Preview: UFC 239 ‘Jones vs. Santos’

Nunes vs. Holm

By Tom Feely Jul 3, 2019

UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship

Amanda Nunes (17-4) vs. Holly Holm (12-4)

ODDS: Nunes (-325), Holm (+265)

At the time, seeing UFC 200 end with Nunes holding her newly won women’s bantamweight title aloft seemed like a strange capper to a strange show. Late changes and shuffled bout orders marred the card, and Nunes was clearly the promotional B-side to incumbent champion Miesha Tate. However, those events have aged better over the course of the last three years, as all Nunes has done is proven herself as perhaps the greatest female fighter of all-time. She memorably obliterated Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds, and after an excruciating decision win over Valentina Shevchenko, Nunes rebounded in stellar fashion with wins over Raquel Pennington and Cristiane Justino. The win over “Cyborg” was obviously the feather in the cap that put Nunes near the top of consensus Greatest of All-Time lists. Justino decided to spark a brawl, as Nunes went punch for punch with one of the most fearsome fighters in the sport and came out on top. It would be nice if all of Nunes’ in-cage success meant that she clicked with the public -- despite the historic significance of her wins, she has never been much of a box office draw -- but instead, hardcore fans will have to be content watching her put in some excellent work.

There is still one name left on Nunes’ checklist of top fighters of her generation: Holm. “The Preacher’s Daughter” has had the opposite experience of Nunes across the last few years. She has only won two of her last six fights but still maintains her Q rating from one of the biggest moments in MMA history, when she became the first woman to beat Rousey and did so with a beautifully destructive kick to the head. That was also seen as Holm’s coming-out party after two lackluster decision wins, but in retrospect, the violence had more to do with Rousey’s defensive issues than anything from Holm. At her core, “The Preacher’s Daughter” is content to circle, pick apart her opponent and coast to a slow-paced decision victory. After her encounter with Rousey, Holm endured a tough run of fights. It took five rounds, but Tate eventually managed to submit Holm and expose her lack of a ground game. In two subsequent appearances, Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie simply beat Holm on the feet. Holm’s last few outings have gone better. Bethe Correia could not hang with Holm as an athlete, and Megan Anderson actually got outwrestled. Sandwiched in between those two wins was a decision loss to “Cyborg.” A lot has been made of this being an undeserved shot for Holm, but frankly, there are not any better options for Nunes at the moment, and the former champion should at least provide a worthy challenge.

Nunes is on a roll, but this seems like a particularly terrible style matchup for her. The book of Nunes was always fairly simple. She was a destroyer early but would gas out badly and become a sitting duck in later rounds. However, since her last loss to Cat Zingano in 2014, that has not mattered much, as Nunes just ran through opponents in quick order. The lone exception was Shevchenko, who took over late but fell just short of winning the decision, and it was in their rematch that Nunes finally seemed concerned with her cardio issues. Shevchenko did not do much of anything, while Nunes was too nervous about gassing to force the issue. The result was a terrible fight that Nunes nearly lost. It is difficult to tell if those issues have corrected themselves based on Nunes’ next two fights. Pennington was just physically overmatched, as Nunes slowly beat her down, and the quick and violent pace of the Cyborg fight was mostly forced by Justino and not viewed as evidence that Nunes was going back to being a berserker. If Nunes does not press the issue here, Holm might be able to take the same approach as Shevchenko, only this time with enough physicality and power in her strikes to actually take the decision. Holm is going to force Nunes to chase, which will present the champion with one of two options: Either she hunts the finish and risks gassing, or she likely loses a slow-paced range striking match against a faster fighter. Even in a brawl, Holm is quite durable; she might even be able to take things to the clinch as a safety net, as she is one of the few fighters who might be strong enough to control Nunes in tight spaces. Holm may just be rote enough and Nunes may just be practiced enough that the champ can win exchanges in a slow-paced boxing match, but “The Preacher’s Daughter” appears to provide a more difficult version of the challenges Shevchenko brought. On the flipside, Nunes is a less physical version of the challenges “Cyborg” brought, and if nothing else, Holm proved against Justino that she could win undeserved rounds from Nevada judges. A win here for Nunes would serve as the last piece of her legacy, but the pick is Holm to claim a lackluster decision.

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