Holly Holm’s professional mixed martial arts career has taken a sharp left turn from its auspicious start — she began as a crossover boxing champion who went 10-0 and a shocked the MMA universe by upsetting Ronda Rousey, and is now in the midst of a lingering hangover after three straight losses.
As she heads into her fight with Bethe Correia at UFC Fight Night 111 in Singapore, Holm finds herself in a rare position. She can either regain an ounce of the original self that went on the title run by taking out Correira, or disappear from contention altogether.
Perhaps even disappear from the UFC. Drastic? Maybe.
Her longtime coach Mike Winkeljohn, who will be in Holm’s corner on June 17 in Kallang, was asked on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour if this was “do or die” for his longtime charge.
“Yeah, it could be yeah,” Winkeljohn said. “If she loses this fight, it actually could be die. I can’t really see Holly retiring on a loss, and she’s not going to lose. So it’s not [so much] do or die, it’s just a do situation honestly.”
Holm is coming off a controversial loss against Germaine de Randamie at UFC 208 in Brooklyn, a fight that was for the inaugural featherweight title. The bout was close throughout, and it carries an asterisk because on two separate occasions de Randamie struck Holm after the horn to signal the end of the round. Holm appealed the loss with the New York State Athletic Commission, to no avail.
That defeat — coupled with the UFC 196 bout in which she ceded the bantamweight title to Miesha Tate and a subsequent unanimous decision against Valentina Shevchenko — has put the 35-year old Holm into a precarious spot heading into her fight with the Brazilian Correia.
Yet Winkeljohn exuded confidence when talking about Holm fighting with her back against the wall.
“I can’t see Holly losing,” he said. “I really don’t. She’s looking really good, great game plan. She’s got some really good people helping her out. Joey Villasenor, one of the old Pride fighters who helps out at the gym has really been in her head on a few things, as far as what can help take her to a new level. And we’re excited about it.”
Holm appeared at the post fight press conference after her loss to de Randamie and, while still processing the fight emotionally, seemed resolved to pick up the pieces and continue on. Winkeljohn said that at no point did Holm lose faith in what she was trying to accomplish, nor contemplate retirement.
“Nope, not even in the slightest,” he said. “I know Holly. She would never ever stop on a loss. That’s just Holly.”
In the pantheon of the most popular women to compete in MMA, Holm has been a bit of an exception. Rousey returned for just one more fight after her UFC 193 loss to Holm, and doesn’t look to be coming back again, while Gina Carano — who helped bring recognition to the ranks — never returned after losing to Cris “Cyborg” Justino in Strikeforce.
Holm, on the other hand, has showed a sense of resolve after each loss, a trait that Winkeljohn says is hers alone.
“That’s exactly it, that’s Holly — that’s why she has gone so far that she’s gone so far as she has in the world of boxing, and beat Ronda Rousey,” he said. “We’ve just had a bad string here. Some bad decisions, a little bit of bad luck, I think a little bit of bad judging, and it’s time for Holly to be back. She’s the real deal. Not only is she the person she is that’s so marketable, but she’s a fighter at heart.”
Part of the reason “Wink” says he believes Holm’s confidence remains so sturdily intact is the nature of her losses. That and some mental fortification in training, which he has helped with.
“You know what, she was on point with Miesha, but just got caught off guard, Miesha just did a great job there,” he said. “It was a game of inches there at the end of the fight. The next fight [against Shevchenko] was one I should never have let Holly take, and I’ve said that before. I won’t say why, but it took a while to get her out of that, and a lot of that has to do with mindset and the confidence.
“And she’s back. I think people are going to see the old Holly Holm, the new and improved version, with even more tools in this fight.”