Best bets for UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs. Shahbazyan


July was all about Fight Island, but in August the UFC is back on home turf in Las Vegas. And that means five straight weeks of action at the UFC Apex, which features a smaller Octagon.

Saturday's Fight Night card appears relatively deep despite losing its originally planned main event -- Holly Holm vs. Irene Aldana. Instead, top-10 middleweights Derek Brunson and Edmen Shahbazyan will close the show, while women's flyweight contenders Joanne Calderwood and Jennifer Maia will fight in the co-main event. Indeed, Saturday's card has undergone the typical last-minute pandemic reworks. But we're still left with plenty of matchups to consider.

Prelims begin at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+, and the main card starts at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

Middleweight main event: No. 9 Edmen Shahbazyan (-325) vs. No. 8 Derek Brunson (+265)

Tale Of The Tape

Last fight weight class Middleweight Middleweight
Age 36 22
Height 73 74
Reach 77 74
Stance Southpaw Orrhodox
Analyzed minutes 114 19
Standup striking offense
Total knockdown ratio (scored:received) 5:6 3:0
Distance knockdown rate 4.5% 15.4%
Head jab accuracy 23% 20%
Head power accuracy 35% 54%
Total standup strike ratio 1.0 0.9
Striking defense
Total head strike defense 69% 84%
Distance knockdown defense ("Chin") 94% 100%
Wrestling and grappling
TD attempts per min standing/clinch 0.82 1.47
Takedown accuracy 26% 41%
Advances per takedown/top control 1.1 0.6
Opponent takedown attempts 15 4
Takedown defense 100% 75%
Share of total ground time in control 95% 86%
Submission attempts per trip to ground 0.16 0.10
Although Edmen Shahbazyan fulfills our minimum requirement of UFC appearances to be considered for analysis, the undefeated prospect has finished his past three opponents so quickly that his 19 minutes of Octagon time makes him seem like a fresh newcomer. He's just 22 years old and now 4-0 in the UFC. His last fight, a first-round TKO of veteran Brad Tavares, was a strong performance against proven talent. The numbers even supported him in that situation. This time around, however, the matchup is very different, as his opponent might be the strongest wrestler he has faced.

While standing, the numbers clearly like Shahbazyan, combining his accurate power striking with an anomalously high knockdown rate, and pitting that against Brunson, who shows below-average head strike defense and a tendency to get knocked down. These are the exact ingredients for a first-round finish. But the real question will be what happens if that finish doesn't come right out of the gate?

If the fight evolves past the first exchanges, Brunson has the experience and the wrestling base to take the fight to deeper waters, where, presumably, he'll be at the advantage to win rounds via top control.

Unfortunately, the data looks skewed for Shahbazyan until he has more meaningful minutes under his belt. If he has the potential to face the elite, an early knockout of a 36-year-old Brunson won't tell us much. But if the fight enters the later rounds, the winner of those rounds will be worth paying attention to in the long run.

The chalk on Shahbazyan tells us the market already has sided with him, which means the under, or an inside the distance play will be more affordable than taking his side overall. But a patient observer will sit back and use this matchup to understand his long-term potential better. The small cage could force the action, but Brunson also could use it to stifle any standup. Lots of unknowns here, but there are scenarios that are more and less likely for each fighter.

E+ recommends: Pass at current odds. Should Brunson near +300, a small stab at the upset is worthy. Otherwise, take the Shahbazyan by TKO prop as an affordable favorite.

Other values on the card

Bantamweight Jonathan Martinez opened as a mild -165 favorite over 39-year-old Frankie Saenz. The records of the two men show a lot of inconsistency, but the market has been all over Martinez since opening. At his current price, the numbers still lean Martinez, but you better catch him before he approaches -300.

E+ recommends: Moneyline lean on Martinez as long as he stays closer to -200.

A more affordable favorite is welterweight Vicente Luque, who takes on the rangy Randy Brown. Luque has deservedly worked his way into the ranks with plenty of runway left in his career for a run at the top. He's younger than his opponent, yet more experienced and has faced better talent.

E+ recommends: Moneyline play on Luque at under -200.