Kevin Holland – Legit threat or just a hot year at 185lbs?

The middleweight division is one of the most exciting in the UFC right now, and there is a new name among the top contenders currently.

After a stunning 2020 in which he went 5-0, Kevin Holland makes his debut in a main event this weekend at UFC Vegas 22 when he takes on the division’s gatekeeper in Derek Brunson.

Brunson himself is a legit 185-pounder, having fought the best of the best in the division during his 17-fight run in the company. His record is currently 12-5 with the organisation, with the defeats he’s suffered coming against the elite of the elite in the divisions history. Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva, Jacare Souza and Israel Adesanya are the only men to have condemned him to defeat and even the Silva loss was highly questionable.

So now that he is on a three-fight win streak after wins over Elias Theodorou, Ian Heinisch and highly-rated Edmen Shahbazyan he is deemed as the perfect man to pair up with the flying ‘Trailblazer’.

Holland has looked near unstoppable in his current run. He’s knocked out Anthony Hernandez, Joaquin Buckley at UFC Vegas 6, Charlie Ontiveros (via verbal submission) at UFC Vegas 12 and Jacare Souza (from his back!) at UFC 256 but it’s fight against the UK’s Darren Stewart that will be more appealing to fight fans.

The fight went to a split decision and with Holland’s striking proving unable to knock Stewart out, he was forced to wrestle and controlled for much of the third round. So much so, that Holland actually said he wasn’t happy with the judge’s decisions and wanted to run the fight back.

That never happened and he went on to win twice more, to set up this bout with Brunson. Now with his eyes firmly set on the top five, we get to find out if Holland is a legit threat to the big boys or if he’s a prospect who isn’t quite there yet.

He’s already started setting up a rivalry with the champion Israel Adesanya and with Whittaker, Paulo Costa, Darren Till and Marvin Vettori all fighting each other in the next month there is a real chance for the winner of this fight to enter themselves in that conversation.

Currently ranked seven and ten respectively, the winner will likely face the loser of one of those bouts or Jared Cannonier who sits in third but is coming off a pretty one-sided defeat to Whittaker back at UFC 254. A win in that fight would almost certainly then give them a legit claim to a title fight too or at the very least a title eliminator depending on the state of the division at that point.

With Brunson’s record against top guys, he’s the perfect gatekeeper. There were claims that Shahbazyan was the next big thing and yet Brunson completely dominated him. When it was Adesanya’s turn to come up against the gatekeeper though, he blasted through him with a first-round knockout – and the rest is history.

It goes without saying that Holland has genuine knockout power and showed against Jacare that he can fight from his back but Brunson’s wrestling game is entirely different to Jacare’s jiu-jitsu. Brunson will smother and land ground and pound strikes, not look for positions and submissions.

Holland is without a doubt on the rise and many expect him to pose a threat for the division’s top guys in the near future. But at only 28 years old, he has plenty of time on his side. It could be a case that he’s not quite there yet and he takes on the role of top five gatekeeper while Brunson takes aim at the title.

However should Holland get past Brunson in the way Adesanya or any of the other guys that beat him in the UFC have done, then we’ll know that he is the real deal. If he is the real deal, then the middleweight division will be on notice that there is a new big dog in town.

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