The UFC packs its bags and heads to Melbourne, Australia for Fight Night: Whittaker vs Brunson on November 26. Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson enter the main-event bout riding five-fight winning streaks, with the Sportsbook likely getting an attempt to crack the top tier of the middleweight division in his next outing.
The rest of the card features a lot of unknowns, with lesser-known fighters or first-time Aussie combatants making their promotional debut.
Robert Whittaker vs Derek Brunson
Whittaker is an excellent young fighter who is in store for a fantastic career. ‘The Reaper’ has been in martial arts from an early age and holds black belts in both karate and hapkido. You can see these disciplines in his striking game, as Whittaker is refined at both offense and defense on the feet. Years of experience have taught him when to be aggressive and when to hold back, which is a skill that is undervalued.
Whittaker is not exactly a stud when it comes to landing a takedown, but has excellent balance and strength to avoid being dragged down. The Aussie has not been taken down since his 2013 fight with Court McGee, though many of those fights have come against fighters with less than good wrestling pedigrees.
Whittaker has spent time working on his grappling skills, especially in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, as he has a purple belt in that discipline. He has some slick submission skills but has not applied them often since joining the UFC.
Brunson has quietly developed into a fighter who can compete in all facets of the game. Originally, he was predominantly a wrestler, as he was a Division II All-American in college, and that is a skill he has started to use as more of a security blanket. But he is still plenty capable of taking down most opponents and that may be his path of least resistance in this one.
Brunson is still relatively unrefined in his standup game but has big power in his hands. The Wilmington, North Carolina native has won each of his past four fights via knockout, all in the first round. This has a lot to do with the respect opponents have for his wrestling game, as they need to keep their hands lower to protect against a potential takedown.
Though he will take submissions if they present themselves, Brunson is more about getting top control and raining down a barrage of shots from the top position. He is heavy and he knows when to stop throwing punches to make sure he keeps the proper positioning on the mat.
This is an intriguing fight with the Sportsbook getting a big step up in competition in his next bout. It’s not exactly cut and dry, but this has many traits of a striker vs grappler match. Whittaker’s path to victory likely lies in keeping the fight upright, while Brunson has a distinct advantage grappling.
Rest Of The Main Card
Up-and-coming lightweights clash in the co-main event between Jake Matthews (-325) and Andrew Holbrook (+250). Matthews has a bright future in the sport, as the 22-year-old already has 12 pro fights under his belt. ‘The Celtic Kid’ is fast and agile in the Octagon thanks to some great footwork. He is also big and strong for the 155 division, something he has been increasingly using to his advantage. Holbrook is primarily a grappler who excels in the clinch and on the mat, with eight of his 11 career victories coming via submission. He is still very hittable in the standup game and his wrestling isn’t the greatest, which could cause him to struggle if Matthews decides to stick and move.
Slumping welterweights face off when Kyle Noke (+150) and Omari Akhmedov (-185) meet inside the cage. Noke is a solid fighter who is good, but not great, in pretty much every aspect of the fight game. ‘KO’ will push the pace and has the cardio to go the distance. Akhmedov has been a martial artist his entire life and has a master of sport in both sambo and hand-to-hand combat. ‘Wolverine’ has the power to land a knockout and the wrestling skills to take the fight to the mat. His biggest challenge has always been his cardio. If a fight makes it into the deep waters, Akhmedov gases and usually gets stopped.
Aussie native Alex Volkanovski (-165) makes his promotional debut when he takes on Yusuke Kasuya (+135). Volkanovski enters the UFC with a record of 13-1, which consists of fights at both featherweight and lightweight. ‘The Hulk’ is a former pro rugby player who has translated his strength from that into a strong wrestling game. He has a sharp left hook, but is at his best when a fight is dirty. Kasuya is primarily a submission fighter with eight of his nine pro wins coming via submission. His boxing is sufficient on the feet, but he has almost zero power in his hands.
Intriguing newcomer Tyson Pedro (+125) makes his UFC debut when he takes on TUF alumni Khalil Rountree (-155). Pedro has been destroying competition on the regional scene in Australia, as the Sydney native has picked up three wins this year, all via first-round choke. From what I’ve seen, Pedro’s head movement is solid on the feet, but he is more about using his grappling skills. He is active throwing knees in the clinch and is very aggressive when he gets top control. Rountree is heavy-handed and is capable of landing a highlight-reel knockout every time he takes a swing. However, he has struggled against wrestlers and he doesn’t have much of a response from his back.
The main card kicks off when Seo Hee Ham (-130) takes on Danielle Taylor (EVEN) in a strawweight bout. Ham was a pro kickboxer for several years before turning her focus to MMA and she shows that experience, as she will probe her opponent with both her punches and kicks. Ham is an aggressive fighter who is constantly pushing forward and she has some solid power despite her weight. Ham is small for the weight class and can be outmuscled by bigger opposition. Taylor looked tentative in her first UFC bout with Maryna Moroz, as both fighters sort of just stood there. Taylor has lots of power in her right hand but simply doesn’t throw combinations, too often throwing one big shot at a time. She is strong for her size, but like Ham, she is likely better suited for 105.