For the longest time at middleweight, Derek Brunson has set the benchmark for a consistent contender. The moniker of gatekeeper for the veteran has been brushed off recently, with the likes of current champion, Israel Adesanya, former champion, Robert Whittaker, and multiple-time title chaser, Yoel Romero all catapulted to greater heights off the back of their respective wins against him in the past.
Over the course of his last three Octagon appearances, the North Carolina native has faced both Elias Theodorou, and Ian Heinisch, and despite suffering losses to both Jacare Souza and the above mentioned, Adesanya prior to his meetings with the duo, he was still held in esteem that would warrant either a top-ten opponent with a win over him.
Knocking back both with unanimous decision wins, Brunson then clashed with the recently booked Edmen Shahbazyan in a short-notice main event tilt last August at the UFC Apex facility. On paper, and based on form, many would lean to the then 11-0 Shahbazyan to pick up the victory, and continue his momentum toward a top-five opponent next. It had a similar feeling to the above-mentioned, Adesanya’s matchup with Brunson. All signs pointed toward a coming-out party for the Ronda Rousey managed, Shahbazyan.
The Glendale Fight Club mainstay had blitzed through Brad Tavares in even more impressive fashion than Adesanya, and faced a considered litmus test against Brunson, one, however, he was largely expected to pass with relative ease. Lodging his third consecutive victory in what appears to have the hallmark of a career resurgence, Brunson stopped the Edmond Tarverdyan trainee with strikes in the third round.
Sitting at #7 in the official middleweight pile as a result, Brunson headlines his second consecutive event as he draws 2020 breakdown star, the brash, dynamic, Kevin ‘The Trailblazer’ Holland.
It’s quite the fitting nickname for the Californian it has to be said. Trailblazing his way to the #10 rank at 185-pound in memorable fashion, Holland scored an unrivaled 5-0 record last year alone, setting himself apart from his middleweight peers, past or present.
Facing common-foe, former Strikeforce middleweight titleholder, Ronaldo Souza on short notice at UFC 256 in December, Holland faced a stern challenge in his bid to set a record for 2020. Souza may have suffered a couple of notable defeats in recent years, however, underestimating the Brazilian’s almost unrivaled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game at his weight will usually prove perilous.
Suffering an early takedown against Jacare, Holland, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under former middleweight, Travis Lutter, threatened briefly with a triangle as well as attempting to pull guard with a mid-opening round guillotine at the fence.
Launching with a truly dynamic and innovative strike, Holland, from his back, managed to slingshot his way into Souza, landing a right hand, again from his back, stunning the veteran before unloading with a series of strikes. Granted, we’ll likely never see something similar to Joaquin Buckley’s breathtaking back-kick finish of Impa Kasanganay again, however, Holland firmly lodged arguably the most bizarre Knockout of the Year.
The stoppage win for Holland came as his eleventh via strikes, and with another knockout win tonight, he’d draw level with opponent Brunson for twelve.
On the technique side of this equation, I doubt many would disagree with the view that Holland is the far superior fighter in that aspect of this matchup. Brunson, while clunky, and quite stiff with his movement and entires, he’s got the power to stop the majority of middleweight contenders on his day, Holland included.
Creative-wise, we’ve also got to lean toward Holland, who himself has noted the potency of his right hand, particularly straight shots which satdown and eventually stopped Buckley. however, his kicking game is also much more proficient than that of Brunson’s.
Holland has blemished twice under the UFC’s banner, to former light heavyweight championship challenger, the bruising, Thiago Santos in a short-notice promotional bow, as well as a submission loss to Roufusport grappling ace, Brendan Allen.
Whilst he’s yet to feature opposite the same level of competition that Brunson has in his storied career, he’s managed to defeat some really tricky opponents already, including the likes of Gerald Meerschaert, Alessio Di Chirico, as well as the above mentioned, Buckey and Jacare.
I’m picking this affair to largely take place on the feet, where the ball falls into the court of Holland’s ability to patiently setup traps and shots to takeout the wily Brunson, who has only been stopped by sport standouts, Adesanya, Souza (x2), Whittaker, and Romero. From his defeats to the former or current world championship holding trio, each have managed to land high-kicks — leading up to eventual stoppages.
I’m picking Holland to ask some telling questions of Brunson’s durability within the opening round or two, before eventually finding his mark in the later, midway rounds, stopping the North Carolina division staple.
Prediction: Kevin Holland def. Derek Brunson via third round knockout.
Senior writer for FightBook MMA. An aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Producer of news articles, interviews, opinion features, and exclusive features such as, ‘The Fallout’, ‘The Breakdown, and, ‘This Week In MMA’.