Welterweights Stephen Thompson and Kevin Holland promised to deliver a memorable affair in their five-round headliner, and they absolutely delivered, turning in a thrilling contest for as long as it lasted. In what's sure to end up on many "Fight of the Year" lists, Thompson ultimately walked away with a fourth-round TKO victory in the UFC on ESPN 42 main event, which aired on ESPN from Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
Holland was the aggressor to start, clearly willing to trade on the feet with his opponent, a noted striking specialist. An early clash of heads drew blood near Thompson's left eye, while Holland also absorbed a few heavy left hands in the early going. Nevertheless, Holland smiled and talked with his opponent as he moved forward and engaged, wobbling Thompson with a massive right hand. To his credit, Thompson battled through the adversity and continued to find a home for well-timed straight punches, but Holland walked through them all, seemingly unaffected, en route to claiming the round.
Thompson came out firing in the second, and the pace remained high as the pair exchanged punches and kicks in close quarters. Both men landed successfully, with heavy shots finding the mark from a variety of angles from the two creative strikers. Late in the frame, a scramble saw Holland score with a takedown, but he immediately backed away and returned to the feet, happy to engage Thompson in his preferred realm.
Holland teased Thompson verbally to start the third, asking him to "slow down," before the pair began exchanging again. Holland would again stumble into a takedown, only to back away and refuse to compete on the ground, where he would seemingly have the advantage. Holland remained the aggressor on the feet, leaping forward with punches and chopping at the legs, but Thompson found the mark frequently with straight left counters and acrobatic kicks. Thompson's face was the one that showed more visible damage, but he was clearly gaining momentum, and Holland seemed concerned with the state of his right hand as he walked back to the corner.
In the fourth, Holland moved forward quickly and inadvertently clashed heads again with Thompson, drawing blood from the nose. Referee Dan Miragliotta reset the fighters, and Thompson said he was fine to continue before ripping off a few devastating kicks to the body. As they moved to the clinch shortly after, Thompson landed a right hand to the groin, leading to a timeout that initially seemed as if the fight was waved off. However, replays showed a low blow, and they restarted the action shortly after, with Thompson immediately resuming his assault. Several high kicks landed clean, as did straight punches down the middle, dropping Holland late in the frame, though he was able to survive until the bell.
As Holland returned to his corner, however, he asked his corner to wave off the fight, which they did, granting Thompson a TKO victory. Judges had "Wonderboy" ahead at the time of the stoppage, 39-36, 39-37 and 39-36.
The 39-year-old Thompson (17-6-1 MMA, 12-6-1 UFC) snapped a two-fight losing streak with the result and said he believes he has plenty left in the tank moving forward.
"My last two performances, I lost to grapplers," Thompson said after the fight. "I wanted to show the UFC and the fans that 'Wonderboy' is still here. I feel like I'm 25. I'm still in for the long haul, and I've still got it."
Meanwhile, Holland (23-9 MMA, 10-6 UFC) certainly delivered big on entertainment value but ultimately suffered his second straight loss. Afterward, he admitted the right hand injury came quite early in the night.
"I think I hurt it in the first round, and after that, it was hurting, so it is what it is," Holland said.
UFC on ESPN 42 results include:
- Stephen Thompson def. Kevin Holland via TKO (retirement) – Round 4, 5:00
- Rafael dos Anjos def. Bryan Barberena via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 2, 3:20
- Matheus Nicolau def. Matt Schnell via knockout (punches) – Round 2, 1:44
- Sergei Pavlovich def. Tai Tuivasa via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 0:54
- Roman Dolidze def. Jack Hermansson via TKO (punches) – Round 2, 4:06
- Eryk Anders def. Kyle Daukaus TKO (punches) – Round 2, 2:45
- Phil Rowe def. Niko Price TKO (punches) – Round 3, 3:26
- Angela Hill def. Emily Ducote via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Clay Guida def. Scott Holtzman via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Michael Johnson def. Marc Diakiese via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Jonathan Pearce def. Darren Elkins via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
- Natan Levy def. Genaro Valdez via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Francis Marshall def. Marcelo Rojo via knockout (punches) – Round 2, 1:14
- Yazmin Jauregui def. Istela Nunes via TKO (punches) – Round 2, 4:06