Kevin Holland's lack of urgency, nonstop chatter costs him a career-defining win at UFC Vegas 22

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4-min read

LAS VEGAS — Two things were proven on Saturday at Apex when Kevin Holland met Derek Brunson in the main event of UFC Vegas 22.

First is that Holland is a significant talent who has all of the physical tools required to be the world champion in his division.

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Holland’s mental state was not where it needed to be for him to win a fight against one of the best fighters in his division.

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And he didn’t, throwing away a shot at a career-defining victory by talking nonstop before, during and after a loss to Brunson. Scores were 49-46 twice and 49-45, but they were almost irrelevant to the story of the fight.

Former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov sat at ringside watching — while streaming the fight card on his Instagram account from his phone — and Holland kept up a lengthy conversation with him.

He stood in the corner after each round and talked, appearing to pay no attention to his coaches.

After the fight, UFC president Dana White approached Yahoo Sports and compared Holland’s behavior to former heavyweight boxing champion Oliver McCall’s during a 1997 title fight in Las Vegas with Lennox Lewis.

“I think that was a mental breakdown,” White told Yahoo Sports. “The only other thing I saw like it was [in boxing] when Lennox Lewis fought that guy [Oliver McCall] who kept his hands at his side and was crying. I don’t know what he was doing. I think he might not have been able to handle the pressure and just broke mentally. I haven’t seen anything like that.”

It was hard to argue with White’s position. Holland, in the few moments he shut up and tried to fight, showed why he went 5-0 last year and why so many believe he has the ability to go for a championship.

He hurt Brunson several times when he connected with his punches, but Brunson easily took him down. And when he was on the ground, instead of using his jiu-jitsu, he put a body lock on Brunson and seemed content to lay beneath him and have a conversation.

“The thing is, the kid has incredible jiu-jitsu,” White said of Holland. “And instead of moving his hips ... he puts a body lock on a wrestler who is looking to blast the s*** out of him? That was a complete, total breakdown. That’s what that was. I just don’t think he could deal with the pressure.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 20: Kevin Holland (R) talks to Khabib Nurmagomedov cageside while battling Derek Brunson (L) during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Kevin Holland (R) talks to Khabib Nurmagomedov cageside while battling Derek Brunson (L) during the UFC Fight Night event at Apex on March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

If Holland didn’t care about the way the fight went, that was on him. But he also hurt Brunson with his antics. Brunson tried his best to make it a fight, but Holland played around and it took the focus off of what Brunson was trying to — and did — do.

It was probably the most inexplicable performance by a UFC fighter since UFC 83 when Kalib Starnes sprinted in circles around the cage during a fight with Nate Quarry in Montreal in 2008.

Starnes had no chance to win that fight; but Holland had a legitimate opportunity to win. He tied a UFC record in 2020 for most wins in a calendar year by going 5-0, garnering some Fighter of the Year recognition.

Holland's punches were rattling Brunson when he threw them, but he was so focused on being the cool kid on the block that he lost any chance he had of being the toughest kid on the block.

“It was pretty stupid,” Brunson said at the postfight news conference. “Work to get out of positions. I was going to talk to him, but I decided that this guy was just being stupid so I’d continue to do what I did.”

Brunson said Holland “will learn from this” and probably “should be more focused in the fight.”

But he said he thought it was Holland’s inability to stop the takedown, and not his nonstop chatter, that led to his demise. Brunson said Holland is very explosive, but said he kept presenting his hips which allowed him to repeatedly take Holland down.

Brunson will move on to bigger, better and probably more serious things. He called out Paulo Costa after the fight, a match which would accomplish his goal of getting a highly ranked opponent that would enable him to improve his chances of getting another title shot.

Holland told ESPN after the fight that he was considering getting a nutritionist and perhaps dropping to 170 pounds.

Before he does anything else, though, he needs to look in the mirror and understand that his behavior cost him the chance at a career-defining victory.

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