Mixed martial arts (MMA) as a sport changes quickly. On the whole, MMA fighters do not.
This is particularly true when we’re talking about fighters in their late 30s who have already been high-level professionals for many years. It’s extremely, extra true when talking about high-level professionals in their mid-to-late 30s who also have multi-decade careers in other combat sports.
It just doesn’t happen. Habits built through 20 formative years are habits that tyhpically remain ... for better or worse. Yet, against all the odds, Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie showed noticeable improvement last night at UFC Fight Island 4, which took place inside Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
It was plenty shocking, but better yet, it was inspiring. Not only was it really cool to see these two veterans succeed where they struggled in the past, but their strong performances also inspired hope for the future. Perhaps rematches with Amanda Nunes are not destined for failure. Can one of the women even improve to the point that Nunes doesn’t retire as double champ?
That’s likely a step too far, but it’s hard for me not to feel positive after witnessing growth.
de Randamie has always struggled with the grappling aspect of fighting. She’s absurdly decorated as a kickboxer, but the second an opponent level changes into her hips ... she looks a bit lost. There’s been signs of improvement, like when she attempted to triangle Nunes or successfully denied Raquel Pennington’s clinch takedowns, but overall, it seemed unlikely that “Iron Lady” would ever fully adjust to that portion of the game.
Julianna Pena seemed perfectly poised to capitalize on these historic issues. She’s tough as nails, in great shape, and her takedown game rarely fails. Sure enough, things were tied up heading into the third, and Pena was riding a wave of momentum after a strong second round.
Then, it happened: an ultra slick power guillotine. de Randamie used her clinch expertise to deny the upper body takedown, convincing Pena that dropping levels to the legs was the right move. Hell, I was convinced too, wondering why “The Venezuelan Vixen” didn’t hurry up and commit to the single.
The second Pena did drop down, de Randamie fully committed to a wonderfully executed guillotine. She locked in the grip so quickly that there was nowhere to go, and Pena took a nap.
It was brilliant, and had I not seen the transition, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Holm’s adjustments were more consistent and perhaps more impressive. Like her teammate Michelle Waterson a few weeks ago, the primary criticism raised against Holm has been a lack of commitment to her punches. This deep into her career, that seemed impossible to fix.
Somehow, Holm flicked the mental switch. She planted on overhands that wobbled her opponent, stuck jabs, and really seemed to be fighting to finish. She straight up beat Aldana up, landing at a higher volume than ever and actually punishing her opponent.
More than that, Holm’s wrestling has developed so much! I will never forget watching her secure body locks and double leg positions against de Randamie in their 2017 title fight, unable to figure out how to walk her hips into position to lift. It was immensely frustrating.
Three years later, Holm not only knows how to finish a body lock takedown, but she was chaining transitions together! In the final round, she put together two clinch throw attempts before finishing with a trip. At one point, she secured the behind-the-back wrist control from top position.
It was an overwhelming amount of improvement fully showcased in a dominant 25-minute performance.
With Nunes defending her Featherweight crown next opposite Megan Anderson, there is a clear path forward for both women. The two will almost certainly rematch, and these improvements will be quite important.
For complete UFC Fight Island 4: “Holm vs. Aldana” results and play-by-play, click HERE!