UFC on ESPN 21 takes place this Saturday and is headlined by a very evenly matched middleweight tilt between long time UFC main card resident Derrick Brunson and brash new comer Kevin “Trailblazer” Holland. Here you will find the plays you need to hit your double ups and find the green in your GPPs. Last week was solid, as outside of the Muhammad eye poke, the only fight I missed was Jonathan Martinez getting slept by a British chef who couldn’t knockout my daughter. Enough sour grapes; on to this week. I’ve broken each pick into three categories to make it easy for you. Here we go!
LEAD CINCH LOCKS
Gregor Gillespie – Gregor “The Gift” Gillespie was one of the first “can’t miss” prospects in the post-Sage Northcutt era in the UFC. Still wiping the “Super Sage” egg off their collective faces, the UFC brass decided to dial back the hype machine when it came to promoting Gillespie and allow him to prove his worth through his performances (what a concept!). For his art, Gillespie did not disappoint. His UFC career started with six consecutive victories, five of them finishes. He had a slight hiccup his last time out and suffered his first career loss courtesy of a Kevin Lee head kick. A prospect no more, Gillespie remains one of the most well rounded and dangerous fighters on the roster. He faces Israel Adesanya teammate and City Kickboxing standout Brad Riddell. The trouble here is, anything Riddell can do, Gillespie does it much better. There will simply be nowhere Riddell can hide.
Julia Avila – Julia “Raging Panda” Avila runs away with this card’s best nickname award, and after suffering her first true defeat her last time out (her previous loss was a TKO due to a finger injury), I expect her to come out guns blazing against Julija Stoliarenko. Avila is a striker who carries tons of power for someone in the 135-pound division, as evidenced by half of her eight wins coming via knockout. For her part, Stoliarenko is a pure submission artist. Her takedowns are decent, but there’s no Plan B if those don’t work. That’s where I think she gets into trouble versus Avila. I see this fight going like this: Stoliarenko will shoot for takedowns until she gasses and then Avila will sleep her.
Jesse Strader – I would’ve considered Strader for the bad nickname award, but I have no idea what the hell “Sui Generis” means (ok, I looked it up and it means “Unique”; we have a winner). As for his skills, Strader is a Combate Americas veteran who has amassed a 5-1 record outside the UFC, including four wins by knockout. He is crazy strong for the bantamweight division, and does a spectacular job of finding his way inside on longer opponents where he can land fight-ending punches. He’s taking on five fight UFC vet Montez Jackson. Jackson is 3-2 inside the promotion. He has great wrestling chops and has a path to victory here, the trouble is he seems to have started to fancy himself a KO artist. That’s a problem when there is a large power deficit between these two. He stands in front of Strader and he’s going to sleep, and that’s by far the most likely outcome.
SOLID BUT UNSPECTACULAR WINS
Macy Chiasson– I really like Macy Chiasson’s skill set. She’s a tall, powerful and well-rounded fighter whose 5’9” frame is huge for the 135 pound division. She’s managed a 4-1 record inside the promotion, with finishes in two of those fights. She will have a considerable height and reach advantage when she takes on Marion Reneau Saturday night. Reneau has fallen on hard times, and is most likely fighting for her job. She is 5-5-1 inside the promotion, and has dropped her last three fights in a row, albeit to stiff competition. This is the perfect fight for an up and comer like Chiasson to prove she’s ready for the next step up in competition, and I think she passes with flying colors.
Tai Tuivasa – One thing you can bet the house on in a Tai Tuivasa fight is that somebody is going to sleep. Tuivasa was battling a three-fight skid before he slept Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve in the first round of their bout last October. He has ridiculous power in his hands, and love to wing hammers at his opponents until they fall. His dance partner for this fight is Harry Hunsucker, a well-rounded heavyweight who has never seen a final bell in 10 pro fights. He has three KO’s and four submissions in his seven wins, but all three losses have come by knockout. I just don’t see how he can keep Tuivasa from separating him from his senses over a 15 minute fight.
UNDERDOGS AND CONTRARIAN UPSIDE
Trevin Giles – So I was a little quick on the trigger with the nickname stuff. Turns out Trevin Giles’ opponent, Roman Dolidze’s nickname is “The Caucasian”. Now I’m sure that has something to do with his Georgian heritage, but still. Dolidze is a well-rounded fighter who just eked out a split decision versus John Allan in his last UFC appearance. He’s a jack if all trades who relies on his wrestling based trump card when the going gets tough on the feet. I’m sure this is my H-Town bias resurfacing, but I think Giles counter wrestling and slick striking make him a live dog here. He’s beaten James Krause and KO’d Bevin Lewis in the UFC, but most people don’t realize he took a win off of current hot commodity Ryan Spann back in 2017. Give me the dog here.
Song Kenan – The best adjective I can muster up to describe Song Kenan (or Kenan Song depending where you’re saying his name) is gritty. He’s riding a two fight winning streak into this weekend’s scrap with Max Griffin. Griffin in 2-4 in his last six fights, and he seems to have gotten away from what he’s good at: clinch work and trip takedowns along the cage and good ‘ol fashioned ground ‘n pound. That has allowed his opponents to pick him apart on the feet for the first two rounds until he finally snaps to that he’s in a fight. That’s what I foresee Song doing. However I think Song has enough power to put him away when Griffin takes too long to adjust.