If you are not excited for Saturday’s event from Las Vegas on ESPN 2 and ESPN+ its ok, you still have time. While most fans might not physically see it the show will come with a subtle sense of silent celebration as Sin City hits the one-year mark of having closed its doors back on March of 2020 due to the pandemic. At that time, the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, governor and classic James Bond movie henchman Steve Sisolak informed everyone that Vegas would be “shut down” for 3 weeks while things calmed down. Well, that 21 days turned into 12 months as Las Vegans along with the rest of the world continue to navigate these horrendous covid19 waters.
What isn’t ugly however is this card; a reason to rejoice in live sports as well as the UFC’s relentless work ethic powered by an unmatched drive to put on events. Their ability as a combat sports promoter to have set the tone months ago on how to do business by not letting the pandemic completely derail operations is why boxing and other MMA promoters easily piggy backed to do business of their own.
What better way to toast the 12-month mark than a show headlined by two very talented 185ers climbing the ladder towards a title shot? Let’s enjoy some live MMA fights and entertainment this weekend with a better look at the two men squaring off in the headliner from the UFC Apex for UFC Vegas 22.
Derek Brunson (21-7) rides a 3-fight winning streak into the cage as he main events a UFC show for the 5th time in his MMA career. From his days as a standout in Strikeforce to locking horns with former Strikeforce titleholder Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, former UFC champ Robert Whitaker and reigning UFC 185lbs champion Israel Adesanya the North Carolina native has taken on the best of the best for years. Now, he is firing on all cylinders having strung together impressive unanimous decision triumphs over Elias Theodorou & Ian Heinisch and a TKO stoppage over then undefeated Edmen Shahbazyan this past August. Edmen had all the hype behind him of being “the next big thing” at 185 pounds and Brunson pounded him out of there inside of 3 rounds. Derek is a solid wrestler who possesses good striking skills mixed in with a tricky style of awkward feet and angles. His ability to switch stances befuddles most opponents as he operates extremely well moving forward with slick counter attacks; all things he will need to implore to take down his foe this weekend.
Kevin “Trailblazer” Holland (22-5) has only lost 3 out of his last 15 bouts and rides a 5-fight winning streak into the cage as he main events for the first time in his MMA career. In his last 5 matches the King of the Cage and Bellator veteran stopped 4 of those five foes and only went the distance against Darren Stewart. His most recent match happened December of 2020 at UFC 256 were he dismantled ex-Strikeforce king Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza via 1st Round TKO. There we saw the absolute best version of Holland where he was laser focused and deadly accurate with his strikes. His ring IQ has grown by leaps and bounds and the UFC couldn’t pick a better time to give the fighter out of Texas a better time to headline a UFC Fight Night. He can adjust and adapt in the cage and is conditioned to go the distance plus he knows that a win over Brunson moves him a step closer to the belt.
Simply put this 185lbs main event is a tres leches cake of MMA storylines. For starters, these two top dogs have been barking at each other over social media for weeks, taking shots at one another back and forth so the rivalry is legit. They are both ranked in the top 10 of the middleweight division so if there was an Interim belt one of these men would be in line for it. Lastly, they are both coming in hot with 8 wins out of 8 combined matches therefore the 25-minute platform on ESPN 2 is absolutely perfect for either warrior to make fans take notice then lobby for either man to grab a title opportunity late this year.
The main question to be answered is: who can impose their will? These guys are offensive dynamos but defensively they are equally flawed. They’re not technically sound fighting backwards and if they cancel out striking on the feet are we in for a lackluster wrestling match? Ideally, we get a first round finish as they settle their bad blood, rip the mic from Anik during the post-fight interview and call out the potential winner of next month’s Robert Whitaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum battle in order to be the undisputed front runner for Israel Adesanya’s 185lbs crown in the fall.