TGIFighting: If Kevin Holland Wins Saturday, He'll Face Israel Adesanya Next

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 19, 2021

Kevin Holland
Kevin HollandGregory Payan/Associated Press

Welcome to TGIFighting. This is the column we've been doing on Friday mornings over the past several weeks, just with a different name. Here we'll scour the sport's landscape, preview upcoming cards, tell interesting stories and, if at all possible, have fun. Let's get it on.

If Kevin Holland Wins Saturday, He'll Be Israel Adesanya's Next Opponent

Who was the MMA Fighter of the Year in 2020? Israel Adesanya? Deiveson Figureido? (That's who we took.) 

Other examples are out there, but in the eyes of at least some important observers, that fighter was Kevin Holland.

Before 2020, Holland was a fighter more known for his almost incessant trash talk than his fighting. But after the year had come and gone, he had gone a remarkable 5-0, culminating in a spectacular knockout of Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza while Holland was on his back. The win tied the record for most UFC wins in a year.  

Submission Radio @SubmissionRadio

Kevin Holland: “I had a dream about this” Couple of seconds later 👇 #UFC256 https://t.co/L64l7iONq9

Now he hopes to keep it rolling against Derek Brunson in the main event of UFC on ESPN 21. If he thought 2020 was a good year, maybe he should wait for 2021 to play out.

Bold prediction: If Holland can beat Brunson, he'll jump the line at middleweight and receive the next shot at champ Adesanya. Allow me to explain.

Brunson is No. 7 on the official UFC middleweight rankings, while Holland is 10th. The winner will vault into the title picture at 185 pounds, where champion Israel Adesanya is in need of fresh meat. It's a fight Holland continues to spoil for on social and traditional media, essentially right up to this very moment. 

MMA Junkie @MMAjunkie

With defeats in boxing, kickboxing and MMA, Kevin Holland (@Trailblaze2top) labels Israel Adesanya "a true loser." #UFCVegas22 | Full interview: https://t.co/B1hfEMhSK9 https://t.co/IHjxI3YUbq

Saturday's event will air on ESPN, giving Holland a higher stage and a louder microphone than he's ever had before. What will he do with it? Will he call out Adesanya? What do you think? He already does it 100 times a day. If he did it, would Adesanya accept?

Well, what else does Adesanya have going on at 185 pounds? Darren Till (No. 4) and Marvin Vettori (No. 5) fight April 10 on ABC, so the next title shot might go to that winner. But with all respect both to the very charismatic Till and to Vettori, who gave Adesanya real trouble in their original bout in 2018, there's not a lot of heat around either of them and the champ. 

If Holland can do something good on Saturday, it might make him the next challenger. The heat is already strong. All Holland has to do is strike a match.


The UFC Jumped the Gun on Crowd Returns

I was surprised this didn't get more attention from the MMA media. The UFC announced Monday that, starting with its April 24 card in Jacksonville, it will allow full crowds back to its events. 

The card, UFC 261, will certainly draw fans, with the main event placing dominant welterweight champ Kamaru Usman in a rematch with the extremely popular but seemingly overmatched Jorge Masvidal, whom Usman steamrolled in their original meeting not even a year ago. Its appeal is more one of entertainment than close competition, but it'll draw a crowd nonetheless.

danawhite @danawhite

WE ARE BACK!!!!!! #UFC261 April 24th. Jacksonville, FL. FULL CROWD. https://t.co/5dy7wb4OWE

We shouldn't be surprised by the decision. UFC brass has been angling for an ASAP return to full capacity for quite a while now, and the company was one of the first major sports leagues to resume limited operations following last spring's lockdown. (None of those organizations have made any move to bring back full crowds.)

We should also remember the UFC doesn't have any magical formula or inside information here. The secret to these decisions is simply the UFC's willingness to run the proverbial red lights. That's why, even as they start tearing tickets again, they'll have to do so in Florida, Texas and other markets that have been similarly willing to ignore public health warnings in favor of economic considerations. 

What follows is pure speculation, and the UFC would obviously never come right out and say this, but you have to wonder whether that sweet, sweet gate revenue is part of the calculus here. Just like you had to wonder about their decision in 2020 to ramp up events and the attendant testing of otherwise healthy people, even as governments and emergency rooms struggled to find sufficient tests for acutely sick patients.

If this was really about getting back to normal and doing a good deed for the fans, why not have discounted or free tickets? It's great for everyone and, to be frank, would be excellent PR. But don't hold your breath.

We appear to be past the most serious point of the pandemic, but we're not out of the woods yet, and the United States wouldn't be the first country to see cases spike drastically in a second or even third wave after distancing measures were relaxed. Will these be super-spreader events? Who knows? Regardless, the UFC is playing with fire, or rather a deadly virus, once again.

Will these be super-spreader events? Who knows? Not the UFC. Regardless, the UFC is playing with fire, or rather a deadly virus, once again.


Enforce the Rules, Ref

Every so often, an eye poke will change the complexion or outcome of an MMA fight. Such was the case last weekend when Leon Edwards laid an absolutely brutal eye poke on Belal Muhammad in the opening seconds of the second round of their main event at UFC Fight Night 187, leading to a no-contest ruling.

Edwards said the eye poke was inadvertent and apologized, which, fine. This one was clearly over the minute it happened. There was no way Muhammad was going to be able to continue. Not to wallow in it, but you very rarely see a professional MMA fighter in as much visible discomfort as Muhammad was.

Referee Herb Dean issued a warning, but the matter was taken out of his hands when the no-contest happened. Interestingly, though, it was in his hands, just like it's in the hands of all referees when the fight is actually happening. 

Referee Herb Dean in 2016 after Nate Diaz defeated Conor McGregor
Referee Herb Dean in 2016 after Nate Diaz defeated Conor McGregorEric Jamison/Associated Press

How many times have we seen referees, like frustrated parents, issue warning after warning about poking the eye, kicking the groin, grabbing the fence, grabbing the gloves, grabbing the shorts and so on. The warnings get slightly sterner sometimes, but it has to get to a pretty extreme place for the refs to start deducting points.

Plenty of fans talked in the aftermath about fixing those distinctive fingerless gloves. That's not a bad idea, should such an innovation exist, but it wouldn't be needed if the referees simply enforced the rules that were on the books. If refs made a pointno pun intendedto start taking points, fighters and their camps would focus on avoiding it. In other words, the risk of a fight-altering punishment from the referee is outweighed by the rewards of, you know, doing it, or at least not caring.


Walkout Song of the Week

I'm a sucker for Johnny Cash. Gregor Gillespie fights in the co-main event Saturday, and if he comes out to what he's come out to before, it will be "Ain't No Grave." And I'm fine with that. I like my Cash heavy and slow.