An underdog facing long odds, matched against an unbeatable titan of the fight game? Holly Holm has been in this spot before.
Just two years ago, Holm was given little chance of upsetting former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey at UFC 193. Rousey was one of the biggest superstars the sport had ever seen, and had cut a wide, unrelenting swath through the women’s 135-pound division. But Holm, a former championship boxer, stunned the world by scoring one of the most legendary upsets in the history of the sport, ending Rousey’s reign with a dramatic, highlight-reel knockout in Melbourne, Australia.
Now, Holm is hoping history repeats itself Dec. 30 at UFC 219.
“The Preacher's Daughter” is slated to face UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg at the promotion’s year-end show in Las Vegas. And considering Cyborg’s imposing résumé as perhaps the greatest female fighter to ever compete, Holm admitted the lead-up to UFC 219 has been an uncannily familiar one for the Rousey slayer.
“I think there are similarities with the feeling of it, and just knowing that people are having a little bit of doubt,” Holm said Thursday on a UFC 219 media conference call. “But I think that because I’ve done this more than once now, in boxing and it’s probably even more seen with Ronda, to be the underdog and come in — I think that people think, ‘Oh, OK, well Holly is capable of doing some of [these] things,’ so I feel like there’s more of curiosity behind it. Not necessarily just thinking I can’t do it, but kind of, ‘Hmm, I wonder if she’s going to do it this time.’”
In Cyborg, Holm faces an entirely different sort of beast than she did against Rousey.
Cyborg has long been considered the best 145-pound female fighter in the world. The 32-year-old has captured titles in nearly every major organization over her run — Strikeforce, Invicta FC, and the UFC — while sustaining a remarkable 19-fight unbeaten streak that stretches back to 2005 and includes wins over virtually every notable female featherweight to have competed.
Holm, on the other hand, is a relative newbie to 145 pounds. All of her MMA success came at 135 pounds, and her one fight at featherweight — a February title bout against Germaine de Randamie at UFC 208 — ended in a controversial unanimous decision loss. Holm has since rebounded with a vicious knockout of Bethe Correia this past summer at bantamweight, and so far she’s enjoying her second shot at perfecting what it means to compete at 145 pounds.
“It’s a little different with my diet for this fight. I’m really not having to watch too much of portions or anything like that,” Holm said. “I’m eating healthy because I want to have energy for training, but it’s kind of that, I don’t have any stress as far as the weight. I just get to focus on my training and have energy for training, so that’s a little bit different than for 135. I have to be a little more careful with things for 135, so it’s been nice to not have that stress for this training camp, because this is such a big fight, I was able to just kinda put more of my focus on everything else.”
Holm said she kept on a little bit of the extra size she gained for UFC 208 because she “just kinda had a feeling” that the fight against Cyborg may happen, however she’s been careful not to overdo things and lose what made her successful in the first place.
“I did keep a little bit more weight on for this fight, but I didn’t want to keep bad weight on either and feel sluggish,” Holm said. “And yes, I was doing a lot of strength training between my last fight and this fight, but over the last couple weeks I kinda shut that down. I feel like I had built my strength between (fights), and right now, going to do a hard weight training session right now is not going to make me any stronger in one week.
“So I do feel stronger, but with the strength workouts, I’ve kinda tried to keep it based on explosive strength workouts. I don’t really want to just get more muscle that’s harder to carry around. Muscle needs oxygen, and the more muscle you have, sometimes it takes a little bit more to carry around. I still want to feel light on my feet. I still want to have speed.”
Holm added that she has prepared herself thoroughly at Jackson-Winkeljohn for whichever Cyborg shows up at UFC 219, whether it’s the ultra-aggressive Cyborg of the past or the more patient tactician that bested Tonya Evinger at UFC 214.
It’s no secret that Cyborg has not been challenged much over her run of dominance. That fact is clear with one look at the Brazilian’s hit-list — 12 straight wins via KO/TKO. Incredibly, Cyborg has gone her entire career without seeing a fifth round, but Holm still knows she would be doing a disservice to herself to speculate about Cyborg’s cardio or ability to maintain her overwhelming pace well into the championship rounds.
“I know that a lot people have said, ‘Oh, you should take her in late rounds,’ and you know what, I know she’s not used to the later rounds. That’s just a fact,” Holm said. “But I still know that she trains really hard, and that doesn’t mean that she’s going to not want to be there. I know that she’s still going to be fighting hard all the way through. I expect her to be there and be aggressive and in my face for the full 25 minutes. So I don’t sit here and just think, ‘Oh, if I make it through two rounds, I’m just good to go.’ I’m ready for five rounds of hard fight.”
Ultimately, despite her underdog status, the stakes are high for Holm at UFC 219.
Holm is already the first and only combat sports athlete to win titles in both boxing and MMA. Now she could extend that record out even further by becoming the first athlete to hold multiple division titles in both sports.
And that’s something Holm admits she’s thought about leading into UFC 219.
“It’d be awesome,” Holm said. “I’ve always said I want to do something that nobody else has done, and one of my biggest things coming to MMA from boxing was to be able to hold world titles in both boxing and MMA, because no male or female had done that yet. And here we are, I was able to do that. And here I am, up against another opponent. To be able to get multiple world titles in MMA after boxing would be huge. Nobody’s done that before, so it’s a dream of mine to accomplish that.”