Holly Holm: The One Hit Wonder of MMA
At UFC 208, Holly Holm came out on the losing end of the main event. It was the UFC’s inaugural women’s featherweight title fight. Despite previous claims of the UFC not adding a 145-pound division for the women, it finally happened. But then, Cris “Cyborg” Justino failed a drug test and was not able to participate in the bout. For Holly Holm, she failed in her bid to make history to be the first woman to hold two belts in two weight classes in the UFC. With the loss, Holm is now on an 0-3 run since she shocked the world and defeated Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in November of 2015. After this underwhelming stretch of fights for her, I’m going to present the argument that Holly Holm has become a one hit wonder in the world of MMA.
For starters, let me say this right off the bat. If Holm were to retire tomorrow, she still would’ve accomplished more than many other people in her field. Just because she might be a one hit wonder doesn’t mean she wasn’t successful. It just means she failed to duplicate the peak for her success at UFC 193. Holm was a dominant championship boxer and won many professional boxing fights and titles. Some men and women toil forever and never get their shot at UFC gold, let alone climb to the top of the mountain that she did. However, here I’m focusing on the MMA aspect of her career.
For a while, Holm was getting a lot of buzz as she was building her pro-MMA record. That reason being because women’s MMA was starting to get a lot more buzz after Ronda Rousey entered the field. And in Holly Holm, here was a former championship boxer who appeared to be making a successful transition to MMA. While Holm had been a successful boxer for years, she was also destroying people with headkicks and kickboxing strikes. It’s not a transition you often see in MMA, since boxers have spent so much time developing their hands, they aren’t as developed with their grappling or ground work. After the UFC finally brought women into the Octagon in 2013, Holm was starting to look like a nice prospect for the division along with a strong eventual match-up for someone like Ronda Rousey to eventually face.
While Ronda Rousey was building her legend as the baddest woman on the planet, it was starting to look like no one could challenge her. After she basically cleaned out the top five of her division, there were few fresh fights for her. That’s probably the main reason why the UFC opted to book her against Holly Holm rather than a third fight with Miesha Tate, who Rousey had already submitted twice. Holm was the former champion boxer, and she was also undefeated. What better way to give Rousey the latest notch on her belt and feather in her cap than another undefeated fighter; this one a champion of boxing. However, that didn’t happen. Despite the betting odds being heavily stacked against her, Holm pulled off the performance of a lifetime, and after a stunning headkick had toppled Ronda Rousey and become a new champion. It was one of the biggest upsets the sport had ever scene. No matter what anyone says, no one was predicting the next outcome. In fact, most everyone was debating about the logistics of if and when a Rousey/Cyborg fight could actually take place. Holm once again proved that odds and fight predictions can be often times meaningless when it comes to fight night.
Unfortunately for Holm, when it looked like she was poised to take Rousey’s place as the new face of women’s MMA, her hype train was derailed fairly quickly. At UFC 196, she was matched up against former title contender Miesha Tate. Despite the fact that many were overlooking Holm against Rousey, this was a fight where many were overlooking Tate. This was just a formality to give Holm her first defense on the way to an eventual much-desired rematch with Ronda Rousey. Besides, Rousey submitted Tate twice. Surely, the woman who unseated Rosuey could handler her, right? While Holm managed to hold off Tate and was up on the scorecards, in the final round, Tate latched on a submission and managed to put Holm to sleep. And just like that, with seconds to go in the fifth round, Holm had lost her title.
While losing her title in her first defense was surely disappointing, that’s not really the end of the world. That’s happened to a lot of great fighters and champions. Georges St-Pierre was fresh off his victory over Matt Hughes before running into one Matt Serra, who stopped GSP and pulled off another huge title upset. Luke Rockhold after having an incredible run at middleweight that saw him best Chris Weidman and become champion was knocked out by his longtime rival Michael Bisping; a man Rockhold had submitted previously. The point is that there is precedence for that. Elite fighters have bumps in the road. It’s a part of the sport. It’s the nature of the business.
But then Holm started to continue losing. Her next fight out, she lost a five-round decision to Valentina Shevchenko, and now she’s lost another UFC title fight to Germaine de Randamie. For Holm, it seems her success in MMA was very fleeting.
On a personal level, the post-bell shots notwithstanding, I scored UFC 208’s main event for De Randamie. More than anything, Holm just seemed to lack any type of aggression or killer instinct in the fight. Sure, she had her moments. She did score some good kicks that clearly did some damage. However, in the later rounds, I’m to even favor Holm for them because I don’t see just pushing your opponent against the fence with a dull clinch as an effective form of grappling.
Before Holm vs. Rousey, I picked against Holm for very specific reasons. Quite frankly, I was not impressed by Holm’s earlier fights in the UFC. She seemed to go into a panic mode when her opponents gave her a tough time or tried to push the pace. She definitely had some good technique and aspects of her game, but let’s be honest. Her first two wins in the Octagon against Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau were not exactly barn burners. While she was a dominant boxer, fighting in the UFC was a much bigger stage than anything she had ever had to face before, and it didn’t look like she was coping well mentally. Regardless, she got herself into a position to be selected for a title fight with Rousey, and she did her job extremely well. But more and more is that one fight with Rousey starting to look like an anomaly for her UFC career. That performance was probably the best performance of her career. But ever since that fight, she’s never looked that good. Undoubtedly she’s fighting tough opponents. However, when you define what makes a fighter elite, to me an elite athlete has to be able to perform at a high level on a semi-consistent basis. If Holm is elite, why is she wasting time pushing Germaine de Randamie up against the fence instead of trying to punish her with her striking and do some actual damage? Where was the sense of urgency against Shevchenko and De Randamie? Despite being an elite level boxer, in the first half of UFC 208’s title fight, De Randamie was able to repeatedly throw punches straight down the middle and find Holm’s face. An elite fighter has to perform on an elite level. And even if these losses are close or controversial, Holm has not looked elite lately at all.
In the aftermath of Ronda Rousey’s defeat, people were really too hasty in their judgements. Sure, Rousey may have overvalued her boxing and her striking and made some grievous errors. But the people who wanted to deride Rousey, her accomplishments and her opponents really had no idea what they were talking about. If all of Rousey’s opponents were trash and never good in the first place, and Holm was the first good opponent she ever faced because she was a boxer, then Miesha Tate never should’ve been able to become champion in the first place. MMA is a sport where time after time, it’s been shown it’s not exactly always about who is “better” on paper or who is paper overall. It’s about how their styles match up against one another, and that is an intricate game that’s hard to predict. For me, a fighter has to stand out as an elite by closing the gap and no matter their specialty can repeatedly overcome any type of potential weaknesses and overcome many different styles and difficult match-ups. So in the best fight of her career, Holm defeated an Olympic level judoka and submission specialist. However, right after that, she lost to a wrestler in Miesha Tate. And after that, she lost to a kickboxer and Shevchenko. And now again, she’s lost to a kickboxer in De Randamie. That’s not the resume of an elite fighter who is not a one-hit wonder.
In defense of Holm, one thing that probably should be taken into account is that Holm is 35 years of age. For a combat athlete, especially one that’s been fighting as long as Holm has, that’s a pretty advanced age. She began her career at about 20 years old when she made her pro boxing debut. That means she’s been fighting and training for the better part of two decades. The training and bouts take their toll eventually. Maybe these are merely the signs of her slowing down, but that’s just a speculative point.
Regardless, Holm’s recent performances have been a bit frustrating. It’s confusing why she seems to have these mental blocks except when she fought Ronda Rousey in front 54,000 people. Also, if Ariel Helwani doesn’t want her to be compared to Buster Douglas, then he should probably stop throwing that name out there. Maybe Buster Douglas isn’t the best comparison in Holm’s case considering all of her accolades pre-MMA, but saying the Douglas name is perpetuating that argument as well. Until next time.
Jeffrey Harris is 411mania’s resident Jack of All Trades and has covered MMA for the site since 2008. You can shoot him an e-mail at [email protected] or hit him up on Facebook. He also co-hosts the 411 Ground & Pound Radio podcast along with Robert Winfree. You can listen to the latest episode of the podcast in the player below.