It's time for the Ultimate Fighting Championship's second card on ABC, and the promotion's put together a solid five-fight slate for an appropriately titled UFC on ABC 2 event. What initially could've served as a title eliminator in the main event is now an opportunity for Marvin Vettori to stake his claim as a contender, as he faces late replacement Kevin Holland. Past that, two fights in particular stand out: top featherweight prospects Sodiq Yusuff and Arnold Allen clash in a co-main event that serves as the best fight on the card, and Mackenzie Dern attempts to break through to true contender status against the returning Nina Nunes (formerly known as Nina Ansaroff).
Vettori (16-4-1) vs. Kevin
Odds: Vettori (-310), Holland (+255)
Well, it took all of one fight for things to seemingly turn. Holland was likely the UFC's top breakout fighter in 2020, as his approach was tailor-made for this pandemic era of the UFC's schedule; "Trailblazer" is willing to fight as frequently as possible, and his penchant for trash talking his opponents made for entertaining viewing during empty arena events. Of course, none of that would matter without the wins, and Holland had them in spades last year, winning five bouts over the course of less than seven months after the UFC's May return. Holland simply flowed with whatever his opponent presented him, talking all the while, with his December win over Ronaldo Souza serving as the perfect capper; Holland immediately found himself on the mat with his fearsome opponent and wound up somehow knocking Souza out while getting up off his back. That set Holland up for his first UFC main event just three weeks ago, where he was a betting favorite against Derek Brunson. It could've been the win that put Holland over the top into true contender status, but instead it seems to be the moment where everyone suddenly jumped off his bandwagon. Holland had his moments, particularly on the feet, but Brunson seemingly took Holland down at will. And that's where Holland's approach suddenly looked a lot worse; it's one thing to be flowing and talking trash in a clear win, but the fact that Holland mostly remained calm and provided commentary while he was on his back turned off a lot of people. In the long term, Holland should be fine; he still has the natural talent to become an elite fighter, and even if he maintains his current approach, he should keep his cache as an exciting fighter and reliable replacement whenever the UFC needs someone to step in. And speaking of, that's exactly the situation here, as Holland looks to get the taste of the Brunson fight out of his mouth on just a three-week turnaround. But he isn't exactly getting the best opportunity for a rebound win, since Vettori has proven to be a formidable opponent.
2020 was the year where Italy's Vettori became a true middleweight contender, completing a steady rise up the UFC ranks over the last few years. "The Italian Dream" came into the UFC as a fairly raw bully, but held his own against a tough slate of competition; three of Vettori's first five UFC fights came against Antonio Carlos Junior, Omari Akhmedov and Israel Adesanya. The Adesanya fight was both a missed opportunity and a breakout performance; Vettori nearly did enough to earn the win in a split decision loss, a result that looked much better as Adesanya rocketed his way to the middleweight title. Vettori has honed his craft in the years since and now appears to be clicking on all cylinders. He absolutely bulldozed Karl Roberson in his first fight of the year, and December saw him effectively pressure Jack Hermansson over five rounds to earn a one-sided victory in his first UFC main event. While this fight against Holland isn't quite the huge opportunity that it would've been against his original opponent, Darren Till, this is still a chance for Vettori to showcase his wares and make a case for himself in a wide-open middleweight title picture.
Given how Holland's fight against Brunson was just three weeks ago, it's hard not to see this as a clear Vettori victory. Vettori's dedicated to effective pressure and should be just as willing and able to score a takedown against Holland as Brunson was; and while Vettori may get tagged on the feet while doing so, he's proven to be quite durable and able to fight through that damage in a way that Brunson has struggled with over the years. If Holland suddenly learned all of the lessons of the Brunson fight in the last three weeks, he has the talent to do something here -- he's an underrated grappler and wrestler, just all too willing to let his opponent have their way. But assuming Holland hasn't changed in an instant, the main questions about this one are whether Vettori can finish him and how much Holland's reputation will be damaged by the manner of the loss. The pick is Vettori via clear decision.
Continue Reading » Allen vs. Yusuff