Kevin Holland isn’t from Philly, but talk to the 26-year-old UFC middleweight for just a few minutes, and it becomes apparent there’s something familiar about him. Holland may not have been born and raised here, but Philly is in his blood. Literally.
“I’ve still got family in Philadelphia,” Holland told PhillyVoice. “My whole dad’s side of the family — Philly boys from birth, Philly boys ’til the day they die.”
Holland grew up in California, but a trip to Philadelphia to meet his dad’s side of the family back in 2009 not only helped him learn about his roots, it also helped him fall in love with mixed martial arts.
“Back in the day, I was growing up, I didn’t have my dad’s side of the family around,” Holland said. “They wanted to, but they were just so far away in Philadelphia. I lived in California, so that’s a far trip. I didn’t really know them, so I wanted to go out there. You get older — I was 16 years old — I’m like, I’m pretty grown. And they asked me to come out. I was doing martial arts at the time, and had only been doing it for like six months. I kind of knew what the MMA stuff was, but I wasn’t super into it.
“I had just ordered UFC 100 — it was like the first fight I ever ordered. I was all into GSP [George St-Pierre] and stuff. I saw he had a little tattoo on his chest and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get a tattoo on my chest too.’ I was like, GSP’s the man. Then I saw Brock Lesnar was going to fight Frank Mir and thought there’s no way the WWE guy is going to win. So, I just wanted to watch this. Next thing I know, my dad’s people hit me up and are like, ‘You coming to Philly? We’ll hook it up [for UFC 101] in Philly.’
Everybody on Facebook is doing the ’10 Year Challenge’ right now, so f**k it — here’s my 10 Year Challenge, from the crowd to inside the cage whoopin’ ass. To me, that’s big time.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. I’ll go to the fight.’ So, they took me to the fight, and that was it. That was a wrap. When I seen Silva dodging those punches, back-stepping, knocking Griffin down, I was like holy crap.”
Holland was hooked.
“Yeah, I heard they flipped a car over that night,” Holland said when asked about the atmosphere at the then-Wachovia Center that night back in the summer of 2009. “I loved it. It was amazing, the energy that night. People were screaming and going crazy, but when [Anderson] Silva dropped [Forrest] Griffin, it was so wild. My uncle was asleep in the crowd most of the night because he didn’t really know what it was all about, but when that fight came on, he was up, alert and aware.
“I think at that moment, everyone fell in love with it. Like, ‘Yeah, this is it. This is something that somebody in our family needs to do.’ And I’m just happy I’m the man.”
Now, a decade later, Holland is hoping to return to South Philly to bring his story full circle. He wants a spot on the recently announced UFC Fight Night card in Philadelphia in March. He really, really wants it.
And with Philly guys like Eddie Alvarez, who is no longer with UFC, and Paul Felder, who is already scheduled to fight James Vick on Feb. 17 in Brooklyn, unavailable to fight in their hometown, Holland seems like a slam dunk for the Philly card.
“It’d be nice to fight in front of the Hollands, because when I first met them, it showed me where my warrior side comes from,” Holland said. “More so, just fighting in Philadelphia 10 years after [going to my first UFC event there]. Everybody on Facebook is doing the ’10 Year Challenge’ right now, so f**k it — here’s my 10 Year Challenge, from the crowd to inside the cage whoopin’ ass. To me, that’s big time.”
That would certainly be a hell of a story.
“I’ve only been [to Philly] a couple times, man,” Holland added. “I’ve been wanting to go back for the past few years. Something ain’t been allowing me to get there, but maybe this is the time. Maybe this is why I’ve been waiting.”
Most recently, Holland (14-4-0) secured a submission win over John Phillips in Beijing in late November and wants to get back in the cage as soon as possible. One of the more active UFC fighters, Holland hopes to get five or six matches in 2019 and climb into the top five middleweight rankings. As Holland said, “I like to fight.”
A big first step could come in late March, assuming UFC president Dana White gives Holland what he’s asking for: a spot on the card in Philly.
“Man, I keep calling out this Darren Stewart guy, but I just saw he had a baby, so, he probably doesn’t want to get his ass whooped right now,” Holland said, flipping into full-on promoter mode. “Any bum will work. But, at the same time, he might want to come get his ass whooped. He might need the check — got to feed the little ones, right?
“It really doesn’t matter. I’ll take Darren Stewart. I’ll take this Ian Heinisch kid that was running his mouth not too long ago. Dude, I’ll take Eryk Anders — everybody keeps fighting Eryk Anders these days. Everybody’s beating that bum up. It doesn’t matter. Whoever they give me, I just want to do that 10 year challenge. It’s going to a ‘W’ regardless.
“I was winning when I was in the crowd watching one of the most historic UFC events of all time and I’ll be winning when I’m in the cage making history. Either way, it’s a ‘W.'”
And, if Holland fights as well as he talks, it’s a “W” for the Philly crowd as well.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin
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