Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight rivals Derek Brunson and Kevin Holland will clash TONIGHT (Sat., March 20, 2021) at UFC Vegas 22 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Brunson’s recent win streak seems an appropriate middle finger to all those Twitter dorks and analysts (like me) alike who wrote him off as a gatekeeper after a rough 2018. Rather than fade into obscurity, the 37-year-old veteran is fighting smarter than ever, making the most of his experience and considerable athleticism to perhaps climb higher than ever before. Meanwhile, Holland found his own successful recipe in 2020, turning around his perception from middling 185-pounder to genuine contender. “Trailblazer” picked up five wins last year, including a gigantic knockout of “Jacare” Souza, setting him up for a potential title run in 2021.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Edmen Shahbazyen (UFC Vegas 5), Lyoto Machida (UFC Fight Night 119), Uriah Hall (UFC Fight Night 94), Ian Heinisch (UFC 241), Lorenz Larkin (UFC 177), Ed Herman (UFC 185)
Key Losses: Robert Whittaker (UFC Fight Night 101), Israel Adesanya (UFC 230), Yoel Romero (UFC Fight Night 35), Ronaldo Souza (UFC on FOX 27, Strikeforce: “Rousey vs Kaufman”)
Keys to Victory: Brunson has always had the physical tools to be an elite Middleweight. He’s stupidly strong, and his gas tank has also solid for the division. It’s only recently, however, that Brunson has really learned when and where to explode into his power punches, which greatly helps him deliver punishment rather than absorb it.
Against Holland, Brunson should be actively herding his opponent towards the fence. At distance, Holland is the quicker man, and he throws straighter punches down the middle. Brunson’s improvement means that he can compete with Holland at distance, but still, that’s a favorable position for “Trailblazer.”
If Holland is backed towards the cage, however, Brunson’s dual-pronged attacked of left hand and double leg is more effective. Holland is happy to trade with his back to the cage, and Brunson certainly has the power to make him pay from that position.
Ultimately though, Brunson’s path to victory involves gaining top position. Holland is dangerous from his back, but that’s an exhausting way to fight. If Brunson continually puts Holland in bottom position, he’ll slowly be able to gain better positions and land more punches. That success can snowball, and in a five-round fight, Brunson should be seeking the late finish.
Key Wins: Ronaldo Souza (UFC 256), Darren Stewart (UFC Vegas 11), Joaquin Buckley (UFC Vegas 6), Gerald Meerschaert (UFC on ESPN 2), Anthony Hernandez (UFC on ESPN 8)
Key Losses: Brendan Allen (UFC on ESPN 6), Thiago Santos (UFC 227)
Keys to Victory: A Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Kung Fu black belt, Holland is a tricky and aggressive fighter brimming with confidence. For a lanky Middleweight with an 81-inch reach, he also throws with serious power, which certainly gives opponents a lot to think about.
Against Brunson, the goal should be to convince Brunson to fall into bad habits. Patient, methodical Brunson is a dangerous man with an unknown ceiling. The flaws and answers to charging-forward, leads-with-his-chin Brunson are much more well known.
How to make that happen? “Big Mouth” already has started the process, talking plenty of trash and doing his best to ensure Brunson is emotional inside the cage. If he can continue that into the cage, it might encourage his foe to swing wide.
Otherwise, Holland has to be annoying with his actual fighting skill, too. If he can stick a one-two combination, dig a calf kick, then make his opponent’s punches miss — well, that’s frustrating for anyone! Holland can be similarly difficult in the clinch or on the mat, striking from supposedly disadvantageous positions to irritate and damage his opponent.
If Holland can convince Brunson to charge, that pull counter will be there. If not, doing consistent damage is good strategy anyway.
One man takes a step closer to a title shot.
The Middleweight division is pretty open right now. Israel Adesanya is presumably returning to defend his belt at some point in the next six months, and beyond Robert Whittaker, there’s not a huge line of contenders jamming the line. The winner of this bout is very much in the mix, likely set up for a battle either with Whittaker himself or the victor of Darren Till vs. Marvin Vettori.
That’s title eliminator territory.
The situation is a bit different for the individual fighters in the case of a loss. Brunson has been around too long, and a loss sets him too far back. His current title run appears to be something of a final attempt unless he somehow manages to improve to the age of 40. Holland, alternatively, is just 28 years of age, and he’s proven he can fight often. If he comes up short, getting better and getting back in the cage is a more viable path to make a run next year.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 22 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN2 “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 22: “Brunson vs. Holland” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
At UFC Vegas 22, Derek Brunson and Kevin Holland will go to war in the main event. Which man will earn the victory?