ByBas Rutten, writer at Creators.co
Official Creators profile of Bas Rutten. Retired MMArtist, entertainer, host for the RuttenAndRanallo.com podcast
Bas Rutten

Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night 101 card looks like it will determine the next step for rising middleweight contenders, Derek Brunson and Robert Whittaker. With injuries and suspensions creating potential holdups in the division, one of these two could be in title discussion after their bout.

Let’s take some time to examine this well matched contest to see where each opponent shines. We’ll start by listing some similarities between them:

  • Both won their last five fights
  • Both have beaten Uriah Hall
  • Both have 16 wins to their credit
  • Both have 12 finishes
  • Both have four decision wins

They share quite a bit in common, and their subtle differences only become more apparent when we really peel back the layers to get a better look.

Brunson, the southpaw, is on an amazing knockout streak, with his last four fights coming by way of (T)KO. He’s one of those guys that lives by the sword, dies by the sword. You can obviously tell from his win record (8 knockouts, 4 submissions, 4 decisions), but you can also tell by his loss record, where two of his three losses have come by knockout.

David Dermer/USA TODAY Sports
David Dermer/USA TODAY Sports

He’s a great wrestler with those explosive, fast-twitch fibers, and he’s got very powerful hands. He trained three years with Brian Stann, who’s had nothing but great things to say about him.

This is a guy who always brings it. The promoters really like fighters like that. He’s like a Chuck Liddell. You can’t help but love this guy, because there’s always an exciting fight with him.

If you look at his opponent, Whittaker, it’s the same thing. He’s not afraid to get in there and turn it up. His win record almost mirrors Brunson’s (7 knockouts, 5 submissions, 4 decisions), but when you get to his loss record, that’s where the similarities start getting murky. He’s only been knocked out once. He’s got a submission loss and two decision losses, as well.

Joshua Lindsey/USA TODAY Sports
Joshua Lindsey/USA TODAY Sports

This tells me that he’s a really tough, durable fighter that might weigh out the consequences a little more before charging in with glory on the brain.

These two share similar striking, so it’s going to be all about who can control the distance best for use with their counter-striking. Since Brunson is a really great wrestler, he should start shooting takedowns in conjunction with his power shots—a big right hand, then shoot a takedown.

He could also shoot for a takedown, and if he doesn’t get it, right away he should throw a big overhand right. It’s good to do both, because then you get in the head of his opponent. He doesn’t know if it’s going to be an overhand right or a takedown.

Whittaker fights from an orthodox stance, and when we have opposing fight stances—we talked about this in my Kovalev vs. Ward blog—for the orthodox fighter, right straights to the body are very effective, because the body is lined up better for that, but then again, Brunson can do the exact same thing with his left.

Joshua Dahl/USA TODAY Sports
Joshua Dahl/USA TODAY Sports

Robert has a nice left-hook-double-jab, and he throws it with power. He’s got great counters and good takedown defense, which he’s definitely going to need in this fight. He’ll need to focus on defending low kicks, because against Rafael Natal, he received a whole bunch of them, and Natal switches stances, so he gave those low kicks when he was in the orthodox stance.

The way you stop a low kick attack is not to block or “check” them in the traditional sense. I am talking about outside leg kicks, because when both have opposite stances (like in this fight), and a fighter kicks an inside low kick, you want to check it with the top part of your shin OR let him miss, since it comes from the power leg (back leg) of the opponent.

Those outside low kicks can be taken, but you HAVE to counter with a big right straight. You know Derek has been watching the video of that Natal fight, so his coaches are probably going to have him throw outside low kicks.

If Brunson launches that low kick attack, Whittaker should counter with power shots, because if he does that—especially if he connects with them—that will make him think twice about throwing that low kick again.

Skill-wise, these two are very close, so for Brunson, the key is to mix in takedowns, and for Whittaker, counter the kicks with power shots. When these two extremely well-matched opponents take center stage in the Octagon Saturday night, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to choose a winner beforehand. The best I can do here is wish them both luck and like all of you, wait for the fight to commence.