Kevin Holland did not have a storybook Ultimate Fighting Championship debut at UFC 227 on Aug. 4. He did not deliver a highlight-reel knockout or even leave the cage with his hand raised. However, the 25-year-old accepted his fight with Thiago Santos on two weeks’ notice and exited the stage believing he was more than ready to face UFC-caliber talent. More importantly, his boss seemed excited and motivated to get him back in the cage.
For many, a first appearance inside the Octagon can be a nerve-racking experience. Holland, just three years into his professional career, felt right at home.
“I felt like I was where I was supposed to be,” he told Sherdog.com.
Before his encounter with Santos, Holland had a brush with the UFC as a participant on the second season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. He defeated Will Santiago Jr. by unanimous decision but did not do enough to earn a UFC contract. However, Holland made an impression, and he only had to wait a little less than two months before he was offered a short-notice opportunity with the organization. He jumped at the chance and was none too concerned with his opponent.
“I didn’t even know who he was,” Holland said. “I was like, ‘Who’s this bum? I’m going to beat this fool up.’ I started looking him up, and I was like, ‘Yeah, maybe he is a bum,’ but then when he showed up the night of the fight, he wasn’t a bum.”
Some might chalk up Holland’s fight-night failure to UFC jitters -- an occurrence not uncommon with first-time competitors. He claims he had no such problems.
“I really wasn’t nervous,” Holland said. “I was just thinking this is my moment here. Time to shine.”
If nervousness was not the culprit, perhaps it was the jump in level of competition. After all, the biggest platforms he had competed on previously were DWTNCS, a Bellator MMA undercard and several Legacy Fighting Alliance events.
“I would like to say yeah, but at the same time, no, not really,” Holland said. “I’ve fought tough fights always, [and] in every fight, everybody’s a little bit tougher.”
Holland believes the result of the Santos fight boils down to one truth: The Tata Fight Team was a step ahead of him on fight night.
“That’s what happens when you fight a veteran,” Holland said. “You have to go out there and be on top of your game. If not, a veteran will make you pay for every mistake that you made. It’s just many different things I could have did a tad bit different that I feel would have been better.”
Holland attempted an armbar early in the fight, then second-guessed his decision and wound up switching to a fruitless triangle choke. He also regrets not trying to get back to a standing position during scrambles. Instead, Holland overestimated his bottom game and underestimated Santos’ ability to control him from the top.
“I was just thinking to myself, ‘Dang, why you had to show up of all nights,’” he said jokingly.
Although Holland graded his performance as a two out of 10, the fight only strengthened his belief that he could succeed in the UFC, especially with the benefit of a full training camp.
“When I smacked him with a couple of shots, he felt it,” he said. “When I hit him with a knee and he starts shooting for a takedown, it just made me feel like this is where I needed to be.”
During the post-fight press conference at UFC 227, Holland’s new boss informed those in attendance that he had dubbed the Texan “Big Mouth” after his appearance on DWTNCS.
“He’s a talented guy and he won his fight, but he wouldn’t shut up,” UFC President Dana White said. “The entire fight he was talking to me -- the whole fight.”
However, Holland earned White’s respect by performing admirably under less-than-ideal circumstances at UFC 227. He did not take offense to the executive’s “big mouth” remark. In fact, Holland was relieved to hear White even mention him.
“At the end of the day, Dana White is my boss, so when he says ‘big mouth,’ I take it as a compliment,” he said. “Growing up, my grandpa used to call me ‘Jabba Jaws,’ so when he called me ‘big mouth,’ it was just a relapse to ‘Jabba Jaws.’”
While White indicated his interest in bringing Holland back soon, a date remains uncertain. If it was up to “The Trailblazer,” welterweight Mickey Gall would be next. Gall criticized Holland for helping Sage Northcutt prepare for their clash at UFC on Fox 22. While Holland has no plans to drop to 170 pounds, a catchweight setup could remove such obstacles.
“I would like to get even with Mickey Gall for trashing me for helping Sage,” Holland said. “If I can knock out Mickey Gall or even tap out Mickey Gall, I think that would be cool.”
No matter the draw, Holland has proven he can fight anyone, anytime, anyplace.
“If I was down to fight Thiago,” he said, “I am down to fight whoever.”