UFC on ESPN+ 31: Brunson vs. Shahbazyan Preview

After three weeks at “Fight Island,” UFC returns to their hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, USA for a “Fight Night.” On Saturday night, the UFC will present another show from the “UFC APEX,” which is headlined by veteran Derek Brunson and rising middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan. Here’s a preview of the event.

Click here to skip to a preview of the main card.

Cancelled Bouts

Unfortunately, the way the world is nowadays makes lots of fights volatile. Earlier this week, the originally planned five-round main event between Irene Aldana and Holly Holm was taken off of this card after Aldana tested positive for COVID-19.

Volatility was the keyword for this card in general, as many short-notice opponents stepped in to salvage bouts on the card. One that couldn’t be saved was Markus Perez’s, which saw Charlie Ontiveros attempt to step in on short notice for Eric Spicely. That plan didn’t work, with the bout being announced as cancelled on Friday.

Due to the show being limited to 10 fights, the start time of the preliminary card was bumped ahead to 7:00PM EDT (4:00PM local time)

Preliminary Card (7:00PM EDT / 4:00PM PDT) (ESPN / TSN 5)

Bout 1: Chris Gutierrez (15-3-1) vs. Cody Durden (11-2) (Bantamweight)

Kicking off the four-fight preliminary card is a bout between Chris Gutierrez and Cody Durden. Gutierrez was first meant to fight Luke Sanders, however, a short-notice withdrawal changed his plans. Gutierrez has won his last three fights, with his most recent one being a May stoppage win against Vince Morales. He looks for his fourth UFC win against Durden, who will be making his promotional debut. He carries an impressive seven-fight winning streak into the octagon, including a win earlier in July, stopping John Sweeney in under two minutes.

Bout 2: Jamall Emmers (17-5) vs. Vincent Cachero (7-2) (Featherweight)

The prelims will see a matchup of Jamall Emmers and Vincent Cachero, two featherweights who will look for their first UFC win. Emmers made his UFC debut in March, but the fight was a split decision loss to Giga Chikadze. He’s now matched with the debuting Cachero, who is stepping in for Timur Valiev. Cachero is a longtime LFA fighter, with his last fight being a January win in the promotion.

Bout 3: Nathan Maness (11-1) vs. Johnny Munos Jr. (10-0) (Bantamweight)

In a double debut, Nathan Maness will fight undefeated prospect Johnny Munos Jr. Munos Jr. was scheduled to have a bigger debut fight, facing Ray Borg on the card. However, after Borg pulled out of the show, Maness stepped up to the challenge of having his own respective debut as well.

Munos Jr.’s perfect 10-fight record has all come from fights within regional promotion “King of the Cage,” with his last win in the promotion coming from last September.

Maness has fought more recently, with his last fight being a February win over Kellen VanCamp.

Bout 4: Frankie Saenz (12-6) vs. Jonathan Martinez (11-3) (Bantamweight)

On Saturday, both Frankie Saenz and Jonathan Martinez will aim to bounce back from losses in the UFC. Martinez’s last fight was a split decision loss to Andre Ewell, ending a two-fight losing streak from 2019. Saenz’s story is very much the same, although he comes off of a larger layoff. His last fight was in March of 2019, where he was finished in the second minute with punches by Marlon Vera.

Martinez missed the non-championship bantamweight limit on Friday, coming in five-and-a-half pounds over the limit (140.5 pounds). Because of this, 30 percent of his fight purse was given to Saenz.

Main Card (9:00PM EDT / 6:00PM PDT) (ESPN / TSN 5)

Bout 5: Kevin Holland (17-5) vs. Trevin Giles (12-2) (Middleweight)

The main card will start with two middleweights looking to build off of their first win in 2020. Following his 39-second win over Anthony Hernandez in May, Kevin Holland returns to face Trevin Giles on this card. Hernandez is filling in for Jun Yong Park, who’s departure from the card was announced last week. Giles’ last win came in February, where he took a split decision win over James Krause. The victory avoided giving Giles a three-fight losing streak.

Bout 6: Ed Herman (24-14) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (31-13) (Light Heavyweight)

After an 11-fight stint in the middleweight division, Gerald Meerschaert makes the move up to light heavyweight on Saturday versus Ed Herman. Meerschaert took the fight on short notice, filling in for Da Un Jung. Meerschaert has been more active than others this year, fighting twice since March. His last fight was a loss, being stopped in the second minute by Ian Heinisch in June. Herman was won his last two, defeating Patrick Cummins and Khadis Ibragimov in his two-fight 2019 run.

Bout 7: Bobby Green (25-10-1) vs. Lando Vannata (11-4-2) (Lightweight)

Coming back shortly after his June win against Clay Guida, Bobby Green is matched with “Groovy” Lando Vannata on the main card. Green’s win last month saw him snap a two-fight losing streak from before, winning over a veteran in Guida. He now faces Vannata, who’s had a somewhat rocky record in his nine-fight UFC run. His last fight, however, was a win, defeating Yancy Medeiros in February. A win for Vannata would mark the first time in his UFC run that he has gone on a two-fight winning streak.

Bout 8: Vicente Luque (18-7-1) vs. Randy Brown (12-3) (Welterweight)

In a battle of experienced welterweights, Vicente Luque will battle with Randy Brown. From 2017 to 2019, Luque built an impressive six-fight winning streak. That streak was concluded in late 2019 by Stephen Thompson, who won over him at UFC 244. He has since bounced back, with his last fight being a win over Niko Price in May. He looks to build on a new winning streak against Brown. Brown will try to build on his two-fight 2019 run which saw him finish Bryan Barberena and Warlley Alves.

Bout 9: Joanne Calderwood (14-4) vs. Jennifer Maia (17-6-1) (Flyweight)

In the co-main event of the show, ranked flyweights Joanne Calderwood and Jennifer Maia battle. Calderwood is set to return after just under a year of absence from competition, with his last fight being a split decision win over Andrea Lee. Calderwood, unfortunately, missed out on a flyweight championship bout in June, as champion Valentina Shevchenko pulled out of their scheduled bout due to injury. Calderwood took this fight on short notice, replacing Viviane Araujo, who tested positive for COVID-19.

Maia has the chance to prove she deserves the next shot by defeating the fighter who was meant to have a shot. Maia’s last fight was a decision loss at UFC 244 to Katlyn Chookagian.

Bout 10: Derek Brunson (20-7) vs. Edmen Shahbazyan (11-0) (Middleweight)

The three-round main event sees Derek Brunson face quickly rising fighter Edmen Shahbazyan. Brunson, a UFC fighter since 2012, has played a gatekeeper role for the middleweight division as of late, facing younger fighters or fighters with less UFC experience like Israel Adesanya, Elias Theodorou and Ian Heinisch. He now faces the undefeated Shahbazyan, who has won his four UFC bouts in his career thus far.

Shahbazyan made his UFC debut in 2018, entering the promotion after a quick finish win on TV series “Dana White’s Contender Series.” He has gotten three first-round stoppage wins in the UFC, with the most recent of the three being against Brad Tavares in November.

FURTHER READING: Edmen Shahbazyan’s Biggest Test Yet: Will He Pass?

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