UFC Vegas 22: Derek Brunson vs. Kevin Holland preview and prediction

Preview and prediction for Derek Brunson vs. Kevin Holland at UFC Vegas 22.

After surging his way to an unbelievable 2020 campaign, Kevin Holland gets another tough task as he looks to break further into the UFC middleweight contender picture. He’ll have to get past a veteran contender in Derek Brunson, however, in the main event of UFC Vegas 22 on March 20.

Brunson has been in the UFC for nearly a decade and has long been considered a name and potential contender in the division. His list of UFC victories include Chris Leben, Lorenz Larkin, Ed Herman, Sam Alvey, Uriah Hall and Lyoto Machida. Brunson, however, has been seen by some for a while as a “gatekeeper” due to his seeming inability to win on a bigger stage or against a young up-and-comer, seen in losses to Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and current UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya.

Brunson, however, may be shaking off that “gatekeeper” claim. After scoring a unanimous decision win over Elias Theodorou in May 2019, Brunson held off Ian Heinisch at UFC 241 before finishing Edmen Shahbazyan in August, handing “The Golden Boy” his first MMA loss.

Holland, meanwhile, has come a long way since his win over Will Santiago Jr. on Dana White’s Contender Series. After going the distance in a loss to Thiago Santos at UFC 227, Holland racked up wins over John Phillips, Gerald Meerschaert and Alessio Di Chirico before being submitted by Brendan Allen. Then, in 2020, Holland exploded in hype and highlights, scoring TKOs of Anthony Hernandez and Joaquin Buckley, a split decision win over Darren Stewart, a submission via slam over Charlie Ontiveros and an impressive 105-second finish of Souza.

Holland’s five finishes tied a UFC record for most wins in a calendar year and earned him FanSided MMA’s 2020 Fighter of the Year honors.

Who will win at UFC Vegas 22: Derek Brunson or Kevin Holland?

Holland appears to have the physical edges on the Tale of the Tape, having a two-inch height advantage and a four-inch reach advantage, in addition to being about eight years Brunson’s junior.

Per FightMetrics, Holland’s offensive output numbers are a bit better than Brunson’s, though the two are nearly equal in terms of their defensive striking statistics. The grappling will be Brunson’s department here, however, averaging about three takedowns per 15 minutes and a 100 percent takedown defense percentage.

Holland is definitely the more explosive and quicker fighter here with some great striking, albeit though not the best grappling. He’ll attack early, he’ll attack with power off the bat and he can rock his opponents quite quickly. That being said — is Holland overhyped? He’s certainly made a name for himself and has a lot of momentum for good reason, but Brunson has faced far more experienced competition, and as such, Brunson will be the biggest test in Holland’s career so far.

Brunson is the kind of fighter who will come in quickly for an attack, possessing some great power of his own in addition to his expert-level wrestling and grappling. With Brunson, it seems he needs to get the upper hand from the start or for his opponent for Brunson to be led to success. He’ll be looking to get this fight to the ground quick, where he can test Holland, or find the first rocking strike of the contest.

Holland is certainly a step faster than Brunson and a bit crisper of a striker, which could play a big difference, especially if he’s able to hold his own with Brunson on the ground. Brunson, however, should not be written off as an easy opponent for Holland to run through given his own ability to endure strikes and grind someone out and overwhelm them with grappling.

It may not be the explosive or early finish that some might expect or want, and Brunson very much has a good chance in this fight to stop Holland’s hype train like he did Shahbazyan’s — we had never seen Shahbazyan look as bad as he did against Brunson, and maybe Holland could be the same way. But if Holland can stay patient, be selective and elusive, maintain his cardio and fight off Brunson’s grappling, it may be another big victory in his quest to be the UFC’s next major breakout star.

Prediction: Holland via unanimous decision

UFC Vegas 22 takes place on Saturday, March 20, 2021, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, NV. Follow along with FanSided for all your live news and highlights.