Stephen Thompson and Kevin Holland are set to face off on Saturday night’s UFC on ESPN 42 main event.
It’s a fascinating welterweight clash between two talented strikers who have suffered from poor matchups recently. Holland steps back into the cage following his first-round submission defeat to Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279. Thompson returns after consecutive defeats to Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns last year.
Thompson is currently ranked #6 in the welterweight division. Holland is unranked but could leap past a bunch of fighters if he’s successful on Saturday night.
Read on for our Thompson vs. Holland predictions, staff picks, betting odds and analysis before the this weekend’s UFC main event.
- Stephen Thompson: +143
- Kevin Holland: -185
This is a very fun fight between two high-level martial artists. Thompson clearly wants to keep the fight standing and on paper Holland should test his takedown defense but the wildman he is, expect Holland to engage wherever the fight takes them. Wonderboy is probably the most well known as a karate specialist in MMA today and for the last half decade at least, he stands completely sideways utilizing his sidekicks and snap style kicks to great effect in frustrating his opponents and managing distance. Behind his kicks is tricky angular footwork that sets up his punches, and while he typically stands with his head erect, his use of footwork and angles acts as his head movement rather than slipping and weaving one would see a boxer use.
Holland has most success boxing but actually comes from a traditional martial arts background himself, namely kung fu. Range will be a fascinating aspect of this matchup as although technically Thompson’s style is made to utilize range, Holland will have the height and reach advantage and be one of the few who also utilize some traditional kicks at range, even if it is to a lesser extent. Kevin Holland makes use of a tricky low sidekick to the knee and attacking the knee has been a tool successfully used against Wonderboy in the past, to disrupt his movement and damage his base which is essential, it also sets up Holland’s hands as he will raise the lead leg and hop into range with his hands as well, making it difficult to predict which attack is coming from where as he moves in.
However, Wonderboy’s ability to prod the body and mix things upstairs with the lead leg causes a lot of hesitancy within his opponents and when they find their moment to burst in past teh legs they get caught with his intercepting punches. Holland often controls the lead hand by hand trapping, while he who controls the lead hand controls the jab, but Wonderboy’s jab comes from the lead leg, which makes Holland’s typical use of hand fighting less applicable. Therefore we may see a more reserved guard from Holland and Wonderboy making setups to mix between attacking the head and body.
Holland has the grappling advantage but he has to get past Wonderboy’s takedown defense which is very good, regardless of his most recent shortcomings against wrestlers. He has a great spatial awareness and a strong base so attacking him from body locks is difficult as he will normally base and post out in order to scramble back to his feet. However Holland is such a relaxed fighter don’t be surprised to see him attempt creative solutions, pulling guard, rolling for a leg etc. in order to mix things up. On the ground, Holland typically has a more patient method that does not always bode well in MMA, as he will sit in bottom attacking submissions but giving up control time, because Wonderboy will likely try to stand up in top position, Holland has the added benefit that if they are grappling and stuck grappling it’s probably by his terms meaning he can afford to work at his pace.
What it will come down to I believe is Holland’s ability to cut off the cage and Wonderboy’s ability to maintain his space when needed. Holland should look to chip away at the legs and at least threaten with takedowns in order to open up the head and Wonderboy needs to stay on his bike and punish missed punches by landing sniping counters of his own. I do believe that without the wrestling threat that were present in his last few fights, Wonderboy will come in with high confidence in his ability to stay disciplined and work the outside, in a similar fashion to what he did with Vincente Luque and Geoff Neal, making him the most valuable underdog on the card in my opinion.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson to win
Kevin “Trailblazer” Holland is a multifaceted and dangerous kickboxer with 19 finishes in his professional career. Holland’s personality, happy to talk throughout a fight, win or lose, tends to overshadow his truly high-level striking skillset. Holland has a long frame, versatile skills, and an ability to land power shots straight down the barrel with no wasted movement. Holland’s permanent move down to welterweight has accentuated his lengthy frame and only added to his advantage when striking at range. At his range, often longer than his opponent’s, Holland implements a stiff jab and sneaky front kick. His front kick snaps up and out from beneath his opponent’s eyesight which makes it difficult to see coming and even more difficult to defend. Holland can stick’n move with his jab and front kick without much worry about counter shots landing. When an opponent inevitably attempts to close distance, Holland is a fluid and powerful counter striker. His straight cross is lightning-quick and holds real knockout power. Frustrated opponents who look to crash distance are often met with an even more dangerous countershot in return. Beyond his lengthy striking and dangerous counter game, Holland has also proven challenging to hit clean. He has technical footwork and an awareness in the pocket that helps him avoid clean shots himself. The way most opponents have beaten Holland have been through wrestling. While wrestling is an unlikely game plan from Thompson, it is important to note that Holland’s takedown defense has significantly improved since he trained with Cormier at AKA and since he’s moved down to welterweight. His defensive grappling as also improved, both in scrambles and submissions. In fact, Holland even secured a submission win two fights ago. This fight is likely to take place exclusively on the feet, which is right in Holland’s wheelhouse.
Thompson, just like Holland, thrives in striking bouts and has struggled against dedicated wrestlers. “Wonderboy,” now 39, is famous for his karate background and the success he’s turned that background into in the UFC. Thompson stands uniquely, with a wide but light-footed base that sets him up for a variety of kicks and makes him challenging to hit cleanly. Just like Holland, Thompson is a master of distance and punishes foes for recklessly crashing distance. Because of his karate base, Thompson is adept at keeping opponents at the end of his kicking range with a wide variety of kicks, namely push and teep. If an opponent looks to counter those kicks without moving, they often hit air more often than not. If an opponent counters while moving into range, Thompson lets his hands go with a quick combination that tends to land before his opponent can finish entering the pocket. At his best, Thompson exemplifies the old boxing adage: hit and don’t get hit. Beyond his unique stance and striking experience, Thompson has extraordinary movement and cardio. If he does get into trouble, he can circle out, reset, and re-engage masterfully. The typical way opponents have beaten Thompson, outside of wrestling, is through patient counterstriking. If an opponent can strategically and surgically wait for Thompson to engage, they can find success through countering once he enters boxing range. This approach is much easier said than done, few have been able to out-strike “Wonderboy.”
I am truly excited for this fight. Both men have similar strategies in the cage: keep range and punish those who look to close it. However, Holland is more of a boxer who kicks, and Thompson is more of a kick-heavy karate fighter who also punches. The similarities but subtle differences between these two are fascinating. I side with Holland in this one. I think it will be razor-thin but Holland should be a step faster and land with more damage compared to “Wonderboy.” That slight edge in speed and power should sway the judges his way.
Pick: Kevin Holland to win
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is an elder statesman of the sport who has been able to fight with the same, but unique, style over his 10-year UFC career. Simply put, if you have seen Wonderboy fight during any moment of this tenured span, you can confidently anticipate he will fight the same in this bout. Consistency in the octagon is, inherently one of his strengths, particularly when fighting fighters who have potential but fail to meet the potential each time they enter the octagon – Kevin Holland as an example.
The other main attribute of his game is the combination of elite cardio, movement, distance management, and timing. While this laundry list of skills may seem odd to combine with saying it his is the main attribute, I assure you Wonderboy truly blends all seamlessly to fight a highly technical affair on the feet. Given he is a next-level striker, he often has to focus on defending against takedowns by his opponents, as if the fight is kept standing, very few can feel confident they will get the better of him. The benefit for him over the years is that he had impeccable takedown defense, and although it has worsened as he has aged, he still is no easy task to take down for any non-elite wrestler. The other benefit is that in this fight is that very few anticipate Holland having the desire to grapple, and even if he surprises the masses, Thompson has the technique to stop his attempts. Because of this, the fight should be a striking affair that greatly favors the renowned karate striker of Thompson.
Whereas Thompson uses elite striking intelligence to keep range and land a variety of wildly creative, but always technical strikes, Kevin Holland fights with danger. Whether the danger is inflicting serious power on his opponent or presenting dangerous opportunities to get taken down by his opponent – the main way he loses fights – Holland has little to no fear of the octagon.
Often, when a fighter fights with a demonstrated lack of fear, it is due to them clearly being “tough” or having a natural affinity for violence, but for Holland, he lacks fear because he simply has fun in the octagon. Whether he is praising his opponent for landing a powerful strike or playfully complaining about having to be on his back during the middle of a fight, Holland is by far and away the biggest talker in the octagon. While talking is not a trait able to be used to predict a particular fight outcome, it does showcase the freedom Holland fights with, and a fighter who fights this way, with no fear, is a danger to contend with. Parlay this with him having elite power with his 1-2 combinations given he understands how to land at the end of his punches – which maximizes power – and he is a threat to contend with. Moreover, Holland, similarly to Wonderboy, is someone who very few fighters would want to stay standing against for the entire duration of the fight, and given this fight is a likely striking affair, Holland will be quite happy to see if his elite power can beat the elite technique of Thompson.
I have been extremely excited to watch this fight from the moment it was booked given both men have faced trouble of recent note with defending talented grapplers, and each will greatly benefit from fighting a striking opponent. Moreover, each fights well at range but each does it far differently with Thompson using kicks and movement to continually maintain a safe distance while Holland quickly enters range with a dangerous 1-2 combination. As with many technique verse power fights, the more technical striker will likely be winning the fight, until they aren’t — TKO/KO and/or significant damage worn. This fight should be no different as Wonderboy will likely look quite advanced relative to Holland, but it takes just one clean shot to land for the tables to turn.
While I respect the power and strike timing of Holland, I am backing Wonderboy in this fight given the far greater arsenal of striking attacks he has at his disposal coupled with having more than enough experience avoiding power from dangerous strikers. And, because Wonderboy does not have fearful power, I expect him to win by decision.
Bet: Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson to win by decision