This weekend, the UFC will hold its second network-television event of 2021, headlined by a fight between top-10 middleweights Marvin Vettori (7) and Kevin Holland (10). Originally scheduled to be a showdown between Vettori and Darren Till, Holland stepped in with less than two weeks’ notice after a broken clavicle forced Till to withdraw from the contest.
Vettori has not been overly active in the past few years, largely through no fault of his own. He has fought just four times since his 2018 split-decision loss to current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Despite his relative inactivity, Vettori has enjoyed a great deal of success, with wins in all four of those contests since the Adesanya loss.
In stark contrast, Holland has been among the most active fighters in the promotion recently. After a five-fight campaign in 2020, this will be Holland’s second appearance of 2021. It comes less than a month after his most recent fight. Holland will look to erase that last loss to Derek Brunson with a rebound performance that makes him more than just a guy the UFC can rely on as a late replacement.
The co-main event showcases two of the hottest prospects in the featherweight division, as Arnold Allen squares off against Sodiq Yusuff. With both men ranked inside the UFC’s top 15, the winner will emerge as a fighter to watch over the next couple years as they make their way toward a title bid. The loser will be forced to recalibrate and start over if he hopes to move from a prospect into a contender.
Joining them on the main card are a pair of middleweight fights, one that pits Philadelphia-born Kyle Daukaus against Russian newcomer Aliaskhab Khizriev and the other that pairs “Smilin” Sam Alvey and Julian “The Cuban Missile Crisis” Marquez. The lone women’s bout on the main card is a showdown between mothers, as Mackenzie Dern meets Nina Ansaroff in the latter’s first fight since giving birth to her daughter. The six-fight main card opens with a can’t-miss welterweight clash between proven finishers Mike Perry and Daniel Rodriguez.
UFC on ABC 2 will air in a matinee time slot, with prelims starting at noon ET on ESPN and ESPN+. Then, at 3 p.m. ET, the switch is made over to ABC for the main card. The UFC Apex in Las Vegas once again plays host to the fights as the promotion gears up toward its return to fan-filled arenas. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview this week’s fight card as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Kevin Holland steps in to the evening’s headliner on less than two weeks’ notice and only a few weeks removed from his trainwreck of a performance against Derek Brunson. Will he redeem himself against Marvin Vettori?
Sumian: Holland’s performance against Brunson was just plain odd. The surging middleweight contender failed to pull the trigger and enthrall UFC President Dana White further after compiling an unbelievable 5-0 record in a matter of seven months. Still, it is Holland’s willingness to face anyone at any given moment that makes him one of the more interesting middleweights to follow going into the second quarter of 2021. After disappointing in his headlining slot with the UFC, the California native has been given the opportunity to make amends here against Italy’s Vettori.
Have we ever seen a more emotional fighter than Vettori? Call me crazy, but stating that someone is a “coward” for breaking their collarbone and pulling out of a high-profile affair seems a bit extreme. Nevertheless, Holland yet again saves the day by filling in for the injured Darren Till in what should be an extremely entertaining middleweight clash.
Besides being one of the most dangerous ground fighters in the division today, Vettori has greatly improved his striking throughout his UFC career. These improvements were on full display when he managed to dominate Jack Hermansson for five straight rounds in his last appearance. The Italian is tough and fierce.
Vettori is undoubtedly one of the most well-rounded competitors in the division today due to his ability to mix his striking and grappling appropriately together to fluster and pressure his opponent. While generally not a finisher throughout his UFC career, Vettori has the ability to fight at an incredibly fast pace for five rounds. He’s arguably two wins away from a title shot, but he will have to master his emotions and put on a memorable performance against the trash-talking Holland if he hopes to make his dream of becoming a UFC champion a reality.
Ultimately, this fight will come down to just how much Holland can get into the head of his ultra-hot-headed foe. He could be able to frustrate and continuously talk Vettori into fighting an emotional and irresponsible fight.
Holland will successfully alter Vettori’s mental state and force the Italian to make costly mistakes throughout their bout. It will be an absolute war in which Holland will land more frequently before securing the unanimous decision. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for Vettori to mature and handle the mental aspect of fighting in a different manner going forward.
Petela: Vettori has largely gone under the radar, but the fight with Till was supposed to firmly put him on the map. Unfortunately, the collarbone injury changes things. However, the Italian does at least get a headlining slot on network television.
Vettori has been far from likable in the lead-up to this fight. While his disparaging comments about the injured Till have probably swayed many fans’ rooting interests, they have done nothing to change what is actually going to happen. This one is going to be simple: an early takedown from Vettori leaves Holland on his back doing more talking than defending. Lather, rinse, repeat. Perhaps in the later rounds, Vettori will be able to open up a cut or do enough damage to force a referee stoppage.
The real shame in this fight is that the win by Vettori will be shrugged off because of Holland’s inability — or disinterest, really — to work an active guard once he gets taken down. Vettori is a real threat to the top of the middleweight division, and I am not altogether confident that a rematch between him and champion Israel Adesanya doesn’t end differently than their first contest.
Meanwhile, the biggest benefit Holland gets from this fight is another nice paycheck so that his jewelry- and shoe-shopping habits don’t make him the centerpiece of the UFC’s own eventual Broke-style documentary.
Featherweights Sodiq Yusuff and Arnold Allen have each put together a strong recent run in the UFC. Which man proves his superiority on Saturday?
Petela: This is going to be a fun fight. Both up-and-comers were scheduled to face high-profile veterans in late 2020 only to have the bouts fall through for assorted reasons. Allen was slated to meet Jeremy Stephens before an injury forced Stephens to withdraw. Yusuff was supposed to fight Edson Barboza, but he pulled out of the fight for undisclosed reasons. Now, instead of potentially notching the biggest win of their career over a marquee name, one of these two prospects will look to make a name for himself at the expense of the other.
Neither fighter has tasted defeat inside the UFC, but that will change this weekend for Yusuff. Of the two men, he carries the heavier power in his hands. However, he won’t get much of a chance to show it off against Allen.
From the opening bell, Allen will use his footwork to keep Yusuff chasing him. He’ll dance around the Octagon as he pot-shots his way to an early lead on the scorecards. It won’t be until the later part of the fight where we see the two men get into extended exchanges. By that point, Yusuff will be the more exhausted fighter and his power will have diminished, allowing Allen to consistently get the better of him. Allen will keep his perfect UFC record intact with another unanimous-decision victory.
Sumian: Agreed. Allen is one of the most complete yet underrated featherweights in the world. He will put on a masterful performance against Yusuff that launches him into the conversation of future title contenders. The Brit will land a top-six opponent sometime in the back half of 2021.
Aliaskhab Khizriev, Erin Blanchfield, Ignacio Bahamondes and Luis Saldaña — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: The majority of the attention will be focused on Russia’s Khizriev when he makes his debut against Kyle Daukaus. The 13-0 prospect debuts on the main card of a UFC event after securing a dominant first-round submission on Dana White’s Contender Series in September. He has put on several masterful performances while compiling his perfect record and will earn a win against Daukaus as well.
If you have not seen Bahamondes’ front-kick knockout on the Contender Series in November, it is certainly worth seeking out. The Chilean fighter has established himself as a violent lightweight after compiling an 11-3 record that includes eight knockout finishes. He makes his debut against a very game and experienced John Makdessi, who is a decorated striker in his own right. Expect Bahamondes to turn in a highlight-reel knockout.
Blanchfield and Saldaña are certainly the less-hyped debuts of the four, but they will certainly have an opportunity to make a splash against their respective opponents. Unfortunately, neither will turn in a successful UFC debut. They will be left fighting for a roster spot in their sophomore UFC appearances.
Petela: Khizriev is no joke, that’s for sure. I expect him to run into a problem this weekend against Daukaus, but don’t let that fool you. He will definitely make some waves at middleweight once he gets going.
Bahamondes is another fighter who will stumble early on in his UFC tenure, but he too will become a force to be reckoned with sooner rather than later. Blanchfield and Saldaña will also drop their promotional debuts, but neither will become a real contender.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Sam Alvey. It has been anything but smooth sailing for The Ultimate Fighter alum. After dropping four straight fights, he picked up a split draw in his last bout against Da Un Jung. He hasn’t had a win since June 2018, when he squeaked by Gian Villante. The Wisconsin native is only 34 years old, so it isn’t like he is well past his athletic prime. He just hasn’t continued to improve his game as the sport evolves at the speed of light. A loss this weekend against Julian Marquez will be the final nail in Alvey’s UFC coffin.
Sumian: Yorgan De Castro. After exploding onto the scene with a huge one-punch knockout of Justin Tafa in his UFC debut, the Cape Verde native has been very disappointing in his last two outings. He dropped lackluster unanimous decisions to Greg Hardy and Carlos Felipe. De Castro failed to provide any meaningful output in both of those contests, and he will need a big win over Jarjis Danho to keep his roster spot.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: It is hard to imagine a reality where the only answer to this question is not Mike Perry and Daniel Rodriguez. These two men have turned in 22 finishes in their combined 27 victories. They have been part of some very exciting UFC bouts, too. Rodriguez should dominate the former top-15er Perry, but expect a brawl that includes wild, swinging punches and several drops via strikes as these two violent welterweights clash.
Petela: Hunter Azure and Jack Shore. Azure’s lone professional loss came to Brian Kelleher in a featherweight contest. Shore is an undefeated Welsh standout who has needed the judges’ scorecards only once in his 13 wins. This one is going to be fireworks between two men who are poised to make a splash in the talent-rich bantamweight division.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Mackenzie Dern. She faces off with Nina Ansaroff in the latter’s first fight since giving birth. Dern is also a mother, and her lone loss came in her first fight back after having a child. Ansaroff will suffer a similar fate. Rather than losing a decision like Dern did, Ansaroff will fall prey to a slick submission by Dern, one that is impressive enough to earn Megaton Dias’ daughter an extra $50,000.
Sumian: Joe Solecki. Most UFC fans are always in the corner of Jim Miller. However, Solecki is a very special talent who is on a five-fight winning streak that includes a successful UFC debut via first-round submission over Austin Hubbard. Miller certainly still has the ability to compete with a majority of the UFC roster, but he will run into a freight train here and suffer a submission defeat. Solecki will earn himself a nice roll of dough and easily the biggest win of his career.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: Dry toast with your favorite spread. Toast is plain, simple and boring. Just like the surface of dry toast, this card is visually unappealing from top to bottom. It will likely not attract the majority of casual viewers. However, once it gets rolling, it will be like adding that special spread that changes the entire experience of eating toast. This surprisingly entertaining and memorable fight night will be defined by a number of “Fight of the Night” contenders, memorable finishes, and a main event that will consist of trash talk and raw emotion.
Petela: As someone who recently had a gluten-free diet forced upon them, I have to say that a dry piece of toast seems mouthwatering right now. However, this is a quintessential Budweiser fight card. Jim Miller and Scott Holtzman are both fighting this weekend, which means we are only missing Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone to hit the All-American trifecta. These guys are among the most grizzled, tough-nosed veterans the sport has to offer. If that doesn’t scream Bud Heavy, I don’t know what does.
Main Card (ABC and ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET)
MW: Marvin Vettori vs. Kevin Holland
FW: Arnold Allen vs. Sodiq Yusuff
MW: Aliaskhab Khizriev vs. Kyle Daukaus
MW: Sam Alvey vs. Julian Marquez
Women’s StrawW: Nina Ansaroff vs. Mackenzie Dern
WW: Mike Perry vs. Daniel Rodriguez
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 12 p.m. ET)
LW: Jim Miller vs. Joe Solecki
LW: Scott Holtzman vs. Mateusz Gamrot
Women’s BW: Norma Dumont vs. Erin Blanchfield
LW: John Makdessi vs. Ignacio Bahamondes
HW: Yorgan De Castro vs. Jarjis Danho
BW: Jack Shore vs. Hunter Azure
FW: Luis Saldaña vs. Jordan Griffin
LHW: Da Un Jung vs. William Knight
WW: Impa Kasanganay vs. Sasha Palatnikov
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