Even before their matchup was announced, Holland was taking jabs at Brunson, and the veteran middleweight was more than happy to reply. That won’t be the case once they set foot inside the octagon, where Holland is also known for the gift of gab.
That was on display in Holland’s most recent win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Following a takedown from the grappling legend, he happily continued his verbal sparring until he delivered a series of punches that knocked out “Jacare” to earn one of the most impressive finishes in recent UFC history.
That game may have worked on “Jacare,” but Brunson promises anything Holland says during their fight will only be answered with violence.
“Kevin Holland was making jokes, he likes to talk on the bottom,” Brunson said about the fight when speaking to MMA Fighting. “‘Jacare’ started playing with him, and Kevin Holland just sat up and just started swiping him in the face. It’s one of those things, you’ve got to stay focused out there. For a veteran, you can’t start making mistakes out there.
“For me, if you start talking on the bottom, when you start talking, I start punching even more. You won’t be seeing any of that where I’m letting back, laughing, playing games on top.”
Because Brunson has his own personal experience with “Jacare” where he suffered a pair of losses to the Brazilian, he won’t negate Holland’s accomplishment with the knockout win.
That said, Brunson can’t be sure that a 41-year-old “Jacare” with a 1-4 resume in his past five fights is the same person he faced previously.
“You have a guy ‘Jacare,’ obviously past his prime,” Brunson said. “You cover the sport of MMA, for a guy to get knocked out from his back, you don’t see that. It looks spectacular, but from all the fighters who have been in trenches, they kind of look at that like, ‘Maybe it’s time for Jacare’ to retire’ cause that’s not a common thing.”
While Brunson isn’t giving away his game plan ahead of the fight, he’s never been shy about using his wrestling to dominate opposition, much like he did in his last outing against highly touted prospect Edmen Shahbazyan.
Time after time, Brunson brought Shahbazyan down to the mat, and by the end of the second round, he had the former Contender Series winner busted up and blooded from elbows and punches. The finish came just a matter of seconds into the third round after Brunson tossed Shahbazyan to the canvas and began unloading shots again until referee Herb Dean couldn’t allow the punishment to continue.
According to Brunson, that might be valuable viewing for Holland ahead of this weekend.
“Do I think he can survive on the ground with me? I don’t think many can,” Brunson said. “Especially taking guys down and putting pressure on them and just working the body-head. I love to finish guys when I take them down. Once I get him to the mat, it can go south very quick.”
Of course, a lot of the attention heading into the main event will be on Holland, considering he matched a UFC record by winning five fights in one year with his busy 2020 schedule. Holland is also one of the only fighters ranked in the top-10 at middleweight who hasn’t already faced reigning champion Israel Adesanya, which immediately makes him a viable contender with a win.
None of that matters much to Brunson, who has been in that kind of position before. That’s where he hopes to end up again one day, but for now, he’s satisfied by knocking off a second consecutive opponent being touted as “the next big thing.”
“I’m having fun with this these days,” he explained. “The top five guys, they’re not exactly raising their hand to fight me. I asked to fight [Paulo] Costa, but I asked to fight him, he wasn’t too interested in fighting me. I asked to fight [Darren] Till, he wasn’t too interested in fighting me. A lot of these guys. I even put my hand out there, I would have rematched [Robert] Whittaker. That fight was a long time ago. I’ve changed, he’s changed but these guys aren’t trying to fight me.
“I’ll sit back and embrace these matchups that they give me, guys with a lot of hype, guys that’s coming up. Guys that the fans feel can do damage and beat me up. I like that challenge. That type of stuff don’t bother me. I’m just ready to go out there and beat people up.”