Kevin Holland is many things. He’s an entertainer, there’s no doubt about that. He’s a top striker in the middleweight division and his knockout over Joaquin Buckley last year showed it. The way he disposed of Jacare Souza displayed his explosiveness and inventive style inside the octagon. Oh, and perhaps most obvious of all, he’s a talker…
One thing we learned at UFC Vegas 23 is that Kevin Holland is admirable. For the second time in the space of just three weeks, Holland fought for 25 minutes against one of the best at 185lbs. The result against Marvin Vettori was largely the same as what we witnessed against Derek Brunson three weeks prior.
Kevin Holland was taken down with ease and controlled on the mat. Ultimately, although Holland had limited success on the feet, Vettori was far too comfortable being able to change levels and bring ‘Trailblazer’ to the ground.
Against the top contenders in the division, it appears the simple way out against Kevin Holland when he's looking dangerous standing up is to take the fight to the ground. He simply doesn't have the takedown defense to hang with the division's best.
What's next for Kevin Holland?
Despite his recent results, Kevin Holland is just 28 years old. He has more than enough time to make the necessary adjustments to his skillset and make another run at becoming a middleweight contender. Perhaps a spell under the tutelage of Khabib Nurmagomedov will set him up nicely moving forward...
With recency bias as present as ever in MMA, many will be quick to forget Kevin Holland’s remarkable 2020. His 5-0 year was not the result of luck or a fluke, it was because Holland has immense ability. He now needs to face opposition lower in the division and work his way back.
With that said, here are three potential opponents up next for Kevin Holland in the UFC.
#3 Sean Strickland or Krzysztof Jotko
In his two defeats this year, Kevin Holland has been thrust into the octagon against a real step-up in class. For ‘Big Mouth’ to get back to his best, he’ll need to return to fighting exciting unranked names and middleweights towards the back end of the rankings. Facing the winner of Sean Strickland versus Krzysztof Jotko, scheduled for May 1, would be the perfect matchup at this point in Holland’s career.
Both men boast impressive careers. Their combined record stands at 44-7. Strickland has only lost to the best. At welterweight, “Tarzan” lost to Santiago Ponzinibbio and the current welterweight king Kamaru Usman. Aside from that, a spinning wheel kick knockout against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos is the only other blemish on an otherwise flawless record.
After a motorcycle accident that side-lined Strickland for two-years, the 30-year-old returned to the middleweight division in 2020, securing impressive wins over Jack Marshman and the highly regarded prospect Brendan Allen.
Krzysztof Jotko, meanwhile, is criminally underrated. Heading into 2017, the Pole was 19-1 and on a five-fight winning streak. Defeats to David Branch, Uriah Hall and Brad Tavares stalled Jotko's rise. The 31-year-old has bounced back since then with three wins across 2019 and 2020.
Not only is the fight between Strickland and Jotko an unbelievable matchup and a real sleeper fight coming up, but it also has huge connotations for the middleweight division. Kevin Holland would be wise to keep an eye on this one because he could well find himself opposite the winner in the coming months.
#2 Makhmud Muradov
Kevin Holland and Makhmud Muradov were due to throw hands inside the octagon back in October last year. Holland’s failings in 2021 mean it makes sense to have a second try at a matchup with the Tajikistani.
Muradov is an exciting prospect. ‘Mach’ is in the form of his life and is currently on a remarkable 14-fight win streak. Since joining the UFC in 2019, the 31-year-old is 3-0 in the promotion, with wins over Alessio Di Chirico, Trevor Smith and Andrew Sanchez.
For a masterclass on devastating knockout power, just take a look at the punch that shut Smith's lights out at UFC on ESPN 7...
Having last fought at UFC 257 in January, it stands to reason Muradov will be ready to accept another fight and attempt to earn a number next to his name in the UFC.
This match works for both men. It offers Kevin Holland the chance to rebound quickly and attempt to enter the win column for the first time in 2021. For Muradov, it offers the chance to secure a big name win and and establish himself as a real threat in the division. These two standing up and swinging could make for an exciting fight.
#1 Ian Heinisch
Kevin Holland's next fight is an important one. He needs to get back on track and what better way to do it than against another man with a recent loss to a contender. The matchup that makes sense the most is Ian Heinisch.
Heinisch looked like a dark horse in the division for a while and found himself in the octagon with Kelvin Gastelum in February. His quality proved to be too much for Heinisch, who fell to a unanimous decision loss.
Before that, the Denver-born middleweight had beaten Gerald Meerschaert to rebound from back-to-back losses against Derek Brunson and Omari Akhmedov. He needs to do the same again after his latest setback.
Heinisch remains highly regarded in the UFC and given the way he secured his contract during series 15 of Dana White's Contender Series, it's easy to see why.
Just about everyone below Kevin Holland in the division is booked to fight in the coming months, apart from 'The Hurricane'. In a matchup with Heinisch, both men are coming off defeats versus two top contenders at 185-pounds. Both men need to rebound in style in order to revitalize their careers. This matchup needs to happen.