Mature Derek Brunson really proved the perfect foil for Kevin Holland.
Back in his day, Brunson would have charged chin-first into a Holland right hand and gone straight to sleep. Hell, he fought smart, and Holland’s right hand still scored with a scary consistency. Laugh at Holland’s jokes, but the guy’s kickboxing is serious business.
Not anymore. When Holland’s foot slipped on the mat, Brunson was quick to jump him and gain top position. From within the full guard, Brunson was about as cautious as one can be without getting stood up by Herb Dean. Early in the fight, he landed some hard elbows, but as time wore on and Brunson’s gas tank emptied, his performance grew more and more conservative.
Holland, meanwhile, remained spectacularly weird! One would imagine slipping in the opening minute would be a high bar for strange, but Holland only kept it going. Asking Khabib Nurmagomedov for advice on how to stop the wrestling was a great moment, but Holland’s absolute peak was becoming the first man to take down Brunson in the fifth round.
A moral victory to be sure.
No matter how much ground Brunson gained on the scorecards, he refused to dip his toes into the weirdness. Brunson did not engage his foe’s trash talk on the mat, nor would he slap his hand in the fifth round. Even after the fight, Brunson seemed unwilling to turn off fight mode for fear that something might go wrong.
His focus on the game plan was intense. Brunson absolutely earned that victory, and his focus in the cage last night really emphasized the improvement from the panicked man who ran into counter punches from ... well, a lot of people.
Speaking of focus, “Trailblazer” drew a lot of criticism for continuing his goofy behavior as the fight slipped further and further from his hands. Why? There were definite strategic adjustments that Holland could have made, but he was trying to win. Holland cracked a joke 10 seconds before sleeping “Jacare” Souza — it works for him.
Between the fourth and fifth round, Holland flirted with seriousness. Speaking with his coach, Holland was still light-hearted and confident, but he acknowledged the situation. Holland knew that he was down, and he knew that Brunson’s strength and wrestling severely limited his chances at making a comeback.
If Holland is fighting to the best of his ability, is there really any harm in him remaining loose? If anything, his consistent nuttiness is a breath of fresh air in a sport where athletes oscillate between arrogant kings and humble gladiators depending on the outcome.
It didn’t work out this time, but Holland’s wild ride isn’t over yet.
For complete UFC Vegas 22: “Brunson vs. Holland” results and live play-by-play, click here.