Breakout fighter of 2020, Kevin Holland aims to continue his rapid ascent up the Middleweight rankings by knocking over perennial gatekeeper, Derek Brunson.

UFC on ESPN 21: Brunson vs Holland Predictions & Results

A quick moment of silence for two fights that won’t be gracing our screens this Saturday. Jamahal Hill’s withdrawal means we no longer get to witness a surprise third-round triangle choke from Paul Craig. Worse still, Dricus Du Plessis’ visa issues leaves the card with one less all-out forward fighting aggression. Regardless, there is a surprising amount of entertaining fights hidden in this card. While the name-value doesn’t scream quality, there are a few stylistic match-ups and prospect watches that will force you to bear the prelims.

The main event is legitimately a quality middle of the road fight for both men. Derek Brunson appears to have revitalised his career with a three-fight stretch and a huge third-round stoppage over prospect, Edmen Shahbazyan. Kevin Holland tore up 2020, creating more headlines than Corona, as he fought almost every month and secured highlight-reel stoppages. Demolition jobs over Anthony Hernandez, Joaquin Buckley, Charlie Ontiveros and Jacare Souza reveal Holland’s development from the days where he struggled to hang with Curtis Millender.

On the co-main, neither Gregor Gillespie nor Brad Riddell are receiving the respect they deserve. Both men are exciting fighters that excel in different areas of the sport. Gillespie, a fabulous pressure wrestler, is pitted against the granite chinned, Muay Thai excellence of Brad Riddell. Better yet, a decisive victory is needed if either man wants to claw their way up the stacked Lightweight rankings. Even better yet, it is the perfect palate cleanser after the sloppy Heavyweight bar brawl that will occur the fight before.

In a world where Heavyweights are slowly rounding out their entire skillsets, it is nice to have a Bam Bam around who will solely throw hands from start to finish.

Main Event

Middleweight (185)

Dereck Brunson (21-7) vs Kevin Holland (21-5)

Dereck Brunson’s career seemed to be down the drain after his emphatic capitulation at the hands of (now Middleweight champion) Israel Adesanya. After months of back-and-forth on social media, Brunson seemed broken before the opening bell. Bull-rushing into seven failed takedown attempts, Brunson showed his hand too early and Adesanya was able to pick apart the experienced gatekeeper in under five minutes. To then stink out the joint just six months later with a dubious decision win over Elias Theodorou, there was little to no love for Brunson anymore. Signs of Brunson’s recovery arose after a more decisive decision win over Ian Heinisch, but it was his last fight against Edmen Shahbazyan that evidenced the potential rising of Brunson 2.0. Almost tripling the significant strikes of the burning hot prospect, Brunson also successfully controlled his foe against the cage and on the mat.

Brunson is a fighter who has changed his style quite regularly over his lengthy UFC career, but he finally seems to have cracked it. What was once a man who waded into the pocket with loopy haymakers and his chin wildly high in the air, is now a more patient range fighter who leads with kicks before sitting into his punches. Rather than blindly shooting for the hips, Brunson was far more composed at striking range and as a result, was able to find success with his natural power/speed. There is still the strange overextension of the lunging straight into a takedown, but it is far better masked now Brunson torques the same hip for body kicks and counter left hooks. The major red flag for Brunson is his head tilting backwards after exiting the pocket. It has been a common feature/detriment to his game, but against a long powerful fighter like Kevin Holland, it’s just a free opening without punishing his opponent.

Trailblazer surprised everybody when he became a fan favourite after a crazy five-match tear up over 2020 which saw him destroy increasingly tougher opposition. While there are many tall fighters at Middleweight, Buckley maximises his 6’3″ frame by remaining tall on the feet and forcing opponents to close the distance. While Holland’s trash talk will gain him fame across social media, it is in fact his foot placement that is his moneymaker. By continually adjusting his feet with minor movements, Holland masks his movement/position in the octagon and allows himself the opportunity to counter at any moment. When Joaquin Buckley poured a huge amount of forward pressure during the first round, Holland was able to move his head backwards to miss the shots by a matter of inches. After Buckley had whiffed his four-punch combination, left stranded in the pocket, Holland’s feet were already set and could throw hard counter shots that were almost impossible to miss. Holland’s TDD remains somewhat suspect, as he was unable to break out of the clutches of Jacare Souza, and his active striking from the guard will be hard to replicate in such a destructive fashion.

Predicted Result: Holland Decision

Brunson 2.0 against Edmen Shahbazyan, found so much success in his lasting outing because he had complete control over the range of the fight. Against Kevin Holland, it will be a different story. Holland is a master of distance management as he utilised every inch of his 6’3″ frame to force opponents to fight to his tune. Continually setting himself just outside his opponent’s comfortable range, Holland can force Brunson to revert back to his historic tactic of wildly blasting haymakers with his chin pointed towards the stars. Holland can tire during the later rounds, however, and Brunson’s grappling is certainly enough to wear down his opponent. While many remember Holland’s performance in the Jacare fight for the crazy stoppage off the back, many also forget that Holland was taken down within the first ten seconds of the fight after a loose leg kick and was never able to break from the grasp of Jacare.

After living in Jacare’s head rent free, Holland eventually unloaded a couple crazy strikes off his back that led to the eventual knockout victory.

Result: Brunson def. Holland // Decision (unanimous – 49-46, 49-46, 49-45)

Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️

Co-Main Event

Lightweight (155)

Gregor Gillespie (13-1) vs Brad Riddell (9-1)

Four-time All-American wrestler, Gregor Gillespie, has been out of the octagon for almost a year and a half. While Gillespie was an undefeated 13-0 fighter with a huge finish rate, it is the first-round knockout loss to Kevin Lee that many know Gillespie. It is a shame that the fans never had the chance to witness Gillespie’s first real test on the mat, and how his wrestling chops would fare against a similarly skilled opponent on the mat. Fully recovered from the broken jaw sustained, Gillespie’s ring rust may come back to bite him but Covid-related cancellations cannot be helped.

Gillespie’s wrestling was on fine show against Yancy Medeiros after he snapped up a single leg within the first minute and didn’t look back. After working his way to Yancy’s back, Gillespie’s strength was highlighted as he remained unmoved despite a couple explosive escape attempts by the Hawaiian. Moreover, once Gillespie has worked an opponent onto their back and far away from the safety of the cage, he regularly postures up to rain down punishment on his fatigued opponents. On the feet, Gillespie struggles with his shorter reach to land meaningful shots, but lands short boxing combinations that centre around a left hook coming often from a jab feint.

Decision machine or not, Brad Riddell is filth to watch. Yet another slugger from City Kickboxing, Riddell is a granite chinned kickboxer with a lethal gas tank. While his TDD is suspect, Riddell is a fighter who fights hard to get back on the feet and is a nuisance to control on the mat. On the outside, Riddell chops with a calf kick, but his best work appears at mid-range. Continually pressing forward, Riddell opens up opponents with five/six-shot combinations that contort his foe’s guard – especially as Riddell fluidly switches his focus between head and body. Riddell also excels with countering off his back-foot, as he counters in bunches. Often starting with a counter straight-left hook, Riddell then presses with three or four more shots that aim to keep opponents wary of moving onto the front foot again.

Predicted Result: Gillespie Decision

This has all the potential to a banger and fight of the night. Gillespie’s long-lay off is unfortunate, as ring rust may factor into the fight, but at least the injuries sustained in the devastating Kevin Lee loss will have fully recovered. In a real clash of styles, the four-time All-American wrestler will be aiming to repeat his game plan against Yancy Medeiros which saw Gillespie latch onto his opponent’s back and refuse to give up control. The struggle for Gillespie will be working inside the freak volume that Brad Riddell throws. While Riddell isn’t the trickiest opponent to work to the mat, he is a nuisance to keep down, and if Riddell can out-muscle his way back to the feet then Gillespie’s limited striking could be exposed.

Digustingly underrated Kiwi, Brad Riddell, brutally forced his way to a decision victory over the very game and equally underrated, Alex da Silva.


Main Card

Heavyweight (265)

Tai Tuivasa (11-3) vs Harry Hunsucker (7-3)

Big chunky boys. This is why we are here boys, this is what we love to see. Bam Bam Tuivasa is a guilty pleasure of mine. It was a crying shame that the once prophesied ‘Mark Hunt reborn’ was cut before Dana realised the complete lack of viable Heavyweights to fill up the roster. While Tuivasa’s first-round stoppage over Stefan Struve in 2020 isn’t really a scalp you would want on your record, it marked the Australian’s first victory since 2018 and broke a three-fight streak. Pushed far too early into the JDS fight, Tuivasa’s confidence looked shattered as he succumbed to a second-round submission loss to Sergey Spivak. Although his style hadn’t changed by the Struve fight, it wasn’t like it needed to. Waiting for Struve to miss a sidekick, Tuivasa exploded onto the front foot and blitzed the giant with regular hooks. It was also pleasing to see Tuivasa bully the larger man against the cage and rough him up with dirty boxing.

Failed DWCS prospect, Harry Hunsucker, is a first-round machine who lives by the kill or be killed lifestyle. A last-minute replacement, Hunsucker is a dangerous entity but should be far too limited a regional fighter to threaten Tuivasa. During his loss to Jared Vanderaa in the DWCS, Hunsucker found moments in success when he launched himself into long combinations of power hooks. There is no nuance to Hunsucker’s forward pressure, however, and almost no counter game to speak about.

Predicted Result: Tuivasa TKO Round 2

Hunsucker is a last-minute replacement, and he should be commended for taking the huge opportunity and saving Tuivasa a lot of financial struggle. This match-up, however, is less than ideal for the first-round machine. While Hunsucker is dangerous when given the space to throw his powerful five+ punch combinations, he has almost no back-foot game to speak of. All Tuivasa needs to do is fight his natural game to win. By pressuring Hunsucker, and roughing him up against the cage, Hunsucker lacks any sort of answer and is a sitting duck in a similar vein to the Stefan Struve fight.

Result: Tuivasa def. Hunsucker // TKO (punches) Round 1 0:49

Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ❌

Bantamweight (135)

Adrian Yanez (12-3) vs Gustavo Lopez (12-5)

Adrian Yanez has already experienced a whirlwind career. Regularly losing fights due to weight complications, injuries, and recently COVID, Yanez thankfully has the knack to fight any opponent any time, and as a result, has received a healthy push from the UFC marketing team. Entering the octagon with every intention to end the fight within the allotted time, there is little wonder why the UFC would want an explosive striker in a division drowning in wrestlers and decision machines. While Yanez can boast a perfect 100% TDD, shrewd matchmaking has ensured he hasn’t been exposed on the mat in the UFC yet, having only had to defend four somewhat loose attempts. On the feet, Yanez consistently switches stances, making it difficult for an opponent to gain a read. Yanez’ shoulder roll into a counter hook has been a good source of success in the octagon so far, while his killer instinct to finish fights is what will earn him the big money.

Gustavo Lopez is no slouch on the ground, he proved that last time out when he submitted Anthony Birchak with a naughty rear-naked choke in the first round. The issue, however, is Lopez’s willingness to be dragged into dogfights on the feet. Against Yanez, Lopez is out-gunned on the feet both in terms of arsenal diversity and raw athleticism. Lopez’s power, however, can always catch Yanez and as he proved against Birchak, he will throw the entire kitchen sink when searching for the finish. With no back-foot striking to speak of, however, it is difficult to see Lopez having an answer for Yanez’s range.

Predicted Result: Yanez TKO Round 3

A Lopez submission is a decent value bet, especially as Yanez’s striking defence can be somewhat wild and Lopez carries underrated power in the hands. Moreover, Yanez’s defensive grappling is not of a UFC calibre, and will eventually be exposed as he moves up the rankings. It just feels like Lopez doesn’t have any form of answer when he is pressured onto the back-foot, however. The athletic and technical skill disparity on the feet, coupled with Lopez’s willingness to be dragged into a firefight, points towards Yanez finishing this within the distance.

Result: Yanez def. Lopez // KO (punch) Round 3 0:27

Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ✔️

Welterweight (170)

Max Griffin (16-8) vs Kenan Song (16-5)

At thirty-five, Griffin doesn’t have much longer left in the premium MMA organisation. There is no doubting Griffin’s durability, a ridiculously experienced operator who has been pitted against some of the best at Welterweight. Griffin’s record doesn’t tell the full story of a well-rounded fighter who has recently excelled with patient counter-striking. Griffin can still give some of the fringe top-fifteen Welterweights a heap of trouble if given the chance, but his recent move to one-shot counter-striking cannot mask his fleeting gas tank by the third round. Although Griffin pressure-boxed his way ahead against former prospect, Zelim Imadaev, he clearly fell off the hill during the third round and entered a comically poor survival mode.

Thankfully for Griffin, Kenan Song isn’t an elite Welterweight, or at least not an elite Welterweight just yet. A muscle-bound athletic freak, Song’s issue is his lack of fluidity. On the feet, there is a delay between Song’s shots as if he is struggling to make a natural read on his opponent. The positive factor, however, is Song is deadly accurate with his shots. Although Callan potter threw the more natural, instinctive shots against Song, Song landed cleanly and eventually his clubbing power was enough to break the guard and chin of the Aussie. Still, Song’s record is littered with weak opposition and Griffin represents a considerable step up in opposition.

Predicted Result: Griffin Decision

Neither man is going to compete in triathlons anytime soon, that is for sure. With both men having a history of fading deep into fights, expect tense opening exchanges on the feet before Griffin attempts to muscle his opponent onto the mat. Griffin is an immensely durable staple of the Welterweight division, and while it would be a massive statement win, it is difficult to see Song dispatching of Griffin within fifteen minutes as he has done with prior opponents.

Result: Griffin def. Song // KO (punches) Round 1 2:20

Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Women’s Strawweight (115)

Cheyanne Buys (5-1) vs Montserrat Ruiz (9-1)

The first part of the husband-wife duo that is featuring on Saturday night’s card. A DWCS prospect, Cheyanne Buys is a twenty-five year old with tight boxing and powerful wrestling. After surviving early submission attempts against Hilarie Rose, Buys established the pace for the rest of the fight and dominated her opponent on the feet, against the cage and on the mat. While Buys’ needs to work on entering the pocket, her crisp four/five punch combinations when in range saw her easily control position in the octagon.

Montserrat has been called up from Invicta with the task of derailing the prospect. Montserrat lives by the ‘duck chin and waft heavy punches from behind the head’ creed when striking on the feet. Worse yet, Ruiz struggles with stronger opponents who can bully her in the clinch. Ruiz was being pieced apart by Janaisa Morandin in her last fight before her heavy hands earned her a reprieve and she jumped into choking her wobbled opponent.

Predicted Result: Buys Decision

Buys has struggled with her finishing rate, but at only twenty-five and continually improving, she will likely sharpen her striking over the coming years. While Ruiz carries heavy hands, her striking is largely limited to explosive bursts along a straight line. During the frequent periods of inactivity on the feet, Buys will be able to out-manoeuvre her opponent with volume and rough up Ruiz against the cage and on the mat.

Result: Ruiz def. Buys // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 29-27)

Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️

Preliminary Card

Women’s Bantamweight (135)

Marion Reneau (9-6-1) vs Macy Chiasson (6-1)

There is surely the last chance saloon for forty-three-year-old, Marion Reneau. Sitting on a crushing three-year, three-fight slide, Reneau is far better than her record suggests. Sure this is the same fighter who flopped to a majority decision draw against Bethe Correia, but Reneau has also locked both Sara McMann and Jessica Andrade in triangle chokes. While Reneau is too easily bullied against the cage and off her back, dropping silly rounds because of it, she can always threaten with a couple submissions off her back. Moreover, Reneau’s power in her hands haven’t left and she can still crack when opponents lunge in. Unfortunately for Reneau, however, she has been far too wary to throw in recent memory. As a result, it allows opponents easier access to the clinch where Reneau is bled dry on the scorecards.

Macy Chiasson is an absolute giant at Bantamweight, towering over her opponents and able to strike safely from a mile away from her opponent. Favouring kicks over boxing, Chiasson repeatedly launches body kicks and looks to burn her opponent’s gas tank. While her entries are God awful, amounting to little less than four arm punches, her volume and power means that opponents are less than willing to stay in the firing line to try and counter. Chiasson is a bully against the cage, but her striking defence needs to be tightened to stop eating unnecessary punishment.

Predicted Result: Chiasson Decision

Marion Reneau certainly has one foot out of the organisation at this point, which is quite understandable for a forty-three-year-old who has only really fought the top Bantamweight contenders. While Chiasson is a size bully and her voluminous body kicking game may have a significant effect on her elderly opponent, her striking defence is non-existent. Although Reneau carries underrated power and has a fine selection of counter strikes, the suffocating volume of Chiasson will bully Reneau.

Result: Chiasson def. Reneau // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️

Lightweight (155)

Grant Dawson (16-1) vs Leonardo Santos (18-3-1)

Jumping up from Featherweight, Grant Dawson’s entry to the Lightweight division makes sense once you get a glimpse at the size of the lad. Much of Dawson’s success at Featherweight stemmed from his ability to out-muscle, and thus, out-work opponents in the grappling department, but he still looks a unit at Lightweight. A decent submission artist, Dawson’s chokes are secured are grinding down his opponents with top control before jumping on his opponent recklessly escaping the purgatory.

It is hard not to love Leonardo Santos, the man simply does whatever the hell he wants. Now deciding to fight once a year, rather than his usual every 2 or 3 years, the forty-one-year-old returns with a difficult task ahead of him. Sure, Santos won’t mind ending up on his back early with his crazy grappling chops, but he looked off the pace against the tame opposition in Roman Bogatov. Part of Santos’ failure last time out, however, was repeated fouls by Bogatov and burning the gas tank early.

Predicted Result: Santos Decision

Santos may have more one-punch KOs across his record in recent memory, but the forty-one-year-old is a viper on the mat and will have no fear in ending up on his back against the power wrestling of Grant Dawson. Although Santos looked off the pace against Roman Bogatov, it was also a fight in which Santos emptied his gas tank early and endured repeated illegal blows. Moreover, while Dawson is the more active fighter in terms of schedule and output in the octagon, the jump up in weight always remains a question mark until we can see how he operates with the extra timber.

Result: Dawson def. Santos // KO (punches) Round 3 4:59

Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Middleweight (185)

Trevin Giles (13-2) vs Roman Dolidze (8-0)

Trevin ‘The Problem’ Giles is a grinder who looks to rough up opponents up close and reveal his best work in the later rounds. Giles doesn’t throw much in the way of strikes, but his jab is a deliciously crisp punch. Against Bevon Lewis, Giles caught Lewis with a jab as he tried to close the distance and secured a hard knockdown. It is a shame then that Giles is unlikely to find many opponents in this division with a shorter reach than himself, where he can fully utilise his Larry Holmes-lite jab.

Roman Dolidze is a fun boi to watch, but his game is rough around the edges, to say the least. Dropping down to Middleweight for the first time in his career is a risky move, as well as the fact he is a late replacement. If the weight cut isn’t too brutal, Dolidze is a vicious striker who aims to create disarray to hone in on a takedown. A former World and European grappling champion, it won’t be long before Dolidze can show his submission skills.

Predicted Result: Dolidze Submission Round 2

Upon re-watching the Dolidze John Allan fight, I was surprised at how well Dolidze handled himself. A former World and European grappling champion, it cannot be long before Dolidze shows his submission skills in the top organisation, and Allan was almost the man to succumb to a nasty ankle lock. Dolidze has pacing issues, and this may be exacerbated as a last-minute replacement and moving down to Middleweight for the first time, but Giles doesn’t push a hard pace to exploit this. Giles carries the power to beat Dolidze on the feet, especially as his jab is one of the finest in the division, but he is scared onto the back-foot easily.

Result: Giles def. Dolidze // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Bantamweight (135)

Montel Jackson (9-2) vs Jesse Strader (5-1)

There was a lot of hype surrounding Montel Jackson until the Welsh Wizard, Brett Johns, spoiled the party with an emphatic grappling showcase. Jackson must kill himself to make Bantamweight, appearing in the 135lb division at 5’10”, and surely will be looking to make the move up eventually. Questionable TDD is masked by his own wrestling soundness and thumping shots from range.

Regional prospect, Jesse Strider, isn’t the man to expose Jackson’s questionable TDD. Although his only loss came from Marcelo Rojo, last week’s promotional newcomer who impressed greatly, Strader doesn’t have anywhere near the experience of Jackson. While he could ruffle a few feathers on the feet as he isn’t giving up too much in height to the tower that is Jackson, his work off the back doesn’t appear competent enough to survive.

Predicted Result: Jackson TKO Round 3

Jackson’s hype train should resume once again on Saturday night after its brief derailing by Brett Johns. Although Jackson’s TDD is suspect, his own wrestling and thumping shots from range will be the difference against promotional newcomer, Jesse Strader.

Result: Jackson def. Strader // TKO (punches) Round 1 1:58

Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ❌

Flyweight (125)

JP Buys (9-2) vs Bruno Silva (10-5-2)

DWCS prospect, JP Buys, is the final piece of the husband-wife set that is featuring on the card. A finisher at Flyweight is always a hot prospect, but it is his crisp takedowns that is the bread-earner for Buys. Against Jacob Silva, Buys secured the early takedown and never looked back. Grinding his way into stronger positions on the mat, Buys is always willing to chase the submission as he believes in his ability to return the fight to the ground even if the choke fails.

Bruno Silva is a fun fighter to watch but there is no way the UFC holds onto him for much longer. Currently on a three-fight slide, Silva has struggled to work his opponents to the mat and instead forced to fight behind his calf kicks (a strong weapon). Silva is a tough cookie but he will have his work cut off for him on Saturday night.

Predicted Result: Buys Decision

Silva is a durable operator who has succeeded in the past with his chopping calf kicks. Against Buys, however, Silva would be best advised to not give his opponent another avenue for the takedown. Buys is a wonderful wrestler, and although he struggles to maintain control due to his size, he has made a knack of finishing opponents before they can escape.

Result: Silva def. Buys // TKO (punch) Round 2 2:56

Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Prediction Accuracy

UFC on ESPN 21

Winner: 5/10

Method: 5/10

Round: 4/10

2021 MMA Season

Winner: 66/113

Method: 61/113

Round: 58/113

MMA Overall

Winner: 257/417

Method: 198/417

Round: 184/417

Takeaway comments: They’ve done Dolidze dirty there.

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