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If you’d charted out different potential courses for Holly Holm just 19 months ago when she knocked out Ronda Rousey in front of over 50,000 people to win the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight crown, it would be hard to come up with a realistic worst-case scenario much more discouraging than what has actually transpired. Many thought Holm’s win over Rousey was a passing of the guard and that Holm had finally fully adapted her athleticism and striking skill to MMA. Big things seemed like they might be on the horizon. The likeable Holm was on top of the world and the recipient of a hometown parade in her honor before it all came crashing down.
Looking back, when Miesha Tate choked out “The Preacher’s Daughter” to take away Holm’s title, it was the high point of the Albuquerque, New Mexico, native’s last three fights. At least with Tate she showcased her dangerous striking and was winning the fight before the late submission. It was a setback, but all fighters have those. Against Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie, the problem wasn’t just that she lost. It was that she often looked listless in the process. She wasn’t stopped, but she dropped her second and third straight fights.
To make matters worse, Rousey’s struggles since then and Rousey’s brutal loss to Amanda Nunes have diminished Holm’s signature win. It seems less the turning back of the unstoppable force that it was thought to be at the time. The big highlight that keeps getting replayed now is Nunes’ knockout of Rousey, since that’s the one setting up the main event of UFC 213. Holm getting overshadowed by Nunes would have seemed improbable not so long ago.
Holm helped to draw a massive buy rate at UFC 196 and then popped an impressive rating on Fox the next card after that. Interest in star fighters often continues even after they repeatedly lose, particularly for well-liked figures. However, that interest doesn’t last forever. This time out, it feels like nobody is talking about Holm’s UFC Fight Night 111 main event on Saturday in Singapore, overshadowed improbably by a Michael Chiesa-Kevin Lee card the following weekend. Holm desperately needs the sort of performance that will make fans excited to see her next time out.
There’s also the matter of her opponent. Bethe Correia seems on paper like the perfect gift. Correia is a standup fighter but a brawler with little of the technical prowess of the former boxing champion. Correia doesn’t have much punching power to boot and the fight is scheduled for five rounds, plenty of opportunity for the more powerful Holm to land a big shot. Even with her recent struggles, Holm is still a 6-to-1 favorite at most sportsbooks, odds that if anything do not seem long enough. Correia is pretty close to a perfect style matchup for Holm. Correia also talks up her fights and makes a great antagonist for Holm to silence.
All of these factors make Correia a great opponent for Holm, but they make it even more of a problem if she can’t pick up the win. It would be a fourth straight loss and one coming as a heavy favorite on a low-profile show. At age 35, many would likely write off Holm. It is thus imperative that she win this fight. The pressure has to be incredibly great, and both Holm and her past opponents have spoken previously about how she deals with pressure. It’s natural to have nerves before a fistfight, but those nerves take a heavier toll on some than others.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Holm also has to deal with questions of legacy. Holm’s victory over Rousey is likely to be one of the best-remembered fights of this era, if not in MMA history. That notoriety has downsides. It’s not fair given her accomplishments in boxing and MMA, but she may be perceived by many to be more of an answer to a trivia question than an elite superstar in her own right if her tumble only continues from here. Holm deserves better, but the public memory isn’t always kind and just.
The stakes in MMA are of course highest in the biggest title fights. However, short of a big title fight where the repercussions that stem from victory or defeat are so obvious, Holm’s fight against Correia is about as important of a fight to win as one can imagine. She needs to win and to win impressively for so many different reasons, and a loss would be devastating on numerous levels. That’s a lot to think about on a flight halfway around the world. Hopefully for Holm’s sake, the long flight home will provide welcome solace rather than a long opportunity to ruminate on how it all went wrong.