Preview: UFC on ESPN 16

Holm vs. Aldana

By Tom Feely Oct 1, 2020

The Ultimate Fighting Championship was bound for a letdown after a strong September, and UFC on ESPN 16 this Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, looks like it could be the card.

The promotion tried to load up the event, but for one reason or another, strong supporting fights—Glover Teixeira vs. Thiago Santos, Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush and Edson Barboza vs. Jeremy Stephens—all fell through. As a result, this main card becomes notable for two women’s bantamweight battles that should help provide some clarity near the top of the division. Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie could just hold serve, but if either Irene Aldana or Julianna Pena manages to deliver a breakthrough victory, not all will be lost. Beyond those bouts, Yorgan De Castro and Carlos Felipe figure to provide predictably unpredictable action between unranked heavyweights, while fresh-faced prospects like Kyler Phillips, Cameron Else and Dusko Todorovic get their chance to supply some excitement.

Now to the preview for the UFC on ESPN 16 “Holm vs. Aldana” main card:

Women’s Bantamweights

Holly Holm (13-5) vs. Irene Aldana (12-5)

ODDS: Holm (-125), Aldana (+105)

There is always the chance that the UFC could put Holm right back into a title fight, but it looks like she is now firmly in the phase of picking off other contenders. Holm will always have one of the biggest moments in mixed martial arts history to her credit, but since breaking both the undefeated streak and the psyche of Ronda Rousey, it seems like both her and the UFC have been attempting to recapture lightning in a bottle. The win over Rousey gave Holm the proverbial rub in a way that few have ever gotten from unseating a star, as she has remained a box-office draw in the years since. However, ever since Holm dropped her bantamweight title to Miesha Tate, attempts to get her back into the mix have been unsuccessful. What was supposed to be a rebound fight against Valentina Shevchenko instead turned into the future flyweight champion’s breakout win, and an attempt to use Holm to kickstart the women’s featherweight division saw her lose a contentious decision to Germaine de Randamie. Even so, Holm has still gotten fast-tracked to the title picture. It only took one win each to get “The Preacher’s Daughter” into championship bouts against Cristiane Justino and Amanda Nunes. However, after Nunes blasted Holm and finished her within a round, it is difficult to see where the Jackson-Wink MMA standout goes from here. Her last fight against Raquel Pennington made sense, given that “Rocky” was another Nunes victim who does not figure into current championship plans, but now, Holm is just here to play spoiler against Aldana.

Aldana did not have quite the amount of hype as teammate Alexa Grasso when she made her UFC debut, but hopes were still high for the Guadalajara, Mexico, native. She stood out as both an effective and exciting fighter during her time in Invicta Fighting Championships, and her debut came just as the UFC was focusing its promotional efforts on Mexico. However, Leslie Smith immediately exposed the holes in Aldana’s game. Against a dedicated pressure fighter, Aldana’s technically sound boxing game suddenly looked slow, as she found herself unable to adjust. After a second loss to open her UFC career, Aldana was essentially written off until she quietly won her next three bouts. Even if the best win of the bunch was over Bethe Correia, it gave her enough momentum to become a concern in a thin division. After a narrow loss to Pennington, Aldana has obviously tried to shore up her weaknesses, and positive results have followed. Admittedly, Vanessa Melo was the perfect opponent for Aldana to show off against. Melo is an aggressive counterpuncher who might be the slowest fighter in the division, which gave Aldana a blank canvas with which to work in terms of throwing out her offense; and while Ketlen Vieira’s pressuring ability obviously gave Aldana some issues, her newfound willingness to throw paid off big, as she uncorked a surprising knockout blow to make herself a contender. In another time, the UFC probably would have capitalized on this opportunity to have a Mexican title challenger, but Aldana instead has to prove herself one more time here against Holm. At the very least, she is as well-equipped as ever to score the upset.

This will probably be the type of fight that does not do anyone any favors, but Aldana should at least get the bout she wants in some aspects. Pressure should not be an issue for Aldana, at least in terms of striking. Holm is as committed as ever to a low-power game that seems more intent on neutralizing her opponents than anything else. If this turns into an interminable low-volume affair, there is the chance that Aldana can throw some hard shots and essentially win some coinflip rounds as Holm commits to inactivity. However, Aldana is just outgunned as an athlete, and Holm’s lone improvement over the years has been to focus more on her clinch game in order to stall out her fights and win rounds—something judging seemingly has not moved past yet, based on her surprisingly close scorecards against Justino. Holm has been durable enough over the years that an Aldana knockout does not look to be in the cards, so expect this to be 25 minutes of her dragging the Lobo Gym rep into quicksand. The pick is Holm via decision.

Continue Reading » De Castro vs. Felipe

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