There are 16 American-born combatants on the UFC on ESPN+ 31 fight card as the promotion comes back stateside to the UFC APEX facility in Las Vegas.
The Octagon is a little bit smaller than what we saw at Fight Island, so you’ll want to factor that into your handicapping, as size restrictions in the APEX training facility tighten things up a little bit. With several fights expected to go to a decision on this card, you will want to take note of the aggressive fighters that push the issue a little bit more.
One fight that is not expected to go the distance is the main event between Edmen Shahbazyan and Derek Brunson. This will be the biggest opportunity to date for Shahbazyan, who draws a fighter that has squared off against the likes of Israel Adesanya, Jacare Souza, Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker, and Yoel Romero.
Even though Brunson is the more recognizable name, Shahbazyan is -304 at BetMGM Sportsbook for the main event of Saturday night’s card. This is a fight that we see the UFC set up with its promising youngsters. Brunson is definitely better than some of the over-the-hill fighters that we’ve seen in these spots, but he wasn’t striking hard enough to knock out Ian Heinisch or Elias Theodorou in his two 2019 fights.
The 36-year-old Brunson is not the guy he used to be. He’s also a guy that has lost to most of the best opponents that he has fought. While Shahbazyan is not in that category yet, his undefeated record and trajectory would suggest that he could be. This is a spot designed for him to shine. You have to pay quite a price to see him get there, but the line suggests that he will.
There is only one women’s fight on the card and it is one of two fights without an American. Joanne Calderwood has decided not to wait on her title shot against Valentina Shevchenko to return to the Octagon. Instead, she’ll be a -154 favorite when she takes on Jennifer Maia. This is really a zero-sum game for Calderwood, who is taking this fight for a paycheck and to stay sharp. The worst-case scenario is that she loses and the matchmakers go elsewhere for Shevchenko’s next opponent.
The fact that Calderwood would take this fight when she’s on the precipice of a title opportunity suggests that she feels like she is ready. That she feels like she will come out on top. If there was any doubt in her mind, she’d sit and wait or at least pressure UFC into a weaker fighter.
Maia is not a fighter that inflicts a ton of punishment. In fact, each of her last eight fights has gone the distance. This one is lined as if it will as well. Maia has also missed weight in her last two fights, so we’ll see if she focuses more on being at a comfortable weight or tries to hold on to the extra 20% of the purse.
The best fights of the night will probably be other main card bouts. Randy Brown and Vicente Luque should provide plenty of fireworks. Brown is +155 with Luque at -186. Brown is the bigger fighter with more reach, but Luque’s finishing ability is getting a lot of respect based on the number. Luque’s most recent performance against Niko Price really stood out as a coming of age type of moment for the 28-year-old and he should get another one here against Brown. The price is high at -186, but you can bet Luque by KO as those types of props gets posted.
The other big fight on the main card is Lando Vannata against Bobby Green. Vannata is a -145 favorite and this one is -250 to go the distance. Vannata has actually only won two of his last seven fights. Remember way back when, at UFC Fight Night: McDonald vs. Lineker when Vannata made his UFC debut against Tony Ferguson? The trajectories for those two fighters have changed a lot over the years. Vannata is a favorite over Green, who has lost five of his last eight.
These two fought at UFC 216 and fought to a split draw. Vannata was knocked down a point for an illegal knee and that led to the draw. More than 2.5 years later, the two will fight again and we’ll have to see who comes out on top. Green has a great chance as one of the better underdog bets on the card.
There are quite a few “name” fighters on the undercard, including Ed Herman and Gerald Meerschaert. Meerschaert is in a big favorite role at -176 per BetMGM, even though he’s lost four of his last six. Herman has won each of his last two fights, but had lost five of seven prior to that. These two guys have been disappointments, but Meerschaert is the clear-cut favorite over the +145 Herman.
Ray Borg also finds himself in a big favorite role against UFC newcomer Nate Maness. Borg has lost three of his last five fights, but the -223 favorite has fought much stiffer competition than he will face here. Interestingly, Maness has half a foot on Borg and a lot more reach, but Borg is the known commodity with a much stronger slate of opponents, so he gets the benefit of the doubt.
All in all, this is a card full of underachievers and guys that once had a higher standing in the UFC. Do you trust them or not? Picking out the right ones to trust will make for a lucrative Saturday night betting on the UFC at BetMGM Sportsbook.