Holly Holm's prospects seemed bleak to begin 2017.
In February, Holm suffered a tepid unanimous-decision loss to Germaine de Randamie in a fight for the UFC's inaugural women's featherweight championship. The defeat was a double-whammy for Holm, as it was not only her third straight loss in the Octagon, but it came in a bout that appeared intended to put the 145-pound belt around her waist.
A few months after turning 35 years old, that three-fight skid—including two championship losses in two different weight classes—made it feel unlikely that Holm would ever recapture the heights she enjoyed following her iconic UFC 193 win over Ronda Rousey. At that time, she was also out of the title picture in both divisions.
Four months later, things look much brighter for Holm. It's amazing what a highlight-reel knockout can do.
Following Saturday's third-round KO of Bethe Correia at UFC Fight Night 111, Holm shapes up as the potential No. 1 contender at women's featherweight or bantamweight. With one swing of her leg, she vaulted herself from down-and-out to the brink of an enticing championship match wherever she fights next.
A lot will depend on the lay of the land.
At 135 pounds, current champ Amanda Nunes is scheduled to defend her title against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213 on July 8. Three weeks later at UFC 214, Cris "Cyborg" Justino will fight Invicta FC featherweight champ Megan Anderson for the vacant 145-pound belt recently stripped from de Randamie.
No matter who wins either of those fights, Holm could have next.
That's remarkable considering her Saturday victory over Correia was her first win since the November 2015 shocker over Rousey.
"It's been a year-and-a-half since I was able to do a back flip in here," Holm told UFC color commentator Dan Hardy after the fight was over, referring to her traditional in-cage victory celebration with coach Mike Winkeljohn.
The Octagon missed the @HollyHolm backflip #UFCSingapore https://t.co/RjDLHh9Onz2017-6-17 14:24:30
Credit Holm's lingering marketability and the jaw-dropping nature of the kick she landed on Correia for instantly rehabilitating her image, but she also needed outside help to get back to contender status.
First, she needed turnover at the top of the bantamweight division, as former champion Miesha Tate (who beat Holm for the strap at UFC 196) lost to Nunes at UFC 200.
Second, she needed de Randamie's championship run to implode before it even left the launch pad.
It's hard to fathom how poorly de Randamie handled what should have been the biggest coup of her professional fighting career. After defeating Holm at UFC 208, she wasted little time setting fire to her own title reign.
The 33-year-old Dutch fighter appeared to want no part of fighting Cyborg, and she sent mixed messages about whether it was because she needed hand surgery or because of the Brazilian's positive test for steroids in 2011.
De Randamie also openly discussed dropping back down to bantamweight—an odd move for a fighter who had just won the title at featherweight.
After only 128 days, the UFC got tired enough of having de Randamie as 145-pound champ that it vacated her title and set up Cyborg versus Anderson.
As ESPN's Brett Okamoto joked on Twitter, that move effectively rebooted the beleaguered weight class:
Brett Okamoto @bokamotoESPN
UFC women's featherweight division. https://t.co/BZIErPyeCg2017-6-19 13:12:09
It's also great news for Holm.
Assuming the fight between Justino and Anderson plays out according to chalk and Cyborg dispatches the Invicta champion, Holm likely makes the most sense as her next challenger.
After all, that's what matchmakers had in mind the first time around, before negotiations fell apart with Cyborg and they had to scramble to insert de Randamie.
For her part, Justino is already saying she thinks a No. 1-contender bout between Holm and Cat Zingano is called for, but let's be reasonable. The UFC women's 145-pound division is already mostly make believe. Without a large body of fighters from which to choose, there's no reason to have viable contenders picking each other off.
No matter who wins the Justino-Anderson fight, the right move is to have Holm up next, with Zingano waiting in the wings for the winner of that fight.
If the featherweight landscape appears untenable for whatever reason, Holm would also make an equally appealing challenger for the winner of Nunes-Shevchenko.
With Rousey now likely gone for good and Tate retired, Holm is the best-known fighter on the UFC's women's 135-pound roster. If Nunes retains her title with a win over Shevchenko, a Nunes-versus-Holm pairing would be the bantamweight division's highest-profile option.
Holm would certainly be preferable to matching Nunes up with either Julianna Pena or Raquel Pennington.
Perhaps most interesting, both opponents—Cyborg or Nunes—present good matchups of styles for Holm.
The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native is always at her best against aggressive foes who will bring the fight to her. That covers both Justino and Nunes, who have each established reputations as hard-nosed, strike-first fighters.
Because of it, any bout with Holm seems like a surefire winner.
That makes for a dramatic turnaround for a fighter who seemed to be near the end of her rope just a few months ago but now suddenly finds herself a dual-division title threat all over again.