Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Bantamweight champ, Holly Holm, will throw down opposite former title challenger, Bethe Correia, this Saturday (June 17, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 111 inside Singapore Indoor Arena in Kellang, Singapore.
What comes up, must come down.
In the case of Holly Holm, the downward fall happened much quicker than anyone expected. Following her dominant upset win over Ronda Rousey — which brought the champion boxer to a record of 10-0 — she was heavily favored in her first title defense against Miesha Tate.
It didn’t work out. Neither did her bounce back fight opposite current top contender Valentina Shevchenko. Somehow, she scored a random title fight at Featherweight, the only one in the history of the promotion, but still Holm’s hand was not raised. Now, she’ll take a step back in competition and see how much is left in the tank.
Let’s take a closer look at her skill set.
It’s become clear in her recent trio of losses that Holm is not quite the elite striker that she first appeared. While some flaws have arisen, Holm is still an effective kickboxer with some tricks up her sleeve.
A reasonably tall and large fighter for her division, Holm likes to work from the outside. She makes full use of her long range, either scoring with distance strikes, attacking in short bursts, or countering her foe on the way in.
In some cases, the fight never really evolves past Holm’s distance work. In Holm’s victory over Marion Reneau, for example, Holm was never forced to do much beside kick from the outside and occasionally flurry. She picked apart her opponent and kept her in a defensive shell, easily winning the fight without taking much risk.
At this distance, Holm has a number of kick setups that allow her to score points and maintain range, which are the subject of this week’s technique highlight.
If Holm’s opponent seeks to close the distance, she really excels. This is where Holm’s counter game comes into play, as she’s very skilled at suddenly planting her feet, landing blows, and exiting to her lateral movement before her opponent can capitalize. The exit here is very important, as Holm routinely rolls after her counter blow, grabs the clinch, or lands and pushes her foe away.
As a Southpaw, Holm’s money punch is certainly her left cross. The New Mexico native is versatile with the strike: using it as a lead, mixing in straight body shots, and setting up her kicks with the cross. Most importantly. Holm will often counter with her left hand. Circling away from her opponent, Holm will make her foe miss and then capitalize with a crisp cross. This was seen repeatedly against Rousey, as the Judoka sprinted face-first into multiple crosses and counter elbows (GIF).
Like her cross, Holm’s right hook is an important punch that serves multiple purposes, from counters to lead. However, it’s most effective use is as a setup for kicks.
Holm's left round kick is the center of her kickboxing attack, the most powerful and important weapon in her arsenal. Just about every Southpaw that's ever fought recognizes the value of left kick, as it's one of the more simple power strikes to land on an opponent in the Orthodox stance.
It's important to note that Holm sets up her left kick -- usually to either the body or head -- rather well. The setups are usually pretty simple, but Holm's distance and timing make them effective. For example, one of her most common kick combinations is the cross-kick, in which the initial cross either moves her opponent's defense out of position or merely serves as a distraction prior to the real blow.
In addition, Holm commonly uses the right hook -- or merely slaps her opponents' lead hand down -- to encourage them to slip into the kick (GIF).
The Rousey fight is definitely the best demonstration of Holm’s movement and counter punching. For high-level Southpaws, getting a dominant angle, forcing the opponent to turn, and then hitting her while she turns to face is a major part of the game. Holm did that expertly, eventually causing Rousey to turn directly into a high kick (GIF).
Unfortunately, the problems of Holm’s striking style have become apparent. Despite her acclaim as a boxer, Holm’s punches are only a real threat on the counter, when her opponent’s forward momentum creates much of the impact. Inside the cage, many of her punches are for show, vehicles to set up kicks and score points.
Experienced strikers — ones like Germaine de Randamie and Valentina Shevchenko — are quick to pick up on meaningless punches. Once they notice such a thing, there is no threat preventing them from planting and countering, strategies that worked well for both women.
Holm’s wrestling is a pretty interesting case. On one hand, her takedown defense is quite sound, and she actually scored a counter takedown on Ronda Rousey! On the other hand, Holm spent a great deal of her last 25 minutes bout wrestling against another kickboxer who is a mediocre wrestler, got into great position, then looked utterly confused on how to actually finish the shot.
It was ugly.
Holm’s one brilliant offensive takedown came as Rousey ran her way into the clinch. In order to avoid getting punched, Rousey sacrificed good position, allowing Holm to level change just a touch and force Rousey backward with a body lock.
Defensively, there’s an obvious benefit to working from the edge of the kicking range. If Holm’s opponent shoots without setup, it’s simply not going to happen. In order to have a chance to finish a shot, her opponent has to close the distance without getting countered, which is a tremendously difficult task on its own.
In the clinch, Holm did an excellent job of defending Rousey’s Judo attack. By keeping her hips back and framing at the waist, Holm was able to deny a great deal of her opponent’s attempts. Additionally, Holm would grab one of Rousey’s arms with both of hers — severely limiting her foe’s offensive options — before turning a corner and escaping the clinch.
Holm’s jiu-jitsu has really only been tested twice. In her title fight with Rousey, her defense held up, and she was able to win the title because of it. In her bout with Tate, however, Holm tried to rush back to her feet, and it cost her the strap.
A couple minutes into the first round of her bout with Rousey, Holm’s opponent managed to secure a clinch in the center of the Octagon. From there, the Judoka looked for her usual head-and-arm throw. While Holm didn’t let her really complete the throw, Rousey was able to drag them both to the mat and overhooked her opponent’s arm.
From there, Rousey threw her leg over and tried to transition into the armbar. However, Holm prevented her from doing this with some important little details. First and foremost, Holm kept her head tucked and did not allow Rousey to hook her face with the leg. Furthermore, Holm kept her weight back and allowed Rousey to slowly slide off the top position, eventually loosening the hold enough that Holm could yank away and return to her feet.
Opposite Tate, Holm failed to show that same patience. Unfortunately for "Preacher’s Daughter," her method of standing up involved turning her back and trying stand up quickly. That can be an effective method of escape, but it’s also quite risky and can give up the rear naked choke.
Holm is coming to the end of a long combat sports career. The 35 year old already has boxed professionally for over a decade, and she’s now lost three straight fights. That’s not necessarily an automatic signal that her career is over, but it’s hardly a promising sign. To remain a relevant face in any division and delay that end, this is an absolute must-win bout.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.