Two wins in six fights. A 1-2 mark as a bantamweight in that span. A 5-4 overall UFC record. Does this sound like a title challenger to you? No? Well, you’d be wrong.
These stats belong to Holly Holm. The accomplished boxer and kickboxer from New Mexico racked up wins early in her MMA career, and she became the first woman to defeat UFC legend Ronda Rousey. Now, at UFC 239, Holm has a chance to play spoiler once again to an opponent who seems entirely dominant.
That woman is UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes. The Brazilian took a while to get to the top of the mountain — she lost her third UFC outing to Cat ZIngano — but she has been extremely impressive en route to capturing two title belts. She stormed through the bantamweight division and took out the aforementioned Rousey in a far shorter time than it took Holm to snag the 135-pound title. Then, following two defenses of the bantamweight crown, she did what everyone thought was impossible when she wrecked Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in less than a minute to claim the featherweight title.
So, why are we here? What gives Holm and her unspectacular recent record priority over the likes of fellow highly ranked contenders Ketlen Vieira and Aspen Ladd?
Well, Holm is somehow ranked No. 1 in the UFC’s rankings for the division. This piece of the puzzle is odd, though. Holm rose to championship status early in her UFC career by taking out Raquel Pennington, Germaine de Randamie and Rousey. However, she relinquished the belt when she suffered a first-round submission loss to Miesha Tate. Holm fell again to Valentina Shevchenko and then took a detour into the featherweight division before returning to 135 for a thrashing of Bethe Correia. Her subsequent fights were a failed title bid against Cyborg and a featherweight victory over former Invicta FC titleholder Megan Anderson.
If Holm deserves to be at the top of the rankings board, then it’s probably in the 145-pound weight class. The UFC doesn’t even have a top 15 for that division, though, and Nunes has said she doesn’t plan to fight at the heavier weight again. When it comes to 135, Holm has just one win and two losses since the beginning of 2016. Her last bantamweight bout, the one against Correia, came just a hair over two years ago. She’s not exactly eliminating other potential challengers to get this crack at Nunes.
Of course, name recognition means something. Holm stamped her ticket with the big win over Rousey, a force that at the time had not come close to being stopped. If we take that win and combine it with Holm’s championship-boxing credentials, a huge star push (especially in and around her home base in the MMA mecca of Albuquerque), and her status as a current featherweight contender, then we have all the makings of a worthy name for the marquee of a promotion that is trying to sell tickets and pay-per-views rather than granting title challenges to the fighter with the most deserving recent record.
This brings us to the UFC’s other options: Vieira and Ladd.
Vieira now sits at No. 2 in the UFC’s rankings for the weight class. The 27-year-old is undefeated through 10 pro outings. She also holds a submission win over Sara McMann, and she squeaked by Cat Zingano on the scorecards. However, the Brazilian has been on the sidelines for more than a year now and had to bow out of a September 2018 bout with Tonya Evinger. She appears to be a strong contender, but it would be to the UFC’s benefit to get her in there with one more top bantamweight, such as Pennington or de Randamie, and add a few more kudos with the fan base.
Ladd is in a similar position. She, too, boasts an undefeated record. She has stoppage wins over Lina Länsberg and the aforementioned Evinger, plus a decision nod over Sijara Eubanks. Ladd missed out on a chance against Holm when Holm withdrew from the bout, but the UFC has her booked for a showdown in mid-July against de Randamie. If Ladd can impress there, she could leapfrog Vieira and end up as the next opponent for either Nunes or Holm.
While Vieira and Ladd are still constructing their cases for a UFC title shot, Holm really does emerge as the best option for now. She has star branding and a strong-enough case to fight Nunes (even if that case really is for a 145-pound showdown). “The Preacher’s Daughter” makes a credible next opponent for a fighter who is in the midst of building her legacy.
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