When Holly Holm faced Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in 2015, few gave “The Preacher’s Daughter” a chance. After all, Rousey was thought to be the best female fighter in mixed martial arts history. She had never lost in 12 professional fights and most were first-round stoppages.
But when referee Herb Dean raised the winner’s hand that November night, it was Holm, not Rousey, with a smile on her face. She utilized her speed and footwork throughout the fight and finished Rousey with a brutal head kick, followed by punches, in the second round.
On Saturday night against featherweight champion Cris Cyborg at UFC 219, Holm has the chance to once again beat the unbeatable.
Cyborg, 18-1, has not lost since her professional debut in 2005. She overpowers opponents both on the ground and on her feet and has not been in any true trouble in years.
How can Holm shock the world? ESPN MMA analyst Gilbert Melendez gave his keys to the featherweight title fight.
Size won’t be a major factor
Few fighters can match up physically with Cyborg. Holm, however, is one of them. Both fighters are 5-foot-8 and Holm actually holds a 1-inch reach advantage.
“First, let’s talk about size,” Melendez says. “Everyone talks about Cris Cyborg as this huge fighter who is bigger than everyone and towers over everyone. She’s going against Holly Holm, who is also pretty big and in good shape. It’s a well-matched fight where Cris won’t be towering over Holly.
“Holly was able to neutralize the takedown of Ronda Rousey. Not many people can do that. She has a lot of strength of her own and will keep someone honest. Cyborg can pull that off on other fighters — just using your strength to take someone down — but when it gets to a higher level, you need perfect technique for that to work.”
Holm’s style matches well with Cyborg
Holm, a former boxing champion, isn’t going to sit in the clinch and trade punches with Cyborg. That’s simply asking to lose. She won’t attempt to take the fight to the ground. Footwork and speed must be utilized on Saturday night.
“A lot of Cris’ past opponents didn’t have the tools that Holly Holm has,” Melendez says. “That’s what people are overlooking. Not many women can move the way Holly can on her feet. She’s very fluid and can move around the Octagon easily. A lot of other girls Cyborg has fought are good strikers, but they are more flat-footed. They won’t stick and move like Holly can.
“Better believe Holly will be on her bicycle, sprinting away, disengaging as much as possible. She will neutralize Cyborg with push kicks and front kicks. Holly has the power to hurt her, but that’s not what she’s looking to do, go for the kill. She’s looking to hit those right spots.
“Those push kicks to the body, those kicks to the head, one punch to the head can change the fight. But you’re not trying to knock her out; it’ll happen organically. In and out, in and out, and one of those strikes are going to land and you’ll see the time to pounce.”
Defeating Rousey provided Holm mental toughness
The sheer sight of Cyborg is enough to scare people. She’s that intimidating. When the cage locks and you look across, it’s not easy to stay composed. Holm is one of the few who won’t wither under pressure.
“Everyone knew how to beat Ronda Rousey — stick and move and defend the takedown. But once they got in there, their emotions got the best of them and they fought a dumb fight,” Melendez says. “Not Holly Holm. She was very composed and able to stick and move and be very tactical. What helped with that is she had Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn as her coaches. They will come up with a very good game plan against Cyborg.
“Holly has done it before, thinks she can do it again and that will definitely make that ‘holy s—‘ moment be not as bad. After beating Ronda and with her coaching staff, she’s not the type of person who will be bullied. She’s going to be confident in herself and be game.”