In an electrifying kickoff to the main card of the UFC 291 event, welterweights Michael Chiesa and Kevin Holland squared off in a captivating faceoff. This marked Chiesa's return to the Octagon after a hiatus stretching back to October 2021.
Nicknamed "Maverick", Chiesa had stepped away following two consecutive defeats, and a nagging back injury added to his woes. On the other hand, Kevin Holland, whose performance throughout the hiatus period was notable, proved his mettle in this event.
The night was indeed his, as Holland dominated Chiesa, seizing victory by stoppage in the first round.
Chiesa's Struggles, Holland's Triumph
The early stages of the fight clearly showcased the effects of Chiesa's prolonged absence.
Holland's sharper edge, honed by consistent activity, seemed to give him the upper hand. As "Maverick" faced Holland's onslaught, it became increasingly apparent that his hopes of winning hinged on taking the fight to the ground.
However, Holland, known for his adept striking, surprised many by displaying a drastic improvement in his takedown defense. Despite Chiesa's desperate attempts, Holland remained unflappable. In an impactful moment midway through the round, Holland landed a knee strike on Chiesa in the clinch.
Even as Chiesa mounted another attempt at a takedown, Holland easily rebuffed the double-leg move. Not content with just defending, Holland upped the ante, managing to lock in a D'arce choke—a move rarely expected from him against a renowned grounder like Chiesa.
Rising Star and Fading Veteran
There are not many who envisioned the 30-year-old Holland "submitting" a grounder master like Chiesa. Yet, Holland's victory, showcasing a steady improvement in his game, makes it his second consecutive win following a knockout victory against Santiago Ponzinibbio earlier this year.
With his triumph over the 12th ranked Chiesa, we can anticipate seeing Holland within the UFC's top 15 welterweights soon. On the flip side, the 35-year-old Chiesa, with his third consecutive loss, presents a stark contrast. Questions now linger around the future of this veteran, and just how much more he can contribute to the UFC.