, as he is riding a 3-fight win streak with wins over top competitors Sergio Pettis, Ricky Simon and Marlon Moraes. Font has some of the best pure boxing in the entire bantamweight division. He has 5 knockouts in his 8 UFC wins with the most recent one coming against title challenger Marlon Moraes. He sports a 6” reach advantage over Cody Garbrandt and being as he tends to his jab as his main weapon of choice, that reach advantage should help him a ton in this fight. As long as he can avoid the power shots of Garbrandt, he should be able to pick him apart at distance and potentially put him away in this 5-round contest.
Cody Garbrandt finally got back into the win column his last time out with one of the top knockouts of 2020 against Raphael Assuncao in walkoff fashion. He was desperately in need of a win coming into that fight, and he won in a big way. We have seen his evolution as a fighter from those 3 losses that he took against TJ Dillashaw and Pedro Munhoz. He seemed to be a more patient and smart fighter, not looking to just brawl to get a win. He is going to need to use that patience to time and counter Font to land his powerful right hand to put out Font and get the win.
This is as evenly matched a fight as the odds indicate, but what we do see is that Font does have a massive output advantage in this fight. Font throws 12.40 and lands 5.21 strikes per minute, opposed to Cody Garbrandt who throws only 9.05 and lands 3.35 strikes per minute. If Font can keep up that pace throughout this 25-minute fight and not get sucked into a fire-fight with Garbrandt, he has the chance to get the biggest win of his career.
The pick: Rob Font -110
In the flyweight division, we have some heavy hitters on tap between Bruno Silva and Victor Rodriguez. Both fighters come to bang it out in the center of the octagon. Silva and Rodriguez combine for 15 finishes between the two of them, and Rodriguez has never seen the judges in his 10 professional fights. Take the under 2.5 rounds here, as you can expect a quick and early finish from one of these two flyweights.
Chris Barnett is making his long awaited UFC debut, against Ben Rothwell and on short notice. Barnett is known for his flashy style of fighting, one that you don’t normally see from heavyweight fighters. He has a ton of momentum coming into this fight against Rothwell, riding a 6-fight win streak, and he has a chance to make that 7 here come Saturday night. The flashy, unorthodox striking may give the older and slower Rothwell a ton of problems here, and at this price, it is absolutely worth the gamble. Barnett’s arsenal of unorthodox strikes will be too much for Rothwell to handle and will get his first win inside the UFC octagon.