LAS VEGAS — We’ve been down this path before. The last time Derek Brunson fought, he faced a highly touted middleweight contender and was a significant underdog.
Brunson faced the Ronda Rousey-managed Edmen Shahbazyan at Apex on Aug. 1. Brunson was by far the toughest opponent that Shahbazyan had faced, but Shahbazyan still went off as a 3-1 favorite.
Brunson returns to action at Apex on Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 22 when he takes on Kevin Holland, like Shahbazyan a highly touted young contender.
Holland, 28, was 5-0 in 2020 and earned plenty of Fighter of the Year consideration. He’s up to 10th in the UFC rankings and is a -175 favorite over Brunson, 37, at BetMGM. The seventh-ranked Brunson is +145.
A win over Brunson would be the biggest of Holland’s career. He defeated Anthony Hernandez, Joaquin Buckley, Darren Stewart, Charlie Ontiveros and Jacare Souza last year. Souza, though, had entered the bout on a two-fight losing streak, while Brunson is on a three-fight winning streak.
Brunson’s wrestling was the key to his win over Shahbazyan, who appeared overmatched once the momentum turned against him in the fight.
But Holland is a different fighter, both stylistically and mentally, than Shahbazyan, and he’s far more experienced.
Holland also has the notorious “MMA math” on his side, because he knocked out Souza in one round and Souza knocked out Brunson in one.
History has shown us that those kinds of results rarely hold up.
Still, there are a number of reasons to favor Holland here. Holland’s A-game is his stand-up, but he’s comfortable on the ground. He’s also got a two-inch edge in height and a four-inch edge in reach over Brunson.
It’s unlikely Brunson will outstrike Holland, so he’ll have to take him down to win. Brunson averages more than three takedowns every 15 minutes, while Holland’s takedown defense is at 52 percent.
But to get a takedown, he’ll have to face serious fire coming from Holland, who connects on 57 percent of his strikes, according to UFCstats.com.
Brunson, by contrast, has a 54 percent striking defense and absorbs three strikes a minute on average in a fight. Against Holland, who has a diverse and explosive striking attack, that’s a problem.
I like Holland to win the fight and I’ll lay the -175.
Other plays for UFC Vegas 22
I’ll take Gregor Gillespie and lay the -225 to win over Brad Riddell.
I like the fight between Bruno Silva and J.P. Buys to go the distance.
I like the Julia Avila fight with Julija Stoliarenko to end inside the distance.
I will lay the -350 and take Avila to defeat Stoliarenko.
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