It’s a great week to be a fight fan. Fresh off the heels of Sean Strickland’s gigantic upset to capture the middleweight title at UFC 293, this week’s Noche UFC card features a pay-per-view worthy main event. Alexa Grasso defends the flyweight title in a rematch against former champion Valentina Shevchenko. While I will be rooting for Grasso in the headliner, I turned to the co-main event for my betting interests.
Welterweights Kevin Holland and Jack Della Maddalena will square off in a clash that’s sure to get the crowd at the T-Mobile Arena on their feet. In his most recent bout, Holland (25-9 MMA, 12-6-1 UFC) thrashed Michael Chiesa, submitting him with a D'Arce choke only 2:39 into the first round. The impressive win was Holland’s second straight as he is really starting to settle into his new weight class.
Della Maddalena (15-2 MMA, 5-0 UFC) is one of the division’s most hyped prospects. His devastating power led to him starting his UFC career with four straight first-round knockouts. However, his latest victory was surprisingly his most difficult challenge to date. Short-notice replacement Bassil Hafez gave Della Maddalena everything he could handle, and bettors gained a valuable data point of seeing the welterweight prospect stretched over three rounds. The split-decision win could easily have gone the other way. Now, he gets a very big step up in competition.
It’s an important matchup for the career trajectory of both fighters. Will Della Maddalena live up to hype by handling Holland? Let’s break down the keys for both fighters before I divulge my best bet.
Strategy versus ego: The Kevin Holland dilemma
Holland holds the biggest advantage in this fight with his grappling. He is clearly the more well-rounded fighter. As refined as Della Maddalena’s boxing is, his shortcomings on the mat will be difficult to overcome as he continues to climb up the UFC ladder. Holland has the tools to knock him off a rung, but I also doubt “The Trailblazer” believes he needs to go that route to secure the win. Both fighters have failed to make strategically sound decisions in recent fights, so I can easily see them both looking to set the tone with their striking. The problem with Holland only using his grappling as a safety valve is that his opponent has the power to turn off the lights before Holland realizes he is in danger. An offensive gameplan that mixes his striking and his ground game can have Holland’s hand raised pretty quickly, but bettors need to decide if they believe he will see it the same way.
Della Maddalena must make it a slugfest
The opposite applies for Della Maddalena. He is fully aware Holland becomes an overwhelming favorite the second this fight hits the mat and must make this a one-dimensional scrap. When standing, Della Maddalena is the cleaner fighter. He will be at his best when he is weaponizing his crisp boxing and battering Holland with body work, breaking down his will one crushing combination at a time. Holland is the more athletic and explosive fighter, but you take him off his game mentally by pulling him into deep waters. If Della Maddalena leans into this technical boxing, he can win this fight if remains on his feet.
Why defense will be the difference in the fight
This fight would be on the odds-on favorite for fight of the night if you could wager on such a thing. Both guys will be willing to do their part in ensuring they take home a nice bonus from Dana White for their efforts. In a battle of two electrifying strikers with finishing ability, I was surprised to see Holland as the betting underdog. He is the far less hittable fighter, partially due to his length and reach. I expect the fight to play out standing early, with Holland getting the best of the striking exchanges on the outside. Della Maddalena’s uber-aggressive style will play into the lightning-fast hands of a rangy striker like Holland.
In his previous fights, Della Maddalena didn't have any problem leveraging his chin in order to get inside the pocket. That’s where he can swarm his opponent. I’m not confident that’s a formula for success against the more experienced Holland, who has the hand speed to counter while keeping the Australian striker at bay. Holland is the much better defensive striker, and his eight-inch reach advantage will be a massive asset. Also, he is as durable as they come. He went five rounds with Marvin Vettori, and he gained valuable experience in losses to Khazmat Chimaev and Stephen Thompson.
This is the fight where the step up in class is magnified for Della Maddalena, and exposes the need for growth in his overall game. Holland’s diverse striking will frustrate his opponent while he scores consistently in space, until the opportunity presents itself to do even more damage on the ground. Even though Della Maddalena continues to take money, I will go against the market. This reads like a fight where the volatility of Holland is scaring off bettors but giving us a solid odds to play back on the underdog. I will back him at this price as the fighter with more advantages and avenues to victory. Best Bet: Kevin Holland +125.