Saturday night at UFC 196, a champion will enter the octagon for their first fight since capturing coveted UFC gold. They emphatically dethroned the champ that many fans viewed as unbeatable.
If you think this is featherweight champion Conor McGregor, you’re technically correct. But everything has been about the brash Irish fighter lately.
This is about women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm (10-0, 3-0 UFC). The undefeated former pro boxer will take on longtime WMMA mainstay Miesha Tate (17-5, 4-2), whose only UFC losses came to former champion Ronda Rousey and former title challenger Cat Zingano.
Somewhat lacking what Rousey offered in terms of talking and selling a fight, Holm is certainly not lacking in the talent department. At UFC 193, Holm systematically dismantled Rousey, ending “Rowdy’s” title reign with a perfectly timed left head kick. For most, this event came as a shocking surprise. But based on her pedigree, Holm always had what it took to get this far and in my opinion, she has what it takes to become the true face of WMMA.
In the seven fights prior to her UFC debut, Holm dispatched of six opponents by way of KO/TKO. Underwhelming in her first two UFC contests, decision victories over Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau, the 34-year-old seemed like she may not have been ready for the champion who was destroying opponents in less than one minute with unmatched ease. But Holm proved her capabilities on Nov. 14, 2015, completely dictating the fight from the opening bell.
Holm’s precision striking stifled Rousey early on. Rousey’s frustration grew and patience dwindled as she failed to land strikes and to hold down “The Preacher’s Daughter.” At one point, Holm’s movement had the former champion falling to the canvas, looking utterly outmatched and confused. All of this led to the head kick that is forever etched in the minds of MMA fans.
Yes, Holm doesn’t have what Rousey brought to the table in terms of marketability–I certainly haven’t seen Holm on the silver screen to this point. But marketability can be worked on and improved throughout a career; talent is harder to groom. Thankfully for Holm, she has all the talent in the world and is constantly expanding her game and taking it to new heights–this is to be expected under the tutelage of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.
The question has always been this: What will Holm do against a top-notch grappler? Well we definitely saw what she can do against a judo specialist, albeit a punch-happy judo specialist. But how will she handle the wrestling of Tate, who was formerly, and fittingly, nicknamed “Takedown”? Holm has handled takedown attempts well in the past but they came from mostly lower-tier competition. Questions like this make this fight a must-see.
So all I’m asking is this: Don’t overlook the co-main event. Sure, the main event features an outspoken champ who dethroned one of the greatest featherweights ever in a mere 13 seconds. And yes, he’s facing a fighter in Nate Diaz who is as entertaining in the octagon as he is when questioning McGregor’s “touch butt” training techniques.
But Holm is arguably one of the best talents this sport has ever seen. Not many fighters come equipped with the professional boxing background she does that includes 33 wins and only two losses. And as she becomes more comfortable in the limelight, maybe her personality will shine through. For now, we will just have to appreciate her crisp kicks and punches that are almost unparalleled in WMMA today.
Before you try to take a nap before the main event or make another quick beer run, sit down at that sports bar or in your recliner, and watch the continued evolution and masterful work of one of MMA’s next great stars–Holly Holm.