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UFC Fight Night: Brunson v Holland Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 23’s Kevin Holland

Half of UFC Vegas 22’s main event, Kevin Holland, will make a quick return to action against rising bruiser, Marvin Vettori, this Saturday (April 10, 2021) at UFC Vegas 23 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Well ... this is one way to guarantee two paychecks!

Just three weeks after his disappointing loss to Derek Brunson, “Big Mouth” will return, and it’s interesting to see what (if anything) changes about his performance. Will Holland continue his yapping after the backlash? More importantly, can he make the technical adjustments necessary to avoid the takedown? Brunson spent a full 25 minutes showing how to nullify Holland’s game, and now it’s up to “Trailblazer” to prevent a repeat.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

A second-degree black belt in Kung Fu, Holland is a very rangy Middleweight with real power in his hands.

When we talk about lanky kickboxers, there’s a general assumption that they would prefer to snipe one-two combinations from the outside. Holland is certainly good at sticking his foe with a long jab-cross combination (.GIF), but he’s generally much more willing to step forward and commit to power strikes than most. Holland will step into big shots, whipping hooks and overhands, sacrificing the defense of distance for a chance to hurt his opponent.

Holland’s willingness to enter the pocket also likely stems from his skill in the clinch. On several occasions in the Octagon, Holland has done big damage with knees and elbows. Against Anthony Hernandez, for example, Holland did a great job of cracking his foe with an elbow, taking an angle, then delivering a fight-finishing knee into the mid-section (GIF).

Holland’s preference for stepping into his punches really, really cost him against Brunson. At several points in the first half of the fight, Holland managed to connect on clean right hands, strikes that stunned the wrestler. As he followed up, Holland would crash forward, smothering his own offense. Brunson would latch on, and that’s a strong man! Even if the takedown didn’t immediately come, Brunson used the clinch to stall his foe’s momentum.

It happened repeatedly. Had Holland hung back and picked his shots better, he may have been able to score the finish.

Comfort in close aside, Holland does like to fight from range, and he has several tricks there. His performance vs. Joaquin Buckley was likely Holland’s most dedicated range striking performance. In that bout, Holland made great use of his 81-inch reach against the far shorter man, doubling up on the jab and sending lots of one-two combinations down the middle. Buckley is actually pretty good at closing the distance with combinations (he’s accustomed to that height/reach disadvantage), but Holland still timed him repeatedly with pull counters, leaning back to make his foe miss before delivering the right hand.

Holland also did some weird stuff, like jumping into karate chop-esque right hands.

“Trailblazer” definitely has some interesting wrinkles to his kicking game as well. His most effective kicks are the basic round kick, and his most common target is the lead leg. Once Holland is landing his low kick, he’ll begin to feint with the hips, which helps him set up the rest of his offense.

UFC Fight Night: Hernandez v Holland Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Holland will also mix it up with front kicks, another effective weapon against his mostly shorter opponents (.GIF). More uniquely, Holland likes to attack with the side kick to the knee. Generally, he’ll throw this from the opposite stance of his opponent, shifting more side-on before trying to drive his foot into the quad and hyperextend the knee.

Holland likes to use the threat of the kick to gain distance with his punches. He’ll commonly step up with his lead leg, which gives the early appearance of a snap or low kick. Instead, Holland is using the motion to close a bit of distance and step into punches, usually the jab-cross or hook-cross.

Occasionally, Holland will do the same with his back knee, lifting it up to show a kick then stepping into Southpaw. This serves a similar purpose with the added benefit of a somewhat hidden stance switch, allowing Holland to fire some punches or a left kick from his new stance.

Defensively, Holland does occasionally get cracked stepping deeper than necessary into his punches. Additionally, he’s perhaps a bit too confident slipping and defending with his back to the fence. His comfort there has allowed him to score with some slick uppercut counters, but he’s also taken some real shots from that position.

Wrestling

Holland is not a terrible wrestler, but nor can we say his takedown defense is particularly great.

Offensively, Holland hasn’t wrestled all that much in his recent win streak, and I’d prefer to focus on those bouts, because modern Holland is much better than the man who gave up six takedowns to Gerald Meerschaert. Opposite short-notice replacement, Charlie Ontiveros, Holland demonstrated his strength in the clinch. From the body lock, Holland twice slammed his foe to the mat, and the second takedown injured his foe to the point that he could not continue.

UFC Fight Night: Holland v Ontiveros Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Defensively, Holland’s aggressive punching and build mean that he is there to be double-legged in the open. Fortunately, Holland is 1.) dangerous from his back and 2.) quick to scoot his butt to the fence. Once he’s near the cage, Holland is generally good at wall-walking to his feet.

Unfortunately, this is where Holland’s bout with Brunson really fell apart. Brunson repeatedly landed his double leg in the open, and Holland was far too willing to play guard. He spent a lot of minutes holding himself down, whereas before that match, Holland was quicker to scoot towards the cage.

On the plus side, Holland is pretty good at defending along the cage in general. Darren Stewart is not an extremely technical wrestler, but he is a seriously strong Middleweight who knows how it hit a double along the cage. In their bout, Holland denied many of his attempts despite good initial position and posture.

In some cases, Holland was able to yank up on overhooks to move the wrestling into the clinch. Other times, Holland worked to break posture by jamming the head toward the mat. In one exchange, Holland reached over his foe’s back and latched onto the ankle, twisting up his opponent’s knee and making it difficult for Stewart to drive forward or lift.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A jiu-jitsu black belt under Travis Lutter, Holland’s grappling is similarly focused toward aggression as the rest of his game.

First and foremost, we have to talk about the Ronaldo Souza knockout. When you first read the result that Holland stopped “Jacare” from his back, one would assume it was just some strange “Trailblazer” fluke. Upon re-watching the fight, however, it becomes very clear that Holland intended to attack from his back. From the first early takedown, Holland was ripping punches, using a triangle choke to score elbows, and threatening with guillotines.

UFC 256: Holland v Souza Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Aggressively trying to wrangle an alligator tends not to pay off, but it did for “Trailblazer.” When Souza completed a second takedown, he tried to pause for a moment and rest after all the chaos. Holland didn’t let him, swinging his leg in a pendulum motion from his back to wind up a big punch. It caught Souza off-guard, rocked him, and the rest is history (GIF).

As for some more fundamental jiu-jitsu techniques, Holland very much likes the kimura. He’s used it to reverse takedowns and score sweeps from his back. The triangle is likely the other Holland go-to, as he’ll immediately open up his guard and look to jam a hand through the middle.

UFC Fight Night: Allen v Holland Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

There is, of course, a reason why other fighters are less aggressive from their backs than Holland. Opposite Brendan Allen, “Trailblazer” ran into a fellow black belt who was unbothered by all his wild bottom position offense. Allen stayed tight defensively and passed guard, and suddenly, Holland was no longer in position to do much but defend. Over time, Holland’s preference for submission over position cost him, as Allen took his back and choked him out during a scramble.

Conclusion

Holland has a lot of dangerous tools, but a big part of his recent win streak could be credited to his confidence. If that’s taken a hit in his loss to Brunson, that’s a major problem for his style. Conversely, if Holland has learned to manage his distance and avoid bottom position, then perhaps that defeat can be a learning experience and step in the right direction.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 23 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN / ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ABC / ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 23: “Vettori vs. Holland” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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