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The Red Corner: Eye poke spoils Edwards’ return — Brunson versus Holland preview

No. 3 UFC welterweight Leon Edwards (18-3, 1 NC) looked to make the most of his long-awaited return to the Octagon Saturday night. Unfortunately for Edwards, an accidental eye poke of No. 13 Belal Muhammad (18-3, 1 NC) ended their bout by way of no contest in the second round.

Edwards, who was originally scheduled to face rising star Khamzat Chimaev (9-0), drew Muhammad after Chimaev withdrew from the bout for the third time due to complications from COVID-19. Edwards, who last fought in July 2019, entered the evening on an eight-fight winning streak that dates back to 2016.

Muhammad took the bout on less than a month’s notice, when he last defeated Dhiego Lima (17-8) by unamious decision at UFC 258. Muhammad also entered on a four-fight winning streak and made his first career UFC main event appearance.

Edwards dominated in the first round and showed no signs of rust from his 19-month layoff. Edwards struck with confidence and authority, landing a massive kick to the side of Muhammad’s head that immediately drew blood. The round ended with Edwards ahead in significant strikes 17-8, giving Muhammad plenty to consider as the fighters hit the stools.

Round two was cut short at the 18-second mark, after Edwards caught Muhammad with the fight-ending eye poke. Edwards threw a left jab with his fingers dangerously extended and hit Muhammad square in the eye.

Muhammad fell to the canvas in agony and was visibly emotional as referee Herb Dean rushed to asses his condition. After a brief examination from the Octagon-side physician, Dean formally halted the bout. Despite verbally warning Edwards in the first round about extending his fingers, Dean concluded that the eye poke was accidental.

The no contest marks the third time in two weeks that illegal blows have cut UFC contests short. The middleweight fight between Darren Stewart (12-6 2 NC) and Eryk Anders (13-5 1 NC) that kicked off the main card Saturday ended in a no contest after Anders illegally kneed a grounded Stewart. Petr Yan’s (15-2) championship-forfeiting knee of Aljamain Sterling (20-3) at UFC 259 kicked off this worrying trend just one week ago.

The UFC will now have to decide what to do with Edwards and Muhammad. The promotion could explore rescheduling the bout, or abandoning it entirely. Should Dana White and Mick Maynard choose the latter, Edwards could meet his original opponent in Chimaev in the coming months, and Muhammad could find a dance parter in the similarly ranked Li Jingliang (18-6) — whom he already called out at UFC 258.

UFC Fight Night: Brunson versus Holland preview

Two top middleweight contenders will do battle this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, as veteran No. 7 Derek Brunson (20-7) meets the streaking No. 10 Kevin Holland (21-5).

Brunson halted the rise of the youthful Edmen Shahbazyan (11-1) with an impressive third-round knockout in August. The Sanford MMA prospect has fought a who’s who of middleweight legends as part of his eight-year UFC career, including the likes of Israel Adesanya (20-1), Robert Whittaker (23-5) and Yoel Romero (13-5). Brunson will look to make it four straight victories this Saturday.

Holland is on the heels of a fruitful 2020, when he scored five UFC victories with three by way of KO. Holland’s star reached new heights after his incredible KO of Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza (26-9) off his back in December. The fight was the culmination of a run when Holland fought four times in the final five months of the year.

How Brunson can win:

Brunson finds himself in a similar situation to his most recent fight, as he faces a highly touted prospect in Holland. Brunson will again need to dig deep to derail yet another hype train and get into rhythm early against Holland, timing his striking and wrestling shots with precision.

A slow start could end competition early for Brunson, for any hesitation will be pounced upon by the wily Holland. Brunson is a skilled wrestler and can score points with the judges with strategic bids for control time. A brawl should be avoided, but Brunson certainly has the power to end the fight with one combination.

How Holland can win:

Holland has been a handful for his opponents on his current run, deploying crisp striking, wrestling and grappling. Put simply, Holland is dangerous from anywhere in the Octagon — and as he proved in his last outing, even from his back. Holland will look to overwhelm Brunson with his blend of speed and precision, early and often.

Holland has multiple paths to victory: be it standing up, in the clinch or on the ground. Holland will look to neutralize Brunson’s wrestling from the jump, but should the fight move to the mat, Holland matches his black belt in Kung Fu with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has the necessary skills to end the fight there.

Peter’s Prediction: Holland wins via R1 SUB

Charles’ Prediction: Holland wins via R2 KO/TKO

Other fights to watch:

The 22nd iteration of UFC Vegas features some other scraps worth watching this Saturday.

Married couple, and Dana White’s Contender Series alums, JP (9-2) and Cheyanne Buys (5-1),  will make their UFC debuts on this card at flyweight and women’s strawweight, respectively. JP made the most of his stint on the Contender Series in November with a first round submission victory over Jacob Silva. JP draws Bruno Silva (10-5-2) for three rounds. Cheyanne (5-1) scored a decision victory over Hilarie Rose on the Contender in August and faces fellow UFC newcomer Montserrat Ruiz (9-1).

The 25-foot Octagon will be filled to the brim, as two massive heavyweights in Tai Tuivasa (11-3) and Don’Tale Mayes (8-4) collide this Saturday. Hot off a KO of living giant Stefan Struve at UFC 254 in October 2020, Tuivasa will look to keep momentum rolling against a slightly smaller, 6’6” opponent. Mayes will also look to build on his one fight win streak, a decision victory over Roque Martinez in November. Cracking into the UFC heavyweight rankings will serve as motivation for both fighters.

As always, be sure to follow @TheRedCornerDFP for live fight updates and full card predictions.

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