It wasn’t to be for ‘The Trailblazer’ at UFC Vegas 22 as Derek Brunson did what Derek Brunson does, wrestling his way to a dominant five-round decision win over Kevin Holland.
The middleweights met in a bout that was supposed to elevate the winner into top five status, with many believing that Holland’s power on the feet would be enough to see off Brunson to leapfrog him in the rankings.
Instead Holland was more focused on talking to Brunson, Dana White and Khabib Nurmagomedov at cageside to go along with his “big mouth” gimmick, which saw him dominated and comfortably beaten by the man who many consider as the division’s gatekeeper.
All the pre-fight promo seemed to be around Holland and his antics, with videos showing his shopping habits rather than his fighting skills on the broadcast. He seemed to feed into that far too much, constantly trying to get into Brunson’s head with actions that only hindered him, especially when it was clear that Brunson was having none of it.
A slip in the first round allowed Brunson to get top control early on and he was able to hold it for the entire round, so you could sort of forgive the trash talking in that instance. In the second, round Holland really rocked him with a flurry of shots and it looked like the power could potentially be enough to get a finish on the feet. Brunson clinched up and took him down and the talk continued, but again it was overlooked because of the time in the fight and what had transpired before it.
In the third round though Brunson was able to get the takedown with total ease and even though he looked exhausted and laboured on top, Holland opted to talk smack from under him rather than try to get to his feet. The same happened in the fourth round, before the final round was the exclamation point of that.
Holland was able to get an outside trip on Brunson and took him down, the first time in Brunson’s UFC career that he’s ever been taken down. Considering it was clear that he was down every round and needed a finish, instead of working offence and landing ground and pound or searching for submissions, Holland opted to celebrate on the ground, taunting Brunson and hitting the mat with joy as if he’d just won the fight.
Brunson eventually got back to his feet and secured his own takedown, securing a big win in the 185lbs division.
After the fight he demanded an opponent in the top five and called out Paulo Costa, who recently pulled out of his scheduled fight against Robert Whittaker with lingering issues to do with COVID-19. Holland on the other hand spoke of a desire to link up with a nutritionist and move down in weight to 170lbs, which was rather telling.
It was as if he knew the top middleweights were potentially too big for him and he went into the fight knowing that if Brunson could get hold of him then he’d have no way of winning. But he blew a huge opportunity with this fight.
His strikes in the second round where he hurt Brunson showed that he had a clear path to victory, but he seemed to concerned with maintaining the image of being ‘big mouth’ than actually winning his first UFC main event.
Brunson continues his record of only losing to the very best the division has ever had to offer and now he will look to make a charge towards the title once more, while Holland must lick his wounds and try to gather up the momentum he made in 2020.