For four minutes back in November 2015, Holly Holm could do no wrong. She landed every punch and kick aimed at the face and body of ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey and then burst an ever-expanding bubble with one vicious strike to the head.
But that was then. This is now. Now, 19 months on from that star-making performance, Holm can seemingly do no right.
She’s 0-3 since routing Rousey. She’s lost the UFC women’s bantamweight title and lost, also, the chance to become a champion up at featherweight. She has been beaten on her feet and beaten on the ground. She has shed tears; asked herself, “Why me?”
This Saturday (June 17) she returns to the Octagon, and returns to bantamweight, in a fight against former Rousey victim Bethe Correia. It is, frankly, a fight Holm, at 35 years of age, cannot possibly afford to lose. Win and she’s back in the race – right back in it – but lose and, well, it’s hard to see an upside for a fighter who has long prided herself on dominance, first in the boxing ring, during a career which spanned eleven years, and then as a mixed martial artist.
Holm, 10-3, isn’t the losing type. It’s not something she does. Undefeated for seven years as a boxer, she also avoided defeat for the first five years of her MMA career. It was, in truth, all going so well until Miesha Tate, someone twice beaten by Rousey, managed to outlast Holm over five rounds in March 2016, eventually submitting her with a rear-naked choke when behind on the scorecards. If Holm’s upset of Rousey shocked the world, this wasn’t far off generating a similar response. After all, Tate, a serviceable and, on her day, very capable bantamweight, was expected to test Holm, sure, but few were picking her to become the new champion. That she did surprised everyone. It also ended Holm’s supposed reign of dominance before it had even begun.
The Holm reign didn’t feature a single successful title defence. Worse still, since the loss to Tate, Holm has dropped decisions to Valentina Shevchenko – set to face Amanda Nunes, the new champion, for Holm’s old belt in July – and Germaine de Randamie, the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight titleholder.
Interestingly, though, at no point has Holm been dominated, much less exposed. Nor has she been shown to be out of her depth. Moreover, her run, unsightly though it is, hasn’t even made people question the legitimacy of her win over Rousey; there are no suggestions it was a ‘fluke’ or that Holm simply had her night. We know she’s good. We know she can fight. Indeed, if 15 years of combat sports experience doesn’t prove that, nothing will. Holm has a pedigree the majority of her peers lack. She has a poise and composure they also look upon with admiration. Yet none of this alters the fact she has lost three in a row and is now in grave danger of being viewed, perhaps unfairly, as a one hit wonder who capitalised on the mainstream media’s desperate need to invent a female fighting superhero.
It sounds strange to suggest this, in light of her wealth of experience, but maybe the Rousey thing happened too soon to ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’. Deemed a mismatch on paper, it was, after all, only the tenth fight of Holm’s MMA career. Holm, by her own admission, said she still had a lot to learn going into the fight; back in 2014, she told Fighters Only: “I’m just going to take whatever is handed to me. That’s what I did in boxing and it worked out well for me. I don’t want to be a paper champion by fighting nobodies. But, at the same time, I don’t just want to be thrown straight into the fight of my life.
“If I had it my way, I’d definitely want to get my feet wet before taking that (Rousey) fight. But if that fight was in front of me, and the title was on the line, I would never say ‘no’. I’d train for that fight, believe in myself and give 100%.”
A year later, Holm got the fight. She won it, too. Won it with ease. Could’ve repeated the same result ten times out of time, you feel.
Yet now, with no wins since, we start to wonder if Holm was both the antidote to Rousey at the time – someone against whom all her flaws and insecurities would be apparent – and also, in fight number eleven, still very much in the developmental stages herself. A Rousey crusher, absolutely, just not yet ready to be a champion. Not well-rounded enough. Not experienced (in MMA terms) enough. These questions weren’t being asked of Holm at the time, probably because she’d just beaten what we were led to believe was the UFC’s answer to Mike Tyson, but they’re pertinent now.
With the women’s divisions still finding their feet, it will presumably be this way for a while. We’ll see fighters become champions in double-quick time but still essentially have to learn on the job; hype will be extinguished just as quickly as it is created; titles will change hands; champions will struggle for dominance. And we will say to ourselves, if a born winner like Holly Holm couldn’t keep hold of her belt, and found herself on a three-fight skid, what hope is there for the rest of them?