The UFC returns to its APEX Centre this Saturday night with a fight card that is filled with exciting bouts from top to bottom.

Headlined by a bantamweight title eliminator between former champion Cody Garbrandt and rising contender Rob Font, UFC Fight Night 188 also features a potential #1 contender’s bout in the strawweight division, a top 10 middleweight clash to open the main card and then a preliminary card with a plethora of fighters to keep an eye out for.

Rob Font (18-4) vs. Cody Garbrandt (12-3)

The last time we saw Cody Garbrandt in the octagon, ‘No Love’ looked better than ever.

With a more patient approach after moving under the tutelage of Mark Henry, Garbrandt used his speed and power to his advantage to knock out Raphael Assuncao putting an end to a three-fight skid.

Since that June 2020 contest, however, Garbrandt has contracted COVID-19 and suffered a particularly bad case that left him with pneumonia and brain fog. With such an impact on his body, it’s hard to decipher just what effect that has had on his athleticism and an already dubious durability.

Font meanwhile is on the best run of his UFC tenure having handed Marlon Moraes a first-round TKO loss in his last outing. With slick boxing that operates behind an excellent jab, Font certainly can take advantage of a defence that has seen Garbrandt fall in prolonged striking exchanges.

The big factor surrounding this fight for me is how badly COVID has affected Garbrandt as he really did look at his best last time out.

It’s a big gamble as Font is a great striker but I’ll side with Garbrandt’s more refined performance against Assuncao to be a blueprint for his fighting style going forward.

Pick: Cody Garbrandt

Yan Xiaonan (13-1, 1 NC) vs. Carla Esparza (17-6)

Xiaonan’s last bout against Claudia Gadelha was a good tune-up of sorts to face Carla Esparza as Esparza will no doubt look to ground Xiaonan as often as possible.

Xiaonan would respond well to Gadelha’s attempts last time out, all the while keeping up her relentless pace on the feet. For the Chinese fighter to win this bout, she’ll have to again ramp up the pressure on her opponent and tire them out over three rounds.

While Esparza can definitely pick up rounds through her takedowns, I think Xiaonan’s output will see her just edge the fight.

Pick: Yan Xiaonan

Justin Tafa (4-2) vs. Jared Vanderaa (11-5)

This heavyweight clash doesn’t promise to be the most technical of showings but does have the heavyweight lottery of a potential knockout at any time.

On the feet, Tafa has more chance of winning thanks to his power in the pocket while Vanderaa should be looking at grounding his opponent and negating his opponent’s strengths.

Due to Vanderaa’s greater experience, I think ‘The Mountain’ will play the safer game and take the advantage on the mat.

Pick: Jared Vanderaa

Felicia Spencer (8-2) vs. Norma Dumont Viana (5-1)

Dumont is perhaps the more pressuring fighter out of the two here but Spencer has shown more quality in her UFC tenure, especially when it comes to grappling.

I’d expect her to wade in, get Dumont down and work for a submission victory.

Pick: Felicia Spencer

Ricardo Ramos (14-3) vs. Bill Algeo (14-5)

Ramos has struggled for any real consistency in his UFC career but he does have speed on his side and is a solid stoppage threat, especially on the mat.

Algeo meanwhile is all about pressure and combined with his size, he can make for a tricky customer to overcome.

It’s a tough fight to pick as Ramos always has moments of quality in his fight but with Algeo being a solid grappler in his own right, I think Algeo’s output will be the deciding factor in the judges’ eyes.

Pick: Bill Algeo

Jack Hermansson (21-6) vs. Edmen Shahbazyan (11-1)

I think this is really tough, sink-or-swim matchmaking by the UFC for Shahbazyan.

After racing out to an impressive unbeaten record, Shahbazyan’s first attempt at stepping into the upper echelon at 185 lbs was met with a decisive TKO loss to Derek Brunson.

While you’d expect the UFC to allow Shahbazyan to reset and rebuild, they’ve thrown him back into deep waters with another well-rounded top contender at middleweight.

Due to Shahbazyan’s striking, he certainly can find a home for his powerful punches and kicks but Hermansson puts a pace on his opponents and is smart with his grappling.

Maybe Shahbazyan has improved dramatically while he’s been away but I think Hermansson is the more well-rounded of the two and will make it show.

Pick: Jack Hermansson

(Last Predictions: 3/5, Total: 48/86, 56% Success Rate)

(Success Rate: 2016: 61%, ’17: 60%, ’18: 58%, 19′: 57%, 20′: 67%)