Fans may have been asking for a women’s flyweight division, but the Ultimate Fighting Championship went ahead with its plans to build a new weight class around featherweight star Cristiane Justino. Unfortunately for the brass, “Cyborg” was not eager to go through another brutal weight cut so soon after her last fight -- and then word got out that she may have committed another doping violation. Nonetheless, the featherweight division is here, and the organization is forced to give two career bantamweights a shot at the 145-pound crown.
For Holly Holm, the title shot in the UFC 208 headliner on Saturday in Brooklyn, New York, represents a chance for redemption. The former pro boxer suffered two disappointing defeats in a row following her spectacular upset win over Ronda Rousey to take the bantamweight crown. Germaine de Randamie has never achieved such heights in the UFC, but the muay Thai specialist is sitting atop a two-fight winning streak and looks to carve out a name for herself by beating one of female MMA’s biggest stars.
Anderson Silva and Derek Brunson battle it out in the co-main event, with both men hungry to get themselves back on the winning track. Further down the card, Ronaldo Souza stays warm while Yoel Romero and Michael Bisping prepare to fight for the middleweight title, and new fan-favorite Jared Cannonier gets a crack at the light heavyweight top five.
Let us dive into our analysis and predictions for each UFC 208 matchup:
UFC Women’s Featherweight ChampionshipHolly Holm (10-2) vs. Germaine de Randamie (6-3)
THE MATCHUP: This is a kickboxing match, and it is not often we can honestly say that in modern MMA. Neither Holm nor de Randamie is predisposed to look for takedowns, and both are perfectly content to mix kicks and punches at long range. The martial arts backgrounds explain much of this. De Randamie was undefeated in 37 fights as a kickboxer and earned a handful of lesser muay Thai championships in Europe. Holm was a longtime boxing champion with a record of 33-2-3. She spent over a decade of her life training to compete in the squared circle. One of the many beauties of MMA is that it offers a new, more profitable outlet for martial artists of every discipline, at least those who cannot compete in the big-money world of men’s professional boxing.
The fact that Holm is equally willing to strike is actually a boon for de Randamie, whose biggest weakness as a mixed martial artist has always been her ground game: She was outgrappled in all three of her defeats. Given the opportunity to strike, however, de Randamie has looked every bit as impressive as Holm did when she dominated Rousey. Like Holm, de Randamie likes to stick and move, waiting patiently to pick off her opponents on the way in. However, de Randamie is a significantly more powerful striker. Not only does she excel with short punch-kick combinations, but she has a fearsome Thai clinch that plays wonderfully off of her considerable height.
Holm’s style is decidedly more idiosyncratic. Even more so than de Randamie, Holm is at her best when her opponent plods after her. Because she does not transfer weight very well into her punches, she only does damage when her opponent is walking into her knuckles. When the striking battle becomes a stalemate, Holm’s punches are better used to set up kicks. Holm likes to prod and push with a lead leg side kick, but the left high kick is her most dangerous weapon. Holm is an impressive physical specimen, shorter of both arm and stature than de Randamie but more heavily muscled. As such, she can hold her own in the clinch, though she prefers to control and smother where de Randamie strikes.
Even as a boxer, Holm was never a puncher. Instead, she succeeded thanks to a seemingly bottomless gas tank, a granite chin and a high-volume style. Much of Holm’s volume, however, does not land. Oddly, her forward-leaning stance prevents her from covering distance with her strikes. Valentina Shevchenko kept Holm from connecting simply by stepping back, prompting the Jackson-Wink MMA standout into more and more reckless rushes over the course of the fight. Worryingly, Holm was made to look rather rote in the process, slinging out predetermined combinations without much craft. De Randamie is not necessarily a more creative striker, but she is far more comfortable stepping in and sitting down on her shots.
It must be said that de Randamie’s stamina is something of a question mark, as she has never participated in a five-round fight. Her conditioning has never seemed particularly suspect, however, and one would assume that her kickboxing background makes her well prepared to duke it out for 25 minutes at a relatively slow pace. Unless Holm breaks new ground and attempts to outwrestle de Randamie, her gas tank should hold up. Holm’s stamina, of course, is ironclad.
THE ODDS: De Randamie (-123), Holm (+103)
THE PICK: The limitations of Holm’s style were laid bare in her bout with Shevchenko. Though grit and determination have always been aces up her sleeve, no amount of desire enabled her to outstrike a kickboxer who simply refused to take the lead. De Randamie will not be so reticent, but she will also not chase Holm, a la Rousey. Then there is the power differential. Holm is mechanically incapable of generating serious power in her hands, and her left high kick has consistently been the only weapon with which she hurts opponents at range. De Randamie has the footwork and awareness to evade this weapon and more than enough power of her own to repay Holm in kind. She may not hold onto it for long, but this matchup just might be the perfect opportunity for de Randamie to show off what she has always done well: beat up people on the feet. The pick is de Randamie by unanimous decision.
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