UFC Orlando: Kevin Holland isn't out for a title run, just the right fights and big checks

If Kevin Holland never wins a UFC championship, it's OK. There are only eight titles in the men's weight classes and some of the best fighters in the history of the UFC never held one.

Holland, though, is one of those fighters whose name on a billboard draws a crowd, particularly when he's faced with an opponent like Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, whom he'll meet Saturday at UFC Fight Night in Orlando, Florida.

It should be an explosive, high-contact affair, the kind of slugfest that brings, and keeps, fans out of their seats.

It's a far cry from the type of match that Holland competed in last time out. After an altercation at the UFC 279 news conference in Las Vegas in September, the lineup changed and Holland found himself facing super wrestler Khamzat Chimaev instead of Daniel Rodriguez.

That prompted Holland to write on social media that he is retired.

And while he wasn't interested in answering any questions Wednesday about his retirement — "I'm fighting Stephen Thompson Saturday; let's talk about that," he said, curtly —he also made clear he's got a plan for the future.

There are five fights left on his contract, including Saturday's bout with Thompson, and if Holland has his way, they'll be the type of bouts that get the juices flowing and the big checks coming.

"It's not like I'm looking to go on a title run," Holland said.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 10: Kevin Holland reacts after his submission loss to Khamzat Chimaev of Russia in a 180-pound catchweight fight during the UFC 279 event at T-Mobile Arena on September 10, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
UFC welterweight Kevin Holland is excited by getting to challenge himself against a striker. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Holland's a professional athlete, but a better way to term it is that he's an entertainer. He loves MMA and recognizes that the ground game is a part of it, but he's never got fired up by grappling the way he does when he fights a big-time striker.

Get him a fight where he may be knocked out or may knock out his opponent and he'll be salivating.

"I asked for Wonderboy, I got Wonderboy and so I can't be anything but happy," Holland said.

Holland's kryptonite has been wrestling in his UFC career, but that's not something that he has to worry about facing Thompson. Thompson has dealt with wrestlers fairly well, but when he's struggled it's been against wrestlers.

Belal Muhammad did a great job using his wrestling to control Thompson and win a decision when they fought, but Holland spied something that Muhammad didn't that may help him.

"He cut off the cage very well," Holland said of Muhammad. "Obviously, he wrestled him and there's no chance I'm going in there looking to wrestle, but he did cut off the cage."

Holland will be aggressive and that should make it a very fan-friendly bout. Thompson has been in his share of fights where the opponent decides to take him down and hold him there, and so he sympathizes with Holland's frustrations.

But he said Holland's a physical freak of nature who remains one of the elite strikers not only at welterweight but in the sport.

"Let's start with the fact that he's taller than most guys in this division and his reach is 81 inches, which is ridiculous [for a welterweight]," Thompson said of Holland. "He's such a creative striker. He's very crafty and he'll throw things off a whim that you're not expecting. ... He's one of the most dangerous guys out there. You look at him and you know he has the ability to end it at any moment. That's a guy you have to be concerned about and really take seriously."

Thompson is a defensively oriented striker who likes to counter and use his kicks. It's going to take patience to break through that and land, but in addition to being long and athletic, he's a highly accurate striker.

He's made his money and had a good run. He burst onto the scene in a big way, coming off "Dana White's Contender Series" in 2018 to take on Thiago Santos on short notice. Not only did he accept a massive fight but he fought very well against the far-more experienced Santos.

So now, he'll look at fights that get the juices flowing. And when it's time to walk away, he'll do just that.

"I want to go out there and enjoy what I'm doing and make my money and get on with my life," he said.

You don't need to win a UFC title to do that.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 09: Kevin Holland poses on the scale during the UFC 279 ceremonial weigh-in at MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 09, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
UFC welterweight Kevin Holland has always been an entertainer who has drawn big crowds as a result. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)