When Holly Holm crashed her left shin against Ronda Rousey’s jaw and toppled a championship reign that had drawn worldwide attention, Holm quickly came to be seen as the heir to Rousey’s throne and the usurper of her fame. Here was the next golden girl, who like Rousey was accomplished in combat sports, articulate and telegenic, a ternary combination that seemed irresistible to fans and media alike.
In the immediate aftermath, everything seemed to be setting her up for a long reign: her game, her personality and her conscientious outlook.
"I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder is probably the thing I’ve been saying about that," Holm told FOX Sports shortly before her first title defense attempt. ”I don’t want it to be this one performance. I want to show people that I’m here for a reason and for me, I want to keep going, I want to keep getting better, I want to keep learning.”
Eighteen months later, all of her best-laid plans have evaporated, one disappointing loss at a time.
And now, it's led to this: On Saturday, Holm is headlining perhaps the weakest card of 2017. The UFC Fight Night main event features Holm, who is 0-3 dating back to that seemingly landmark win over Rousey, against Bethe Correia, who has won only one of her last four fights.
The event will be broadcast from Kallang, Singapore, and airs on UFC Fight Pass, ensuring the smallest audience for a Holm fight since she entered the UFC in early 2015.
That the UFC jettisoned Holm to the other side of the world to fight on its digital streaming site rather than television and on a card with little in the way of championship stakes is no coincidence. If the organization doesn’t see her as a declining asset, they most likely view her as a compromised one. The silver lining for Holm is that she has a realistic path to rebuilding her name value and star power.
In this matchup, the UFC has given Holm (10-3) an eminently winnable bout; most fight experts expect her to win Saturday night, and the odds see her as a heavy favorite, by as much as 6-1, per OddsShark.
In Correia (10-2-1), she is facing an opponent largely perceived as someone who has outperformed her potential, having advanced to a title shot back in 2015. Correia is not particularly fast or powerful, and she doesn’t have much offensive flourish to her game. She is mostly workmanlike, aggressively attempting to pile up strikes while prodding the fight to suit her rugged style. Her game is more heart than skill.
By contrast, Holm is polished and deliberate, preferring to let her opponent lead while waiting for openings to counter.
Holm’s patience has been both her blessing and curse. When opponents rush her, as Rousey did in their Nov. 2015 matchup, Holm is at her best, using her skilled footwork to sidestep blitzes and her talented hands to land counters. She is murderous on static targets.
As opponents have figured this out and game plans have changed, Holm has looked decidedly average.
It may seem crass or unfair to characterize a former UFC champion in that way, but there is statistical evidence that Holm is the opposite of Correia and has underperformed her potential. Remember that Holm entered the UFC as a multi-time boxing champ, yet, according to FightMetric, she has landed only 34 percent of attempted significant strikes, a number below UFC average. She has been successful on only 18 percent of takedown tries, a downright poor number. Holm has also lost as a favorite three times and been out-struck in two of those fights.
In short, during her UFC run she performed brilliantly as an underdog against Rousey and has been inconsistent time and again as a favorite.
Fortunately for her, Correia seems tailor-made as an opponent. Correia will almost certainly come forward and offer Holm openings. It is up to Holm to capitalize upon them. If she can’t, Correia is likely to pile up enough strikes to take the lead on the scorecards—or at least to make the judges’ jobs more difficult based on sheer volume.
That’s exactly what’s happened to Holm in each of her last two fights, both unanimous decision losses. Against Valentina Shevchenko, Holm was out-struck 119-73, per FightMetric. Against Germaine de Randamie, she finished the fight at a 144-122 deficit.
And if she can’t beat Correia, what exactly will that say about Holm?
First, we must acknowledge that Holm’s decorated boxing past can’t be taken away from her. Her UFC championship win can’t be overlooked, either. Both of those accomplishments cement her combat sports bona fides.
If we concede that point, we must also accept that the legacies of active fighters are always in the process of being rewritten.
Eighteen months after Holm’s shocking knockout of Rousey, this fight against Correia stands as a point of no return. If she can’t rise to the occasion as an overwhelming favorite and on the motivation of breaking a losing streak, then that result makes a statement that cannot be disregarded.
There have been plenty of fighters who struggled to adapt as the fight world adapted to them. On Saturday, Holm gets a chance to reset herself or forever risk being labeled as the very thing she resisted: an MMA one-hit wonder.