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Guide to UFC on ESPN 21: Brunson vs. Holland

Getting prepared for UFC action this coming Saturday? Here is everything you need to know about the event with our Guide to UFC on ESPN 21.

Date: March 20, 2021
Location: UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card
Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN

Middleweights: Derek Brunson vs. Kevin Holland

Overall Records: Brunson 21-7, Holland 21-5
UFC Records: Brunson 12-5, Holland 8-2
Last Fight: Brunson def. Shahbazyan, R3 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 31 (8/1/20), Holland def. Souza, R1 KO, UFC 256 (12/12/20)
Last Five Fights: Brunson 3-2, Holland 5-0
Rankings: Brunson #7, Holland #10
Betting Odds: Brunson +145, Holland -175
Preview: After Holland scored the incredible knockout win over Jacare Souza at UFC 256 in December, he had one man in mind for his next opponent, and that was Brunson. The matchmakers took no time in getting the fight booked, and we have it here as a five-round main event that is sure to bring some excitement. These two have been talking trash to each other over social media and interviews, and it will carry over into fight week, and even during the fight considering how much Holland likes to talk inside the cage.

Brunson is looking to finally break through and get a title shot as he comes into this fight riding a three-fight win streak. The last time we saw him in action was in August, where he halted the momentum of an undefeated prospect and schooled Edmen Shahbazyan, finishing him in the third round. Brunson has only lost to opponents who have either been champions or fought in title fights, so he doesn’t seem to get the credit he deserves a lot of the time for truly being a great fighter, which is likely because he tends to falter in the big fight. However, Brunson seems to be the limitus test at 185 lbs.—if you beat him, you should be fighting for a title sooner rather than later, but, if you lose to him, you might never get there. This is why this is a super important fight for Holland, and why it was a great idea to call for this one. He has won five straight and eight of his last nine, but Brunson is a massive step-up in competition. That’s not to say he isn’t ready, but this will prove if he bit off more than he can chew.

Holland is going to have a decent reach advantage in there, and he is a more polished striker who uses all sorts of angles and feints, and he has some underrated power. Brunson has had trouble when facing strikers who are better than him, and he has been cracked several times leading to being finished. Brunson does fine for himself on the feet, but his strong suit is his wrestling and grappling. He averages over three takedowns a fight, and he has never been taken down in a fight. Holland does have some fancy submission prowess, but Brunson has seen it all and his top game is stifening. Brunson has never been submitted, while Holland has never been knocked out.

The path to victory for both is pretty clear here- if Holland can keep it standing, it favors him, and if Brunson can get it down, it favors him. I’m surprised Holland is the favorite in this one, and by a pretty decent margin, because I do still feel that Brunson is the better fighter right now. Holland has the chance to show that isn’t the case. It should be a very fun fight and could go either way, and is a big chance for Holland to show whether he is ready for Israel Adesanya or not.

Lightweights: Gregor Gillespie vs. Brad Riddell

Overall Records: Gillespie 13-1, Riddell 9-1
UFC Records: Gillespie 6-1, Riddell 3-0
Last Fight: Lee def. Gillespie, R1 KO, UFC 244 (11/2/19), Riddell def. da Silva, UDec, UFC 253 (9/26/20)
Last Five Fights: Gillespie 4-1, Riddell 5-0
Rankings: Gillespie #15
Betting Odds: Gillespie -250, Riddell +195
Preview: The best fisherman in UFC is making his long-awaited return in this one, answering the question if he was still asleep from the foot of Kevin Lee, as Gillespie and Riddell battle in what could be an exciting fight. Gillespie is arguably one of the most-accomplished college wrestlers to enter MMA, and he started his career off strong with thirteen straight wins to get himself ranked inside the top fifteen. He then was matched up against Lee at UFC 244 inside Madison Square Garden, and was doing well until Lee landed a head kick that sent him into another dimension, and apparently 17 months later he’s returned to this dimension to get back to work.

Riddell comes into the fight having won six straight fights, including the last three coming as a member of UFC roster, and he’s gaining momentum as he comes into the biggest fight of his young career. He’s had some exciting fights inside the Octagon, but is in search of his first finish. Both men have shown to be good at finishing opponents, as Gillespie has won eleven by stoppage and Riddell has five knockout wins. Each man only has one loss on their records, and they were both stopped in those lone losses. Riddell has to have his takedown defense on point in this one because that is exactly what Gillespie is going to be after. Gillespie has 23 takedowns in his seven UFC bouts, and he is great at using them, and his wrestling is so strong that none of his opponents have even attempted to take him down. Riddell has 60% takedown defense, so he’s good at defending them, but the wrestling of Gillespie is on a whole other level.

When it comes on the feet, Gillespie is a good striker with lots of knockout power, but Riddell will still have the edge on the feet as he has lots of kickboxing experience. Gillespie does have good striking defense, but he does leave his hands down at times as he looks for the wrestling, and Lee made him pay for it with the head kick. Riddell mixes his strikes well and he should test the jaw of Gillespie. This might be the most compelling match-up on the card and will be another fight that comes down to who implements their strong suits. Gillespie’s wrestling far exceeds Riddell’s striking, and this feels like a fight that Gillespie should win, but never say never in this sport.

Women’s Strawweights: Cheyanne Buys vs. Montserrat Ruiz

Overall Records: Buys 5-1, Ruiz 9-1
UFC Records: Buys 0-0, Ruiz 0-0
Last Fight: Buys def. Rose, UDec, Dana White’s Contender Series 29 (8/18/20), Ruiz def. Morandin, R1 SUB, Invicta FC 41 (7/30/20)
Last Five Fights: Buys 4-1, Ruiz 4-1
Betting Odds: Buys -365, Ruiz +275
Preview: A pair of strawweights making their UFC debuts takes place here as Buys looks to show Dana White he made a great decision to sign her off the Contender Series, while Ruiz accepts a short-notice assignment to make her debut. Buys was scheduled to take on Kay Hansen in this bout, but Hansen had to pull out, so Ruiz was signed as a replacement. As far as a match-up goes, Ruiz is a level down from Hansen, so this should be a more favorable fight for Buys. Buys has less overall experience than Ruiz, but she will employ a nice height and reach advantage in this one. Ruiz is a more proven finisher, as she has five wins by stoppage, but stoppages at this level at 115 lbs. are hard to come by a lot of times.

Buys is a high-volume kickboxer who mixes everything well and is very accurate on her feet. She tends to go the distance in her fights, but on her Contender Series win over Hilarie Rose, she landed 92 significant strikes, which is high for strawweights over fifteen minutes. Ruiz is more of a grinding fighter who likes to clinch and find advantages there, and if she is able to get an opponent down, her top game is pretty good and she can keep opponents smothered. Buys does have very good takedown defense, and her striking will likely be more than Ruiz can handle. If Buys gets off her high-volume attack, it’ll keep Ruiz at a distance and this will be a long night for her. I really like Buys to win in impressive fashion here.

Bantamweights: Adrian Yanez vs. Gustavo Lopez

Overall Records: Yanez 12-3, Lopez 12-5
UFC Records: Yanez 1-0, Lopez 1-1
Last Fight: Yanez def. Rodriguez, R1 KO, UFC On ESPN+ 39 (10/31/20), Lopez def. Birchak, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN 17 (11/7/20)
Last Five Fights: Yanez 5-0, Lopez 4-1
Betting Odds: Yanez -225, Lopez +175
Preview: A bantamweight bout that could provide fireworks sees Yanez gunning for his sixth straight win against Lopez, who is looking to pick up his second consecutive win. Yanez is a product of the Contender Series, and came into his UFC debut in October with a little bit of hype. He picked up an impressive win, finishing Victor Rodriguez with a head kick in the first round, his seventh knockout win in his career. This will be Lopez’ third UFC appearance, but his second one with a full training camp. He debuted on very short notice against Merab Dvalishvili, who is tough to fight no matter the training camp length, and lost a decision, but bounced back with a submission win over Anthony Birchak in November.

This is another fight pitting a striker against a grappler, with Yanez having the clear edge on the feet and Lopez being better on the mat. Yanez is a high-volume striker who throws a ton, and has a good bit of accuracy. He will go low and high with his kicks, and his power and speed are fantastic at 135 lbs.. He has tons of potential. Lopez does tend to get hit a lot and he will be on the hunt for the takedowns if he can handle the pressure of Yanez. Lopez has been knocked out twice in his career. If Lopez is able to get ahold of Yanez, Yanez does have 100% takedown defense, and he has yet to be finished in his career. This feels like a fight where Yanez is destined to win on the feet, but he shouldn’t overlook the grappling of Lopez. I expect a good fight here, but I think Yanez gets the job done.

Welterweights: Song Kenan vs. Max Griffin

Overall Records: Kenan 16-5, Griffin 16-8
UFC Records: Kenan 4-1, Griffin 4-6
Last Fight: Kenan def. Potter, R1 KO, UFC On ESPN+ 26 (2/22/20), Griffin def. Brahimaj, R3 TKO, UFC On ESPN 17 (11/7/20)
Last Five Fights: Kenan 4-1, Griffin 2-3
Betting Odds: Kenan +155, Griffin -190
Preview: A welterweight battle between two middle-of-the-road fighters looking to break through into the next level takes place here as Kenan looks to score his third straight win while Griffin looks to score his second straight. Kenan hasn’t fought since before the pandemic started, with his last appearance being a first-round knockout win over Callan Potter last February. He has been victorious in four of his five appearances inside the Octagon, with the lone loss coming via a decision to Alex Morono. Griffin may be the toughest test for him to date as you shouldn’t let Griffin’s record fool you. He may only be 4–6 with UFC, but his losses have come to tough opponents and he’s only been finished once, which was the only stoppage loss of his career. The two do share a common opponent, and loss, to Morono, for UFC.

Griffin has gotten better throughout his UFC run despite the lackluster record, as his striking has evolved and his grappling has improved. He is very good outside the pocket with his kicks. Kenan is a brawler who has some great power, and has eight wins by knockout in his career. Griffin is the more technical striker of the two, and he can also choose to turn it into a wrestling match, and Kenan defends left than half of the takedowns attempted on him. Griffin won’t have to worry about Kenan looking for a takedown- he has yet to even attempt one in his UFC career. However, Kenan has scored knockdowns in three of his five UFC bouts, so Griffin’s pressure and keeping it inside the pocket and out of range will be key here. This fight is going to likely go either Kenan knocking Griffin out or Griffin getting a decision. It’s a very close fight on the betting odds, and a fight that could go either way.

Heavyweights: Tai Tuivasa vs. Harry Hunsucker

Overall Records: Tuivasa 10-3, Hunsucker 7-3
UFC Records: Tuivasa 4-3, Hunsucker 0-0
Last Fight: Tuivasa def. Struve, R1 KO, UFC 254 (10/24/20), Hunsucker def. Moon, R1 KO, HR MMA 119 (2/27/21)
Last Five Fights: Tuivasa 2-3, Hunsucker 4-1
Betting Odds: N/A
Preview: A fight that was put together on Wednesday sees Hunsucker make his UFC debut on just a couple of days’ notice as a replacement for Don’Tale Mayes, who was pulled from the fight due to medical reasons. Tuivasa wanted to remain on the card, as he did travel from Australia to fight, spending time there and in Dubai preparing for the fight. Tuivasa is looking to keep some good momentum going, as he scored a first-round knockout win over Stefan Struve in his last fight, ending a three-fight losing skid. It wasn’t an overwhelming win, but Tuivasa did get the chance to show he still can win and finish opponents. Hunsucker enters the fight off a win less than a month ago after coming up short in his appearance on the Contender Series in November. Hunsucker has scored all seven of his wins by stoppage, with two wins by knockout and five by submission. Of Tuivasa’s ten wins, nine have come by knockout.

Hunsucker is a different opponent than the one that Tuivasa was preparing for. With Mayes, Tuivasa had to get ready for an opponent who is six-foot-six, has an 80″ reach and is around 240 lbs. Hunsucker is smaller in height than Tuivasa, has the same reach and is about the same weight. Tuivasa is someone who cuts to make the heavyweight limit, so he will have a size advantage in this one. Tuivasa has a whole lot of power and he mixes a lot of things well. He isn’t afraid to throw flying knees, but he’ll also wear down opponents with hard leg kicks and brutal elbows. Hunsucker does get hit a lot, and he’s going to need to try and wear Tuivasa down with takedowns. Tuivasa struggles badly with opponents who choose to wrestle him, and he has seemed lost on the mat when planted there.

Hunsucker has to get him down, because Tuivasa will likely chew up his legs on the feet. They seemed to want to rebuild Tuivasa coming into this fight, and the path likely got easier with the late change. Tuivasa has the talent and skills to win this one, and he should if he sticks with the gameplan. I expect a classic Tuivasa showing and a classic Tuivasa post-fight moment.

Preliminary Card
Start Time: 7:00 p.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN2

Women’s Bantamweights: Marion Reneau vs. Macy Chiasson

Overall Records: Reneau 9-6-1, Chiasson 6-1
UFC Records: Reneau 5-5-1, Chiasson 4-1
Last Fight: Pennington def. Reneau, UDec, UFC On ESPN 11 (6/20/20), Chiasson def. Young, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 25 (2/15/20)
Last Five Fights: Reneau 2-3, Chiasson 4-1
Rankings: Reneau #9, Chiasson #11
Betting Odds: Reneau +170, Chiasson -210
Preview: A women’s bantamweight bout pitting veteran against prospect gets a main card slot here when Reneau takes on Chiasson. They were set to fight last month, but COVID delayed the match-up. Reneau is looking to end a three-fight skid and get her first win in over three years here. Chiasson is returning to action for the first time in nearly a year as the former TUF winner looks to notch her second straight win. Reneau looks to be entering the twilight of her career as she is nearly 44-years-old. Despite the three straight losses, she still finds herself ranked inside the top ten at 135 lbs., which speaks both to the quality of opponents she’s lost to but also to the overall quality of the division.

Chiasson is just seven fights into her professional career, and this will be only the second time she’s fought a ranked opponent. The first time didn’t go in her favor, losing to Lina Lansberg via decision. One of the most notable things in this fight when it gets started is going to be the size advantage of Chiasson. She is a big bantamweight, and will hold a good height and reach edge over Reneau. Despite her struggles, Reneau can’t be counted out. Of her nine wins, eight have come by stoppage, with the lone decision win coming in her UFC debut.

She also has never been finished in her career, so Chiasson will need to be prepared to go the distance. Chiasson tends to land more and get hit less than Reneau, but Reneau has good takedowns and a very good ground game. This is a pretty even match-up that will come show whether Reneau has fight left in her, and whether Chiasson will live up to her potential.

Lightweights: Leonardo Santos vs. Grant Dawson

Overall Records: Santos 18-3-1, Dawson 16-1
UFC Records: Santos 7-0-1, Dawson 4-0
Last Fight: Santos def. Bogatov, UDec, UFC 251 (7/11/20), Dawson def. Narimani, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 30 (7/18/20)
Last Five Fights: Santos 5-0, Dawson 5-0
Betting Odds: Santos +170, Dawson -210
Preview: If you look hard enough on this card, you’ll find a prelim that features two fighters who have a combined twelve UFC fights and zero losses between them, and you’ll wonder why it isn’t higher up on the card. Whatever the reason may be, this fight is a high-level match-up between two guys who could find themselves inside the top fifteen afterwards. Santos has some age on him, as he is 41-years-old, but he doesn’t look or fight like someone who is 41. He is unbeaten in his last thirteen fights dating back to 2009, with his lone slipup being a draw with Norman Parke in his second UFC fight. He’s a tremendous ground fighter, with a fourth-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu, and is a former Abu Dhabi Combat Club world champion. Dawson is an impressive 16-1 in his career and enters on a seven-fight win streak. He is fighting for the first time at 155 lbs. since joining UFC after having some issues making weight as a featherweight in recent fights.

He doesn’t have the submission accolades that Santos does, but 11 of his 16 wins have come by submission, so he is no slouch on the mat. Dawson is going to be giving up some reach to Santos, but he should make up for that with his pure athleticism. Dawson is a more active striker, and he likes to utilize the low calf kick to set up his takedowns. He averages over four takedowns per fifteen minutes of action, and he is very grinding from the top. Santos does have 88% takedown defense, and it will need to be on point. He may try and look to take Dawson down, which would be a good strategy as Dawson only defends 33% of takedowns attempted on him. Santos is going to need to show his cardio is up to par as he gassed badly in his last fight against Roman Bogatov in July. To his credit, though, he was on the receiving end of multiple groin strikes in that fight, which took a lot out of him. Santos does have some power on his feet as well.

This is such an interesting fight and I’m disappointed it’s buried on the prelims, as it could be one of the better fights on the show. Dawson is a decent-sized favorite, but I wouldn’t count Santos out in this one, especially if he can avoid being kicked to oblivion and avoid the pressure of Dawson. I do like Dawson to win this fight, however.

Middleweights: Trevin Giles vs. Roman Dolidze

Overall Records: Giles 13-2, Dolidze 8-0
UFC Records: Giles 4-2, Dolidze 2-0
Last Fight: Giles def. Lewis, R3 TKO, UFC On ESPN 17 (11/7/20), Dolidze def. Allan, SpDec, UFC On ESPN 19 (12/5/20)
Last Five Fights: Giles 3-2, Dolidze 5-0
Betting Odds: Giles +115, Dolidze -145
Preview: An undefeated fighter drops down a weight class on short notice is a story we don’t quite often see, but it is happening here as Dolidze looks to improve to 9-0 against a very tough Giles in this one. Giles was preparing to fight Dricus du Plessis in this one, but due to visa issues, he gets Dolidze instead. It is odd that Dolidze is dropping down, as it was an unexpected move, and he was looking good at 205 lbs. in his first two UFC fights. His last fight was a close one, but he did get the split decision over John Allan after winning all three rounds clearly, but still losing on the scorecard of Chris Lee. It was the first time he went the distance in a fight, and, if anything, nearly losing a fight he clearly won should teach him to never leave it to the judges. Giles comes into this fight have won two straight after an impressive third-round TKO finish of Bevon Lewis in November. It was his eleventh win by stoppage, and he’s shown some great improvement over his UFC tenure.

Giles is going to need to use his speed advantage in this one, and he should be pressuring Dolidze all over if he wants to get a clear win. Dolidze is making his first cut to 185 lbs. on short notice with not a lot of time to get ready, so who even knows if he did a test cut. Giles does have a tendency not to fight to the best of his abilities, but he’s seemed to get over that hurdle in his recent performances. He should be looking to grind away and pressure Dolidze, and use his right hand as a primary weapon to force some close battles. Dolidze does have some power and a decent grind attack, but Giles, when he is at his best, is the better and more complete fighter. Giles is a slight underdog, but I like his odds to win this one.

Bantamweights: Montel Jackson vs. Jesse Strader

Overall Records: Jackson 9-2, Strader 5-1
UFC Records: Jackson 3-2, Strader 0-0
Last Fight: Johns def. Jackson, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 30 (7/18/20), Strader def. Batin-Gonzalez, R1 KO, Combate 41 (8/2/19)
Last Five Fights: Jackson 3-2, Strader 4-1
Betting Odds: Jackson -750, Strader +475
Preview: A fight that was put together with just over a week’s notice takes place here as Jackson welcomes newcomer Strader in this one. Jackson is looking to rebound from a loss to Brett Johns in his last bout in July. While Jackson’s 3-2 UFC record may not look impressive to some, his losses have come to very strong fighters in Johns and Ricky Simon, and he has been very impressive in his three wins. Strader is a fighter they seemed to just grab to fill a spot they needed filled, as he hasn’t fought since August 2019 and isn’t close to being UFC ready. He has been impressive in his six professional fights, with four of his five wins by knockout. He just doesn’t have the experience to deserve this call, but it’s not one he could pass up.

Strader likes to come out and attack the body with punches as he is aggressive, but he will be giving up some reach to Jackson. Jackson does have some power in his hands, and the one thing he’s going to be thankful for in this one is that Strader has no semblance of a grappling game, so this should be on the feet. Jackson would be best-served to stay patient and look to counter. Jackson is very accurate and doesn’t tend to get hit a lot, and his talent level is worlds above Strader at this moment. This could be an exciting blitz of a fight, and Jackson is a big favorite for a reason.

Flyweights: Bruno Silva vs. JP Buys

Overall Records: Silva 10-5-2 1 NC, Buys 9-2
UFC Records: Silva 0-2 1 NC, Buys 0-0
Last Fight: Ulanbekov def. Silva, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 37 (10/10/20), Buys def. Silva, R1 SUB, Dana White’s Contender Series 36 (11/17/20)
Last Five Fights: Silva 2-2 1 NC, Buys 5-0
Betting Odds: Silva +130, Buys -160
Preview: A flyweight tilt between a debuting fighter and a fighter searching for his first UFC win in his fourth try takes place as Buys looks to build some early momentum before his wife competes later on during the main card as Silva tries to get into the win column. This will be Silva’s third try at 125 lbs., but he is coming off two losses to tough opponents in David Dvorak and Tagir Ulanbekov, and a debuting opponent may be just what he needs. He does have six stoppage wins in his ten professional wins, but he’s had a really inconsistent career thus far. Buys has won five straight fights coming in, and he earned his contract with an impressive first-round submission on the Contender Series in November. He is 8-2 in his career, and all eight of his wins have come by stoppage. He will have a height and reach edge over Silva in this one.

Buys is the better fighter of the two as he has a stronger wrestling base and his striking is more accurate. When Buys is able to get opponents down, he constantly hunts for submissions. Silva is going to need to utilize the calf kicks and keep Buys at a distance, but his striking isn’t a strong suit and likely not good enough to keep Buys from getting in takedown range. Silva has had trouble getting up from the bottom on the mat, and Buys is a big-time grinder from the top. This might end up being the first time Buys goes the distance, as Silva is tough to finish, but I like Buys to get a nice early started for the husband-and-wife combo.

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