Kevin Holland and Darren Stewart are on a collision course that’ll have them meeting this weekend for Fight Night 178. While their fight has been somewhat overshadowed by the rest of the ridiculously stacked main card, I believe it has potential to be one of the most interesting fights we’ll see at the event and quite possibly a dark horse for FOTN.
Kevin Holland first debuted for the UFC back in 2018 for UFC 227 in a fight against Thiago Santos, who was coming off a first-round knockout loss against David Branch not three months prior. This was before Thiago’s controversial decision loss against Jone Jones. While at the time he was known as a dangerous and powerful striker, his stock hadn’t yet skyrocketed the way it would when he fought his career-defining match just a year later.
Because of this, when Holland lost a unanimous decision to him, it was a dramatic dampener on his start with the company. Sure, he’d looked good at points, but could he really hang with the top of the division? And while his record of 13-3 with 12 finishes seemed impressive, who had he beaten that really mattered? (As it turned out, Geoff Neal, but few people really knew why that was a big deal back then.)
Holland then proceeded to prove the doubters wrong by winning five of his next six, only dropping one to a submission by Brendan Allen, who’s currently in a three-fight winning streak.
While he mainly seems to work as a long-ranged striker, his fights against Phillips and Di Chirico proved that he’s not afraid to work in the clinch, and his bout against Meerschaert (who’s fighting against Khamzat Chimaev this same weekend) allowed him to show a rather dangerous looking submission game on the ground.
Having said that, his main weapons are his legs, the sidekick and rear teep specifically: Holland uses these to keep his opponents at bay and zap their energy, or to lower their guard to make room for his right straight. The last one, in particular, you should watch out for; It’s what finished his most recent fight with Joaquin Buckley, and what led to the ending sequence against Geoff Neal back in his XKO days.
He also likes to slap people in the head. Not entirely sure what that’s about.
But the man across the cage from him is not going to be an easy matchup…
Darren Stewart is a long-standing veteran of the promotion, having debuted all the way back in 2016. While his initial run was fraught with disappointment (a win overturned into a no-contest, followed by three straight losses), he’s since managed to reinvent himself, dropping from light heavyweight to middleweight and refining his kickboxing to be more cautious and calculated. In this, Stewart has found a real winning strategy, currently being on a three-fight winning streak with the UFC.
When watching Stewart, the two main things that stand out about him are his impressive power and his ability to gauge distance. Every single strike Stewart lands is hard and damaging, and he’s light enough on his feet to move in and out of effective range before his opponents can retaliate. His fight with Bevon Lewis showed he can effectively outstrike even a longer fighter, while his most recent encounter with Maki Pitolo allowed him to demonstrate the full extent of his ability to physically dominate when up close.
Of the weapons in Stewart’s arsenal, the most remarkable is perhaps his jab. To say that the jab is not used enough in MMA would be an understatement, so seeing Stewart regularly go to it to score points and set up his right hand is a bit of a treat. It was great for scoring and keeping the shorter Deron Winn at bay and, along with his powerful leg kicks, it helped keep him ahead on the cards against Bevon Lewis.
Kevin Holland vs Darren Stewart Breakdown
While Holland comes into this fight as the favorite, he’ll find some stiff opposition in a tough, powerful and tactically sound Stewart, whose main goal will be to make himself harder to locate early on and close the gap so he can work his boxing.
This is where I believe the fight really gets interesting, because, in order to get close enough to use his hands, Stewart also needs to put himself in a range that allows Holland to engage in a clinch. Stewart has displayed some good grappling in the past, but the question remains as to whether or not he’ll effectively be able to work on the inside against Holland. If he does, then he might pose a serious threat, but otherwise, we might see him languish on the outside, where he’ll slowly get picked apart by the longer and more offensively varied striker.
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Featured Image: Mar 30, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kevin Holland smiles between rounds in his fight against Gerald Meerschaert (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Wells Fargo Arena. Holland won the fight. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports