UFC Fight Night 101 Breakdown: Derek Brunson vs Robert Whittaker

Derek BrunsonPrior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the main event at UFC Fight Night 101 as top 10 middleweights collide as #7 Robert Whittaker takes on #8 Derek Brunson in an important clash in that division.   Derek Brunson (Record: 16-3, -140 Favorite, Fighter Grade: B+) The Jackson’s MMA fighter is on the best form of his career having won five fights in a row including four straight by knockout. He continues to make his way up the middleweight standings with most notably making quick work of at the time top 10 middleweight Uriah Hall with a first round stoppage. Derek Brunson is certainly one of the up and coming middleweights in the UFC. At 6’1” tall and a 77 inch reach he’s one of the most built athletes in the division. For Brunson, everything starts with his wrestling. At the University of North Carolina Pembroke, Brunson was a three time Division II All American. That ability in collegiate wrestling has translated over to MMA as he’s secured a whopping 3.58 takedowns per 15 minutes in the octagon and has been successful in 37% of his takedown attempts. That includes three takedowns on Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero. Defensively he has never been taken down by an opponent inside the Octagon. In short, Brunson has dominated the grappling in his fights. In order to beat Brunson, his opponent must beat him on the feet. Brunson has made significant strides over the last few years to improve his striking. Boxing has become a major weapon for him and he has certainly built confidence knocking out four straight opponents. With that said, if there’s an area where Brunson is vulnerable it is in his defensive striking. He has been knocked out in two of his three career losses and needs to protect his chin better if he’s going to contend for UFC gold one day.   Robert Whittaker (Record: 16-4, +130 Underdog, Fighter Grade: B) One of the best MMA fighters to ever come out of New Zealand, Robert Whittaker has won five fights in a row including victories over New York fighters Uriah Hall and Rafael Natal. Whittaker is the youngest ranked fighter in the UFC’s middleweight division and one of only two fighters under thirty years of age ranked in the weight class. Robert Whittaker has quickly become one of the most exciting fighters in the weight class. Whittaker’s approach is striking focused. He uses a variety of leg kicks from distance and then combines that with excellent hand speed to land well timed jabs from distance. Even though he’s one of the smaller fighters in the weight class, he does a good job at getting inside and striking with opponents. Hand speed is key for him as his volume heavy approach (4.95 significant strikes per minute). His striking defense is certainly a question mark. He holds his hands very low and relies and head movement to get out of range. While he does that fairly well, he is open to being hit and taking damage. He does have a very good chin; knocked out only once in his career. Whittaker is able to focus on striking as he has excellent takedown defense (94%) and when he has been taken down he has the ability to scramble quickly back to his feet.   Matchup This is a really important bout in the middleweight division. Both of these fighters are surging with five straight victories. Brunson has improved his striking significantly in the last few years and can certainly compete on the feet. I expect the majority of this bout to be fought standing. Brunson will attempt takedowns but I think he will struggle to secure them and will be forced to fight on the feet. With that said, I like Whittaker’s volume approach and despite giving up a few inches in height and reach I think he will do well to land in this bout. Brunson’s chin is one of his few question marks and I see Whittaker being able to exploit him here. Overall, I think Brunson is a better overall fighter but I think this matchup is actually favorable to Whittaker with his hand speed, striking variety, and ability to land on the counter. Look for Whittaker to take over in the middle rounds as Brunson overextends for takedown attempts and get a finish midway through the bout; perhaps in the third round. If Whittaker is to win, by knockout is the most likely result. At +243 by knockout, I like that price a lot better than the straight money line currently sitting at +130.

Written by Jay Primetown

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