Stephen Thompson still has life in MMA as he approaches his 40th birthday. Thompson and Kevin Holland composed a symphony of punches, kicks, knees and elbows in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Orlando, Florida on Saturday.
Thompson's fights have a tendency to be rather mundane. Opponents often employ wrestle-heavy tactics or are stifled by his decorated karate skills. Holland dove into the deep end, going blow-for-blow with Thompson and nearly getting the best of the two-time UFC welterweight title challenger.
Holland ate Thompson's best shots in Round 1 and fired back with twice the impact. A big right hand wobbled Thompson and forced a retreat to the fence. "Wonderboy" endured slicing elbows from Holland and while Thompson survived the exchange, he suffered welts and a cut over his left eyebrow. Thompson landed flush on Holland multiple times afterwards, including a combination that snapped Holland's head back, but Holland was remarkably unbothered.
Thompson fought more competitively in Round 2, catching Holland with dynamic head kicks that had little effect. A blitz of punches by Thompson finally stunned Holland if only for a moment. Despite the bout's competitive nature, Holland opted out of wrestling in Rounds 2 and 3. Holland took Thompson down but immediately invited Thompson back to his feet -- a decision that would later haunt him. The gesture was returned in kind by Thompson later in the fight when Holland slipped.
Thompson's confidence grew tremendously as the fight progressed. Holland was dealing with a damaged right hand -- which he revealed after the fight occurred in Round 1. Holland's corner reminded him it was an MMA fight and implored him to wrestle more. It was too little, too late, however, as Thompson shucked off multiple takedown attempts and punished Holland with strikes out of a video game: switch jump kicks, spinning wheel kicks and hook kicks all cracked against Holland's skull. Leg kicks further immobilized Holland as he leaned against the fence and tried to roll with Thompson's strikes. Thudding liver kicks in Round 4 forced Holland into retreat. Oddly, it appeared that referee Dan Miragliotta had waved off the fight but it turned out that Thompson caught Holland with an accidental punch to the groin.
In the closing moments of Round 4, Thompson finally grounded Holland and launched ground-and-pound but could not elicit a stoppage. Holland's corner conceded the fight between the fourth and fifth rounds as Holland could no longer punch with his right hand. The fight was officially ruled a Round 4 TKO via corner stoppage.
"He's tough as nails. Both of my hands hurt right now because of his hard noggin," Thompson told UFC commentator Daniel Cormier during his post-fight interview. "Kevin Holland is a beast. I knew I had to use my longest tools, my kicks, against his 81-inch reach.
"I'm out here for the long haul."