Edmen Shahbazyan was surrounded by hype when he made a big early splash after joining the UFC. Some of it was attributable to his famous then-manager, ex-UFC champion Ronda Rousey, but a lot of it came from him doing very impressive things at an exceptionally young age.
He earned his spot on the UFC roster when he was just 20 years old after scoring a 40-second knockout of Antonio Jones in July 2018 on "Dana White's Contender Series." He debuted in the UFC as a 21-year-old and was 4-0 in the promotion a few weeks before his 22nd birthday.
And that's when things began to change. He was pushed, perhaps a little too quickly, into a fight against elite veteran Derek Brunson. That was a one-sided Brunson KO victory. And Shahbazyan followed that with losses to Jack Hermansson and Nassourdine Imavov.
Suddenly, he was just another guy whose career was on the line.
He changed coaches and management, moved to Las Vegas, began training at Xtreme Couture and broke the losing streak by stopping Dalcha Lungiambula at UFC 282. That brings him to Saturday's card at Apex in Las Vegas where he'll meet veteran Anthony Hernandez in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 73.
Hernandez earned a spot in the UFC on DWCS, a month before Shahbazyan earned his, but Hernandez's win over Jordan Wright was overturned because, horrors, he tested positive for marijuana. He dropped two of his first three UFC bouts but has since reeled off three consecutive wins.
The most impressive of those was a submission of decorated grappler Rodolfo Vieira, a four-time BJJ world champion, at UFC 258.
That's likely why Hernandez is a -250 favorite at BetMGM, with Shahbazyan at +200. Hernandez by submission is +165 and Hernandez by decision is +250. The over-under is 1.5 rounds, with the over a -150 favorite. Under is +120.
Hernandez is a well-rounded veteran and has a superb finishing game on the ground. Shahbazyan has a slight edge in striking, but it's not as big as Hernandez's edge on the ground.
It's a close fight that could go either way. I lean toward Hernandez, but I don't want to lay more than 2-1 against Shahbazyan considering the improvements he showed against Lungiambula and the quality of his coaching staff. To me, Hernandez should be around a 9-5 favorite, so you're paying a heavy price to bet him to win. That's why I'll pass it.
Given that, I'll lay the -150, betting the fight to go over 1.5 rounds.
Dern-Hill in important match
Mackenzie Dern and Angela Hill meet in the main event in a significant bout in the women's strawweight division. UFC president Dana White announced Tuesday that Amanda Lemos will get the next shot at champion Zhang Weili at UFC 292 in Boston, Massachusetts in August, but this fight will be important for positioning within the division.
Dern is a -170 favorite even though she's lost two of her last three. She dropped a close decision in October to Yan Xiaonan. Hill ended a three-fight losing streak by defeating Loopy Goodinez and followed that with a win over Emily Ducote.
Both are known for being in extremely close fights, and Hill's last nine have gone to decision. Four of Dern's last five have gone to the judges.
Hill is solid in all areas and I think she'll be able to avoid Dern's lethal submissions. I'm going to bet Dern to win, though, because she'll probably have a few submission attempts and some control time. I'll lay the -170 on Dern to win and I'll also lay -150 that the fight goes over 4.5 full rounds.
Other plays for UFC Vegas 73
I'll take the +140 and bet Michael Johnson to defeat Carlos Diego Ferreira.
I'll take Joaquin Buckley at even money to win by knockout over Andre Fialho.
I'll lay the -165 and take Viecheslav Borshchev to win over Maheshate.