UFC Fight Night: Vettori v Holland Predictions
The ever-game Kevin Holland will look to shake up the middleweight division as he swoops in on short notice for a main event showdown with Marvin Vettori at UFC Vegas 23 on Saturday night, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The co-main event at the UFC APEX will see rising featherweight stars Sodiq Yusuff and Arnold Allen throw down, while Nina Ansaroff and Mackenzie Dern meet in a pivotal strawweight scrap.
In addition to the night’s marquee match-up, the main card includes another middleweight bout with UFC stalwart Sam Alvey taking on the dangerous Julian Marquez. A third scheduled fight at 185 pounds, between Kyle Daukaus and Aliaskhab Khizriev, was postponed on Thursday due to Covid-19 protocols.
Starting things off is a potential show-stealer at welterweight, where Mike Perry and Daniel Rodriguez go to war.
MAIN CARD (From 9 PM SA Time):
Marvin Vettori v Kevin Holland (Middleweight)
The stage was set for the Battle of Europe, a long-awaited showdown between England’s Darren Till and Italy’s Vettori. Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya had made it clear that he’d grant Till a title shot if he got past Vettori. However, news broke last Wednesday that “The Gorilla” suffered a broken collarbone during training and just like that, UFC Vegas 23 lost its main event.
Vettori (16-4-1), who’s on a march to a maiden championship opportunity, welcomed a new opponent and Holland stepped up to the plate, just two weeks removed from a main event match-up against Derek Brunson. While the 10th-ranked “Trailblazer” (21-6) is a downgrade from fifth-ranked Till, Vettori sees the fight as another chance to show why he should be next line to face the reigning 185-pound king.
“The Italian Dream” dropped a razor-thin split decision to “The Last Stylebender” back in 2018 and has been on a tear ever since, winning four on the trot including derailing long-time contender Jack Hermansson in his first main event at UFC Vegas 16 last December. He has real disdain for Adesanya, whose dismissal of him as his next possible opponent and focus on Till has turned the chip on the sixth-ranked 27-year-old’s shoulder into a boulder.
Like he showed in the back-and-forth fight with Adesanya, Vettori can hang with the very best on the feet. He’s never been finished and has two knockouts to his credit, however, his bread and butter is his high-level grappling. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt has submitted nine of his 16 victims and will look to tie up, tire and tapout the unpredictable Holland.
Having racked up a record-equalling five wins (four by knockout) in a calendar year in 2020, Holland’s momentum was brought to a screeching halt by Brunson last month. It was a real missed opportunity for the surging Holland, who continued to clown around despite falling behind on the scorecards, which helped Brunson coast to an uneventful decision victory.
He had little answer for his veteran foe’s grappling, even jokingly asking Khabib Nurmagomedov – who joined UFC president Dana White in attendance – for advice mid-fight and lacked the spark that stoked his 2020 streak. He’s been widely criticised for the lackadaisical loss and despite insisting he’ll continue to talk it up inside the Octagon, he’ll surely have more urgency in this fight.
Vettori, however, is the more well-rounded fighter and I see him following Brunson’s blueprint to continue his hot streak.
Arnold Allen v Sodiq Yusuff (Featherweight)
Something has to give when these two surging featherweights collide in the co-headliner, with 10th-ranked Allen (16-1) riding a nine-fight win streak and 11th-ranked Yusuff (11-1) having won six straight. Both are undefeated in the UFC, Brit Allen is 7-0 while Nigerian-born Yusuff is 4-0, setting the stage for a tense tussle.
Yusuff’s a striker with a 60% knockout ratio, whereas Allen mixes things up, which I believe will be the difference between the two. Underlining his versatility is the fact that “Almighty” has five wins by knockouts and four by submission.
Yusuff is a bully type of striker, whereas Allen has demonstrated higher fight IQ and better footwork. With “Super” known to march forward, it does open him up to takedowns and Allen’s shown good technique and timing to put opponents on their backs.
Five of underdog Allen’s seven wins inside the Octagon were by decision, including the last three, and I expect him to outfox Yusuff with a blend of striking and grappling.
Sam Alvey v Julian Marquez (Middleweight)
This is a make-or-break fight for Alvey, one of the most experienced fighters on the UFC roster. “Smile’n” has thrown down in 50 pro fights, 20 of which were in the Octagon, and is 33-15-1-1NC overall. He’s ever the entertainer but is winless in his last five fights – all at light heavyweight – with his last triumph dating back to 2018 when he edged Gian Villante by split decision.
A split draw against Da Un Jung last time out in October has given the popular pugilist one last shot to right the ship. As such, he’s dropping down to middleweight and after original opponent Zak Cummings was forced out of the fight, he’s matched up with “The Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Marquez (8-2) looks like a modern-day Viking and fights like one. He has a 100% finish rate, boasting six knockouts and two tapouts. After a 31-month injury-enforced layoff, he picked up where he left off by choking out Maki Pitolo in February to earn a Performance of the Night bonus and a shoutout from pop star Miley Cyrus.
This will be a stand-up battle as Alvey, stunningly, has just one takedown in his seven-year UFC tenure while Marquez has none. The latter has never been stopped and with his speed advantage, he should land a hammer blow to put the final nail in Alvey’s UFC coffin.
Nina Ansaroff v Mackenzie Dern (Strawweight)
A massive fight in the strawweight division. You have the mainstay Ansaroff (10-6) in one corner and the “next best thing” Dern (9-1) in the other. Ansaroff is taking a calculated gamble here as few fighters in the top five put their ranking at risk against an opponent outside of the top 10. Ansaroff’s not any fighter, though, and neither is Dern, hence this fascinating fight.
Ansaroff is the fifth-ranked contender but hasn’t fought since June of 2019 when she lost a decision to Tatiana Suarez. That defeat at UFC 238 ended an impressive purple patch that saw her secure wins over Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger, Angela Hill, Randa Markos and Cláudia Gadelha.
After giving birth to her daughter last September with partner and UFC champ-champ Amanda Nunes, she’s ready to resume her quest for gold. Dern’s reputation eclipses her ranking (11th), which is why Ansaroff sees her as the perfect opponent to make serious noise in her comeback fight.
Hailed as the next Ronda Rousey, Dern has been seen as a superstar in the making since transitioning to MMA from the world of grabbling in 2016. The former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion is the most gifted women’s submission artist ever to enter the Octagon. 60% of her wins have come via tapout, including three of her five UFC victories, and she’s on a three-fight win streak.
Ansaroff’s a striker and even though she has four knockouts to her name, the last came all the way back in 2013. Her last three wins were by decision and if she is to defeat Dern, that’s the most like method as she should have a speed advantage.
Even though she has the best training partner possible in wife Nunez, Ansaroff’s inactivity along with her opponent’s winning streak will play a role and I reckon Dern will be able to get hold of her and force her to submit to break into the upper echelons of the strawweight division.
Mike Perry v Daniel Rodriguez (Welterweight)
A perfect fight to pop off the main card. Perry (14-6) is a wild man, the epitome of a kill-or-be-killed type of fighter with 11 knockouts to his name. “Platinum” is never in a boring fight, has been in some welterweight wars (most notably against Paul Felder and Vicente Luque) and has produced some vicious knockouts like the “hellbow” finish of Jake Ellenberger that put him on the map back in 2017.
He’s 1-3 in his last four, though, his last win coming over Mickey Gall, and he’s coming off a loss to Tim Means last November, who Rodriguez (13-2) submitted in his maiden Octagon appearance nine months earlier. After kick-starting his UFC tenure with a hat-trick of wins, Rodriguez (13-2) had his nine-fight win streak snapped by Nicolas Dalby last November.
“D-Rod” will be willing to stand and bang with Perry and wants to send him packing out of the UFC, saying, “He’s going to have to look for a job after dealing with me.” He’s a finisher, with all but two of his wins coming by stoppage (seven knockouts and four submissions), so I don’t see this fight going the distance.
At 6’1″, he’s the taller man by four inches and will have a three-inch reach advantage. Perry, though, is used to being the smaller man. Rodriquez has never been stopped and while Perry has the power to become the first man to do so, Rodriquez is the crisper striker and a southpaw at that, a combination I believe will be Perry’s undoing.