While Holland spent a lot of time talking to Brunson during the fight—even asking former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for advice between rounds—he ultimately couldn’t stay off his back, which is where he spent the majority of 25 minutes.
Prior to this setback, Holland had behaved much the same way while finishing four of his last five opponents but the trash talk didn’t seem to bother Brunson, who stayed composed while running up the scorecards to claim the victory.
Afterwards, UFC President Dana White criticized Holland’s performance, not to mention his constant antics during the fight.
“I think that was a mental breakdown,” White told Yahoo! Sports after the event. “The only other thing I saw like it was [in boxing] when Lennox Lewis fought that guy [Oliver McCall] who kept his hands at his side and was crying.
“I don’t know what he was doing. I think he might not have been able to handle the pressure and just broke mentally. I haven’t seen anything like that.”
In addition to his mid-fight conversation with Nurmagomedov, who was sitting cageside at UFC APEX, Holland was addressing White as well and that only further exacerbated the UFC president, especially given what he was watching unfold in the octagon.
“He wasn’t b*tching about anything,” White said. “He thought everybody in here was his friend and he was just out having some fun.”
Despite White’s comments towards Holland after his performance, Brunson disagreed that the talking and antics really played any part in the outcome.
Instead, Brunson was quick to point towards his dominant wrestling showcase where he took Holland down repeatedly throughout the fight and never really allowed him to get off the mat until a round was finished.
“No, he just couldn’t stop the takedowns,” Brunson said about Holland at the post-fight press conference. “It’s funny. He kept presenting his hips. He’s a guy who’s very explosive, likes to run in but he’s long so he kind of gets away with it at times. So he kept presenting his hips, and he was there for the taking down.
“Dana White’s one of these guys, he’ll be upset with you, I’ll come out the next fight and knock a guy out and he’ll be happy again. It’s all good. I went [against] [Edmen] Shahbazyan and finished the kid last fight and I didn’t get a bonus for that fight. Main event. Finished him. Nobody was too pleased with that. So it is what it is. I come out here to fight. Every fight can’t be pretty but I’ve been here for a long time. This division was kind of built on my back. Me with these crazy fights so it is what it is.”
For anyone to say that Holland was acting bizarre or that his antics were something he suddenly introduced in his first main event, it’s possible they haven’t been watching him compete for the past year, where talking to his opponents during the fight became a staple of every performance.
The outcome may have been different, but Brunson argues Holland was very much still the same.
“That’s what Kevin Holland do,” Brunson said. “He talked the whole time. Anybody can change the narrative.”
For all the ways they clashed over social media and through interviews leading in the main event at UFC Vegas 22, it seems Holland and Brunson can definitely agree on at least one subject now that the fight is over.
“Never gonna stop talking,” Holland said in a post made on Instagram after the main event. “If you guys don’t f**king like it, deuces.
“I’m gonna be me [till] I die. Never said I wanted to be the champ. I said I wanted to have a good time and that I did. On to the next.”