The women take center stage for the second week in a row on Saturday night when Jessica Eye squares off against Cynthia Calvillo in a showdown at UFC on ESPN 10 that could go a long way in determining the next challenger to reigning flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko.
Eye bounced back from a second-round TKO loss in her first bid for the title with a unanimous-decision victory over Viviane Araujo at UFC 245. Meanwhile, Calvillo makes her return to flyweight after spending the vast majority of her career at strawweight, where she struggled to make weight. Calvillo fought to a majority draw with Marina Rodriguez in December to put a halt to her two-fight winning streak. Despite that recent quasi-setback, a win over a former title challenger could vault Calvillo into immediate title contention in the rather shallow women’s 125-pound weight division.
The co-headliner is a fight that has been slated to take place twice previously, most recently on May 13 before Karl Roberson was pulled from the bout when he developed rhabdomyolysis after failing to make weight. Roberson’s opponent, Marvin Vettori, was visibly frustrated and went on a tirade in which he called out Roberson not only for missing weight but for withdrawing from the contest when it looked to Vettori as if he was perfectly fine to fight. Both men are looking to extend their winning streak to three and move themselves toward a spot in the middleweight rankings.
The main card also features a pair of fights in the recently high-profile bantamweight division. Merab Dvalishvili takes on former flyweight title challenger Ray Borg, while Jordan Espinosa squares off against Mark De La Rosa, who, with his wife Montana, recently became the first husband-and-wife duo to fight on the same UFC card. The other main-card affair is a featherweight contest between Team Alpha Male staple Andre Fili and Charles “Air” Jourdain.
The event will be the third consecutive fight card to be held at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. ESPN and the ESPN+ streaming platform will be the broadcast homes for the fights, with preliminary action getting underway at 6 p.m. ET and the five-fight main card following at 9 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Jessica Eye’s only recent loss came in a women’s flyweight title fight against Valentina Shevchenko. Since the setback, she’s added yet another win. Will she build upon that victory when she meets Cynthia Calvillo?
Sumian: How this fight landed a main event for a fight night is beyond me. Oh well, let’s break it down.
The answer entirely depends on which Calvillo shows up. Calvillo’s career in the UFC can pretty much be summed up in terms of missed weight and performances hindered by her weight-cutting issues. Thus, she has finally elected to move up a weight class, where she should be able to display her skills more effectively.
Top contender Eye welcomes Calvillo to her new weight class. However, that top-contender status is based solely on what the UFC rankings say. The fact is that Eye never deserved a title shot against Shevchenko after compiling a three-fight winning streak where two of those wins came by way of split decision. Those bouts were lackluster at best and displayed no evidence of Eye’s ability to have anywhere near a shot of defeating the flyweight queen. She rebounded with a unanimous decision over Viviane Araujo, but she missed weight by six pounds and tarnished the legitimacy of her win in the process. Now, Eye sits at the No. 1 spot in a division where the title picture is murkier than ever due to Shevchenko’s utter dominance.
Calvillo could be a great fighter if she gets her weight-cutting issues under control. The move up should help that goal substantially and allow her to perform at a much higher level. Her relentless pace and ability to mix up her striking with takedowns allow her to pressure opponents effectively for the duration of the bout. Despite an underwhelming start to her UFC campaign, Calvillo is still 8-1 and can make a huge splash with a win over the top-ranked contender in the women’s flyweight division.
Calvillo will grind her way to a unanimous-decision win. She will use her 1.57 takedown average per 15 minutes to constantly pressure Eye and expose her 56 percent takedown-defense rate. The division is in much need of new blood, and while Calvillo is nowhere near ready to face Shevchenko, that could change with a few successful bouts in her new weight class.
Petela: The biggest battle both of these women will face is the one before they step into the cage. Eye has only missed weight one time in her career, but it was in her most recent outing where she missed by a mile when she checked in at 131 pounds. Calvillo has missed weight twice at strawweight, which prompted her move up to flyweight. She should be able to make weight much easier for this bout, but we have seen numerous times that moving up in weight doesn’t always solve the issues at the scale. Hopefully, heading into this main event, both women will successfully come in under the 126-pound limit.
Outside of weight management, the biggest x-factor is Calvillo’s recent move to the American Kickboxing Academy. She made the switch from Team Alpha Male in Sacramento to the San Jose-based AKA after her last fight, which ended in a draw against Marina Rodriguez. There’s no doubt that the coaches at Team Alpha Male are world-class, but, as Cody Garbrandt proved last week, sometimes a change of scenery can do wonders for a fighter.
Both women are incredibly talented, though a clear notch below the champion. Ultimately, it will be the size difference that allows Eye to pick up the win in this contest. She moved back down to flyweight after a stint at bantamweight and will therefore have more power behind her punches and a strength advantage in the grappling department. This one will likely go the distance and won’t end up being a “Fight of the Night” contender, but it will allow Eye to keep the ball rolling as she tries to climb her way back to a title shot with the nearly unbeatable Shevchenko.
Italian middleweight Marvin Vettori has twice before had a scheduled fight with Karl Roberson fall through. Will the third time be the charm for these two men to meet inside the Octagon? Is Vettori the clear favorite to emerge with the win?
Petela: Luckily, the third time will be the charm. We will finally get to see this showdown that has picked up steam as the animosity has become increasingly personal. Vettori should be a sizable favorite, but this won’t be a walk in the park.
Roberson’s last loss came in a light-heavyweight contest against the great Glover Teixeira. Roberson started out strong and had Teixeira in serious trouble before falling victim to an arm-triangle choke. SInce moving back to middleweight, he has won two straight and looked especially impressive in his submission victory over Roman Kopylov. This match-up with Vettori will be a big step back up in competition, and Roberson will likely find himself on the wrong end of a decision.
Outside of being known as the guy who went to a split decision with Israel Adesanya, Vettori has largely flown under the radar throughout his UFC career. He is 4-2-1 over his seven fights with the promotion and has never been finished in any of his 17 pro outings. He is a serious grappling threat who has racked up eight wins by submission. With a win over Roberson, Vettori might wind up with a number next to his name as he tries to march toward another showdown with Adesanya, who is now the middleweight champion.
Sumian: Call me crazy, but this fight sparks way more interest as a main event than the actual headliner for the evening. It features two up-and-coming middleweights who are finding their stride and in all likelihood will end up in the top 15 sometime next year.
Vettori definitely wants to pound Roberson’s face in after all the drama around this one. The Italian fighter is not happy, and he cannot wait to get his hands on his opponent this weekend. Vettori is on a two-fight winning streak at the expense of Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira and Andrew Sanchez. Perhaps the most impressive thing about him is that he was quite possibly the only man to give Adesayna a hard time when they met in the cage, which happened in April 2018. Although Adesayna won, Vettori was able to constantly pressure the champ and make him look fairly human.
Vettori currently averages 3.75 significant strikes per minute, 1.70 takedowns per 15 minutes, and a 79 percent takedown-defense rate. He is easily one of the most impressive and notable middleweight prospects in the UFC today, and he is looking to shine with a dominant win over Roberson.
Roberson has had an interesting start to his UFC career, to say the least. Two quick submission losses in the first round to the aforementioned Ferreira and Teixeira have somewhat derailed his hype. However, the New Jersey native rebounded nicely with back-to-back wins over Wellington Turman and Kopylov. Roberson has not finished a fight since 2017, which is somewhat concerning as he prepares to engage with the very aggressive and relentless Vettori. He will have to turn it up against his fellow middleweight and prove that he belongs in the conversation of top prospects in the division.
Vettori will win this bout and win it convincingly. He will pressure Roberson early and land several takedowns before securing a submission in the first or second round against a man who has been susceptible to submissions throughout his career. Vettori is on his way to becoming a true threat at 185 pounds, and his campaign up the ladder of the top 15 of the UFC middleweight division starts on Saturday.
Anthony Ivy and Christian Aguilera — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: A definite yes on Ivy, but only a maybe on Aguilera.
Ivy, a welterweight fighting out of San Antonio, has compiled an impressive 8-2 record outside of the UFC. The Brazilian Top Team of San Antonio standout is currently on a four-fight winning streak with all of those wins by way of knockout or submission, including a brutal fourth-round knockout of Willis Black in September. The 6-foot-2 Ivy is an athletic welterweight who certainly has the tools to succeed in the UFC.
Aguilera makes his Octagon debut against Ivy. He’s on a two-fight winning streak and has compiled a 13-6 record outside of the UFC. The California native has fought in both the Legacy Fighting Alliance and BAMMA. He has a number of impressive finishes by way of knockout and technical knockout.
While Aguilera has a shot to be successful in the UFC, this pairing seems more like a welcoming party for Ivy, who will enjoy a three-inch reach advantage and a significant height advantage. Ivy has shown his ability to finish fights both standing up and on the ground. He will stop Aguilera and add his name to one of the most crowded yet talented divisions in the UFC today.
Petela: Ivy was originally going to take the place of Ian Heinisch when it was thought that Heinisch’s corner man had tested positive for the coronavirus. This fight is more of a reward for Ivy stepping up on short notice than it is a well thought-out match-up. Both men could eventually make a name for themselves in the UFC, but right now they are both too green and will likely have short initial tenures with the promotion. These aren’t names we need to know right now, but fans should keep their eyes on these two men to make some waves in the future.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Tyson Nam. He is winless in the UFC with an 0-2 mark during his time in the promotion. He has a tough match-up this weekend against Ryan Benoit, and a loss could be enough to get him bounced from the organization. I’ll admit that I thought we could expect big things from Nam when he signed with the UFC in 2019, but I have been dead wrong. Both Sergio Pettis and Kai Kara-France beat Nam in clear-cut decisions, and a three-fight skid to open your tenure within the world’s largest MMA promotion — even in the flyweight division — should be the recipe for a pink slip.
Sumian: Mark De La Rosa. After starting his UFC career with wins in two of his first three appearances, the Texas native has suffered a three-fight skid and will surely be cut if he extends his losing streak to four. He desperately needs a win over Jordan Espinosa on Saturday to keep a roster spot. Expect De La Rosa to come out and submit Espinosa in the first round to remind everyone why he was signed by the UFC in the first place.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Ray Borg and Merab Dvalishvili. Hands down, this is the “Fight of the Night” for this card. These two will be going at it for three straight rounds. Expect a number of entertaining transitions, grappling exchanges, and a pace that will be unmatched by any other bout on the card.
Petela: There have been a lot of fans and analysts who are less than thrilled with the night’s lineup, and rightfully so. There are few fighters with name recognition to get excited about. However, the pairing of Andre Fili and Charles Jourdain could steal the show.
Fili is a veteran of the Octagon who has been in more than his fair share of exciting fights. Jourdain lost a decision to Des Green in his promotional debut, but he stormed back with a knockout victory over Doo Ho Choi in South Korea. This is a fight that is not getting the recognition it deserves and should be a positive talking point for MMA pundits in the days following the event.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Bud Light. This fight card is nothing special on its surface. It won’t be one of those surprisingly impressive fight cards that drastically exceeds expectations either. However, given the state of the world right now, it will still be refreshing to be able to watch fights and get a small taste of normalcy for a few hours on a Saturday night. Just like Bud Light, this show will get the job done with no frills. That’s why they are the perfect pair this weekend.
Sumian: Appreciation. Yes, this card is probably the weakest one we’ve seen in a long time in regards to star power and significant match-ups. However, take comfort in the fact that fights are back on a weekly basis. Whether it’s Cynthia Calvillo and Jessica Eye or Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, we appreciate the return of the UFC and its commitment to putting on fights as often as possible during these difficult times. In addition, the weather should be nice this weekend, so get together with some friends, have the fights in the background for entertainment, and let the good times roll.
Main Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET)
Women’s FlyW: Jessica Eye vs. Cynthia Calvillo
MW: Karl Roberson vs. Marvin Vettori
BW: Merab Dvalishvili vs. Ray Borg
FW: Andre Fili vs. Charles Jourdain
BW: Jordan Espinosa vs. Mark De La Rosa
De La Rosa
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
Women’s FlyW: Mariya Agapova vs. Hannah Cifers
LW: Charles Rosa vs. Kevin Aguilar
Women’s BW: Julia Avila vs. Gina Mazany
FlyW: Ryan Benoit vs. Tyson Nam
FW: Jordan Griffin vs. Darrick Minner
WW: Anthony Ivy vs. Christian Aguilera
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