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UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Hunt – Derek Brunson vs Dan Kelly Toe to Toe Preview

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Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Brunson vs. Kelly at UFN Auckland, and everything you don’t about dadbods and flatmate first impressions.

Derek Brunson vs. Dan Kelly this June 11, 2017 at the Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.

One sentence summary:

Phil: Dan Kelly’s middle-aged run… make that “shuffle”… through the middleweight division reaches a new and improbable height.

David: Dan Kelly tries to earn another win warranting the slow clap against one of the most face-melting punchers in the division.

Stats

Record: Derek Brunson 16-5 Dan Kelly 13-1

Odds: Derek Brunson -275 Dan Kelly +250

History / Introduction to the fighters

Phil: Derek Brunson has had a passably weird run through middleweight. First he was that boring guy that everyone disliked because he outwrestled a fading Chris Leben. Then he was the guy that just bumrushed everyone to hilariously violent results, win or lose. Now? It’s difficult to tell. His performance against Anderson Silva was probably one that Brunson should have won, but it’s also difficult to say that he really “deserved” to win it, as he gave the crafty old legend every chance, and probably far too much respect. I have no idea what incarnation of Brunson to expect here.

David: It’s hard to actually think of a comparable when you look at Brunson’s career arc. He looked like he had it all figured out – realizing he had the hands to avoid attrition altogether and so he went about his business cracking skulls; nearly cracking Yoel Romero’s even. He doubled down on his strengths, and paid the price Igor vs. Inoue style against Robert Whittaker. Doubt crept in and the end result was on full display against muffin top but still motivated Anderson Silva. Where he goes from here is kind of anyone’s guess.

Phil: Dan motherfucking Kelly. How in the world is he here. I watched his fight against Rashad Evans with my flatmate, and as they came to the cage she actually gasped. There was Rashad looking like he was chiseled out of obsidian by some particularly ambitious Greek sculptor, and then… then there was Dan Kelly. Dan Kelly gingerly plodding his way to the cage with his wrapped knees, looking like he was playing someone’s slightly weatherbeaten uncle on Neighbours or Home and Away (for some reason we have a lot of Australian soaps bedded down into UK popular culture.). “He’s going to get killed!” she said, horrified.

David: When I first saw Dan Kelly, it was against Patrick Walsh. I thought to myself, ‘put this guy in against a real athlete in the division and the outcome will resemble a Nickelodeon star’s dad fighting Jabba’s Rancor’. Since then Kelly has proved to be more Rancor himself than hapless pig-snouted Gamorrean. Rarely do fighter performances inspire. They may cause us to yawn, laugh, shout, or even be amazed. But how often does a fighter’s performance get you to reflect, ponder the great purpose, or cause us to do something more with our lives? That’s probably a bit much but it’s impossible not to cheer for him.

What’s at stake?

Phil: I’ve pretty much given up on trying to figure out what’s going on in middleweight. There’s some huge jam at the top which is gradually going to mash everyone into paste while we wait for Fat GSP to fight Bisping. It’s going to be hard to make much of an impact there. I guess the main issue at stake is simply if Kelly can win another stirring temporary victory over the inevitable force of entropy. Rage, rage against the dying of the Foster’s Light, or something.

David: The UFC probably sees Kelly’s win over Rashad like an accidental tear in the universe. Kind of like every other Kelly win. If Kelly won, he’ll be fed more contenders, most likely. As much as I like Kelly, he’d have to turn into a griffin with a scorpion’s tale to ever be considered a threat to Bisping’s cold throne. Bisping would then make the valid argument that he’s simply mortal, and only fights mortal men. And yes, that’s the sound of Romero shouting religious obscenities on the contrary.

Where do they want it?

Phil: With respect to Brunson, who knows? He’s had some criticism for his full-on aggressive style, but the more supposedly technical fight he fought against Anderson Silva does not really play to his strengths. There has to be some kind of middle ground between him trying to fight a range kickboxing game, and just sprinting at his opponents while winging haymakers.

He really is a good fighter when his head is on straight. When he’s focused, he’s actually pretty clever at punching his way into the clinch, and ensuring that he’s got a clear line ready to throw one of his marching combinations that ends with a kick. Once he’s in the clinch, he’s a brute who laces men with thunderous uppercuts or drags them to the floor with chain wrestling. The problem seems to be killer instinct. There’s either far too much of it, or not enough.

David: I can think of few fighters more tactically at odds with himself than Brunson. At one point who he a hard hitting wrestler. Then he became a wrestle-boxer. Then he became a brawler. Then he became a boxer. And never the twain have met. Whatever the case, he’s a strong wrestler, who figures out violent ways to setup his takedowns. With the power in his hands and feet, he’s a five tools threat at every angle. The problem in recent years is that as his competition has become harder, he’s done less of what made him successful. I would argue he lost both of his last two fights to tactics more than technique. Against Whittaker he figured he could bludgeon his way to victory. Against Silva, he figured he could caress his way to the judges’ favor. I’d have to imagine he’ll top for the former against Kelly who profiles as a dadweight plodder with dangerous trips, and not much else.

Phil: The general hilarity of Dadbod Dan Kelly has perhaps occluded what a fun and technically skilled fighter he’s become. He clearly just has a natural mind for combat sports. Witness the transformation between his hideously ugly brawl with Patrick Walsh, and the way he fought Rashad Evans. He was working off a long jab, using it to set up angles and counter shots, and using it to set up his entries, including that sneaky Machida-esque outside trip.

It’s all very impressive. I’d expect some kind of Henderson-esque pared down approach, but he’s developed a coherent, three-dimensional game. Imagine how good he could have been if he’d started MMA earlier.

David: Calling his fight with Patrick Walsh a “hideously ugly brawl” is an insult to hideously ugly brawls. Not since Weizorek vs. Shipp have MMA fans been subject to such a clumsy collision of sweat and meat. Kelly’s career technically began in 2006 but he didn’t begin fighting regularly until 2012. As such, Kelly’s performances resemble a young prospect. His Olympic pedigree in Judo never did much for him, which is, I think, typical of most judokas – it’s not an overt martial art the way jiu jitsu or kickboxing are, so judokas often unlearn their art rather than integrate them. Kelly was still figuring out ways to integrate his talents, and his profile peaked against Evans.

With a punctual more than punctuating jab, he set up his power shots well and kept Evans off balance, literally and figuratively with his trip breaks. It’s not a compelling weapon or anything, and certainly nothing like Karo’s brand of canvas crunching Judo. But it’s a peripheral weapon Kelly uses with great pragmatism in the cage, accentuating his limited boxing skillset to distill his attack into something very linear, but still dynamic.

Insight from Past Fights

Phil: Kelly is very tough, but he is not immortal. When Sam Alvey went right after him, he was able to knock Kelly out, and while Kelly was able to diffuse Rashad’s counterpunching style, when Rashad decided to brawl in the pocket, he started to win the exchanges. Basically, this is the second fight in a row where I think Brunson is fairly well-served to rely on his aggression.

David: For Brunson, he’d do well to forget his behavior against Silva. This is an awful matchup for Kelly. But if Brunson is tethered to becoming a technician, it wouldn’t bode well for him against a crafty fighter who seems to learn new tricks to optimize his survival. Although I’m really just playing devil’s advocate here. Because we all love Kelly, we tend to understate how awful Rashad was in that bout. When he got picked apart at range, he defended himself with all the assembled volition of a Disqus job bot.

X-Factors

Phil: Fighting among his fellow Antipodeans for Dan Kelly? The inevitable march of time? Brunson’s headspace?

David: Well home field advantage hasn’t been all it’s superstitiously cracked up to be so there’s that.

Prognostication

Phil: Dan Kelly’s run has been impressive, but Brunson’s issues have traditionally been around speed rather than power, and even then Kelly is not a big knockout puncher. In a distance kickboxing match, Kelly may actually be the more technical (or at least calmer) fighter, but unfortunately I have to pick the bigger, stronger, younger man. Derek Brunson by unanimous decision.

David: Brunson would have to give an all time bed crapping performance to lose this one. He’s got every advantage, and I would argue he’s the smarter fighter too (for the most part he hasn’t forgotten his fundamental skillsets and integrates them well) when you give him some modest leeway on his last two fights. Derek Brunson by KO, Round 1.


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