clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Holly Holm’s coach Mike Winkeljohn surprised to get 145-pound title shot ‘without Cyborg involved’

New, comments
Holly Holm and Mike Winkeljohn Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm will be fighting for a title again at UFC 208 in Brooklyn, and the set-up for that is somewhat serendipitous. Holm, who has lost a pair of fights in a row, was selected to fight in the inaugural women’s featherweight title fight on Feb. 11 against Germaine de Randamie. The decision to book Holm against de Randamie was met with some criticism given that the weight class has been ruled for a decade by Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, who last fought Lina Lansberg at a 140-pound catchweight bout in September.

Yet Holm was willing to fight in the new weight class, and she was available — which, according to the UFC, “Cyborg” was not.

And Holm’s longtime coach Mike Winkeljohn said during an interview on The MMA Hour that that was precisely the case. According to Winkeljohn, Holm was willing to fight Cyborg at a catchweight before the title fight with de Randamie materialized for a card in need.

“That’s exactly what happened, is Cyborg can’t make the normal 135-pound division and so, because she gets to play by special rules, we said okay look, we’ll fight you at 138,” he said on Monday. “That was our first offer. I’m not going to lie, I probably would have went to 139 with it. But it wouldn’t have made sense for Holly, where the weight was at, to offer to fight her at a higher weight. Of course not, why would I do that?

“Apparently [Justino] turned that down. And then Dana came up with a 145-pound title apparently Dana offered it to Cyborg before we even accepted that it was for a title, and I think she turned it down as well. So, that’s all I know about it other than Holly has never turned down a fight in her life. She’s willing to fight, no doubt about it, even out of her weight division. And how could you turn this one down? A title fight at 145? It puts her right back where she wants to go mentally. And when she has to step up, that’s her best for performance.”

One thing that Winkeljohn made clear was that if the UFC had presented Holm a chance at the 145-pound title against Justino, they would have accepted the offer just the same.

In fact, he said he was taken aback initially that “Cyborg” wasn’t part of the equation.

“Very surprised that they would offer without Cyborg involved,” he said. “It makes sense now that Cyborg…they needed to put some fights together, I think, and Holly is a big draw. She can sell, and they needed some big fights, and they needed them now. They can’t wait down the road until Cyborg gets her weight down or whatever the case is. That’s just the way it played out.

Winkeljohn has worked with the 35-year-old Holm in Albuquerque going back to the beginning of her boxing days. He has seen her win titles in the ring, and in the Octagon, and knows that there are big paydays coming to Holm in 2017.

Should she defeat de Randamie, she would be come the first woman fighter in the UFC to have held belts in two different weight classes. And a victory would set up numerous big fights, depending on which way the UFC might want to go — especially with UFC 207 featuring Ronda Rousey’s return against current bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.

Holm defeated Rousey at UFC 193 in November 2015, and since that time the rematch has loomed through Rousey’s hiatus from fighting in 2016.

“I don’t know, at that point in time it’s all about money,” Winkelhohn said. “Pay-per-view points, all that kind of stuff. So, if she has a title, and I’ll tell you — if Nunes beats Rousey, I think Holly would like to go back down there and fight Nunes as well. If Cyborg’s the biggest money fight, that would be the fight. There’s no doubt about it, if Ronda wins the fight, I think that becomes one of the biggest fights the UFC has ever seen, and that would be the smart fight for everybody to take. I think Dana would agree on that.”

Still, heading into UFC 208 the elephant in the room will be handing out a featherweight title to anybody other than “Cyborg,” who was the last Strikeforce champion in that division, as well as the reigning Invicta FC champion.

Asked his thoughts on why the UFC would opt to have a featherweight title fight without Justino, Winkeljohn said it was largely circumstantial.

“I don’t know, it’s not for me to know why,” he said. “I think ‘Cyborg’ needed some more time to get down to weight, but I guess people are saying she’s out there power lifting, so she has no worry about it. She’s going to do what she wants. That’s her weight division, 145. Like I said, the smart move is Holly was at 135, and fighting her at 135 would have been the smart move, and 136 would have been a smart move. But that’s where we’re at.

“So let’s get this title, and Cyborg, if she wants to be in line, great. If Nunes or Rousey are there and Holly wants to drop back down, great. I want to put Holly in a position where she really has to work hard and I love it when she’s the underdog.”

As to whether he liked the idea of Holm fighting long-term at 145 pounds, Winkeljohn said he goes back and forth on that.

“Yes and no,” he said. “The [weight] cuts have never been easy, and Holly is very good size for 136. Yes and no. But she’s right in between. I mean, a 140-pound division would probably be a great place for Holly Holm. And she’s getting older. She’s getting older and the cuts are getting a little bit harder on her, on her body, but she’s willing to fight in either division.”