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Derek Brunson silences Kevin Holland in clear decision victory

Kevin Holland talked to opponent Derek Brunson while the two were on the ground. He chatted with referee Herb Dean several times during the fight. And Holland even had a full-blown conversation between rounds with UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was watching from cageside.

But while Holland was yucking it up over 25 minutes, Brunson was the one actually winning the fight. Brunson took home a unanimous decision (49-45, 49-46, 49-46) triumph in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Holland had some moments on the feet, but for the most part, Brunson dominated the five-round fight with his wrestling and top control. Brunson landed a career-high five takedowns.

“I was so busy trying to punch him in the face in between him talking that I didn’t really pick up too much,” Brunson said in his postfight interview. “I just really wanted to hit him in the mouth while he was talking.”

Coming in, ESPN had Brunson ranked No. 9 in the world at middleweight. This was a fight for which the UFC positioned Holland, a surging up-and-comer, against Brunson, a veteran, in a litmus test for both. Brunson proved once again he is a top-tier middleweight, and afterward, he called out former title challenger Paulo Costa.

“I wasn’t really too excited about this matchup,” Brunson said of Holland. “I wanted a top-five [opponent]. They probably didn’t like my performance too much. So give me a top-five and see what happens.”

“[Nurmagomedov] gave me advice going into the fifth round, and then I got the takedown,” Holland said on the postfight show. “Very interesting.”

But an actual win, on the scorecards, was not to be for Holland. The judges obviously weighed Brunson’s fighting heavier than Holland’s talking. All three judges gave Brunson the first, second, third and fourth rounds. Judge Mike Bell scored the first round a 10-8 for Brunson.

“You’ve got to do better than that,” Brunson said of Holland. “That was pretty stupid. Work to get out of positions. You’re talking the whole time. I was gonna talk back to him during the fight, but was like this guy is just stupid. … I didn’t want to break his rhythm. Just let him keep doing his thing.”

Holland responded to criticism of his in-fight chatter, saying in an Instagram video, “Oh f—, we’re a little beat up. But never gonna stop talking. If you guys don’t f—ing like it? Deuces.”

Holland added afterward he might seek out a nutritionist and make the drop to welterweight, since he is a fairly light middleweight. He weighed 183 pounds for the 185-pound bout.

Brunson (22-7) has won four in a row, the second longest streak in the UFC middleweight division. In his previous fight, he toppled another prospect in Edmen Shahbazyan during a third-round TKO in August.

Brunson, a North Carolina native who trains out of Sanford MMA in Florida, sports a 13-5 UFC record but has not yet fought for a title. Those 13 UFC middleweight wins are tied for the third most in division history. Brunson, 37, owns wins over the likes of Lyoto Machida, Uriah Hall and Chris Leben.

Holland (21-6) tied the record in 2020 for the most UFC victories in a calendar year with five. The Texas native had won five consecutive coming in, with four of those by KO/TKO. Holland, 28, has won eight of 10 overall since his UFC debut loss to Thiago Santos in 2018.

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