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  • Sammy Mattaliano

UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Holland

Today, the UFC continues their run of fun cards on ESPN with a main event between 185 pound contenders; the division veteran Derek Brunson taking on loudmouth prospect Kevin Holland. There's also a great co-main event and undercard filled with fan-friendly fights. The UFC always goes out of their way to make the matchmaking pop when they air on regular ESPN instead of their PPV specials, knowing there will be more eyes on them than usual.

The Main Event

Starting with the main event, we've got a great middleweight fight for a chance to earn a number one contender fight. Over the next month, we have many of the top 10 in the division fighting each other so everyone one is looking to make a dramatic statement on 185lbs to get the next shot at Israel Adesanya. #7 Brunson is defending his spot against another promising talent. This has been Derek’s memo the past two years, putting together a solid 3-fight win streak against young prospects, with his latest finish over the hyped 23-year-old Edmen Shahbazyan, which many expected him to run over Brunson. Derek’s strength of schedule at 185lbs is insane, fighting Chris Leben, division boogeyman Yoel Romero, Lorenz Larkin, Uriah Hall, former UFC champ Robert Whitaker, 185lb GOAT Anderson Silva, former UFC champ Lyoto Machida, Jacare Souza TWICE, and current champ Israel Adesanya. He’s been hanging around the top 10 for the last 5 years and has finally started to put his game all together. He’s one of the most athletic guys in his division with tremendous power and speed & great wrestling being a 3-time Division 2 NCAA All-American at the University of North Carolina. The knock on him for a while was how wild he fought. He’d blow his wad the first round and while it finished most of his opponents it wasn’t working against the elite of the division. Now training at Florida mega gym Sanford MMA, they’ve helped him bring more intelligence to his skills and athleticism in a more measured manner. In his last fight with Edmen, Derek showed great patience to weather the storm, fighting in controlled bursts of aggression to finish him off with some brutal ground and pound. Derek will be looking to use his fountain of experience to extend his win streak and progress to a rematch against Adesanya.

The man trying to take Brunson’s spot is the #10 contender; Kevin Holland. Coming off of a fantastic 2020 where he was runner up for fighter of the year. Holland tied a UFC record for stringing 5 wins together in one calendar year. His latest performance against Jacare Souza, where he KO’d the BJJ legend off his back, was one of the best finishes of 2020 and the most unique in recent memory. Kevin Holland is a joy to watch. Anybody who talks to their opponents in the middle of the fights hold a special place in my heart. Kevin will let you know what’s on his mind while he’s in the middle of piecing you up in the cage. Don’t let the talking fool you though, he’s an incredibly skilled fighter and as game as they come. He started off in Kung-Fu which he eventually received his black belt in. Kevin is a long-lengthy striker with a wide array of traditional martial art techniques. Long straight punches mixed in with spinning backfists, regular backfists, standing hammer fists, side kicks to the face and body, hook kicks, crescent kicks, spins to the head and body, with great clinch work to add. Kevin is extremely creative on the feet and loves to have fun in there which can be dangerous to his opponents. Having fun equates to a creative flow with maximum composure. He’s not just a striker though, he has a purple belt in BJJ under former title challenger and Ultimate Fighter winner Travis Lutter. Kevin has shown himself to be incredibly dangerous off his back with his strikes and submission attempts which his long frame complements.

I think this will be a tough fight for Derek but it’s still winnable for him. He’ll need to take it slow the first couple rounds while trying to impose his wrestling and use his top control to where he can use his vicious ground and pound. It’ll also get Kevin thinking about the takedown which will open Derek’s boxing. Kevin on the other hand has set the tone early with stuffing the first couple takedowns which will dishearten Derek and make him desperate, leaving him open to Kevin’s striking. Derek hasn’t really been known to rally back in fights, so if Kevin gets early momentum, I think he will be able to ride that to the dub. However, Derek has gotten a lot better with his composure and has trained for many 5-round main events so I think he has a better understanding of the pace he has to keep. Kevin does have good cardio but if he sets his own pace too high Derek could weather the storm and go to work late. It’ll be fun to watch regardless! The winner of the fight will move on to face the other winners of this mini 185lb tournament the matchmakers have put together. Possibly the winner of Darren Till vs Marvin Vettori in April? Winner of Robert Whittaker vs Kelvin Gastelum right around the same time? Regardless the middleweight division is thriving right now and it’s going to be a blast to see how this all plays out.

Co-Main Event

Next up, we have a fantastic co-main event between two top 25 155lb contenders. New York’s Gregor Gillespie against New Zealand’s Brad Riddell. This is my pick for the fight of the night. The lightweight division has the most depth compared to any other division in the UFC right now. The matchmakers could tell a 5-year-old child to pick 2 random names of the divisions top 25 and it’d still be a fantastic fight. Let’s start with the absolute stud Gregor. He’s got some of the best wrestling in the division which is high praise with guys like Khabib and Islam Makhachev. Gregor is a 4-time division 1 NCAA All-American out of Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. He’s coming off a year and half layoff after his brutal loss to Kevin Lee but before that he was riding a 6-fight win streak with 5 finishes. When he gets on top of guys it becomes an absolute mauling for his opponents. He doesn’t stall at all though, always looking for submissions or cooking them up with ground and pound. Brad Riddell is another absolute stud. Coming out of New Zealand super camp City Kickboxing under coach Eugene Bareman, training with savages like Dan Hooker, current 145lb champ Alex Volkanovski, and 185lb champ Israel Adesanya. With a 59-10 record in kickboxing against some the best in the world, including the likes of Glory 170lb champ Cedric Doumbe and One FC 170lb champ Regian Eersel. Brad is on the highest level of striking. Just like everyone who comes out of his camp, he has great footwork, accuracy, shot selection, and great power. He’ll be looking to extend his 3-fight win streak in the UFC, but I don’t think this will be an easy fight for either guy. This matchup is a striker vs grappler between two guys who are at the highest levels in both of their specialties.

What Else?

The rest of the card is filled with fun fights. We got the return of the Samoan knockout artist Tai Tuivasa after he lifted the 6’11 Stefan Struve off the ground with an uppercut KO. A 135lb fight between Gustavo Lopez & hyped prospect Adrian Yanez. Yanez reminds me of a mini Jorge Masvidal with his striking and even his resemblance a little bit, coming off of a beautiful UFC debut with a head kick KO. We have a 170lb action fight between Max Griffin and China’s Kenan Song. A great 155lb fight between Missouri’s Grant Dawson and the Brazilian veteran Leo Santos. Dawson is looking to go 5-0 in the UFC with Santos trying to extend his record to 7-0-1 in the promotion, to finally get a shot at the top 15 in the division. A 185lb fight between slick boxer Trevin Giles & the Georgian powerhouse Roman Dolidze. Lastly, a great 125lb fight to open the card between the South African JP Buys against Brazil’s Bruno Silva. This will be a great a night of fights, so link up with your friends, get some good food and drinks & enjoy the show!

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