Prior to Saturday night, one could argue that middleweight division veteran, Derek Brunson is in the midst of a career resurgence. The North Carolina native has always been there or thereabouts in regards to contention at the very top of the 185-pound division — unfortunately always falling at the final hurdle against the likes of Yoel Romero, Israel Adesanya, Jacare Souza, and arguably more so, former champion, Robert Whittaker.
Off the back of a composed, collected and mature performance against the surging Kevin Holland at UFC Vegas 22 — Brunson has inserted himself back into title contention once more, with a single victory over a top-five contender likely all that stands between him and a premier promotional title challenge. It was shrewd from Brunson; utilize the often overlooked wrestling aspect of his game to score a fight altering six successful takedowns, as well as avoiding the dangerous striking of Holland on the feet, and the ever-present verbal commentary provided by the Riverside native.
In the past, Brunson has failed to deal sufficiently with superior strikers, particularly more technically accomplished than himself in the form of Whittaker and Adesanya, and I firmly believe Holland presented that — evident from a couple of lands in the middle of the five round battle which drew some concern from the veteran North Carolina native.
Brunson elected against ever really partaking or engaging with Holland’s verbal battle on the feet, or from top-position — more often than not where he found himself over the course of the main event, and it really benefitted him in regards to his ability to remain composed, which I believed would prove be a big factor in this one. Granted, with good reason. Brunson had struggled massively with remaining poised and composed in prior outings against high-level striking talents, but that seems to have been ironed out under the tutelage of the Sanford MMA stable.
It was comfortable for Brunson, and that’s all that needs to be said really. Aside from a couple of dangerous moments on the feet, he never really seemed fazed with Holland’s work from the bottom, who appeared to be content with closing and triangulating his guard rather than creating numerous meaningful scrambles which could’ve led to a change in position, particularly early in the fight.
Brunson called for a matchup against most recent title chaser, Paulo Costa next, and while that’s not a matchup I’d necessarily choose to place him in, I’ve got an idea as to who he could match with instead. For Holland, the brash striker has seen his five-fight rise halted, and while I still think there are some inviting stylistic matchups available to him at middleweight, I’m not opposed to his interest in a drop to the 170-pound ranks.
Darren Till-Marvin Vettori Loser vs. Derek Brunson:
Prior to the booking of former welterweight title challenger, Darren Till against the streaking, Marvin Vettori at UFC on ABC 2 on April 10th. — a legitimate argument could’ve been made to pair the Liverpudlian with the rising Brunson.
Current middleweight champion, Adesanya has said that if Till can overcome soon-to-be common-foe, Vettori on April 10th. — well then he’s earned himself a title opportunity, however, that’s not entirely logical.
Till has dropped a unanimous decision loss to the above-mentioned, Whittaker, granted close, and in the time since Till’s absence as he dealt with a knee injury suffered in the July matchup, former champion, Whittaker has bested Jared Cannonier via unanimous decision as well.
The week following Till’s main event matchup with Vettori, Whittaker stands opposite former interim title challenger, Kelvin Gastelum in a short-notice rescheduled matchup. And if he knocks aside the Kings MMA staple, that’s three on the trot — quite frankly leaving him undeniable in regards to a rematch against Adesanya in my opinion.
If Vettori wins against Till, well then he’s got a much greater claim to rematch Adesanya, than Till would if he beats the Italian in April and then matches with Adesanya. I still believe the Team Kaobon favourite is another win away from number-one contender status, even if he gets past Vettori — for the simple fact that Whittaker is embarking on a solid divisional run, which would only grow in significance if he can disrupt the return of Gastelum.
Likely to move into the #6 slot at middleweight in place of Jack Hermansson come the release of the official rankings later this week, Brunson versus the falterer between Till and Vettori makes a lot of sense to me, given that above breakdown of the middleweight picture.
Kevin Holland vs. Belal Muhammad:
Whilst suggested by Holland himself, I’m quite intrigued by this potential matchup nevertheless. They’re both in touching distance of each other in regards to rankings in their respective divisions, and if Holland is set to follow through with blueprints to hire a nutritionist and make a return to 170-pounds for the first time since June of 2017, I’m all for this clash.
The circumstances in which Muhammad’s UFC Vegas 21 headliner with Leon Edwards came to a close is unfortunate, to say the least, but I personally believe the Birmingham native now needs to move beyond fighting the #13 ranked Muhammad, in search of a definite title-eliminator against any combination of Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns, or Stephen Thompson. Holland and Khamzat Chimaev seem to share a developing rivalry, and while I’m hugely interested to see how that one could play out, the uncertainty regarding Chimaev’s immediate fighting future means this clash is put to one side — for the time being at least.
It’s an ideal landing pad in the division for Holland, and given the fact both have headlined their most recent outings, placement on the main card of a summer pay-per-view event seems again, ideal.
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’.
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