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Ready or not, for Holly Holm it’s straight to the deep end of the pool

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Esther Lin, Sportsfile

On July 15, after she scored a methodical, somewhat holstered decision over Marion Reneau, most agreed that Holly Holm was still a country mile from having what it takes to stand in there against Ronda Rousey. So who is Rousey’s next title defense against? Against Holly Holm, a decorated boxer who just also happens to be tomorrow’s minced meat.

This news, delivered by Rousey on Good Morning America of all places, had a few people spitting out their morning coffee.

For starters, UFC president Dana White made it pretty clear that Miesha Tate was fighting Rousey next, a trilogy fight that left diehards a bit hollow but dealt well in the bigger picture of Rousey’s star strata. Tate herself was operating under the assumption that she was to face Rousey again, and could be seen smiling broadly wherever she went. Her coach, Robert Follis, was already scheming up new ideas on how to make the third time the charm. Her partner, Bryan Caraway, was emboldened enough by the prospect of Tate’s status as contender that he himself, vicariously basking in a duet’s spotlight, turned a deaf ear on a direct challenge from Manvel Gamburyan.

Such was the solid ground beneath Miesha Tate’s feet.

And even the 33-year old Holm, who has said she wouldn’t turn down a fight with Rousey, wasn’t exactly demanding the thing happen immediately. She just left that fight out there for down the road, for when she collects a couple more scalps. For all the mild criticism Holm has received for not obliterating opposition to taste in her first two UFC fights, she’s been even more critical of herself. There has been a note of dissatisfaction in the air from Holm after each of her victories, over Raquel Pennington and Reneau.

In other words, Holm was the first to admit that she needed more time to be ready for the ultimate ultimate.

But, as the UFC’s motto of yesteryear says, the time is now. Holm, who will carry a scroll of victim’s names from her previous career as a boxer to the cage with her on Jan. 2 in Las Vegas, definitely has some intrigue as a challenger. Her striking is better than any of Rousey’s previous opponents by a long shot. She has a healthy sense of self-preservation; she’s not likely to pin her ears back and turn berserker, like Bethe Correia and Cat Zingano. She’s new blood…she’s not Tate, for instance, which adds some novelty to the proceedings.

And there’s slightly more tape for Holm’s coaches, Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, to look at and study. In fact, spread over three fights, there’s a little over a minute of raw Rousey footage to pore over and try to glean an advantage.

Still, the Holm news is a bit of a surprise.

The idea being floated around (by everybody except maybe matchmaker Sean Shelby) was to have Rousey defend the title against Tate, go off to shoot a movie in Hollywood, then return in July for UFC 200, where her and Cris "Cyborg" Justino could throw the biggest pay-per-view bash in UFC history. Not that Holm will kick the needle off the record, but her waiting in the wings for a title fight in late-2016 would have seemed advantageous to all parties involved. With Amanda Nunes also floating around as a contender, Holm’s name was the last you’d expect to hear for Rousey’s next title defense.

The truth is, Holm could have benefitted from getting some more cage time before standing in there against Rousey. This feels a little too much too soon, even for somebody who has been competing in combat sports for as long as Holm has. Her in-ring experience doesn’t hurt. In fact, it will/can hearten optimists to imagine Holm not being intimidated by Rousey. But boxing prowess is limited when fighting off your back. And it’s completely nil when one of your arms is being torqued from the joints. How well-rounded is Holm all told? We don’t know, but there’s an assumption that she’s green in some of the areas where Rousey is phenomenal.

In that sense, it might feel like we’re popping the lid on the cask to sample the whisky a full year before it’s had a chance to age properly. Truth is, the taste doesn’t really matter. It only matters if it’s flammable. Is there a spark, and can a blue flame play over it?

When you get to the level Rousey is at, where you’re breaking your own fights on Good Morning America for the Friday morning aloof, the answer is yes. See, the thing is, all concepts begin and end with Rousey. She created the division, it’s hers to demolish. She is the paragon for mankind’s sense of destruction. Tate can wait.

Holm has been deemed next.