After being taken down and held down repeatedly by wrestlers in their previous fights, both Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Kevin Holland vowed not to wrestle at all when they met Saturday in the main event of UFC Orlando at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
At one point early in the fight, they went down after a scramble and Holland had a chance to grab top position. Instead, he bounced up and wagged his finger, saying, “No wrestling.”
And for four unbelievable rounds Saturday, there was no wrestling, just striking of the highest order. It was an incredible back-and-forth fight that will be in contention for Fight of the Year, but Thompson’s varied striking game was the difference.
Holland appeared to injure his right hand early in the fight and without that weapon, he was at a serious disadvantage against an on-point Thompson. Thompson was raking him with straight left hands and kicks to the leg, body and head.
Thompson was pouring it on and with their man unable to defend himself properly with his right hand, Holland coach Bob Perez opted to stop the bout after the fourth round, giving Thompson the TKO victory.
It was a highly entertaining, classic battle with the fighters landing strikes using every appendage on their bodies.
Thompson, who turns 40 on Feb. 11, was determined to prove he’s still among the elites at welterweight. He was coming off losses to Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad, each of whom took him down and didn’t let him use his striking, and he was energized by facing a fighter with a striking style like Holland’s.
“The guy’s got reach for days, and I knew he was going to be hard to get on the inside,” Thompson said in the Octagon afterward. “I had to use my timing, my distance management, to get on the inside and, of course, good timing.
“My last few performances, I lost to grapplers. I wanted to show the UFC and the fans that I’m Wonderboy and I’m still here. You know, I feel like I’m 25, and I’m still in for the long haul.”
Holland, who looked sharp in the first round, was on the defensive for the most part after that. He took an increasing amount of punishment as the fight wore on and two of the three judges’ scored the fourth 10-8 for Thompson.
With him unable to use the right, it could have been dangerous in the fifth, so Perez made the wise move to stop it.
Holland was disappointed, but he got what he wanted.
“[Thompson was] a little faster than I thought, but [otherwise it was] definitely what I expected,” Holland said. “Hats off to Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, his pops and everybody over there in his corner. Wonderful team.”
And it was a wonderful night. It was a marathon day, and night, of fights, and the main event didn’t start until nearly 1 a.m. ET. Those who stayed up late were greatly rewarded.