After a brief dalliance with the Fight Island experiment, the UFC returns to their home base in a different kind of desert. This event, however, is a strange one from top to bottom.
The main event is not a five-rounder, and various fights were either rescheduled, reshuffled, or cancelled entirely. Present circumstances make this understandable, and it’s actually quite remarkable that so many of these bouts are still going forward.
This is also a much leaner card than our most recent offering, as there’s only five fights on the prelims and five on the main card. Not bad for a midsummer action card.
Two things of note are that Eric Spicely’s fight with Markus Perez has been cancelled due to a weight cut failure, while Valiev had to withdraw from his fight against Jamall Emmers.
Frankie Saenz vs Jonathan Martinez
Martinez (11-3) is 26 years old and appears to still be finding his footing, and is a great talent despite being 2-2 in the UFC. His losses were close decisions against Andre Soukhmantath and Andre Ewell. Maybe he’s just got bad luck against guys named Andre. His decision over Wuliji Buren (whom I affectionately refer to as Waluigi) and his lights out performance against Pingyuan Liu had him looking good and at a brisk pace.
On the other hand, Saenz (12-6) is 39 and has been around the block, having been in the game for a decade. He’s now 2-1 in his last three with wins over Merab Dvalishvili and Henry Briones, and had that momentum stopped at the hands of Marlon Vera in March of last year. Neither fighter has truly bad losses as of late, but it’s clear Martinez is primed for big things with his youth, athleticism and potential. Is his defensive grappling and boxing on point to the level where he’ll be at an advantage? Probably not, at least not in the long run. His cardio will hold up, as should be the case for Saenz, but the veteran savvy plays a part here along with work inside the clinch. Martinez could get it done early, or he could end up in a longer and drawn-out battle he can still win but will fall behind as the fight hits some lulls.
Ed Herman vs Gerald Meerschaert
Ed Herman is not a superstar, but he’s recognizable enough to be one of those cats that people see and go “wait, he’s still in the UFC?“ Well, the answer is yes. It should be mentioned that he had a great 2019 with wins over Patrick Cummins (sent to the netherrealm) and Khadis Ibragimov (decision). His previous losses to Gian Villante and C.B. Dollaway led some to wonder whether or not he should stick around or not, but his wins showed he can still hang - no surprise considering light heavyweight is such an odd division overall.
He’ll be up against Gerald Meerschaert (31-13), who soaks up a ton of hits in some of his appearances but has excellent BJJ chops to fall back on. He’s moving up to light heavyweight for this one, so he won’t be affected by a weight cut. But Herman can still crack, and Gerald can only so much damage during the course of a fight. This could get ugly, though. Just keep that in mind.
Nathan Maness vs Johnny Muñoz Jr
Nathan Maness is a Kentucky native that got big in his area, enough to end up in Canada’s TKO organization and going 2-1, ruining Jesse Arnett and then eating his only loss at the hands of Taylor Lapilus. He returned to Kentucky and ruined Kellen VanCamp for the featherweight belt at an HR MMA event. He’s got great handspeed and accuracy, but needs a while to get going. He’s fought at lightweight and featherweight, but most of his fights were at 135, so he’ll be going back to that division, at least for now.
And these days, it wouldn’t quite be a UFC debut without some kind of weirdness. Original opponent Ray Borg withdrew yet again, but that comes with a pretty big silver lining. King of the Cage boogeyman Johnny Muñoz (10-0) has answered the call and he presents a series of problems here. Undefeated as both a pro and an amateur, he’s got a super slick submission game with fast snatches and a quick, reliable boxing game. This should be fireworks as well, and may not be the only time they face each other.
Jamall Emmers vs Vincent Cachero
This event does take a hit with losing Valiev, but it does still gain a very strong talent in Vince Cachero (7-2). A Hawaiian prospect also coming out of LFA, he had a nice fight with Noehlin Hernandez where he managed to use his slick striking to drop Hernandez a few times. He fights at a great pace, keeping forward pressure and some wild counters and fun scrambles. His ground game is very much BJJ oriented with not much in the way of double legs and conventional takedowns but sneaky defensive wrestling that allows him to spring back up.
So now Emmers (17-5) is taking on a new opponent on very short notice, but it’s not like he’s not equipped to handle it. A very physical fighter, there’s threats both standing and on the ground form him. His counter game should suit him well, and his takedown defense is also very good. We should expect more of a shootout on the feet with chaotic jockeying for position throughout.
Chris Gutierrez vs Cody Durden
Here’s a funny story, Valiev is the guy to watch, but Gutierrez (15-3) went 1-1 with valiev in WSOF. His UFC debut didn’t go his way against Raoni Barcelos, and that didn’t deter him at all. He’s 3-0 since then including demolishing Vince Morales’ legs with leg kicks for a TKO. He manages space well, has good defensive wrestling and works punches in bunches with lethal knees.
Cody Durden (11-2) has won seven in a row since 2018 with a series of submissions and basic but sharp boxing. Training out of American Top Team’s Atlanta gym, his conditioning is very good, and he’s looking to make an impact in his debut. He’s certainly got his work cut out for him with a fighter that’s dealt with a higher caliber of opponent and that can also hold his own.
UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Shahbazyan starts this Saturday night at 6:00pm EST, streaming live on ESPN+.