This article is part of our FanDuel MMA series.
We are back at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada for what is now a nine-fight slate, which takes place on Saturday, August 1. While we don't have quite as many options as the 14-fight tilt that took place last week, we have a lot of potential toss-ups and dogs that require attention, as they could mean the difference between a profitable night and a bust-out.
Since we are back at the Apex, I will once again point out that research suggests more finishes occur in smaller cages like the one the fighters will occupy on June 13th, which should encourage players to look at fights that may not otherwise be thought of as good targets for finishes. As always, fighters will be listed in order from most to least desirable among the given choices.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Best Play: Edmen Shahbazyan ($20)
When sitting down to review this fight I had to ask myself a question: what can I really say I know about Edmen Shahbazyan ? All of his fights have been first round finishes save for one wrestling-heavy performance against Darren Stewart , and that is unlikely to be relevant against a strong wrestler like Derek Brunson . While it was over in a flash, I think we can look to Shahbazyan's last fight with Brad Tavares for some clarity. In that bout we saw a fighter who was good about keeping his range, threw crisp, straight punches and hid a beautiful kick behind one of those punches to score the knockout. I think all of this spells trouble for Brunson. Brunson has been trying to be more patient of late but always devolves into a lunging fighter at some point, which will leave him open to be caught. It must be said that the weird and frantic pressure wrestling game Brunson can employ is almost certainly unlike anything Shahbazyan has seen before, so that is something of a concern. Ultimately though, I just can't trust Brunson not to wade in and get himself clipped, as he's done with regularity in recent outings. Anyone familiar with Ray Borg knows that his game plan is to get inside and work his wrestling game, while pushing a pace that his opponent can't stand up to. It must also be said that his boxing looked sharp against Ricky Simon , but he will likely not want to stand too long with Nathan Maness , who is a skilled, long boxer who is accurate on the counter. The thing that has me picking Borg so confidently here is I've seen nothing to suggest Maness will be able to stop the wrestling or slow the pace of Borg, as he is happy to cede control of the cage to his opponent in his fights. Finishes are generally hard to come by with Borg, but he should have enough rinse-and-repeat wrestling here to put up a nice little score.
In a weird turn of events, Gerald Meerschaert will move to light heavyweight to fight Ed Herman on little more than a week's notice. Meerschaert had his lifeforce snatched by an Ian Heinisch right hand, but before that fight I noted the real improvements we had seen in his striking. This included a nice, stiff jab to compliment his kicking game, as well as a better sense of defense. While he certainly can be cracked by Herman, Herman is not anywhere close to the athletic level of someone like Heinisch, as he tends to just plod forward and throw big shots. This fight could get interesting if it goes to the ground, but "GM3" has shown himself comfortable in a standup fight if he thinks he can win it, and I think he will be able to pick Herman off at range while staying relatively free from danger.
Best Play: Joanne Calderwood ($16)
There are a lot of truisms in MMA that deserve serious criticism, but "kickbox the boxer" is one that I actually think works as a time-tested strategy. This stands to reason, as a kickboxer (or muay thai practitioner) has more weapons than someone who is simply going to get into the cage and throw hands. In my view, this perfectly encapsulates the matchup between Joanne Calderwood and Jennifer Maia. While Maia is a skilled boxer with a bit of pop in her hands, her hand speed leaves a little to be desired, while Calderwood flows between punches and kicks and does fantastic clinch work. Simply put, I think Calderwood has the far more developed MMA game of these two ladies, which should result in something of an easy victory.
Frankie Saenz is now a 40-year-old wrestle-boxer who wants to blitz the pocket with strikes before working his takedown game. The problem is with that age has come the loss of explosivity, and while Martinez isn't the most adept counter fighter in the world, we have seen him get creative in the pocket, like when he hit a step-in knee to knock out Pingyuan Liu in 2019. The other thing to note here is that wrestling game has been slowly disappearing from Saenz's arsenal, as evidenced by the fact that he has hit one takedown or less in six of his last seven fights. Martinez isn't quite heavy-handed enough for me to predict a stoppage here, but I think he will meet Saenz in the pocket and be able to land hard shots.
Bobby Green versus Lando Vannata is actually a rematch of a fight that took place in 2017, wherein Vanatta backed Green up and landed what looked like the seminal blow before an illegal knee halted the action. From there, Green was able to pick Lando off as he tired, leading to an unsatisfying draw. I've never been a fan of the way Lando fights, but I think he's improved greatly since that first meeting. We saw in his fight with Yancy Medeiros that Vannata used his movement to be much more of an outfighter than he has been in the past when he would stay in the pocket for too long after throwing offense. I think this tweak is going to do wonders against Green, who is always happy to wait for his opponent to throw so he can counter. I don't think Vanatta will be there to be countered this time, which should result in a tidy decision victory.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that I almost picked Cody Durden here. He just misses the mark, however, and since there is a large price disparity here, it doesn't belong in the "fish nor fowl" section. The reason for the preemptive hedge is because I think a matchup against a committed wrestler like Durden is an interesting one for Chris Gutierrez, who was taken down and submitted by Raoni Barcelos in 2018. The problem for Durden is all he does is wrestle, and Gutierrez has shown good range control, making it difficult for an opponent to corral him against the fence. Ultimately, I do expect Gutierrez to use that range and pick off the late-replacement fighter as he recklessly shoots in.
Best Play: Jamall Emmers ($12)
I studied tape for this fight hoping to be able to pick against Jamall Emmers , as I saw many on social media going for the dog, but unfortunately, I can't do it. Timur Valiev has some quick kicks and a decent wrestling game, but he allows his opponent to control the pace of the fight far too readily, and I think the speed and length advantage of Emmers is really going to make the difference here. Add in the fact that Valiev isn't a threat to change the course of the fight with a big shot (just seven finishes in 16 wins) and this looks more and more like an opponent Emmers can simply pick apart.
It seems strange to me that Trevin Giles should be such a large underdog to Kevin Holland in this matchup. While I would view Holland as the more athletic fighter here, I think I would give the slight edge to Giles in the boxing department. As far as the ground goes, Giles has shown himself to be no slouch on the mat in fights with Meerschaert and James Krause (as far as defense). I tend to think Holland's bulldozing of Anthony Hernandez in May has inflated this line somewhat, as the majority of his fights in the organization have been back-and-forth slogs through the mud. If that happens here, I'm going to bet on Giles to come out the cleaner of the two.
I have long been a member of the Markus Perez fan club, but it is with a heavy heart that I must admit that while he is athletic with slick jiujitsu, his game on the feet is wildly unstructured. If that wasn't bad enough, the low-percentage strikes he attempts leave him looking tired more often than not. Eric Spicely will never set the world on fire as a kickboxer, but he knows what he wants to do in the cage, which is to work a pressure game and throw his right hand. That doesn't sound very sexy, but I will bet on Spicely to tire Perez out while bearing down on him, particularly since I doubt he will want to tangle on the mat.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
It seems like Vicente Luque ($17) has taken more damage in each passing fight for about the last three years. This certainly includes his last bout with Niko Price, where Price landed 129 significant strikes and rocked Luque in the first round before ultimately succumbing to the superior fighter. I have a bit of a theory that Luque struggles against opponents who can keep range well due to the fact that he waits too long in the pocket. I believe Randy Brown ($15) will prove this out, as he features a nice jab and an underrated kicking game. I must highlight here that Brown has struggled with leg kicks before, and we've seen Luque blast kicks in previous fights, but I don't trust him to stick with this as a consistent game plan the way Belal Muhammad did against Brown, which leaves me picking "Rude Boy" for the minor upset.
Jamall Emmers ($12) will now face Vincent Cachero ($10) after Timur Valiev withdrew for unspecified reasons. The tape on Cachero seems to show a pressure-counter striker with a bit of a wrestling game. While it looks to me that he has some power in his hands, the statistics don't quite bear that out, as he has recorded just two KO/TKO stoppages in his seven victories. The problem I think Cachero runs into here is that he is a fairly rote two-punch combination striker, while Emmers has a nice jab and kicking game, which he should be able to utilize with a substantial height and reach advantage as the true featherweight. Emmers is also a credentialed wrestler, so I don't see the ground as a real path to victory for Cachero here.
***Nathan Maness ($15) will no longer face Ray Borg after he was forced to withdraw from the contest, but the bout with Johnny Munoz ($10) may actually be a bit more difficult in one very important sense: Munoz is much more dangerous as a jujitsu player. He seems to be a committed wrestler, as well, though his pace is unlikely to match Borg's, particularly on this kind of short notice. That being said, he will almost certainly look to come out hard and work his game fast, which could be a real problem if Maness can't keep his range. Maness is an incredibly slick boxer with power in his hands, but he tends to back himself into the cage and will carry just a one-inch advantage of height and reach. This may not be the smartest idea on one day of notice, but I'm going to pick Munoz to get this done. It must be noted, however, that he has been stung in previous fights while trying to close in.
*** FanDuel lists as "Joseph Maness."