During the UFC 266 broadcast last Saturday, one of the more unexpected beefs in MMA Twitter history erupted when middleweight Marvin Vettori started to go in on—of all people—commentator Paul Felder. Even pre-retirement, Felder’s lightweight status would’ve precluded them from meeting in the Octagon. It seemed extracurricular at best, and Kevin Holland wasn’t having it.
“Paul Felder, keep talking baby,” Holland tweeted. “It’s what we do.”
It’s certainly what Holland does. His penchant for trash talk—before, during and post-fight—runs a close second place to his skills in the Octagon. They don’t call him “Big Mouth” for nothing, and the fact that he was heckling his most recent opponent in Vettori was not a coincidence.
“Any time Marvin says something and I got the chance to say something back—whether I run the Twitter or someone else runs the Twitter—it’s all ok by me. It’s ‘F*** Marvin Vettori’ and ‘F*** Derek Brunson’ until the day we die.”
The two aforementioned middleweights account for Holland’s recent, uncharacteristic two-fight skid, and he’s not letting it go. But is it gamesmanship or actual venom?
“I got a little venom for all these guys; I don’t really care for none of them. None of them are my friends, you know what I mean?”
With Vettori in particular, the business feels unfinished.
“He’s young, I’m young...we’re somewhere down the line in each other’s future, whether it’s in the cage or somewhere else. Whatever.”
Those two losses obviously didn’t sit well with “Trailblazer,” not only for the obvious reasons, but also because it disrupted his cadence. Since competing on Dana White’s Contender Series back in 2018, Holland has averaged more than four fights a year ever since. But he understood that if he was ever to beat peers like Vettori and Brunson, he needed more wrestling tools in his toolbox.
“I never enjoy the status of sitting at home, two [losses], six months, not fighting…it sucks. But the wrestling had to be worked on and the wrestling has been worked on. So now we get to go back, answer some questions and hopefully stir up some new ones.”
To work on that wrestling, Holland paired himself with an unlikely ally: former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. Largely absent from the MMA sphere since his retirement, Hendricks was keen on helping a fellow Texan march closer to a championship.
“We went to Hendrickstan,” Holland says, as he affectionately dubbed their training sessions. “Everything clicks when you’re in Hendrickstan. You’re just wrestling so everything clicks together. I had a really, really good time. We focused on not getting taken down, we didn’t focus on taking people down.”
If you thought Kevin Holland couldn’t possibly become more confident, think again.
“I hear all these people talking ‘Can you really learn wrestling in six months?’ Shut the f*** up. I’m a f****** athlete, I can learn whatever. I’ll keep growing. If they don’t think I’ve grown enough now, wait until I’m done.”
Armed with his new weapons, Holland now turns his sights to Kyle Daukaus, his opponent in the co-main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Holland. In the 10-2 Daukaus, Holland not only sees a game opponent, but an exemption from his “venom” list.
“I think Kyle Daukaus is a wonderful opponent. I think the Daukaus family is a great family. I’m looking forward to doing some fun, fun things in there, but mad respect to the Daukaus family. I think the big brother is probably the better athlete, I think he’s phenomenally fast for a heavyweight. I think Kyle is good fighter as well, very tough, very durable. He has the ability to go forward. Kyle is a great guy, but at the end of the day, he’s stepping into a league he’s really not ready for yet.”
“Big brother” of course is heavyweight Chris Daukaus, who has a main event scheduled later this year with Texan Derrick Lewis. And despite their status as opponents, the men have actually become friends, even hanging out this fight week.
“We actually went to the grocery store together yesterday. Had a good time. After the big brother Daukaus fights Derrick Lewis, we can all become one big family. But until then, it’s just business. They’re a great group of guys.”
He also has nice things to say about the man fighting above him in the main event this Saturday, Thiago Santos. You already know the story: Holland performed admirably on the second season of Contender Series, but UFC president Dana White was put off by the endless in-fight banter by Holland (amplified by the quiet gym the fights took place in). He didn’t get the contract that night but got the call a couple months later when Santos needed a short-notice replacement at UFC 227. Santos would win the fight, but Holland hung in with him gamely for the full 15 minutes…and talked at him the whole time.
“I said something about Santa Claus and he proceeded to beat the crap out of me,” Holland laughs. “All I remember is a warm welcome from Thiago Santos into the UFC. Other than that, it was a fantastic night. I met some celebrities, got to fight in front of the boss once again. I got to show the whole world who Big Mouth truly was.”
“Every time we see each other it’s great energy, positive energy. He went to 205. I can’t seem to get up to 205 pounds, so that’s a rematch that probably will never happen. Thiago is probably the only whoopin’ I’ll accept like a pops.”
So if he gets his hand raised on Saturday, does that put Holland back in the hunt for a title?
“Champ? For sure, that’s easy. All I have to do is actually care.”
Ok. And how much are we caring these days?
“The caring level is pretty high,” he concedes. “I just never show you guys.”