Former two-time welterweight title challenger Stephen Thompson, still hanging around the division Top 10 at No. 6, will battle fellow wrestling hater Kevin Holland at the upcoming UFC Orlando mixed martial arts (MMA) event, set for this Sat. night (Dec. 3, 2022) on ESPN and ESPN+ from inside Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Not only will this five-round headliner give the unranked Holland a chance to rebound from his submission loss to Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279 last September, but also establish the hot-and-cold “Trailblazer” as a Top 15 contender. As for Thompson, just a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday, turning away Holland keeps “Wonderboy” afloat in the 170-pound title chase.
Before we preview and predict winners for the UFC Orlando main and co-main events, which include the welterweight collision between Rafael dos Anjos and Bryan Barberena, check out Patrick Stumberg’s comprehensive, two-part breakdowns for the UFC Orlando “Prelims” card on ESPN and ESPN+ by clicking here and here. In addition, in-house pro fighter Andrew Richardson deconstructed the rest of the UFC Orlando main card fights right here. For the latest “Thompson vs. Holland” odds and betting lines courtesy of our fiscal friends over at Draft Kings Sportsbook go here.
Let’s talk shop.
170 lbs.: Stephen Thompson vs. Kevin Holland
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson
Record: 16-6-1 | Age: 39 | Betting line: +140
Wins: 7 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 5 DEC
Height: 6’0“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.90 | Striking accuracy: 43%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.81 | Striking Defense: 56%
Takedown Average: 0.29 (41% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 63%
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Belal Muhammad
Kevin “Trailblazer” Holland
Record: 23-8, 1 NC | Age: 30 | Betting line: -165
Wins: 13 KO/TKO, 6 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 5 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 81” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.85 | Striking accuracy: 54%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.38 | Striking Defense: 55%
Takedown Average: 0.83 (43% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 50%
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Submission loss to Khamzat Chimaev
I don’t think the soon-to-be 40 year-old Stephen Thompson has much left at this stage of his UFC career, and when we look back at what “Wonderboy” did in his decade-long run inside the Octagon, I’m not sure he ever had much to begin with. I know that sounds harsh but if you look at his best run under the UFC banner, an 8-1 start with seven straight wins, you’ll notice that seven of those eight opponents are no longer with the promotion. In the years following that electric start, Thompson is 3-5-1 and coming off back-to-back losses. In addition, the former kickboxing phenom has not scored a finish since plastering a shopworn Johny Hendricks at UFC Fight Night 82 nearly seven years ago in Las Vegas. The 10 fights that followed returned nine decisions and one knockout loss to Anthony Pettis, but somehow Thompson has held on to the No. 6 spot in the 170-pound rankings. That’s partly because “Wonderboy” was able to score timely decision wins over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, but mostly because Thompson was smart enough to stay away from Shavkat Rakhmonov, much to the dismay of of rabid “Nomad” fans. There isn’t much to say about Thompson that we don’t already know. He’s a gifted striker with great cage awareness and absolutely horrible wrestling, but pairing him off against a similar opponent doesn’t guarantee fireworks. To wit, his five-round headliners opposite Jorge Masvidal and Darren Till were mostly forgettable.
To that end I think the onus falls on Kevin Holland to deliver a fun fight. The former “Contender Series” stud has been part of UFC for just over four years and already has 16 fights under his belt, two less than Thompson who’s been competing in UFC since early 2012. That’s because Holland has a Cerrone-esque approach to fighting and spread his talents across two different weight classes. Clearcut losses to Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori made it clear that “Trailblazer” is better suited at welterweight, especially when you consider his above-average height (6’3”) and reach (81”). I don’t want to go too crazy over his UFC 279 loss to Khamzat Chimaev, at least when considering the gravity of that performance in relation to UFC Orlando, because “Borz” was a last-minute opponent with superior wrestling (while also packing a few extra pounds). Like Thompson, Holland doesn’t want to compete against opponents who will simply drag him to the ground and control him at will, which means he can forget about making any kind of run for the 170-pound title in a division that features Chimaev, Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman, and Belal Muhammad, who would treat Holland like Rory MacDonald treated Nate Diaz at UFC 129. How well Holland performs against Thompson all depends on which version of “Trailblazer” shows up tomorrow night in “The Sunshine State.” If we get the basket case who spends most of the fight talking to himself, a la Paulo Filho, then I’m siding with “Wonderboy.” If we get the Holland who knocked around Alex Oliveira and Tim Means, then I think we get a finish somewhere late in the fight.
Prediction: Holland def. Thompson by submission
170 lbs.: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Bryan Barberena
Rafael dos Anjos
Record: 31-14 | Age: 38 | Betting line: -540
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 10 SUB, 16 DEC | Losses: 4 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 10 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.58 | Striking accuracy: 46%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.23 | Striking Defense: 61%
Takedown Average: 1.96 (34% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 59%
Current Ranking: No. 7 (Lightweight) | Last fight: Knockout loss to Rafael Fiziev
Bryan “Bam Bam” Barberena
Record: 18-8 | Age: 33 | Betting line: +420
Wins: 11 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 5 DEC
Height: 6’0“ | Reach: 72” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 6.11 | Striking accuracy: 48%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 5.01 | Striking Defense: 44%
Takedown Average: 0.16 (25% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 55%
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Robbie Lawler
Rafael dos Anjos is well into double-digit losses with 14, which is one more than Nate Diaz but two less than Jorge Masvidal, a pair of fighters who like Dos Anjos, are revered for their gamesmanship inside the cage. Does that make them great fighters? Dos Anjos had an outstanding career at lightweight, which culminated in the 155-pound title, but has floundered at welterweight where the Brazilian consistently finds himself both outsized and outwrestled. Dos Anjos returns to 170 pounds because making the lightweight limit was always a burden and at age 38, I’m sure it’s reached a point where fight week is excruciating. It’s also safe to say that lightweight no longer bears the same fruit, evidenced by his knockout loss to Rafael Fiziev at UFC Vegas 58. That dropped the former champ to an even 5-5 over his last 10 fights and win or lose, I’m not expecting a second title run in either division because of his age and his inability to defeat top contenders. Fortunately for the Brazilian, the promotion is lobbing him a softball this weekend at APEX.
That’s not meant to disrespect Bryan Barberena because he’s more than earned his spot on the 170-pound roster after eight years of competition and five “Fight of the Night” bonuses. He’s also the winner of three straight, including last summer’s technical knockout win over ex-welterweight champion Robbie Lawler. I just think stylistically, Dos Anjos presents a more difficult puzzle to solve than ones faced against Lawler and Matt Brown, a couple of strikers who were more inclined to chomp down on their mouthpiece and swing for the fences. Like Dos Anjos, the 30 year-old Barberena fights from the southpaw stance but will enjoy two-inch advantages in both height and reach. I know that sounds important on paper but “Bam Bam” is not a polished striker or cunning boxer, so I don’t expect him to be working his jab from the outside where those sorts of statistics come into play. Instead, he’s going to rely on the same formula that not only carried him to victory in four of his last five contests, but also kept him “in the mix” from card to card. I think the question heading into this fight is whether or not Dos Anjos still has the patience (and chin) to deal with it. There’s a bit more urgency in a three-round contest and judges love busy work, I just have a hard time imagining a fighter as well-rounded as Dos Anjos getting sucked into a phone booth fight when he has so many other paths to victory.
Prediction: Dos Anjos def. Barberena by submission
For the remaining UFC Orlando main card preview and predictions go HERE.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Orlando fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN/ESPN+ main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Orlando news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archives here and here. For the updated and finalized “Thompson vs. Holland” fight card and ESPN/ESPN+ lineup click here.