Stephen Thompson and Kevin Holland collide in a matchup that both fighters, as well as the fans, can salivate over. This striker's delight headlines UFC Fight Night at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on Saturday night.
Thompson (16-6-1) finds himself floating just outside of the cloud of serious title contenders following consecutive losses to grapplers Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad. Thompson expelled a sigh of relief when paired with a fellow striking enthusiast for this battle. At 39 years old, "Wonderboy" remains a puzzle that few strikers have solved. Conversely, Holland presents unique challenges that Thompson is giddy to decode.
"He's definitely a tall opponent. He has an 81-inch reach, so that's going to be fun to navigate, especially during mid-fight," Thompson told CBS Sports. "He's also a black belt of Brazilian jiu-jitsu under a guy named Travis Lutter, who is under Carlos Machado, who's my brother-in-law. So you got that lineage there. So I think it's pretty cool. The guy's very good everywhere. He's got a bunch of submissions underneath his record. He's got some knockouts. Do I expect this fight to stay standing? I think so.
"He's not the type of guy to initiate wrestling. I do believe he'll probably try to get me up against the cage at some point in time. He's the type of guy that kind of evolves as his fight career goes on. There are a lot of guys out there who if you've seen a fight one time you've seen them fight 100 times the exact same way."
Check out the full interview with Stephen Thompson below.
Thompson's desire for exciting fights rarely pans out these days. Some opponents rely on a grappling-heavy gameplan to negate Thompson while others are trepidatious when confronted by his accuracy and movement. Holland (23-8, 1 NC) is a willing dance partner. Holland respects Thompson's accolades but plans on showing the decorated karate practitioner that he too is a student of the game.
"I don't think it necessarily says that I'm that much better or that much more decorated than this person or that person," Holland told CBS Sports. "It says that I understand striking.
"A lot of guys want to wrestle and a lot of guys want to play the game. One thing about me is I'm going to throw those hands."
The UFC appears primed to travel more in the aftermath of COVID lockdowns and restrictions. Many cards at the UFC Apex were stripped bare of quality -- a combination of heavy-loaded UFC pay-per-views and frequent Fight Nights spreading the roster thin. UFC's trip to Orlando remedies this with a juicy Fight Night main card.
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The co-main event sees the return of former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos as he takes on action star Bryan Barberena in a welterweight showdown. Dos Anjos has continued to test himself against the best competition available to him as he nears the end of his career. He's faced every top contender at welterweight from Kamaru Usman, Neil Magny, Robbie Lawler, Colby Covington, Leon Edwards, Michael Chiesa and the list goes on. He's coming off a brutal knockout loss to Rafael Fiziev in July and hopes to get back on track against Barberena, who has won three in a row and four of his last five. Dos Anjos had a chance to fight current lightweight champ Islam Makhachev a couple of times, but the fight was canceled before they could step in the ring.
"Just for some specific fights I have in mind, I'd (drop to lightweight) again," dos Anjos told reporters at media day this week. "I don't have plans to win the title in that division anymore, I'll be honest with you. A couple guys that if it's in good momentum for me and my personal life as well, I'll take the fight. As of now, I have Bryan Barberena this Saturday and I'm staying at welterweight."
Plus, another featured bout on this card sees the return of lovable heavyweight Tai Tuivasa as the Aussie takes on Sergei Pavlovich. After suffering three straight losses on his way up the ladder, Tuivasa bounced back by running off five straight knockout wins, all in the first two rounds. The biggest of those wins came against former title challenger Derrick Lewis in February to earn himself a shot against Ciryl Gane. He came up short in that bout, but the two put on an epic war where Gane was pushed to the brink before bloodying and stopping the veteran.
Other intriguing matchups fill out the rest of the card. Rising flyweights Matheus Nicolau and Matt Schnell link up. Veteran middleweight Jack Hermansson returns to the Octagon to face off against Roman Dolidze. He was originally expected to take on Derek Brunson before Brunson was forced to withdraw with an injury. And another middleweight contest opens things up when Eryk Anders battles Kyle Daukaus.
Below is the rest of the fight card for Saturday night with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to a prediction and pick on the main event.
UFC Fight Night card, odds
|Kevin Holland -160||Stephen Thompson +175||Welterweight|
|Rafael dos Anjos -550||Bryan Barberena +400||Welterweight|
|Matheus Nicolau -380||Matt Schnell +300||Flyweight|
|Sergei Pavlovich -220||Tai Tuivasa +180||Heavyweight|
|Jack Hermansson -190||Roman Dolidze +160||Middleweight|
|Kyle Daukaus -220||Eryk Anders +180||Middleweight|
UFC Fight Night viewing information
Date: Dec. 3 | Start time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Amway Center -- Orlando, Florida
TV channel: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Stephen Thompson vs. Kevin Holland: Thompson's commitment to his style has shackled him from ascending to title contention in the 2020s. Fortunately, Holland is a fighter who will accommodate Thompson's desire to trade punches and kicks. Thompson's shoddy record as of late is less troubling once you scratch beyond the surface. His descent from 13-1 to 16-6-1 as a pro fighter is a sign of his style's limitations but not of his physical skills. Thompson's chin has held up very well and the man takes good care of his health. The only person to really dominate Thompson since 2012 was Muhammad who leaned heavily on wrestling. Thompson has otherwise only lost close decisions and one by come-from-behind KO. Holland has developed a more versatile game and would do well to exercise it in this fight. Meaningfully threatening the takedown will disrupt Thompson's standing game and present striking opportunities that are otherwise few and far between. Holland has a jiu-jitsu black belt under a legitimate mentor but I'm not sure how potent his offensive wrestling is -- especially against someone whose success depends on stuffing takedowns. I envision a more competitive twist on Thompson vs. Geoff Neal with the veteran eking out the win. Thompson via UD
Who wins Thompson vs. Holland? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC Fight Night, all from the incomparable expert who's up more than $13,000 on MMA in the past three years, and find out.