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UFC Vegas 27 preview, ‘Font vs Garbrandt’ predictions

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UFC 227 Open Workouts Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Is Cody Garbrandt still a legitimate title contender?

The former UFC bantamweight champion will look to win his second straight for the first time in over four years when he throws hands with No. 3-ranked contender Rob Font in the UFC Vegas 27 main event tomorrow night (Sat., May 22, 2021) at APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Before that clash of styles gets underway, former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza will take one step closer to rematching 115-pound champion Rose Namajunas — or head to the back of the line — when she collides with red-hot division contender Yan Xiaonan.

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, head over to the UFC Vegas 27 preliminary card breakdown expertly deconstructed by effervescent analyst Patrick Stumberg here and here. For the latest “Font vs. Garbrandt” odds and betting lines be sure to check out the updated numbers right here.

Let’s break it down ...

135 lbs.: Rob Font vs. Cody Garbrandt

Rob Font

Record: 18-4 | Age: 33 | Betting line: -110
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 71” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 5.21 | Striking accuracy: 42%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.83 | Striking Defense: 62%
Takedown Average: 1.20 (36% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 48%
Current Ranking: No. 3 | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Marlon Moraes

Cody “No Love” Garbrandt

Record: 12-3 | Age: 29 | Betting line: -110
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 65” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.35 | Striking accuracy: 37%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.33 | Striking Defense: 65%
Takedown Average: 0.84 (33% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 100%
Current Ranking: No. 4 | Last fight: Knockout win over Raphael Assuncao

Former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt makes his return to the main stage with something to prove, not just to himself but also to the combat sports community, because there are still a lot of question marks surrounding the career of “No Love.” There was a time when the Team Alpha Male product was the best 135-pound fighter on the planet, or so we thought, until TJ Dillashaw took his head in consecutive title fights from 2017-18. Perhaps it’s fair to (partially) blame those losses on Dillashaw’s EPO cocktails, the same way we look less harshly upon middleweight defeats to the 2013 version of Vitor Belfort, who treated TRT the way A-Train treated Compound V. Explaining away Garbrandt’s subsequent knockout loss to Pedro Munhoz will not be as easy, unless you think Dillashaw ruined “No Love” for the rest of his career. Garbrandt’s second-round mauling of Raphael Assuncao is unlikely to bring the jury out of deliberations when you consider the shopworn Brazilian turns 39 in just a few weeks. One thing we can say for certain is that rebounding with an exclamation point has likely done wonders for Garbrandt’s confidence.

Confidence is probably not in short supply for Rob Font either after winning three straight fights for the first time in his UFC career and as a result, will celebrate another first by headlining tomorrow night’s fight card in Las Vegas. Unfortunately his current streak, capped by a technical knockout win over Brazilian bomber Marlon Moraes, is the most exciting thing we have to talk about when it comes to Font’s accomplishments. That’s not meant to take away from his four post-fight bonuses, which include a “Fight of the Night” against Ricky Simon at UFC on ESPN 7, we just have to separate excitement from development and in this case, Font still has some work to do. As far as his skill set, he’s a fairly complete fighter and capable of winning wherever the fight goes, which is why it’s been frustrating to see him give away decision losses to the likes of Assuncao and John Lineker. I will say that not getting stiffened by “Hands of Stone” lends him favor when deconstructing the Garbrandt fight.

I’m expecting the best version of Garbrandt for the UFC Vegas 27 main event. But even the best Garbrandt can’t shake the worst tendencies, like his love affair with the knockout punch. A focused, patient “No Love” — a standout collegiate wrestler — could probably make this a fairly one-sided affair. Instead, he’ll fall back on his love for boxing. And why not? It’s led to double-digit knockouts in his MMA career. That means Font will have to frustrate Garbrandt and force the ex-champ to chase him around the cage, winging wild punches. That’s going to be a pretty tall order when you consider Font has to survive five rounds against one of the most powerful sluggers at 135 pounds. I just can’t pick a fighter — even one as talented as Garbrandt — coming off another surgery, a prolonged bout with COVID-19, and a record that only sports one victory in nearly five years.

Prediction: Font def. Garbrandt by technical knockout

115 lbs.: Yan Xiaonan vs. Carla Esparza

Yan “Fury” Xiaonan

Record: 13-1, 1 NC | Age: 31 | Betting line: -125
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’5“ | Reach: 63” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 6.42 | Striking accuracy: 42%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.63 | Striking Defense: 63%
Takedown Average: 1.00 (75% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 75%
Current Ranking: No. 3 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Claudia Gadelha

Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza

Record: 17-6 | Age: 33 | Betting line: +105
Wins: 3 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 10 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 5’1“ | Reach: 63” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 2.29 | Striking accuracy: 42%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.85 | Striking Defense: 53%
Takedown Average: 3.44 (35% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 48%
Current Ranking: No. 4 | Last fight: Split decision win over Marina Rodriguez

Carla Esparza doesn’t get a ton of respect from the combat sports community and is rarely mentioned among the top names in the division, which is a shame because “Cookie Monster” was the first-ever UFC strawweight champion and holds a submission victory over current titleholder Rose Namajunas. Despite those accomplishments, the “yeah, but” brigade will say “yeah, but she won the title without fighting Jedrzejczyk” or “yeah, but Namajunas was only 22 at the time.” It happens. Charles Oliveira captured the lightweight crown without beating Justin Gaethje or Dustin Poirier, two fighters ranked ahead of him prior to UFC 262. And despite the youth of Namajunas, “Thug” went into that fight with back-to-back submission wins over Joanne Calderwood and Randa Markos, so it’s not like they plucked her from the stands the day before the fight.

What troubles me about the recent run from Esparza, good enough to land four consecutive victories, is the fact that her Namajunas submission stands as the only finish of her UFC career. Her next seven wins — spread across five years and balanced against three losses — were all decisions, including a pair of splits in her last two. Probably not the best way to endear yourself to fickle fight fans or more importantly, fickle matchmakers. I think that’s to be expected from a wrestler as decorated as Esparza, a two-time NAIA All-American out of Menlo College, home to fellow Endeavor veterans like Danny Castillo and Ashlee Evans-Smith. “Cookie Monster” has never landed more than 50 significant strikes during any of her UFC fights, though she does have nearly 40 takedowns to her credit. That’s a nice way of saying that her fights can be boring, though I doubt Esparza is concerned with anything but the win column at this stage of her career.

Speaking of the win column, it seems Yan Xiaonan — or Xiaonan Yan, depending on where you put your surnames — can do no wrong over the last decade. “Fury” has racked up 11 wins and zero losses dating back to her days on the Chinese regional circuit, though she’s subjected to the same kind of scrutiny we gave Esparza. Namely, what’s up with all these decision wins? Not that I expect every strawweight to be packing heat, and maybe we’re just spoiled by what Namajunas and Weili Zhang have done, but it's never a good sign when a fighter scores a bunch of knockouts overseas only to join UFC and fail to finish a single opponent. Again, winning is paramount and Xiaonan is getting the job done. She’s also outlanding her opponents by nearly double — and sometimes triple — to the point where she scored 150 significant strikes against Syuri Kondo at UFC Beijing in late 2018. “Fury” will wrestle when needed, grounding Karolina Kowalkiewicz five times in their Feb. 2020 affair.

It doesn’t take an MMA wizard or some sort of Magic 8-Ball to predict what Esparza is going to do when the opening bell sounds. She’ll juke and jive and throw something that could be mistaken for punches (if the light is low and the stream is choppy) then barrel in for the takedown or some wall-and-stall. Hard to knock it because it works, however tedious it may be for the Just Bleed generation. Xiaonan sports a pretty good takedown defense when you look at the numbers, recently shucking off eight of 10 attempts from Claudia Gadelha. The counter to that is “Claudinha” is not the wrestler that Esparza is, so “Fury” will need to keep pedaling that bicycle when “Cookie Monster” starts reaching for the jar. I’m not sure we can expect Xiaonan to last 15 minutes without ending up on the floor at least once or twice, but I do think her movement, coupled with her superior striking, will be enough to treat the one-dimensional Esparza like a boardwalk whack-a-mole.

Prediction: Xiaonan def. Esparza by unanimous decision will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 27 fight card on Sat. night, starting with the ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 27 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archives here. For the complete “Font vs. Garbrandt” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.