Holly Holm: The Superstar That Never Was

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Will Holly Holm Reach the Zenith of MMA Glory Again?

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Before facing Ronda Rousey in the main event of UFC 193, Holly Holm was unknown to most MMA fans back in 2015. Fight junkies saw Holm as just another girl that Rousey would beat up or maybe – and more likely – submit via her signature armbar.

During the weigh-ins, in a packed Etihad Stadium, in Melbourne, Australia, Holm came out first, donning a black zip up hoodie that she removed as she stepped onto the scale. After a few seconds, Joe Rogan enthusiastically yelled, “134 for the challenger!”, confirming that Holm had made the required weight.

Holm’s blank face turned into a subtle smile as she walked off the scale and approached UFC President Dana White to shake his hand. What followed was a loud pop from the Australian crowd when Rogan announced that Rousey is next to step onto the weighing scale. Based on the crowd’s reaction, even a blind person would be able to identify who the star of the event was.

Rousey wasted no time; she unzipped her Reebok hoodie, dropped her track pants, and straight to the scale she went. Rogan announced that she too is at 134 pounds. Rousey – using her intimidation tactics – went trudging down from the scale, past White, and in front of Holm’s face as if she wanted the fight to happen a day earlier.

But Holm is no pushover, she would not let Rousey impose her dominance. The challenger shifted to her southpaw stance. And as White was trying to separate the two women to stop them from hurting each other – before they are allowed to actually hurt each other – Holm’s right fist grazed Rousey on her left jaw.

The oohs were very much audible from the Aussie crowd from watching the sequence of mild tension, as if they were saying, “This Holm chick’s gonna have her ass whooped.”

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Slaying the Legend

When Holly’s left foot connected with the champion’s jaw, everybody lost their minds. For the first time, Rousey looked like a mortal in the Octagon; the place where she turned herself into a goddess in everyone’s eyes. Everyone’s except for Holm’s.

After a first round in which Rousey was outclassed by the challenger, something unexpected was witnessed by the whole world. In the 4:03 mark of the second round, referee Herb Dean was forced to stop the fight, marking the end of Rousey’s reign.

No one believed in Holm. Not the fans. Not the fight experts. And certainly not the Vegas odds-makers who pegged her as the +1250 underdog.

The UFC women’s bantamweight title was strapped onto the waist of “The Preacher’s Daughter”, as Melbourne bore witness to the coronation of the new queen of the cage. This, however, is a reign that would not be as iconic as the crowning.

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One Hit Wonder?

Holm’s first title defense was against Miesha Tate, a fighter who was dispatched by Rousey twice – first in Strikeforce, then in the UFC. In theory, defending against Tate should be a piece of cake – or cupcake – for the new top female bantamweight of the Octagon.

But Tate was anything but an easy fight for Holm.  As Tate scored multiple takedowns on Holm, she was exposing the new queen’s weakness in front of her recently conquered kingdom. And as the rounds progressed, Holly’s time in the spotlight was looking like it would be short-lived.

In the final round of the co-main event for UFC 196, Tate successfully took the striker’s back and slapped on a clean rear-naked choke which forced the champ to tap, with 3:30 seconds remaining in the fight.

It was downhill for Holm’s career from that point. She was featured in the main event of UFC Fight Night in July 2016 against Valentina Chevchenko. After five rounds, Chevchenko took the fight via unanimous decision.

Holm’s next outing was another title shot, this time, for the vacant title of UFC’s newly formed featherweight division, which critics claimed was created to be Holm’s playground. It turned out not to be the case, however, as Germaine de Randamie came out of the bout as the new featherweight titleholder in February 2017.

Just short of two years after her historic statement of a victory against arguably one of sport’s most iconic figures, Holm slipped back to a place where she once was back in 2015 — away from the spotlight and into irrelevancy.

Revival

After stringing together three consecutive losses, Holm found some form of a re-ascendance when she engaged fellow striker Bethe Correia in the main event of UFC Fight Night Singapore last June.

The battle of the two stand-uppers started out slow as both Holm and Correia were waiting for their opponent to make the first move during the opening moments. The jeers and boos from the audience were audibly rising as they were not seeing the fireworks they were expecting out of the two top female strikers of the league.

By the midpoint of the second round, Holm started pushing the pace and landed her shots with more precision and confidence. As Holly’s aggression noticeably increased, so did the enthusiasm of the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Correia made a fatal mistake in the third round. Showcasing her massive confidence, Bethe shrugs off a left body kick that Holm landed, as if telling her opponent that she did not feel it. In the 4:04 marker of the third round, the brash Brazilian extended her hands and signaled for Holm to come towards her, daring Holm to take a shot.

Unfortunately for “The Pitbull”, Holm took the invitation and did exactly as she asked.

The former champion’s left foot met Correia’s forehead and down she went, looking like a freshly chopped timber. A few more punches to the downed Correia secured the stoppage for Holm. Dan Hardy shouted from the commentator’s desk, “The Ronda Rousey head kick comes back!”, as the victor celebrated by circling the Octagon with an unsure expression on her face – in typical Holly Holm fashion.

UFC Fight Night: Holm v Correia

Absolution

Before Rousey’s mythical run as champion was stopped, the money match that the MMA world was buzzing for was Rousey vs Cris Cyborg. This mega-bout would not come to fruition, though, as Cyborg was more busy fighting with her promoters than doing the fighting inside the cage.

Come UFC 219, Holm can accomplish a feat that no other woman could ever achieve. Holm can be the only person to hold a victory against both Rousey and Cyborg, who are arguably two of MMA’s most notable women.

More importantly, a victory for Holm would allow her to dig herself out of the grave of a career. Holm would be relevant again, maybe even claim another title reign – the first two-division female titlist in the UFC.

Just before the year ends, Holm will have the chance to redeem herself come the 30th of December. Vanquishing Cyborg will affirm what MMA fans already know: Holm is talented. However, talent does not translate to box office success in the sport. Should Holm beat Cyborg, will she be the next female flagship fighter of the UFC? Only the MMA gods know.

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Rafael Bandayrel is a self-confessed nerd who happens to love MMA. Yes, nerds watch sports these days. What a time to be alive.

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