Ever since the introduction of a UFC women’s bantamweight division in 2013, the popularity of that division has mostly revolved around one name. That name is Ronda Rousey, the inaugural UFC women’s bantamweight champion.
For almost three years, Rousey was lauded as the second coming of a division that presumably just had no chance in competing against her. The narrative was clear: there’s nothing anybody could do to beat her. She’s absolutely impeccable in every martial art imaginable, whether it be judo, jiu-jitsu, boxing or whatever else comes to mind. That was the general sentiment shared by most in the mainstream.
Not only did this status make Rousey seem invincible, but her reputation in pop culture grew as an absolute superstar. Ultimately, people had to come to the default conclusion (because she kept winning) that anybody who has a shot at Rousey is going to have to be someone that brings something new to the table.
Enter Holly Holm, a world-class, 16-time boxing champion with the kind of striking talent that has never been seen from any female competitor in the UFC. Before taking on Holm at UFC 193, Rousey had to face Brazilian striker Bethe Correia, where the stand-up skills of the judoka were being touted as if she was the world-class striker. She even received comparisons to the likes of world champion boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Many people actually started to buy into these comparison, thanks, in large part, to the hype coming from the media talking about it and feeding the beast.
Nevertheless, Rousey’s fight with Correia lasted just 34 seconds. The two fighters went berserk, staying in the pocket and just throwing punches until one of them went down. Eventually, it was Correia that suffered the defeat via knockout, marking Rousey’s 12th straight victory (and sixth title defense) and leaving her to remain undefeated in her MMA and UFC career.
Meanwhile, Holm’s career in the UFC wasn’t nearly as exciting, but the striker’s talent was on display. It just was not in the spotlight as much, especially since she wasn’t knocking out opponents like she had in the past. She won her first two fights in the UFC by decision, but this was after going on an absolute tear in other promotions, with six knockouts and only one decision in seven fights outside of the UFC. So, the beginning of Holm’s top-promotional career was a bit underwhelming, but still impressive at that point. Predictably, because of all these factors, many people gave Rousey the edge in their bout, as did the betting odds, which were borderline disrespectful for someone as talented as Holm.
In their fight at UFC 193, which took place in Melbourne, Australia, Holm took it to another level. Not only did Rousey get dominated that night, but she seemingly got rattled by one of the first punches landed by Holm in the first minute or two of the contest. After a pretty rough first round for the champion, where she got rocked several times, the second round got even worse. Holm finished off Rousey about a minute in with a brutal head-kick knockout. Not only was this the worst loss of Rousey’s career, let alone her first ever, but it was the first time she got knocked out, after basically running through the competition up until that point.
Holm ended up losing her very next fight against former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate, who lost the Strikeforce women’s title to Rousey in 2012. Tate held the title before it was unified and made into a UFC championship under Rousey’s reign. The Holm/Tate fight at UFC 196 was somewhat lopsided. They went into the fifth round with Holm appearing to have won three rounds decisively. Despite the fact that she lost the second round 10-8 and Tate nearly submitted her via rear-naked choke, Holm was still up three rounds to one going into the final frame. Then, exactly three minutes into the last round, Tate went for the takedown. She nearly lost it, but got Holm’s back and eventually submitted the talented boxer on her second attempt at a rear-naked choke, putting Holm to sleep with only 90 seconds remaining.
Also, as most predicted, all three judges’ scorecards also had it for the champion going into the fifth stanza:
— Kevin Ehsani (@Blacksmith_MMA) March 6, 2016
It was a decent fight for Holm (until the end). She fought a fairly conservative fight, not really appearing to maintain any momentum against Tate, other than winning a majority of the rounds, but not even getting close to finishing her, unlike what she did against Rousey.
The fight was a learning experience for Holm. Her only real downfall was her lack of ground skills and inability to defend against a much stronger grappler like Tate. Holm appeared confident against Rousey, defending her takedown attempts and not getting close to being submitted. She generally did well in defending takedowns against Tate, too, but when she was actually brought down to the ground and kept there, she had problems.
All of Holm’s mistakes against Tate, however, will be fairly irrelevant on July 23, when Holm takes on fellow strike, Valentina Shevchenko, a 28-year-old Russian prodigy who sports an excellent 56-2-1 kickboxing record in nearly 60 Muay Thai and K-1 bouts. Shevchenko has also won gold in multiple tournaments, including K-1, KF-1, kickboxing and Muay Thai competitions. She also won gold nine times at the IFMA World Championship. Comparatively, Holm’s boxing record of 33-2-3 is not too shabby, either. Holm became champion in multiple organizations, including the IBA, WBA, IFBA, WIBA, GBU, NABF, WBC, WBAN and WBF. The funny thing is, both fighters have also crossed over and competed in the other’s craft. Shevchenko won two boxing bouts by decision, and Holm went 2-1 in three kickboxing matches, with all her fights ending via knockout. Holm also won an amateur kickboxing championship in 2001, as well as a tournament in the very same year.
All these accolades held by these two talented women should be a great sign of things to come. These ladies could put on what some might expect to be the best technical striking bout of the year. However, this is not only a fight between two women who have heaps of accomplishments, which is obviously impressive in itself, but it’s also a fight that serves as a great opportunity to set a tone for how female fighters can start gaining the respect they deserve, especially as strikers who can put their opponent away with one shot. Holm did that with Rousey, and Shevchenko has done it in her career. So, who’s to say it can’t be something that more female fighters aspire to do? Even current strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk has accomplished it in her career. One thing Rousey did really well for the women’s bantamweight division — and really for every single women’s division that came after it — was to put the talent of the fighters on the map. Now, fighters like Holm and Shevchenko can push it even further by showing how they can knock one another out, too, just like the men do all the time.
They might not be able to produce fights with crazy knockouts, like the men do, but there’s no reason the ladies of MMA can’t make it happen to some extent, if not have the potential to surpass those expectations. The fight between Holm and Shevchenko will be an MMA fan’s dream, because they know they won’t see very much grappling or ground fighting. Instead, it will be just pure striking on the feet. Even though Shevchenko has gotten a majority of her wins via submission, it will be a pure, all-out battle of flying arms and legs with a concentration on accuracy and good volume. It should put the rest of the divisions out there on notice of two talented women who can hang with the men, if not perform better than them technically.