We will return to the Apex facility in Las Vegas for our final card of the month, with a top five Bantamweight matchup in our headliner as Rob Font takes on former champion Cody Garbrandt. There are five other bouts on the main card this week, including a top contender bout at Strawweight that could very well determine the next title challenger for Rose Namajunas and perhaps the last Women’s Featherweight fight.
Rob Font vs. Cody Garbrandt (BW)
Rob Font (18-4, 8-3 UFC) made waves in the Bantamweight division in his last outing, knocking out title challenger Marlon Moraes in the first round. Font has a well-rounded skillset but shines through with his superb boxing technique. He is a boxer by trade, stopping twelve of his pro bouts inside the distance and eight by knockout. On the feet, Font likes to pressure forward and use feints to judge his opponent’s timing, using a diverse arsenal of strikes (I particularly like his sneaky quick right high kick) and not discriminating to the head. However, Font’s chin can be found inside the pocket when he is not able to use his quick footwork to quickly exit, though he has never been knocked out. Though he has some offensive wrestling and defensive submissions, he has a weakness in his takedown defense, but does right himself quickly.
A three-fight losing streak, all by knockout, sent Cody Garbrandt (12-3, 7-3 UFC) to a new camp with an extended layoff. His return fight at UFC 250 saw him knock out Raphael Assuncao with a ‘Knockout of the Year’ contender. With all but one win on his resume coming by knockout, “No Love” is a punishing striker who relies on his hand speed and one-shot knockout power. Garbrandt isn’t really well-rounded and essentially simple. He moves at hummingbird speed but with a gorilla punch behind it. He primarily succeeds with his boxing and has pro experience in that sport as well, bringing in elite footwork and great usage of angles. He also brings fantastic defensive wrestling and powerful leg kicks, extending his speed advantage as his opponent slows. Garbrandt’s issue is well known: when he senses a finish, he “sees red” and attacks with reckless abandon, often resulting in him rushing straight into a counter.
I’m going to say up front: this is a coin-flip type of fight. Both fighters have such similar striking styles, focusing on their boxing with powerful kicks mixed in primarily to the legs, that this will be closely contested throughout any moment. Both fighters bring the one-shot power to close the show quickly, but there are a few differences that stand out to me. Firstly, Rob Font has a six-inch reach advantage. That will go a long way if he can keep the fight at distance, however, Garbrandt’s advantages in speed and footwork somewhat nullify that. The ground game is a different story. While Font is more aggressive on the mat and has shown his submission ability, Garbrandt wrestled in high school and moves his hips exceptionally well, meaning he will decide whether it goes to the floor. He has not yet given up a single takedown in his UFC career. While I will reiterate that this matchup is about as close as they come, I am leaning towards Cody. His hand speed and power advantages seem to be the most clear edge in this bout, and he has the assistance of the superior wrestling as well. Though he will need to keep a clear head, I have Cody getting another highlight reel knockout, as this bout will likely not go five rounds.
My Pick: Cody Garbrandt via Knockout
Yan Xiaonan vs. Carla Esparza (SW)
Yan Xiaonan (13-1, 6-0 UFC) has been nothing but dominant in her Octagon tenure, churning out wins over the lines of Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill. “Fury” fights just like her nickname suggests, pressuring her opponent and using one of the most relentless paces I’ve seen in the Octagon. She has one of the best sidekicks in the division outside of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and puts on an INSANE average of 6.42 significant strikes per minute. She has some pop in her hands too, scoring five knockouts in her career. Although she still has not gotten a finish in the UFC, she has certainly busted up each opponent unfortunate enough to get thrown in the cage with her. She has powerful wrestling with great trips, but primarily uses that to keep the fight on the feet.
Carla Esparza (17-6, 8-4 UFC) is currently on the longest win streak of her UFC tenure since losing her belt to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She joined the UFC as the first Strawweight champion after winning the twentieth season of the Ultimate Fighter, submitting current champion Rose Namajunas to claim gold. “Cookie Monster” is riding four straight wins, all by decision, over the likes of Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez. Esparza has dominant wrestling and control on the mat in addition to quality point striking, utilizing quick movement and barrages of punches when she enters the pocket. When able to establish top position, Esparza is much more of a position over submission type of fighter and actively looks to grind out her opponents. Even when clearly outmatched on the feet, Esparza has the level of dominance on the mat to make every fight extremely close.
As I said in the intro, this bout will likely determine the next title challenger. I have little doubt that Yan takes home the striking advantage, as she has the technique and volume to wreak havoc on Esparza’s lackluster strike differential. However, Esparza holds the advantage she almost always does: her wrestling. If she can establish top control, she has the ability to ride it out and negate any success Yan finds on the feet. The superb takedown defense of Yan, combined with her forward pressure, will make it difficult for Esparza to even score takedowns. That leaves her little to no chance of finding lengthy periods of top control, as Yan is remarkably adept at reclaiming her footing. Xiaonan batters Esparza on the feet for a wide decision victory.
My Pick: Yan Xiaonan via Decision
Justin Tafa vs. Jared Vanderaa (HW)
Former pro kickboxer and Tai Tuivasa training partner Justin Tafa (4-2, 1-2 UFC) lost his first UFC fight by knockout, but followed it up with a round 1 KO of Juan Adams. The Heavyweight (surprise, surprise) is a power puncher who moves slowly and likes to pick accurate shots to unload his massive power on. Tafa and his younger brother are prodigies of the great Mark Hunt, and bring a similar brawling style. This style was on full display in his last bout against Carlos Felipe, where the two traded bombs for three rounds en route to a close decision loss. His chief struggle to this point has been his gas tank, though he showed a clear improvement there in his last bout. The knockout is often a must for this fighter, but he undoubtedly has the power to do it, with each and every win coming by knockout.
Jared Vanderaa (11-5, 0-1 UFC) came to the Octagon through he Contender Series, earning a first round TKO over Harry Hunsucker. His UFC debut went the wrong way however, as he was dominated and then submitted by Sergey Spivak in the second round. “The Mountain” is a plodding striker when on the feet without the most variety in his strikes, though he has good straights and seven knockouts. He is best on the mat when he can succeed with his top control and heavy ground and pound, though his takedown defense requires improvement. Vanderaa eats his fair share of shots on the feet, with pretty poor head movement.
So long as this match stays standing up, it is Tafa’s fight to lose. He has one-shot power, slick footwork, and a much higher striking defense rate. Vanderaa holds four inches in height and six in reach over Tafa, so he will need to work from range with his striking. With Vanderaa’s striking defense concerns, he is primed to be on the wrong side of a highlight reel knockout. We have not seen Tafa’s takedown defense seriously tested yet, so there remains an avenue to victory for Vanderaa, who holds a clear grappling advantage. However, simply getting it to the mat will be a tough task, as closing the distance against the knockout artist could see Vanderaa’s lights quickly turned off. Tafa has such a clear striking edge that he can find a knockout or pound on Vanderaa, if he can just avoid the takedown.
My Pick: Justin Tafa via Knockout
Felicia Spencer vs. Norma Dumont (FTW)
Felicia Spencer (8-2, 2-2 UFC) will be making her first appearance in almost a year here following a decision defeat to champion Amanda Nunes in her last outing. “Fee-Nom” is a wrestler-grappler by trade, holding four of her six finishes by submission. Though she is certainly a submission threat, she favors position when wrestling and has violent ground striking, stopping Zarah Fairn in the first round with ground and pound. Spencer is somewhat lacking in output on the feet, but fires accurate shots with some real power behind them. She is carries massive strength and incredibly durable for the weight class, lasting to decision with Cris Cyborg and the aforementioned Nunes.
Four straight wins brought Norma Dumont (5-1, 1-1 UFC) to the UFC, but she received a rude welcome in the form of a Megan Anderson KO. A drop to Bantamweight proved more fruitful, as she defeated Ashlee Evans-Smith by decision despite missing weight. Though she was booked to fight Erin Blanchfield on April 10th, the bout was scrapped after Dumont missed weight by an atrocious four pounds. “The Immortal” actually has a genuinely threatening skillset and a Sanda background, despite being absolutely bulldozed by Anderson. She has a high striking rate with serious power, but keeps an astounding 72% takedown defense. She is no slouch on the mat either, with 2.43 takedowns averaged per 15 minutes in the UFC and two submission wins in her career. The most worrisome aspect of Dumont’s game is that she leaves her head on the center line when throwing combos, leaving her wide open for a heavy counter.
This seems to be a matchup dictated by the intangibles, as Spencer was labeled as. heavy favorite, despite Dumont claiming all the statistical advantages. Dumont has a higher output, striking accuracy, defense, and higher success in wrestling. However, Spencer has been put up against the much tougher competition, while Dumont has had 50/50 success against less than stellar competition. I imagine Spencer’s fate will come down to how well she can drag the fight to the mat. Though Dumont’s takedown defense is pretty much untested, she will hold striking advantages in just about every category. With that said, Spencer’s two losses have come against former champions and GOATs, and her toughness and physicality has been on display through wins and defeats. A contentious striking battle on the feet will tip Spencer’s way with top control and submission attempts.
My Pick: Felicia Spencer via Submission
David Dvorak vs. Raulian Paiva (FLW)
David Dvorak (19-3, 2-0 UFC) made his way into the UFC off of the European regional scene, and quickly racked up two decision wins. The “Undertaker” is a dynamic fighter with a versatile skillset as he holds fifteen finishes to his name with eight coming by knockout. He primarily fights as a striker, using his jab and quick leg kicks to work over his opponent from the outside. He keeps up a high defensive striking rate, defending 63% of strikes thrown at him. He is always firing off combinations, keeping a high strike differential, with a deadly Thai clinch as well. Though his wrestling is not a wow factor, he has slick jiu-jitsu skills. Dvorak has not lost a fight since 2012.
A rough start in the Octagon saw Raulian Paiva (20-3, 2-2 UFC) lose his first two bouts, but he has since rebounded, now on a two-fight win streak. His most impressive performance to date has been a one-punch knockout over Mark de la Rosa, his third knockout win. Paiva is most often seen on the feet, utilizing his reach and superb takedown defense to keep it at range. He keeps a good volume, but leaves himself open to shots and does not have tons of power. Paiva has a background in judo, but rarely uses it offensively. He has a freakish height advantage for the division, coming in at 5’8″, which will net him a three-inch height advantage here.
Expect these fighters to sling it out on the feet for all three rounds, with Dvorak holding a grappling advantage without the superior wrestling to get it there. Both fighters work well from range, but Paiva holds a clear edge with his natural height advantage. That being said, Dvorak keeps a much higher defense rate, along with the superior stopping power. I expect lots of quick exchanges in the pocket, and see Dvorak edging a decision due to his hand speed and combinations.
My Pick: David Dvorak via Decision
Jack Hermansson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan (MW)
Following a knockout loss to Jared Cannonier, Jack Hermansson (21-6, 8-4 UFC) returned with a sub-minute submission of Kelvin Gastelum. A main event showing against Marvin Vettori saw the pair set a new divisional strike record, though Hermansson lost out on the scorecards. “The Joker” holds seventeen finishes with ten by knockout, often as a result of his ferocious ground and pound. When Hermansson is able to establish top control, it is hard to get him off and even harder to survive the onslaught of punishment. He is not lost when striking, either, as his high mobility and lengthy frame allow him to move around the outside, forcing his opponent to come to him if they want to land their power punches. Still, his striking mainly exists as an avenue to his ground game, but he is hard to deter once he establishes himself in top control.
A win and seventh straight first round knockout on the Contender Series propelled Edmen Shahbazyan (11-1, 4-1 UFC) to the UFC, where he outwrestled power puncher Darren Stewart and displayed his cardio and grappling. Since then, he rattled off three straight first round finishes before running into Derek Brunson, who knocked him out in the third round. With nine of his wins by first round KO, Edmen clearly has a lot of power, aided by his precision and movement, lining up the perfect shot between his opponent’s guard. “The Golden Boy” also has solid grappling, and is often referred to as the “new breed” of MMA that trains all aspects of the sport vigorously. His concerns come from his defensive wrestling and gas tank, as his output and defense plummet in the later rounds.
This bout was supposed to take place on last week’s PPV card, but the match was rescheduled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each fighter has a path to victory in this matchup, and the close betting lines reflect that. Hermansson’s struggles have come from aggressive opponents who can come inside his range and find his chin. Conversely, Edmen will need to keep this on the feet, as his porous takedown defense and weak jiu-jitsu off his back leave Hermansson able to completely dominate him. Though Shahbazyan has the tools and accuracy to find Hermansson’s chin early, he is reliant upon the finish, while Hermansson will turn up the pressure the longer the fight goes. A tense first round sees Hermansson dominate Edmen on the floor for a late stoppage.
My Pick: Jack Hermansson via Knockout
Before this fantastic main card action, we have eight preliminary bouts locked and loaded, so be sure to tune into Joao Mendes Coelho’s breakdown of those fights, coming shortly!
Categories: UFC Predictions