UFC On ESPN 21 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Kevin Holland vs. Derek Brunson
After an impressive 2020 campaign that saw him win five times in a row, Kevin Holland now headlines against Brunson, who is on a three-fight winning streak.
Holland has a tall lean physique that enables him to work his kickboxing skills from range, and his 2″ height and 4″ height reach advantage will certainly be put to good use here as Brunson is the kind of explosive fighter who will have to be kept at bay.
The speed and power that Brunson possesses makes him dangerous, but he can be quite wild and reckless at times as he charges in swinging for the fences, and with his chin having been compromised on a number of occasions during his UFC run that could get him into trouble here.
That being said, Brunson is a good wrestler and Holland isn’t the hardest fighter to take down, though keeping him there is another story and Holland demonstrated against ‘Jacare’ Souza last time out that even when grounded his power and lanky limbs can still shift the momentum of a fight.
So, Brunson has a chance here, but I do feel Holland has the better chance of emerging victorious as he has the offensive weapons to expose both Brunson’s defensive failings and questionable chin as he tries to close the distance to strike or wrestle, leading to a TKO victory in the second round.
Pick: Kevin Holland wins by TKO in Rd2.
Gregor Gillespie vs. Brad Riddell
Gillespie hasn’t been since a surprise head kick KO loss against Kevin Lee in 2019 which broke his perfect 13-0 record, while mostly in his absence, Riddell has put together a three-fight winning run in the UFC to bring him to 9-1 overall.
Gillespie is a very dominant wrestler who has completely shut down many of his past opponent on the mat, but after his last loss he’ll certainly be wary of what Ridell has to offer on the feet as this seasoned kickboxer will be looking to keep the fight upright where he’ll have the upper-hand.
Riddell is generally quite successful in doing just that, but he’s never faced anyone at Gillespie’s level as far as pure wrestling ability goes, and though he does a nice job of working back to his feet, he’ll find that more challenging in this fight and even if he does stand, will struggle not to just be put back down again immediately.
That leaves Riddell relying heavily on stopping Gillespie on the rare opportunities when he has a chance to plant his feet and let off some strikes, but I’m not convinced he’s going to be able to pull that off and so I see Gillespie grinding his way to a decision win on the mat here.
Pick: Gregor Gillespie wins by decision.
Tai Tuivasa vs. Harry Hunsucker
Hunsucker comes in on very short notice to fight Tuivasa after the Aussie’s original opponent Don’Tale Mayes was forced to withdraw due to an injury.
It comes at a time when Tuivasa has just got his UFC career back on the rails with a KO win over Stefan Struve after having suffered three losses in a row prior to that. Meanwhile, Hunsucker actually lost out on winning place in the UFC last year when he was TKO’d on the Contender Series, but a quick KO win on the regional circuit led to this opportunity to show what he can do on the big stage.
Hunsucker does have some advantages here as he’s got a little more to offer on the mat with wrestling and submissions than Tuivasa, who is first and foremost a heavy-handed muay thai striker.
Having said that, Hunsucker has generally fallen short when his level of competition has picked up and many of his wins have come against fighters with very underwhelming records, so this is a big challenge for him, and on just a few days notice I don’t see him getting the better of the hard headed Tuivasa, whose should be able to demonstrate his knockout power here to deliver a first round finish.
Pick: Tai Tuivasa Adrian Yanez vs. Gustavo Lopez
Yanez has a 2″ height and 3″ reach advantage over Lopez and he has the ability to pick opponents apart from range with his boxing, and has good power too, stopping four of his last five opponents inside the distance.
Lopez’s pressure style could literally play right into Yanez’s hands and so he’d be well advised to look to implement his ground game to probe at his opponent’s relatively untested skills on the mat.
I think Yanez takedown defense will keep this one upright though and from there his superior technique and accuracy will send him on his way to a decision win.
Pick: Adrian Yanez wins by decision.
Song Kenan vs. Max Griffin
With a 4-1 UFC record to date and a KO win over Callum Porter last time out, Kenan has momentum on his side here, although his standard of opposition has been rather underwhelming for the most part so far.
On the other hand, while Griffin is coming off a TKO win, he’d gone only 1-4 before that, but had consistently been taking on good fighters and managed to take Alex Oliveira and Thiago Alves to split decision verdicts.
Griffin utilizes his boxing nicely and has a 5″ reach differential to play with here, but while he packs a punch there’s also been a number of times when he’s been hurt in his fights, though he usually powers through and has actually only ever been stopped once via strikes. Nevertheless, there’s only so many times you can get rocked before it starts to take a toll, and he is 35-years-old now.
Kenan will look to exploit that as he is a high-volume, potent striker, though his defense is questionable at times too.
I can see Kenan struggling in the wrestling department though, and as long as Griffin doesn’t get too carried away with the striking battle I think he can get this fight to the mat and control the action to earn a win on the scorecards.
Pick: Max Griffin wins by decision.
Cheyenne Buys vs. Montserrat Ruiz
Ruiz comes in on short notice for this fight from the Invicta FC record and she has a very respectable 9-1 record, while Buys is also making her debut after a win on the Contender Series last year took her record to 5-1.
Ruiz is small in stature, so she’ll have to deal with being 3″ shorter than Buys as well as giving up 2″ in reach. She is at her best with her wrestling and works hard, but is slowly improving upon her striking and submission skills too.
Buys may be less experienced in terms of pro-fight, but she has an extensive amateur background and has developed a nice striking game based around high-volume offense and good movement, together with solid takedown defense.
Both fighters are just trying to find their feet in the UFC at this point, so anything could happen, but I feel Buys shows the most promise and I’ll take her to get the better of Ruiz in the striking battle to get a decision win.
Pick: Cheyenne Buys wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Marion Reneau vs. Macy Chiasson
Leo Santos vs. Grant Dawson
Trevin Giles vs. Roman Dolidze
Julia Avila vs. Julija Stoliarenko
Montel Jackson vs. Jesse Strader
JP Buys vs. Bruno Silva