Holly Holm picked up her first UFC win at 145 pounds in her last outing, which in the thin women’s featherweight division, kept her right at the top of the contenders’ rankings.
A former bantamweight titleholder who has also twice competed for the featherweight title, Holm is determined to be champion again, and whether it’s at 135 or 145, the woman to beat right now is Amanda Nunes.
“The Lioness” staked her claim as the best female fighter in the world when she knocked out the seemingly indomitable Cris Cyborg at UFC 232 to add the featherweight crown to the bantamweight one that she has held since July 2016. Nunes’s dominant run also includes wins over current flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Sara McMann, and Germaine de Randamie. She’s beaten almost every top name the UFC has to offer.
But she hasn’t crossed paths with Holm yet.
After picking up a convincing win over Megan Anderson in a featherweight bout at UFC 225 last June, Holm is returning to 135 pounds to fight the undefeated Aspen Ladd at UFC 235, which takes place on March 2 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Getting past Ladd would put Holm right in the mix for another crack at bantamweight gold, and if a showdown between her and Nunes is going to occur that’s the weight class she sees it happening in.
“I think that bantamweight is probably where we would fight, I think that would be the case,” Holm recently told MMA Fighting. “Who knows really how the future goes, but I definitely think that bantamweight is what we would fight at. I’ve been wanting to go to bantamweight for a while, but that doesn’t mean that I’m so focused on it that I’m not open to other opportunities at ‘45. I’m just taking each fight as it comes. Aspen Ladd is at 135, so that’s where I’m going.”
Nunes herself has all but nixed any talk of defending her newly won featherweight belt, even going as far as to tease a drop down to flyweight instead for a third battle with Shevchenko. That could mean the women’s featherweight division may not even exist soon, rendering any talk of a 145-pound clash between her and Holm moot.
Watching Cyborg lose in the manner she did was a surprise to Holm, though Nunes’s aggression and the wildness of the exchanges left the door open for almost any possibility. Having also fought Cyborg and Shevchenko, Holm has some idea of how a contest with Nunes might unfold and even though Nunes was able to defeat those two opponents and Holm couldn’t, she doesn’t think MMA math should be taken into consideration if they’re ever matched up.
“It just shows how styles make a difference,” Holm said. “So Amanda can’t look at a fight with Cyborg and say, ‘Well, I beat Cyborg, and Cyborg beat Holly, so I can beat Holly.’ It’s just styles make a difference. You look at the fight with Shevchenko and Nunes. It was more of a battle, more of a death match, more of a game like that. And Nunes had a hard time with Shevchenko, who is now a 125-pound champ, but she was able to knock out a 145-pound champ. You look at there’s a 20-pound difference in between that and when they fought at 135 it was just a whole other game.
“And a fight with Amanda and I would never be how it went with her and Shevchenko, it’s not going to be how it was with her and Cyborg. Every fight makes a difference because styles make a difference, but with that being said, you can always look at fights and everybody has tendencies and habits and things like that. But that just brings me back to one of my main points that anything can happen in there. There’s no promise of any victory. You have to get in there and work hard and anything can happen.”
Right now, Holm’s primary concern is dealing with Ladd at UFC 235. Ladd, 23, is 14 years younger than Holm. When Holm was capturing her first major boxing title back in 2006, Ladd was still in middle school.
Now Ladd, 7-0 as a pro competing for the UFC and Invicta FC, is being touted as a future contender. After weight cut problems led to the cancellation of a fight with Leslie Smith last April, Ladd bounced back by taking out veteran Tonya Evinger via first-round TKO at UFC 229.
Holm is taking the threat of Ladd seriously based on her own recollection of what it was like to be the hungry, up-and-coming prospect.
“I can remember that I felt that I don’t care what anybody thinks, I’m going to go show them,” Holm said. “I’m tough, I can handle this, I’m going to prove everybody wrong, and I know that that’s what she’s thinking. I’ll just say this, I’m glad that I was there, I understand where she’s coming from, I understand how she feels. With that being said, knowing how she feels, I can shut that down.
“One of the things that I think was the biggest thing when I was young, a lot of these fighters overlooked me because I hadn’t really made that huge name yet and I thought they’re probably overlooking me because I’m somebody to fear, and I know that she feels that way. And the biggest threat in a fighter is when a fighter truly, truly believes in themselves. She’s going to be truly, truly believing in herself and I need to shut that down.”