LAS VEGAS — Derek Brunson is a 10-year veteran of mixed martial arts. He’s a two-time NCAA Division II All-American wrestler and has a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Renzo Gracie.
He’s 20-7 in MMA and has wins over Lyoto Machida, Uriah Hall and Ian Heinisch. He’s got heavy hands, as his 11 wins by TKO or KO attest.
And yet, he’s a huge underdog against a 22-year-old appearing in his first UFC main event Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at the UFC Apex.
Action at the MGM Grand Sports Book has been on Edmen Shahbazyan, who has been bet up to -340. Brunson is at the nice price of +270.
There is a lot to like about Brunson at +270. He’s got the power that it only takes one shot to end the fight, and a bettor would get nearly a three times return on an investment.
He’s got the ability to grind it out on the ground, too, and has the experience that Shahbazyan so desperately needs.
Shahbazyan’s biggest win was over “The Ultimate Fighter” veteran Brad Tavares, whom he knocked out in the first round of a bout at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2 with a vicious head kick.
As a bettor, you know what you are going to get out of Brunson, but as much as Shahbazyan oozes potential, he still hasn’t proven it at the highest level.
And yet, I’m willing to lay the money and go with Shahbazyan.
He’s got nine first-round finishes and 10 finishes overall in his 11 pro bouts. Most of his victories have come with his hands, but he’s won two bouts by head kick KO and another, over Jack Marshman at UFC 239, by rear naked choke.
Clearly, Shahbazyan has heavy hands and is a smart finisher. If Brunson has a weakness, it’s that he’ll get overly aggressive and run in on his opponent with his chin up and get caught. Of his seven losses, five have come by KO.
My initial instinct on this fight was to play Shahbazyan by KO/TO/DQ at -140, because of Brunson’s vulnerability and Shahbazyan’s demonstrated power.
But because of Brunson’s experience and because he is well aware of the danger that Shahbazyan presents, he’ll be more cautious in that regard. This is a three-round, not a five-round, main event and so there is less time to get a finish.
Thus, I’ve chosen to play Shahbazyan at -310. He seems like the real deal, with a complete game and the ability to excel anywhere the fight goes. Shahbazyan proved in his win over Tavares that he can deal with the bright lights and the experience of a veteran.
While I have great respect for Brunson and what he’s done, I think Shahbazyan has a chance to be a cut above, and so I’ll lay the -310 and be happy to collect my $100 profit.
My other plays:
Won’t go the distance at -185 in the Vicente Luque-Randy Brown fight to win $100.
One unit on Jennifer Maia at +130 vs. Joanne Calderwood.
Kevin Holland at -210 to win $100 over Trevin Giles.
Ed Herman-Gerald Meerschaert fight going the distance at +135.
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