UFC Vegas 22 Preview: Derek Brunson – Kevin Holland

Derek Brunson

Tomorrow night at UFC Vegas 22, we have a huge matchup in the main event of the evening. Top ten middleweights Kevin Holland (21-5) and Derek Brunson (21-7) will go head-to-head as both look to continue their march towards a UFC title shot.

You couldn’t have had a better 2020 than Kevin Holland. After getting submitted by Brendan Allen in late 2019, Holland took some time and returned to the octagon in May. That night, Holland knocked out Anthony Hernandez in just 39 seconds.

However, that was just where the party began for Kevin Holland. Overall, Holland went 5-0 inside the octagon between May and December. He finished things off at UFC 256 with a highlight reel knockout over Jacare Souza.

Holland has everything you look for in a star. He’s got an exciting style and an entertaining personality to match. However, he’s going to have his hands full tomorrow night with the veteran, Derek Brunson.

While overlooked by many, nobody should sleep on Derek Brunson. Since 2014, Brunson has gone 10-5 in the UFC. However, his losses are to Israel Adesanya, Jacare Souza, Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker, and Yoel Romero.

Only the best of the best have gotten the better of Brunson inside the octagon. Last August, Brunson was tasked with taking on another UFC hype train in Edmen Shahbazyan. Brunson dominated the fight and he’s looking to derail another hype train tomorrow night.

UFC Vegas 22 Prediction

This is such a fun matchup and to me it will tell me a lot about Kevin Holland. When it comes to Derek Brunson, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. He’s been in there with the best the UFC has to offer.

Holland has incredible striking, speed, and he’s very underrated on the ground. However, we have seen him gas out in fights when he can’t get a finish. The Darren Stewart fight was the perfect example and Holland almost lost that fight.

For Derek Brunson, he needs to wrestle to get the win tomorrow night. He’s not going to get his hand raised at UFC Vegas 22 if he tries to strike with Holland. He’s at a disadvantage in power, technique, and speed.

However, Brunson has the wrestling advantage and the cardio advantage. For Brunson, it’s going to be about surviving the early onslaught. We’ve seen Brunson dropped and finished by elite strikers early. However, we’ve also seen him break guys as the fight goes on.

The first two minutes is going to tell me all I need to know. Either Kevin Holland is going to immediately start lighting Brunson up, or Brunson’s going to take him down. I’m extremely torn on this one.

The safe pick to me is Derek Brunson. You know what you’re going to get and he’s been in there with the UFC’s best. Holland is unproven against the elites of the division. However, call me a sucker for the hype, but I’m buying into it. I think Kevin Holland is going to find the shot he’s looking for in the second round.

Prediction: Kevin Holland by TKO – Round 2

UFC books headliner between Darren Till and Marvin Vettori

The UFC is making moves with their middleweight division. Last night, we learned that the promotion had finalized a bout between Paulo Costa and Robert Whittaker that would headline a Fight Night on April 17th. 

Today, ESPN’s Brett Okamoto was the first to report that the UFC has finalized another incredible middleweight matchup. On April 10th, Darren Till (18-3-1) and Marvin Vettori (16-4-1) will headline another Fight Night.

This is going to be a massive seven day stretch for the middleweight division. Darren Till last fought back in July when he took on former UFC champion, Robert Whittaker (22-5).

The fight was extremely close, but Whittaker pulled out a decision. Till was originally supposed to headline a card against Jack Hermansson (21-6) in December, however he ended up injured and the promotion moved to Kevin Holland (21-5).

However, Holland ended up testing positive for COVID and he was pulled from that fight. That is when Marvin Vettori stepped into the picture. Vettori had another fight booked, but stepped up for the UFC and took that fight against Hermansson.

UFC’s Middleweight Division

Marvin Vettori looked sensational in December when he fought Hermansson. In his first UFC headliner, Vettori dropped and hurt Hermansson early on. He went on to dominate the fight for all five rounds.

The win was a massive statement and the fourth straight for Vettori. Vettori now finds himself fourth in the UFC’s middleweight rankings one spot behind Darren Till. However, Vettori has expressed frustrations with being ranked behind Till.

Nevertheless, now the two will get a chance to prove who is the better fighter. As mentioned, this is a huge seven day stretch for the middleweight division. Let us not forget that Kevin Holland and Derek Brunson (21-7) are also headlining a Fight Night on March 20th. 

This stretch from March through April has big implications for the middleweight division. Israel Adesanya (20-0) is moving up to challenge for the light heavyweight title, however, upon his return to middleweight, there should be a lot of clarity with all these matchups.

2021 UFC Breakthrough Candidates

UFC, Dana White

This past year, the UFC has seen a few fighters come out of no where and become household names. The two names that stick out the most are Kevin Holland (21-5) and Khamzat Chimaev (9-0).

Holland was already with the UFC when the year got started. However, Holland was just 3-2 in his first five fights. He came into 2020 coming off of a submission loss to Brendan Allen, but he showed in 2020 how special he could be.

Holland went a perfect 5-0 in 2020 with four finishes including one over Jacare Souza at UFC 256. Kevin Holland was a very popular pick for fighter of the year and he was our breakout fighter of the year.

Nobody really knew who Khamzat Chimaev was when 2020 started. There was some hype surrounding him in the Middle East, but to the mainstream public, nobody really knew who he was.

Chimaev made his UFC debut on Fight Island in July. He ended up fighting twice in ten days scoring two finishes in extremely dominant fashion. Chimaev followed those performances up with a knockout over Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds in September.

Khamzat Chimaev has gone from unknown to a superstar in just a few months. He was supposed to face Leon Edwards in January, but that fight has been pushed back due to Chimaev’s recovery since coming down with COVID-19.

2021 UFC Breakthrough Prospects

The mixed martial arts world and even the mainstream public knows Khamzat Chimaev and Kevin Holland after 2020. So who are some candidates for breakthrough fighters in the UFC as we enter 2021?

One of the guys I have my eyes on is bantamweight, Jack Shore (13-0). The bantamweight from Wales has fought twice in the UFC and he’s scored two submissions wins. Out of his 13 professional wins, only one has gone to the scorecards.

He last fought back in July on Fight Island. That night, Shore took on Aaron Phillips and he used his superior grappling to dominate the fight. Shore has all the makings for a contender who can breakthrough for the UFC in 2021.

The next guy I have my eyes on is another fighter from Wales. This one is the two-division Cage Warriors champion, Mason Jones (10-0). Jones is scheduled to make his UFC debut on January 20th against Mike Davis (8-2).

There is a lot of hype surrounding Mason Jones. The last two-division Cage Warriors champion to breakthrough in UFC is Conor McGregor. Thus, you can see why a lot of people are interested in this young man.

Jones is just 25 years old, but he is incredibly talented. The UFC is not giving him a layup in his first fight however. Mike Davis is a very tough opponent who’s only two losses have come to Gilbert Burns and Sodiq Yusuff.

Ranked Fighters to Watch

While Jones and Shore are my two prospects that I’m watching, there are a couple of more established fighters I have my eyes on as we enter 2021. One of those fighters being Jimmy Crute (12-1).

The Australian light heavyweight is currently ranked 12th in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. He has dynamite in his hands and he’s very good on the ground. He bounced back from his first loss in 2019 to score two first round finishes in 2020.

Crute is just 24 years old and looks incredibly gifted. I would not be shocked to see Crute inching towards the top five once 2021 is over. The other fighter I have my eyes on is Diego Ferreira (17-2).

Okay, I’ll admit it, Ferreira is 35 years old and he’s been with the UFC for a long time. He doesn’t really fit in with the other three fighters I’ve listed so far. However, I have him on this list for a reason.

Ferreira is a guy that seems to get lost when folks talk about the lightweight division. The most exciting division in the sport is incredibly stacked. It’s so stacked that people forget that Ferreira is on a six-fight winning streak in the UFC.

He last fought in January and submitted Anthony Pettis in the second round. Ferreira is taking on Beneil Dariush (19-4-1) in February where he will look to avenge his first career loss. Outside of Dariush, the only man to defeat Ferreira inside the octagon is Dustin Poirier.

These are four fighters that I truly believe can establish themselves in the UFC this year. When I say establish, I mean become household names to not just the MMA world, but the general public. Keep your eyes on these fighters in 2021.

State of the UFC’s middleweight division entering 2021

Last night, we learned that the UFC‘s middleweight champion is officially moving up in weight for his next fight. Israel Adesanya (20-0) is moving up to light heavyweight to fight Jan Blachowicz (27-8) for the light heavyweight title at UFC 259. 

Adesanya is trying to become just the fifth fighter in the promotion’s history to hold two belts at the same time. There have been a lot of questions surrounding Adesanya’s future at 185 with him moving up.

The UFC middleweight champion has been very vocal about his desire to potentially fight Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) in 2021. If the UFC makes that fight should Adesanya win the light heavyweight title, the middleweight strap would be on ice.

However, Adesanya has said that he will definitely return to the UFC’s middleweight division no matter what. He stated that 185 is his natural weight class and where he feels the best. This move is to just challenge himself and further his legacy.

In all honesty, the move is actually a good thing for the middleweight division. There are great fights inside the division, however, Adesanya has defeated most of the fighters that sit inside the top ten.

UFC’s middleweight division in 2021

The top contender in the middleweight division is former UFC champion, Robert Whittaker (22-5). Whittaker went on an incredible run to grab the middleweight title, but was easily defeated by Adesanya last October.

Since then, Whittaker took out two of the more compelling contenders in the division. He defeated Darren Till (18-3-1) and Jared Cannonier (13-5) by decision. Both of those fighters were guys Adesanya was interested in fighting.

However, Whittaker turned them away. With the way Adesanya defeated Whittaker last year, the champion isn’t motivated for the rematch at this time. The word is that the UFC is looking to book Whittaker against former title challenger, Paulo Costa (13-1).

Costa was just knocked out by Adesanya at UFC 253. Prior to that, many thought he was the most dangerous contender in the division. There is preliminary talk about that fight being for an interim title, but that’s far from confirmed.

The two fighters I have my eyes on entering 2021 is Marvin Vettori (16-4-1) and Kevin Holland (21-5). Vettori has busted through in 2021 on the heels of four straight wins to fifth in the middleweight rankings.

The Italian middleweight has already lost to Adesanya, but he lost by split decision. One big win for Vettori in 2021 could make him next in line. Kevin Holland was our breakout fighter of the year in 2020.

Holland has become a star after going 5-0 this year. The entertaining middleweight gets his first main event opportunity against Derek Brunson (21-7) in March. Should he win that, he could be just a win away from a title shot.

If Holland can get a couple of wins, he’s probably the most compelling UFC challenger at 185 for Adesanya. There’s a little beef there already, and the fight’s buildup would be a lot of fun. Should be an interesting year at middleweight.

UFC books headliner between Kevin Holland and Derek Brunson

Kevin Holland

The UFC has booked the 2020 Breakout Fighter of the Year for his first fight in 2021. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto broke the news that the promotion is booking a headliner between Kevin Holland (21-5) and Derek Brunson (21-7).

The headliner will take place on March 20th. Holland became a breakout star for the UFC in 2020. His incredible year is why we named him the Breakout Fighter of the Year here at Empire Sports.

Holland entered 2020 coming off of a loss to Brendan Allen. However, he was getting ready to show the world how good he really is in 2020. Holland went an astonishing 5-0 with four finishes in 2020.

His last win came against Jacare Souza at UFC 256. Holland was taken down moments into the fight. I figured if the fight touched the ground, Holland would be in a lot of trouble. However, I was dead wrong.

Holland showed incredible skills on the ground. Then he whipped a right hand at the forehead of Jacare Souza which dazed him. Holland followed up with shots and ended up scoring the TKO victory.

In 2020, Holland went from an entertaining character to a serious contender. His year has put him tenth in the UFC‘s middleweight rankings. This headliner will be the first time he takes on someone in the top 10.

UFC’s Middleweight Gate Keeper?

Derek Brunson is going to enter the octagon on March 20th being looked at as the UFC‘s middleweight gate keeper. A title that Brunson is not really a fan of, however, it’s a title that’s fitting.

Brunson is on a three-fight winning streak. Two of those wins came against rising contenders that were looked at as the next big thing. Those contenders were Ian Heinisch and Edmen Shahbazyan.

I’ll admit it, I bought into the UFC hype of Shahbazyan. However, Brunson proved when they fought that there are levels to the game as Corey Anderson would say. Brunson dominated and finished Shahbazyan in the third round.

He’s currently ranked as the seventh best middleweight in the UFC. Brunson and Kevin Holland have been beefing over Twitter and both wanted this fight. Well, the UFC was happy to make it happen.

Given Holland’s desire to stay active, I’m a little surprised it’s booked so far out. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic matchup in the middleweight division. Whoever wins should be guaranteed a top five opponent in their next trip inside the octagon.

2020 UFC Breakout Fighter of the Year

Kevin Holland

It’s been a great year despite the pandemic for the UFC. In a year that has seen many businesses struggle to keep their doors open, the promotion has thrived putting on tremendous fights since they returned in May after a brief hiatus.

In addition to putting on some great fight cards this year, the UFC has seen a number of fighters seemingly come out of no where. One of those fighters that came out of no where for the promotion was Khamzat Chimaev (9-0).

Chimaev made his UFC debut during the promotion’s first trip to Fight Island. He ended up fighting three times since July and he finished all three of his opponents inside the octagon.

However, it was the manner in which Chimaev finished his UFC fights that stood out. The guy took no damage whatsoever and did whatever he wanted to his opponents. In his last win over Gerald Meerschaert, he showed that he can knock opponents out on the feet.

Despite the rise to stardom for Chimaev, I can’t make him my Breakout Fighter of the Year. To me, the UFC had one fighter who was already on the roster entering 2020, but this year he came into his own and took his game to another level.

UFC’s Breakout Fighter of the Year

To me, the UFC‘s 2020 Breakout Fighter of the Year is Kevin Holland (21-5). Holland was also on my shortlist for Fighter of the Year after the year that he had in the UFC during 2020.

Kevin Holland was submitted in his final UFC fight of 2019. The fighter who was labeled as “Big Mouth” by Dana White was entertaining, but you wondered what his ceiling truly was. We got a glimpse of that in 2020.

Holland fought an astonishing five times since May and he went a perfect 5-0. What’s also impressive is the fact that Holland finished four of his five fights. The most impressive finish coming at UFC 256.

Holland took on legend, Jacare Souza, on the PPV main card. After getting taken down early, Holland was able to knock Jacare out from the bottom to cap off his perfect 2020 inside the octagon.

Holland has gone from an entertaining mid-card level fighter to a serious contender in 2020. Considering where he was to where he is now, Kevin Holland is the clear choice for the UFC‘s Breakout Fighter of the Year in 2020.

2020 UFC Fighter of the Year

The UFC has officially completed all of their business in this crazy 2020. Despite a global pandemic, the promotion had an incredible year that saw tremendous growth and new fans coming to the sport of MMA.

The UFC hosted many successful events and saw a number of fighters burst onto the scene in 2020. One of those fighters being the rising superstar, Khamzat Chimaev (9-0). Chimaev made his debut with the UFC back in July.

He rose to fame with his incredible dominance through his first three fights. In his first three fights with the UFC, Chimaev has scored finishes in all three while absorbing just a few strikes total.

He’s been catapulted into a main event on January 20th in a fight that could be a title eliminator. While Chimaev’s UFC rise has been remarkable, he’s not quite the fighter of the year in my opinion.

Another fighter who broke through this year was Kevin Holland (21-5). After losing his last fight in 2019, Holland completely transformed himself in 2020. Holland had arguably the best year out of anybody with the promotion.

He went an astonishing 5-0 with four finishes in 2020. Even more remarkable was the fact that he didn’t fight for the first time until May. However, despite his incredible year, Holland was not ESM’s UFC Fighter of the Year.

2020 UFC Fighter of the Year

Looking at everything for 2020, the UFC‘s Fighter of the Year was a clear choice for me. That clear choice is the flyweight champion of the world, Deiveson Figueiredo (20-1-1). Figueiredo started out 2020 as the top contender at flyweight.

Back in February, he took on Joseph Benavidez for the vacant UFC flyweight title. However, Figueiredo missed weight for the fight which caused him to lose his opportunity to capture the belt. Yet, the fight still went on.

Figueiredo was completely dominant and he won the fight by second round knockout. In July, Figueiredo had a rematch for Benavidez for the UFC title. This time Figueiredo made weight and he stopped Benavidez in the first round to capture the title.

Looking to close out the year strong, Figueiredo was booked to defend his title against Alex Perez at UFC 255. Figueiredo submitted Perez in less than two minutes to successfully defend his title.

Because of his quick work, the UFC turned him around quickly to headline UFC 256 against Brandon Moreno. The two had an absolute war that was a fight of the year candidate. In the end, the two men fought to a draw.

Granted, Figueiredo would have won had he not been docked a point at UFC 256. It was later revealed that Figueiredo had spent time in the hospital the night before his title fight against Moreno.

Yes, his record was not technically perfect, but Deiveson Figueiredo is the clear Fighter of the Year. Four sensational performances in essentially four title fights. Figueiredo emerged as the superstar flyweight needed in 2020 for the UFC.

Is Jacare Souza at risk of being cut after UFC 256?

Last weekend at UFC 256, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (26-9, 1 NC) returned to the middleweight division after a brief stop at light heavyweight in 2019. Jacare was taking on the surging Kevin Holland (21-5).

Holland had won four fights in a row in 2020, but he was looking for that signature UFC victory over Jacare. When the fight got started, things were going well for Jacare. Souza was able to catch a low kick and take Holland to the ground.

I personally predicted Jacare to submit Holland in this fight. When the fight got to the ground so quickly with both fighters dry, I figured it was bad news for Holland. However, it was quite the opposite.

Holland did a fantastic job of attacking from his back. His jiu jitsu looked slick and Jacare couldn’t get anything going. About 90 seconds into the round, Jacare landed some big shots that caused Holland to smile.

Out of no where, Holland whipped a shot from his back that hit Jacare in the forehead. Jacare was damaged by the shot and Holland got up to finish Jacare against the cage. It was the third straight UFC loss for Souza.

What’s next after UFC 256?

This was a really tough loss for Jacare Souza. At 41 years old, Jacare needed this win badly to keep his roster spot secure within the UFC. Right now, the promotion is going through an evaluation period where they are planning to make some serious cuts.

Yoel Romero was just released by the UFC a couple of weeks ago after fighting for the title in February. As mentioned, Souza is 41 years old and he’s 1-4 in his last five trips inside the octagon.

Given the current landscape of things, there might be a strong chance that we’ve seen the last of Jacare inside the UFC. For the record, I don’t believe that Jacare is done fighting, but I think the promotion might seriously look at cutting ties.

Souza fought the current UFC light heavyweight champion to a split decision a year ago. He’s definitely got something left in the tank, but if you’re a high earning veteran with no path towards the title, the promotion might part ways. Jacare would seemingly fall into that category.

Is Kevin Holland the UFC’s next star?

Kevin Holland

This past weekend at UFC 256, Kevin Holland (21-5) took on Jacare Souza (26-9, 1 NC) on the PPV main card. It was a big step up for Holland who was looking to finish off 2020 having gone 5-0 inside the octagon.

Holland was originally supposed to face Jack Hermansson a couple of weeks ago. However, he tested positive for COVID and the UFC moved him back to face Jacare. I personally thought that Jacare would be able to get him down and give him problems in their fight.

At UFC 256, the opening moments looked like I was going to be right. Jacare was able to catch a low kick from Holland in the opening seconds and take him down. Once on the ground, Jacare was supposed to have a massive advantage.

One of the things that makes Holland so marketable is his talking inside the octagon. Jacare had him down and blasted him with a couple of massive shots. To those shots, Holland said to Jacare, “Those are great Jacare. I had a dream about this!”

To that, Jacare smiled back at Holland. However, he wasn’t smiling for very long. From his back, Holland whipped a right hand that hit Jacare on the forehead. The shot dazed Jacare and Holland got up and blasted him with a few additional shots to close the show.

The UFC’s next star?

Kevin Holland has put himself on the map here in 2020. The great thing for the UFC is the guy is extremely marketable. He has an incredibly fun fighting style and the guy knows how to sell himself.

Not only is he entertaining while inside the octagon, he puts on a complete show from the walkout to the fight. At UFC 256 he was rapping to the security guard as they walked to the cage. Then proceeded to dance with Jacare before the fight started.

Kevin Holland is knocking on the door of stardom at the moment. The guy just has that it factor about him. He has everything you want in a fighter that you want to market and he’s down to fight anyone at anytime.

After he defeated Jacare, he called out Khamzat Chimaev for a fight this Saturday night. Of course that fight won’t happen, but you have to love the energy from Kevin Holland. I’m very excited to see what 2021 has in store for the UFC middleweight.

Kevin Holland knocks Jacare Souza out at UFC 256

Kevin Holland

The second fight of the main card at UFC 256 was a middleweight battle between Kevin Holland (20-5) and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (26-8,1 NC). Holland was getting the biggest opportunity of his UFC career to date.

While it’s been a tough year on the world, Kevin Holland has had a sensational year in the UFC. The brash middleweight has gone 4-0 and was looking to continue that tonight. 5-0 is a mark that not many can hit in a calendar year.

On the other side of things was the legend, Jacare. Jacare was looking to snap a two-fight losing streak. His last fight came at light heavyweight against the current UFC champion, Jan Blachowicz. Souza was looking to return to his winning ways at middleweight.

UFC 256 Recap

Round 1

The UFC 256 middleweight clash opened up, Holland threw a big right hand. Holland threw a big leg kick that Jacare was able to catch and takedown Holland. However, Holland did a really good job of working his way back up to his feet.

Jacare pushed him against the fence and was able to get him back down. There was a slight separation and Kevin Holland landed a couple of massive right hands from his back that rocked Jacare. Holland follows up and finishes him off. Massive win for Holland who’s gone 5-0 in the UFC this year.

Kevin Holland def. Jacare Souza by KO – Round 1