Derek Brunson is riding his first three-fight win streak since 2016 but will still be the betting underdog for his matchup with Kevin Holland later tonight (Sat., Mar. 20, 2021) at UFC Vegas 22 live on ESPN/ESPN+ from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Brunson, who has fought nearly every top middleweight since entering UFC back in 2012, has never found the consistency he needs to lock down a shot at the title. The 37-year-old veteran has scored some memorable knockout finishes along the way, but something always seems to stop Brunson from getting over the hump.
That’s why his matchup with Holland this weekend at UFC Vegas 22 is so important. Holland has won his last five trips to the Octagon and looks like a true contender at 185 pounds. He’s coming off an impressive TKO win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in which Holland talked trash off his back before finding the finish. He’s as confident as the come and will make Brunson pay if the veteran isn’t on his game.
“Kevin Holland was making jokes, he likes to talk on the bottom,” Brunson told MMA Fighting. “‘Jacare’ started playing with him, and Kevin Holland just sat up and just started swiping him in the face. It’s one of those things, you’ve got to stay focused out there. For a veteran, you can’t start making mistakes out there.
“For me, if you start talking on the bottom, when you start talking, I start punching even more. You won’t be seeing any of that where I’m letting back, laughing, playing games on top.”
While Holland’s win over Souza was his most impressive UFC outing to date Brunson isn’t completely buying into the hype. After all, Souza is a 41-year-old veteran who was 2-4 in his last six fights entering his bout with Holland. Brunson doesn’t know if Holland is just that good or if “Jacare” is simply on his way out.
“You have a guy ‘Jacare,’ obviously past his prime,” Brunson said. “You cover the sport of MMA, for a guy to get knocked out from his back, you don’t see that. It looks spectacular, but from all the fighters who have been in trenches, they kind of look at that like, ‘Maybe it’s time for Jacare’ to retire’ cause that’s not a common thing.”
Brunson, who has finished seven of his last nine UFC wins by way of knockout or TKO, is ready to utilize his ground game alongside his punching power to take care of business against Holland. It’s a similar attack Brunson implemented against touted youngster Edmen Shahbazyan last year and one he will try to use to tire Holland from the opening bell.
“Do I think he can survive on the ground with me? I don’t think many can,” Brunson said. “Especially taking guys down and putting pressure on them and just working the body-head. I love to finish guys when I take them down. Once I get him to the mat, it can go south very quick.”
Brunson’s goal is the same as it’s always been. The middleweight veteran wants to fight his way into a UFC title shot. But if that option is not in the cards just yet then Brunson is content in beating up young talent deemed “the next big thing.”
“I’m having fun with this these days,” explained Brunson. “The top five guys, they’re not exactly raising their hand to fight me. I asked to fight [Paulo] Costa, but I asked to fight him, he wasn’t too interested in fighting me. I asked to fight [Darren] Till, he wasn’t too interested in fighting me. A lot of these guys. I even put my hand out there, I would have rematched [Robert] Whittaker. That fight was a long time ago. I’ve changed, he’s changed but these guys aren’t trying to fight me.
“I’ll sit back and embrace these matchups that they give me, guys with a lot of hype, guys that’s coming up. Guys that the fans feel can do damage and beat me up. I like that challenge. That type of stuff don’t bother me. I’m just ready to go out there and beat people up.”
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 22 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN2/ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 7:30 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN/ESPN+ main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 22 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete “Brunson vs. Holland” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.