MiddleweightsDerek Brunson (18-7) vs. Elias Theodorou (16-2)
ODDS: Brunson (-115), Theodorou (-105)
MMA is a sport of contradictions. For instance, how can a man as pretty as Theodorou continue to have fights that are so ugly? Theodorou was the clear standout on “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” thanks to his personality and marketable good looks, but his UFC career got off to a bit of a slow start, as the promotion chose to slow-play him as a prospect in between bouts of inactivity. A loss to Thiago Santos taught Theodorou to pivot from a straight-ahead, grinding style, but the results since have just been weird. Theodorou has adopted a movement-heavy game full of awkward strikes that seems to frustrate his opponents rather than separate him as any sort of clear round-winner. However, it has still managed to be effective, winning “The Spartan” five out of his last six fights, so Theodorou gets a big shot in his native Ontario against Brunson.
After an up-and-down career, it looks like Brunson is finally settling into gatekeeper status. He initially made his hay as a blanketing wrestler, so it was a surprise when he suddenly developed a knockout striking game a few fights into his UFC run. It was in a way the best thing to ever happen to Brunson, as a string of four straight knockouts established him as a top middleweight, but with that run over, it has made the North Carolinian a bit of a psychological mess as a fighter. Whereas his previous performances were properly measured, Brunson’s fights now have no middle ground: Either he is in his own head and unable to take advantage of an aging Anderson Silva, or he completely sells out and fights like a runaway train, allowing measured fighters like Robert Whittaker and Ronaldo Souza to blast him. At least his most recent fight against Israel Adesanya looked like Brunson finding a bit of his old balance, but after another loss there, it is an open question where he goes from here.
This fight would be a lot easier to envision if it was clear exactly where Brunson is head is at, but his physical gifts should get the job done. One of the keys to beating Theodorou is being fast enough to catch him, and even if Brunson tends to sell out whenever he decides to rush his opponents, he is definitely fast enough to land when he does. Moreover, Brunson probably will not pay for his missteps, as Theodorou has not shown much in the way of finishing power. Brunson is going to fight in bursts, he is going to be reckless and he is going to be inconsistent, but all of that just does not seem like it will matter. He will be hitting the harder shots, and he is a strong enough wrestler that Theodorou will not be able to use the clinch as a safe space. The pick is Brunson via decision.
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