Kevin Holland scored his biggest win as a UFC welterweight this past Saturday, a feat he pulled off with a considerable handicap at UFC 287.
“Trailblazer” was on a two-fight skid heading into his fight with Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC 287, and worse, he had also suffered an injury to his right hand in his loss to Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson this past December.
The injury didn’t appear to compromise Holland, who went on to defeat Ponzinibbio by third-round knockout. But up until the day of the fight, he wondered if he’d be near 100 percent when he stepped into the cage.
“That was my first time putting on four-ounce gloves, that day of the fight,” Holland said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I put them on and threw a punch on the mitt, and I was like, damn, I don’t think it’s ready for four ounces. I was just, like, a little nerve-wracked about the hand, so I was just letting [UFC President Dana White know after the fight]. I was like, ‘I didn’t think it was going to work, but it did.”
The performance put Holland right back on track, with the vet earning a 3-2 mark since dropping down to 170 pounds and beating a veteran who previously had a number next to his name in the UFC’s official rankings. All of Holland’s UFC wins at 170 pounds have come via knockout or submission.
According to Holland, he required surgery shortly after the Thompson fight, and afterward, training with one hand was the norm up until a few weeks before UFC 287.
“I didn’t approve for the hand to work until, like, [March 24], like completely cleared,” Holland said. “So I was like, mainly work one hand. I was able to use the big gloves. When I got cleared, I didn’t think it was completely ready to be just smacking like that, so I was like, let’s hope by fight night it will be ready.
“We just figured we’d give it a shot then and if it wasn’t ready, we’d just go with a different game plan. The game plan was to use the jab a lot and the jab worked, so I was happy.”
Holland joked about speaking to his mother before the fight and ignoring her advice to just call the whole thing off. He later added she didn’t seem concerned in the slightest once the fight was over.
Still, Holland had to take a focused approach to fighting the more experienced Ponzinibbio with one hand hampered, and he credited his creativity with helping him get the win.
“I just knew I didn’t really want to use the right hand, so I was just making sure I stayed keyed on using the jab and using the lead hook and trying to get my kicks off,” Holland said. “He was doing a good job of checking the low kicks, just turning the shin on the outside and stuff like that. Just trying to be creative with the guy.
“He’s a vet. F****** 30 and 6 going into that fight, so it’s like, dude’s been clever, he’s fought a lot of good guys.”
There’s no telling what a third straight loss would have done for Holland’s career prospects, and he admits he was feeling the pressure. Fortunately, having to rely more on his offhand turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“It was good to go out there, work one-handed,” he said. “Back was against the wall, felt like a little bit. Couple of people change on you a little bit when you’re down. It always sucks to drop two. It isn’t the first time I’ve dropped two in my career, so it’s not like it was brand new news to me or anything like that. So I was like, hey, nothing new, just don’t got both hands. We’ll still do it with the left, I think I’ll do pretty good with the left.
“My dad’s actually left-handed, so he was always telling me, ‘It would be good to learn how to use your left.’ He was like, ‘Your left hand will become your new best friend.’ Sure enough, it did its job.”