On Saturday night, we’re living in a striker’s paradise. Kevin “Trailblazer” Holland, 29, has a 10-4-1 UFC record and is 2-0 with back-to-back finishes since moving down to welterweight. He takes on Daniel “D-Rod” Rodriguez, 35, who is on a three-fight winning streak but hasn’t fought in a year while he’s been rehabbing from a broken hand.
Holland opened as slightly more than a 2:1 favorite and has been bet down a bit as we near UFC 279.
I’ve written a few articles breaking down Kevin Holland, and, in each, I highlight just how talented of a striker he is. Holland is incredibly long, athletically gifted, creatively varied, and dangerously powerful on the feet. When he fought at 185, Holland’s reach and ability to land at the end of his shots gave most fighters outside the top five real issues.
Since moving down to 170, his skillset is even more amplified. Holland typically kicks early, using his long frame to keep distance and land without much worry of an opponent countering. As Holland moves forward, he’ll start to jab and follow it with laser straights that, more often than not, land right on the button of his opponent. “Trailblazer” is simply one of the most impressive and dangerous strikers in the entire division.
The reason for his losses has been well publicized, both by the media and by Holland himself- defensive wrestling. Holland’s inability to defend the takedown ended his five-fight win streak and put his 185-pound championship aspirations on hold. Since the hole in his game was exposed, Holland has traveled and sought out training from some of the best wrestlers in the world. His training, coupled with a significant size advantage at 170, not only has helped Holland keep the fight standing, but he’s even been able to wrestle and grapple himself. Holland is supremely talented and still improving.
Rodriguez is one of the fighters who has been flying under the radar for a few years. He has excellent boxing technique and footwork. The southpaw typically fights behind a stiff jab and follows it up with a heavy straight left or hook to the body. He keeps an athletic boxing stance and intelligent guard, which he uses to avoid and/or block counter shots after he throws his own combination. Rodriguez fights at his best when he is the one moving forward where he can set up body and head combinations with feints and fundamental footwork. However, when Rodriguez is backing up, he is sometimes slow to react to strikes and can get caught in vulnerable positions.
His hand speed and boxing acumen allow Rodriguez to return fire when being pressured, but he can still be hit clean and get caught into firefights against offensive opponents. Prior to his injury, Rodriguez was on a quiet hot streak, winning 3 in a row and looking better and better each time out. When allowed to dictate pace and space, Rodriguez can often outbox his opponents on his way to a victory. He’s 6-1 in the UFC following this approach.
I’m a believer in the talent of both of these fighters. Holland, specifically in the new weight class, has the makings of not just a ranked fighter but a fighter who can climb the rankings. Meanwhile, Rodriguez can outbox many fighters in the division. I think Rodriguez, despite his layoff and age, will look impressive in moments of this fight. But, between Holland’s size and striking variety advantage coupled with his tendency to move forward, I like Holland to make it 3 in a row.
Pick: Holland to win by decision (-195 odds to win at BetUS)