(Update: Marlon Vera vs. Frankie Saenz has been cancelled due to weight cutting concerns for Vera)
While I wouldn’t go out of my way to catch the early bouts of UFC 235, every contest on Fight Pass offers a certain degree of intrigue. Depending on how you label Marlon Vera, there is at least one prospect in every contest that could potentially evolve into a fighter of note. How those prospects respond to the tests in front of them for this card will go a long way in determining just how capable they are of hitting their ceiling.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Saturday.
Edmen Shahbazyan (8-0) vs. Charles Byrd (10-5), Middleweight
There was a lot to like about Shahbazyan’s UFC debut against Darren Stewart. There was also plenty to be wary about. Having never left the first round before that contest, Shahbazyan overcame adversity to go the distance in taking a decision, relying on takedown after takedown. However, that adversity was in expending his energy early – showing potential room for growth in his fight IQ -- leaving little in the gas tank for the last two rounds. Fortunately for him, his determination doesn’t see him quit, even if his energy level is low.
Byrd presents a similar challenge to Shahbazyan as Stewart. He’s a sound athlete to go along with some decent power too. The one definitive advantage Byrd has over Stewart is Byrd’s grappling chops has caught opponents by surprise. Shahbazyan does tend to put himself into bad situations, but I favor the chances of the 21-year old Shahbazyan to take a similar course to victory over Byrd that he did over Stewart. Shahbazyan via decision
Gina Mazany (5-2) vs. Macy Chiasson (3-0), Women’s Bantamweight
Mazany is only on the roster because Liz Carmouche pulled up lame a few years ago and the UFC needed a last-minute opponent for Sara McMann. Translation: she isn’t going to be climbing the bantamweight standings in any significant way. To Mazany’s credit, she has improved since coming aboard. However, her grinding wrestling style is still only good enough to turn away the lowest level of UFC competition.
That the UFC is pairing Mazany against Chiasson is further proof Mazany doesn’t have much of a future. Chiasson just won the most recent season TUF… at featherweight. Let’s just say she didn’t appear undersized for 145. If she can get the weight cut down, she could prove to be a beast at bantamweight. Though there is no guarantee of that, the guess here is she’s strong enough to stuff Mazany’s takedowns and outpoint her with her relentless pressure. Chiasson via decision
Marlon Vera (14-5-1) vs. Frankie Saenz (12-5), Bantamweight
Given Vera has been associated with the UFC for about five years now, it’s easy to forget he’s still only 26. With that in mind, some of his inconsistencies may be forgiven for his youth. Great instincts are the premier factor that defines the Ecuadorian as he’s secured finishes in five of his six UFC wins, three by submission, two by KO/TKO. However, if he can’t find the finish, Vera’s in trouble as his lack of volume is troublesome when it comes to swaying judges in his favor.
Saenz has been able to squeeze out wins in his last two appearances, though they haven’t exactly been inspiring. His physical skills seem to be eroding, no surprise as he’s 38. Saenz could grind Vera into the mat, securing a boring decision. However, he likes throwing fisticuffs, potentially negating his biggest advantage. Vera struggles to put together consistent offense, but he tends to land a killshot or snatch a sub when given the opportunity. Vera via TKO of RD2
Polyana Viana (10-2) vs. Hannah Cifers (8-3), Women’s Strawweight
It’s hard to know where Viana and Cifers will end up in their career. Neither is a surefire lock to become a fixture in the UFC long term, though they do have the physical skills to do so. Cifers’ Muay thai stylings in particular can be a lot of fun to watch, though she’ll have to shore up her grappling if she hopes to hang around long term. Viana can do a bit of everything, but she lacked the power or accuracy to overcome JJ Aldrich in her last outing. The issues plaguing both are correctable, though time will be needed. I’d expect Cifers to be the more likely victor as Viana’s wrestling may be the weakest part of her arsenal. Cifers via decision