Former Bantamweight strap-hanger, Holly Holm, looks to earn another title shot by taking out streaking contender, Ketlen Vieira, this Saturday (May 21, 2022) inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada for UFC Vegas 55.
Holm was last seen inside the Octagon in Oct. 2020, when she showed top prospect Irene Aldana that there’s levels to this s—t. Several injuries have kept Holm from returning to action, but has it really mattered much? A single victory puts her right back in the title mix, ready to square off with either Amanda Nunes or Julianna Pena. Admittedly, there is one new question: can Holm keep up her high pace at 40 years of age? We’ll have to wait until Saturday for that answer, but until then, let’s take a closer look at her skill set:
Holm’s striking is one of the strangest conundrums in the sport. We have a genuinely decorated boxing champion who frankly does mediocre work in the cage with her hands, relying almost entirely on her kicks to win fights.
On paper, Holm essentially has three ways she can do damage. Listed from most effective to ineffective, those methods are range kicking, countering her foe’s attempts to close that range, and bursting forward with short combinations.
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 besides 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. Boring as it was, Holm’s bout with Correia was contested in similar fashion. The Brazilian was patient but nothing else, enabling Holm to potshot her with kicks until a question mark kick fully found its mark (GIF).
That’s pretty much the ideal result for Holm. Against a fighter like Raquel Pennington, Holm may also have to mix in some time holding her opponent against the fence in the clinch as well, racking up some control points.
In her bouts with Shevchenko and de Randamie, however, this approach failed. Both women were skilled enough to kick with Holm, and they showed patience in waiting for Holm to charge in. Holm does not move her head much on the advance, which led to both women being able to plant, take their head off the center line, and crack Holm with counters.
If Holm’s opponent seeks to close the distance, it’s very different story. 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.
Irene Aldana fell into this trap in a huge way. She failed to cut off the cage, instead following Holm around — the worst possible strategy vs. the former champion. Over and over, Holm would set her feet, land a left, then disappear at an angle, wrap up a clinch, or fully commit to a takedown. Aldana just kept walking into shots, and Holm has never looked better.
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. In addition, 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 set ups 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. Alternatively, Holm commonly uses the right hook — or merely slaps her opponents’ lead hand down — to encourage them to slip into the kick.
Holm will also look to kick on the counter. As her opponent reaches for her with a punch, Holm will slip a kick underneath her arm into the exposed ribs. When the body is wide open and stretched out, it’s particularly susceptible to being kick.
The Rousey fight is undoubtedly 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 so repeatedly opposite the Judoka, making her opponent fly passed her and then capitalizing on the vulnerable positions.
Besides the round kick, Holm has some other dangerous kicking techniques. For example, she uses the lead leg side kick to great effect. If her punching combination come up short, Holm can instead push her opponent backwards with the side kick. Furthermore, Holm works to build off her side kick with other lead leg attacks. For example, Holm can surprise her opponent with a hook kick.
Lastly, Holm uses the oblique kick very well. Against opponents looking to close the distance aggressively and moving on a straight line, the oblique kick can completely stall their approach, making it a valuable weapon for “The Preacher’s Daughter.”
It’s taken a few fights, but we finally have a fair read on Holm’s wrestling ability. On the whole, she’s been difficult to take down, only succumbing to very well setup takedowns.
Opposite de Randamie, Holm showed some really disappointing offensive wrestling. She repeatedly attained dominant positions like the body lock, back clinch, or hands-locked-along-the-fence double leg. Unfortunately, Holm showed a lack of understanding in regards to posture, trying to muscle de Randamie around and failing to complete the takedown as a result.
Fortunately, Holm showed genuine improvement in this area opposite Megan Anderson! I don’t mean to imply she wrestled like Khabib, but when Holm jammed her foe into the cage and got in on the hips, she was able to walk her hips in and finish the takedown properly. Wall-wrestling won her the fight!
That improvement continued opposite Aldana. Again, it goes back to footwork. As Aldana moved forward, her hips squared, and Holm was able to line her up for relatively easy double legs. She also showed a bit of chain wrestling skill, working inside and outside trips into her shot.
It was really night and day compared to her 2017 fight with de Randamie
Defensively, there’s an obvious benefit to working from the edge of the kicking range. If Holm’s opponent shoots without set up, it’s simply not going to happen. To have a chance to finish a shot, her opponent has to close the distance without getting countered, which is a difficult task on its own..
In the clinch, Holm notably 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.
However, Valentina Shevchenko was more able to trick Holm in the clinch, perhaps because she wasn’t so dogged in her pursuit of the takedown. Shevchenko off-balanced her opponent well in close, turning Holm before looking to sneak a trip or foot sweep.
Holm’s defensive 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 Miesha Tate, however, Holm tried to rush back to her feet, and it cost her the strap.
Several 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 a longtime veteran of the sport, and she understands how she wins fights. Holm matches up well vs. the straightforward aggression of Vieira, and a victory puts her right back into the immediate title mix.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.
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