Photo Credit: Will Fox/Sherdog/Southwest Fight News
Sometimes things are too perfect to ignore and have to be advantageously pounced on sooner rather than later. It is rare to find that perfect time in the sports and entertainment world for an opportunity to arise that would considered a real travesty should the opportunity not blossom into fruition.
Examples of these rare opportunities within the MMA world are the super-fights of B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre back at UFC 94 in 2009 and Frankie Edgar versus Jose Aldo at UFC 156 earlier this year; missed opportunities can be exemplified by Anderson Silva having never fought Jon Jones or Georges St. Pierre and the legendary Fedor Emelianenko never stepping into the UFC to fight the Heavyweight Champion. In sports, we come across these moments of potentially epic opportunities that can really make sports fans salivate very rarely and often times they are shot down behind the curtains without fan-base even knowing what "could’ve been".
I believe that opportunity is looming in the ranks of women mixed martial arts at this very moment.
In the world of MMA matchmaking, match-ups come about sparingly that pair two competitors of expertise in two different disciplines together making one highly anticipated bout where fans clamor and debate as to which fighter will be able to use their strength more advantageously. This occurrence does not happen often anymore due to the fact that the sport has evolved to the point where most competitors are well-rounded in several disciplines. The sport no longer mirrors the 1990’s where each fighter had one-strength to oppose the other competitor who had his own single specialty.
The world of Women’s MMA however, still has that possibility being that the ranks of WMMA are very undeveloped. That isn’t a knock on the women as it is simply dues because the women fighters have not had the meteoric rise in popularity that men have had for over a decade and in return progression that the men have had for that duration is just blossoming for WMMA. Women Fighters are still finding their niche’s in their respective divisions leaving several competitors competing with one main combat discipline specialty and being fairly polished in remaining disciplines. Even the current UFC Champion doesn’t have the polished, well-roundedness that her male champion counterparts possess.
Speaking of the Women’s UFC Champion; there is a super-fight looming between two extremely talented women fighters who in their own right are master’s in one aspect of mixed martial arts. That fight features Olympic Judoka and UFC Champion Ronda Rousey and Boxing World Champion and Female Combat Sport Legend Holly Holm.
The first ever Woman UFC Champion, Ronda Rousey (7-0) has successfully defended her UFC title once since being awarded the title by UFC President Dana White. She battled early adversity against Liz Carmouche earlier this year in February to notch her seventh victory by way of arm bar submission, all of which came inside the first round. If Rousey’s amateur career is counted, we'd add three extra wins by arm bar inside the first frame bringing her hit-list to nine opponents, all of which were finished in the same exact fashion. She has one submission technically mastered and her opponents know it should be expected and when the time comes to defend it, nobody has had the ability to stop it. Rousey arguably possesses the most dangerous weapon in all of combat sports.
Becoming a media darling and capturing the interest of the media past the thresholds of typical MMA popularity, Rousey has graced the lists of "Most Influential" and "Most Beautiful" in several different nation-wide magazines. She has also earned big-time movie roles for the upcoming "Expendables" and "Fast & the Furious" movies. She has become "larger than life" in popularity and the media blitz she receives doesn’t just come from being the UFC and former Strikeforce Champion, she is media savvy and opinionated; and that is just complimented by the cage success that has intrigued millions.
In terms of her fighting intrigue, Rousey doesn't fight in "wars" or slugfests, she doesn’t go into fights to throw bombs; she technically and fluidly sets up opponents and brutally attacks arms with ill-intent. She dislocated rival Meisha Tate’s arm while fighting under the Strikeforce banner and while outside of the cage Rousey appears attractive in physical appearance, she is every bit of the aggressive "arm collector" that her record indicates her to be. Most of the MMA fan-base tends to lean towards male fighters who are brawlers but in Rousey the fan-base clamors for her domination and ruthless style of grappling.
On the flip side of things, Holly Holm (6-0) has recently put her final words into the last chapter of a legendary boxing career. She finished her career with a 33-2-3 record and has earned the claim to be considered one of the greatest women boxers to ever grace the boxing ring. Holm capped off her boxing tenure by putting on a boxing clinic in her unanimous decision against the previously undefeated Mary McGee in what ended up being her final bout as a boxer. Holm announced before the bout with McGee that she would close the chapter on her boxing career to focus on the MMA career she had been venturing into back and forth while she had been defending her Boxing World Titles.
Earlier this year, Holm stepped into the Bellator MMA cage for her third MMA bout against Katie Merrill. Holm would spend about seven minutes dismantling her opponents with kicks and punches. She would go on to sign with Texas based promotion Legacy FC where she racked up two highlight reel finishes including a one-shot, headkick knockout over Allana Jones that truly showed her devastating stopping power that is rarely seen in the women ranks. She capped off 2013 with a dominant three round decision victory over Angela Hayes back in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In WMMA it seems that a lot of women are still coming into their own as strikers and that is the area of which Holm has already mastered on a championship level. She throws punches with elite level delivery and it is arguable that she has the most diverse kicking arsenal in all of WMMA and rivals just about any male fighter with her execution, accuracy and versatility in her kicking acumen.
While many recognized Holm as the number one ranked boxer in the world prior to her retirement, it is not common knowledge that Holly has world champion kickboxing skills as well. In fact, the story of Holm tells that she pursued kickboxing initially before finding out that boxing would be more financially advantageous. She has trained under the tutelage of striking guru Mike Winklejohn in the Jackson-Winklejohn gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she has trained with boxers, kickboxers and mixed martial artists alike. While on the surface level she is very fresh to MMA, Holm may be the most feared striker competing in any of the women divisions within mixed martial arts outside of Muay Thai bruiser Christiane "Cyborg" Santos and arguably one of the most experienced as well.
Holm has a tremendous following in her home state of New Mexico and basically guarantees at the very least a near sell-out regardless of the venue when headlining in-state. Her fan-base is vocal and extremely loyal, which was exemplified when UFC President Dana White acknowledged that he was being constantly bombarded with questioning of Holm’s likelihood of joining the UFC ranks.
Holm’s personality type contrasts to Rousey’s as she is very soft spoken and humble; Holm rarely spends time in the media spotlight and her fight promotion is very straight-forward and gracious. Holm’s fighting speaks in volumes however, as she hits hard and lands with knockout intent on a regular basis. She has stopped five of six MMA foes with the high volume of her patented kicks while consistently hurting them with punches.
With Rousey and Holm, fight fans have two females that are experts in their respective crafts. Rousey competed in the Olympics as well as being part of other world class tournaments in Judo. Holm spent much of the last several years defending her World Titles in boxing. Both fighters have used those respective disciplines to dominate in MMA, Rousey has submitted all opponents and Holm has utilized strikes to TKO nearly all of her opposition.
What better example of "collision course" do fight fans need?
After defeating McGee in her final boxing bout, Holm’s boxing promoter Lenny Fresquez expressed his desire to match up his World Champion Boxer and now full-time mixed martial artist with the top woman MMA fighter in the world, Ronda Rousey. Why wouldn’t he? Holly has elite caliber accolades and was boxing’s top ranked fighter for years and Rousey is playing that same role now in MMA. While many may argue Holly should work her way up to Rousey, it is arguable that Holm despite having less MMA fights then Rousey actually is the more accomplished combat fighter. In fact, if you take the combat sports record into account spanning professional boxing, kickboxing and MMA then Holm will almost always hold the experience advantage against her women counterparts.
Rousey has shown glimpses of interest in Holm and her last outing as a boxer. After the boxing bout, Rousey tweeted an article from Southwest Fight News discussing the win, her retirement and focus on MMA. While it may not imply Rousey wants to fight her immediately, it definitely indicates her awareness that Holm’s full time arrival in MMA means she potentially has a new challenger to be prepared for.
Rousey has dispatched wrestlers and brawlers and is currently penciled in to face-off with rival Meisha Tate for the second time but after that bout she arguably has one decisive top contender to fight. The intrigue to this match-up inside the cage begins with the styles that each girl has yet to compete against. Holly, outside of her boxing career has beaten five women in MMA but none of which had elite level ground skills that come close to mirroring Rousey's talents. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rousey has yet to face an elite striker and Holm represents the elite of the elite strikers. Holm has yet to face off with a grappler and Rousey is the gold standard for world class grappling, Rousey has yet to fight a striker and Holm is the World Championship standard for striking.
What more can you ask for fight fans?
The hiccup in my opinion is the trajectory that Holm has taken in her MMA run as of late. She hasn't fought in the promotion that fast tracks her to the UFC. Invicta FC is the stomping grounds for premier Women's Mixed Martial Arts and the women who compete there seem to be able to transition back and forth between the UFC. The premier talent in the women ranks reside in Invicta and if Holm had been competing there it would be much more likely that the UFC matchmakers would have found her a home in the UFC where even one performance could have earned her a shot at Rousey. Instead, she has taken the regional route where she has beaten outmatched opponents who may be tough in their regional circuits but offer little challenge to the world class striking of Holm.
Holm’s last opponent is a perfect example as to why the "Superfight" is still a far distance before it becomes realistic. While Hayes has the experienced record, she hadn't competed in MMA since 2011. Holm's team insists that they aren't finding challengers for her and that the path best traveled is the one she currently resides on; I can't help but believe that she'll find herself best prepped for a Rousey super-fight when she fights for Invicta FC or fights a premier WMMA fighter who could help generate the buzz necessary to grab the attention of the UFC brass and also prepare her to compete against an MMA fighter who has top level talent. Promoter Lenny Fresquez claimed that 66-fighters had turned down the opportunity to fight Holm; if that is true then the best way to find her top challengers is to have her fight for Invicta FC where a match-maker’s lone job is to find intriguing match-ups for their events.
Fresquez’s relationship with Holm’s career is similar to Vadim Finkelstein and his relationship with legendary MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko in that promotional desire becomes detrimental to the fighter's progression up the ranks. It is well-known in the New Mexico combat community that Fresquez, as a manager is tying his promotional job closely for Holm's career to take the necessary route towards the "superfight". Fresquez gains more financially from deals with Legacy FC that allows him fighter selection and the ability to have certain co-promotion abilities. The argument that Holm is having a tough time finding opponents becomes null if she signed on with Invicta FC brand where she'd be matched up with one of the upper tier Invicta fighters.
What may play a huge role in the prevention of this bout is the rumor that Holm and her team are looking to make Holm the highest paid women fighter in WMMA other than Rousey. Fresquez went on the record stating he desire for the UFC to award Holm a "six-figure" contract and the possibility of a immediate title shot. He even made mention in the last pre-fight press conference that when the UFC can "afford" Holm, that they will sign with the premier MMA promotion. The six-figure contract can be estimated to earn Holm around 30-thousand per fight which would be more than top contenders Meisha Tate and Cat Zingano, two women that have fought in the UFC and have a worldwide following. Holm’s team’s request of opponent control will also be a huge issue as if Holm were to sign with the UFC, Lenny Fresquez’s role in Holm’s career would be made obsolete as the UFC basically runs the operations of any manager or promoter.
It will be interesting to watch how it all plays out and to find out what career direction Holm will make in 2014. She has a looming challenge in March against another grappling based fighter, Julianna Werner (7-3) which will be held in Albuquerque in a co-promotional event with Fresquez Productions and Legacy FC. It also should be of intrigue to see what the UFC plans to do with Rousey depending on what happens in her December match-up with Meisha Tate. Regardless, I can’t help but believe the two are on a collision course towards WMMA’s first ever "Superfight" and cross my fingers in hoping that this scenario doesn't pan out in the same fashion that Fedor Emelianenko's did when his team prevented his walk into the UFC's Octagon. For the sake of fight fans, let’s hope all of my speculation is wrong and we will see Holm make the walk to fight Rousey and the rest of the talented women fighters.