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UFC Vegas 5 preview, ‘Brunson vs Shahbazyan’ predictions

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UFC 244 Tavares v Shahbazyan Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back in action this weekend with the UFC Vegas 5 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, scheduled for Sat., Aug. 1, 2020 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, and headlined by the middleweight showdown between Derek Brunson and Edmen Shahbazyan. Elsewhere on the card, which airs exclusively on ESPN+, flyweight contenders Joanne Calderwood and Jennifer Maia collide for a spot in the 125-pound title race.

Original headliners, Holly Holm and Irene Aldana, have been rebooked for a later date.

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, be sure to check out the complete UFC Vegas 5 preliminary card breakdown, expertly deconstructed by the jet-setting Patrick Stumberg here and here. Fighter-turned-writer-turned-fighter again, Andrew Richardson, did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the main card right here. For the latest “Brunson vs. Shahbazyan” odds and betting lines click here.

Let’s get to work ...

185 lbs.: Derek Brunson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan

Derek Brunson

Record: 20-7 | Age: 36 | Betting line: +270
Wins: 11 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 5 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 6’1“ | Reach: 77” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.39 (45.94% accuracy)
Takedown Average: 2.80 (29.27% accuracy)
Current Ranking: No. 8 | Last fight: Decision win over Ian Heinisch

Edmen Shahbazyan

Record: 11-0 | Age: 22 | Betting line: -330
Wins: 9 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 1 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’2“ | Reach: 74” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.11 (52.90% accuracy)
Takedown Average: 6.77 (40.91% accuracy)
Current Ranking: No. 9 | Last fight: Knockout win over Brad Tavares

I think a lot of us rolled our eyes when Edmen Shahbazyan was given a spot on Dana White’s “Contender Series” back in summer 2017 simply because the Californian — then just 20 years old — was fighting out of Glendale Fighting Club and managed by former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Then Shahbazyan practically killed Antonio Jones in less than a minute and made the news of his signing more about his merits as a cage fighter and less about where he came from (and who he knew). His Octagon debut would turn in his toughest test to date against the venerable Darren Stewart but in the months that followed, it’s been nothing but first-round finishes, including last November’s destruction of Brad Tavares. Beating a ranked contender like Tavares is what separates Shahbazyan from other “Contender Series” imports like “Sugar” Sean O’Malley and one of the many reasons fans (and fellow fighters) need to take him seriously when he starts talking about future title shots. Not that smoking Brunson would allow him to cut the line, but it would be a helluva good start.

Brunson, sadly, is not taken very seriously in the middleweight division and I think that’s a receipt for losing on the grand stage. Before we go any further, let’s just go ahead and admit he won that Anderson Silva fight at UFC 208. Outside of that, he was torched by Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker — the current and former middleweight champion — as well as Jacare Souza and Yoel Romero, two world-class fighters consistently ranked in the Top 5. If you’re going to get creamed, at least get creamed by the best. Putting that aside, Brunson has continued to handle his business, often times in spectacular fashion. No longer just a wrestler, the Strikeforce import laid waste to the likes of Sam Alvey, Uriah Hall, and Lyoto Machida, among others. To suggest Brunson can’t replicate that sort of finish against Shahbazyan is to also suggest the Armenian-American is performing above those aforementioned talents. I’m not ready to say he hits harder than Alvey, is faster than Hall, or works the angles better than Machida. At the same time, he may not have to.

I have to imagine that a fighter as seasoned as Brunson actually develops a gameplan before walking into the Octagon, though I often wonder what corner it hides in when the shit hits the proverbial fan. A fighter as strong and powerful as Brunson — a three-time Division II All-American wrestler — could very easily grind his way to victory, particularly against an opponent like Shahbazyan, who’s only left the first round once in his entire career. Instead, we’re probably going to get the same version of Brunson we saw against Adesanya, a dumbed-down slugger hellbent on derailing the hype train of an up-and-coming prospect. It didn’t pan out against “The Last Stylebender” and it won’t serve him well against Shahbazyan, either. If Brunson was 26 instead of 36 we might be having a different conversation but he isn’t so we aren’t. Expect a wild first round with punches going in every direction until somebody melts. I predict it will be Brunson.

Prediction: Shahbazyan def. Brunson by knockout

125 lbs.: Joanne Calderwood vs. Jennifer Maia

Joanne “JoJo” Calderwood

Record: 14-4 | Age: 33 | Betting line: -145
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 5’6“ | Reach: 65.5” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 6.19 (47.86% accuracy)
Takedown Average: 1.85 (56% accuracy)
Current Ranking: No. 3 | Last fight: Decision win over Andrea Lee

Jennifer Maia

Record: 17-6-1 | Age: 31 | Betting line: +125
Wins: 4 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 9 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 4 DEC
Height: 5’4“ | Reach: 64” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.05 (38.15% accuracy)
Takedown Average: 0.25 (50% accuracy)
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian

Flyweight veteran Joanne Calderwood joins the long list of UFC fighters who lost their chance to compete for the division title thanks to a championship injury, but it remains to be seen if she joins a different list of fighters who went on to regret it (think Edgar-Ortega). What worries me heading into this fight is the fact that Calderwood took over for the ailing Viviane Araujo on such short notice. Her original bout against Valentina Shevchenko was called off well over a month ago, so it’s unlikely the Scot was still training at full speed. We’re also in one of those weird sports where we have to avoid elevating a fighter because we like them. Calderwood is one of the more appealing athletes on the UFC roster and presents well, so the urge is to carry that over to her performances inside the cage. With that in mind, I’m not breaking out the party hats for a split-decision victory over Andrea Lee, which followed a decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian.

It hasn’t been a steady stream of wine and roses for Jennifer Maia, either, thanks to a couple of losses to Liz Carmouche and the aforementioned Chookagian. I also don’t want to go crazy for her only two wins inside the Octagon, because Alexis Davis and Roxanne Modafferi are both in their late 30s and have combined for 27 losses. In addition, Maia’s recent surge under the Invicta FC banner — which included a flyweight title — helped overshadow some of her earlier losses for Shannon Knapp and Co., like Deanne Bennett and Leslie Smith. I’m not trying to make this some sort of anti-Maia campaign because the Brazilian is powerful and sports an impressive fight IQ. She also has eight finishes in her career, more than four of the five flyweights currently ranked above of her. I guess the counter to that statistic would be the fact that Maia hasn’t stopped anyone in five years across a span of eight fights, so either she’s lost her killer instinct or the competition has caught up to her.

I never liked those predictions columns that end with “well this fight could really go either way” but sometimes it’s hard to pick a clear winner. Calderwood could easily steal this one on points with footwork and volume. At the same time, Maia is tough to break and even tougher to handle in the clinch, so I could just as easily see “JoJo” getting squashed against the cage for 15 minutes. There’s always that fear that Calderwood will fail to get out of first gear, a habit that has plagued her in the past, though I would imagine she also knows what’s at stake in this fight. Chalk that up to her maturity as a fighter. After all, winning ugly is still winning and I expect a couple of perfectly-timed takedowns to seal the deal for Calderwood, who is in the prime of her career and likely to be firing on all cylinders.

Prediction: Calderwood def. Maia by unanimous decision

Remember, the rest of the UFC Vegas 5 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 5 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the main card portion that also streams on ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 5: “Brunson vs Shahbazyan” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.