Holly Holm takes to the cage this coming Saturday against Ketlen Vieira at UFC Fight Night 206. ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ is not only the second-ranked bantamweight in the world and eighth on the UFC pound-for-pound list. She is also completely unique in the world of combat sports. Holm is the only fighter in history to hold a UFC championship and a recognised boxing world title.
We live in an era of free cross-pollination between the two codes. Jake Paul almost exclusively fights retired UFC fighters, and Francis Ngannou looks set to face WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in the near future. Meanwhile boxing greats like Claressa Shields and Amanda Serrano have tried their hand at MMA. But nobody has mastered the two disciplines like the 40-year-old star.
Holm burst onto the boxing scene with a 2005 upset of the legendary Christy Martin. In her next fight she beat another of the pioneering names of women’s boxing, the wildly-popular Mia St. John. Holm would go on to reign as a three-weight world champion, racking up 16 title defences. She was instrumental in bridging the gap between the Laila Ali-led era of the sport to today’s booming women’s boxing scene. Holm retired from the square ring in 2013, but she was far from done fighting.
An amateur kickboxer in her youth, Holm appeared to have the skillset in place to transition from boxing to MMA. This proved to be an understatement. Her first three MMA bouts, all ending in victory, ran concurrently to her boxing career. But after beating future-Chantelle Cameron opponent Mary McGee, Holm made the switch to MMA full-time.
After going 7-0, with only Angela Hayes surviving to hear the final bell, Holm got the inevitable call. The UFC were never going to ignore a famous boxing champion who was making an immense splash on the independent scene. The Albuquerque native debuted in the co-main event of UFC 184, decisioning Raquel Pennington. The main event of that Los Angeles card saw UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey submit Cat Zingano in just 14 seconds.
At the time of that 2015 pay-per-view, Rousey was on top of the world. An Olympic bronze medalist, 11-0 and with no challengers even coming close to taking her UFC title. Rousey put women’s MMA on the map, becoming a genuine mainstream star in the process. She was America’s sweetheart. Marilyn Monroe if she’d swapped breaking hearts for breaking arms.
After one more win each inside the famous Octagon, Holm and Rousey would meet. The match was a business blockbuster. A crowd of over 56,000 was a UFC record at the time, and the fight remains in the company top 10 for most PPV buys. After running roughshod over her competition, fans and experts believed Rousey would continue her dominance with a win. Holm had other ideas.
After using her educated fists to hammer ‘Rowdy’ Ronda in the opening round, while avoiding Rousey’s attempts at locking in the deadly armbar that she had used to submit 9 of her 11 opponents. Most observers class this as the first MMA round Rousey lost in her entire career. And her evening was about to get a whole lot worse.
After relying on her boxing to take the first round, Holm reached back to her kickboxing days in the second. ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ uncorked the head-kick of her life to knock Rousey out cold. It was a seismic shock, an unthinkable outcome that shook the MMA community at large. Like Mike Tyson before her, Rousey’s reign of terror had been ended by knockout. Holly Holm had made history.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and there is no question the jewels sat awkwardly on Holm’s head. She lost her next three fights after the Rousey result. She dropped her Bantamweight belt to Miesha Tate via decision, before losing judge’s nods to Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie.
Holm has gone 3-3 in her six fights since, but a run of two victories has her eyeing a shot at her old belt. The current UFC Bantamweight queen is Julianna Pena, and a win over Vieira this weekend could well put Holm next in line to the throne. Pena is expected to rematch the woman she took the title from, Amanda Nunes, in her next bout. Nunes holds a victory over Holm, but a rematch is far from out of the question.
Still a huge part of the sport at the age of 40, Holly Holm stands alone. As of yet, no fighter can lay claim to her achievements across boxing and MMA. An elite athlete across both disciplines and a true trailblazer, Holm must now fight for one more shot at the big time.
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