UFC on ABC 2 headliner Kevin Holland takes aim at critics: 'The game is backwards'

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5-min read

LAS VEGAS — Kevin Holland was on March 20 and remains today one of the most talented mixed martial artists in the world. He’s one of the few guys alive with the skills to win a UFC championship.

The number of fighters with the skills to win a UFC belt is significantly larger than the number who actually accomplish the task.

Holland’s talent, which led him to a 5-0 record in a 2020 campaign that he concluded with a stunning knockout from the bottom of the legendary Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, is one of the reasons he’s a budding star in the UFC.

But it’s Holland’s colorful, effusive personality that has attracted him such a large fanbase.

And it’s that personality and that effusiveness that got so many of his fans angered at him.

Holland lost a one-sided decision to Derek Brunson on March 20 at Apex. That in and of itself is no big deal, because Brunson is one of the best fighters in the world and has beaten many elite opponents and rising prospects, including Uriah Hall, Lyoto Machida and Edmen Shahbazyan among them.

It’s how he lost that was the problem. Holland, whom UFC president Dana White nicknamed “Big Mouth” when he was competing on the "Contender Series," talked almost nonstop during his fight with Brunson. Former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was seated next to White at cageside and Holland kept up an almost nonstop, one-way conversation with Nurmagomedov as Brunson beat him up.

White ripped him in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports after that bout and fans turned on him, deriding and mocking him. Holland said after the fight that he didn’t care about winning a championship and only wanted to have fun.

And on Thursday during a conversation with Yahoo Sports, as he discussed his bout on Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 23 against Marvin Vettori at Apex, he took aim at his critics who he said were being hypocritical.

“It’s funny that everybody wanted to see ‘Big Mouth’ until ‘Big Mouth’ didn’t do his job and they got all upset and mad,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, they wanted 'Trailblazer.' So what is it? Do you want a dull, boring experience where everything is the same or do you want something fun, something different? Remember this: The same people who got upset were the same ones who loved ‘Big Mouth’ so much.”

He has a point, but it’s clear that by talking as much as he did, he lost focus on what he needed to accomplish. He was taken down by Brunson repeatedly and couldn’t get off of his back, though Holland defiantly says he had scratches on his back that night from pushing on the mat trying to get up from underneath him.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 08: Kevin Holland prepares to fight Joaquin Buckley in their middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 08, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Kevin Holland looks to get back in the win column Saturday after a bizarre performance in his last fight. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Holland’s coach, former middleweight title challenger Travis Lutter, was disappointed in himself for not being able to snap Holland out of whatever he was in the middle of during the fight.

Lutter also noted that it was the first time that Holland was scheduled to go 25 minutes and that had an impact.

“Brunson didn’t give Kevin the space he needed to do the things he did to Jacare,” Lutter said. “Derek’s a lot more in your face and was playing a lot tighter. He wasn’t interested in passing, where Jacare would have passed and tried to end the fight. And I think [Holland] got frustrated and I feel I made a mistake as a coach in the corner. I couldn’t get him out of it. He was over there talking to Khabib and I really think it was because he was embarrassed.

“He operates on being embarrassed more than almost anything, and he was embarrassed. So I think now his attitude is, ‘OK, f*** you all, I’ll show you I can be as good as you thought.’ He went the 25 minutes and he knows now it isn’t as bad as he thought. But during the fight when I went to the corner, I couldn’t get him snapped out of it. I think if I’d have sent one of the other coaches in to talk to him, he’d have recognized something was wrong and maybe changed.”

Lutter raved about Holland’s talent and said he compares favorably to the best he’s seen.

“As far as raw talent is concerned, Kevin’s the greatest I’ve ever been around,” Lutter said. “I haven’t been around Jon Jones, but I’ve heard the rumors of him and I’ve watched him fight and I put Kevin up there like that. I trained with GSP [Georges St-Pierre], I trained with Randy Couture, Guy Mezger. All these different guys I’ve trained with and honestly, Kevin is the most talented guy. He’s incredibly gifted.”

White said the same thing, which is why he called Holland after calming down on March 20. The two had a serious talk and White offered to get Holland a sports psychologist.

Holland insisted he doesn’t see the need for a sports psychologist, but that could just be ego talking.

But he said he understood why White was upset and said White, of all people, is the only one who had a right to be angry. He took a few shots at Vettori, who complained that he didn’t believe that Darren Till was injured since Till showed no proof of his broken collarbone that forced him out and opened the door for Holland.

“People are telling me I should get a sports psychologist because I lost one fight while having a good time,” Holland said. “I’m still enjoying the fact that I love my job and y’all think I need a sports psychologist. This guy [Vettori] is running around accusing people of pulling out of fights even though the guy broke a collarbone.

“He’s accusing people of this; he’s accusing people of that, and he’s running around being hysterical and tripping. Nobody’s telling him to get a sports psychologist. I think the game is backwards. That’s what I think is hypocritical. Y’all aren’t paying close enough attention.”

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