Holly Holm got back in the win column in a big way at UFC Fight Night 111: Holm vs. Correia Saturday. Now the question becomes, “where does she go from here?”
It’s clear from her booking as a headliner at UFC Singapore that Holly Holm’s status as a main event fighter was never in question by the UFC. After dethroning Ronda Rousey in November 2015 at UFC 193, she ever so briefly flirted with super stardom. The problem was, the Holm train was derailed by Miesha Tate just months later. Holm then struggled to get back to her winning ways, losing her next two fights, including a controversial decision loss at UFC 208 for the promotion’s inaugural featherweight title.
UFC 208 should have been a sign that the UFC still considered her a bankable star. Why else would they book a fighter on a then two-fight losing streak into a title bout? Yet as new UFC owners WME|IMG are quickly learning, outcomes in MMA are anything but predictable. The MMA Gods often have a very quirky sense of humor.
UFC Singapore was very much booked as a bounce-back fight for Holm. Without taking anything away from Bethe Correia, Holm should have won the fight, and did. It was safe booking, a bout that protected the former champ.
So what’s next for Holly Holm?
This is where match-making becomes key. With a lack of top contenders at bantamweight, and literally no one left outside Cyborg at featherweight (especially if champ Germaine de Randamie stays true to her word and heads back to bantamweight), there will be a push to rush Holm back into the title picture, in either one division or the other.
Either way, it’s the wrong approach.
As starved for talent as women’s 135lbs is past the upcoming Nunes vs. Shevchenko 2, Holm needs to be rebuilt slowly. For starters, Raquel Pennington is on a four fight win streak including victories over a former champion (Tate) and two former title challengers (Correia, and Jessica Andrade, albeit after dropping to strawweight). She should probably get the nod to take on the winner of Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko, as much as a fight with Holm would draw more.
Because long term, building Holm back up is better for the division. It allows other contenders to emerge and keeps the title picture from growing stale. It might also see Nunes grow into a dominant champion, and we know Holm has finished one of those before.
Beyond that, Holm, for all her talk of sticking to a game plan, needs to show she can pull the trigger before getting another title bout.
Julianna Pena would be one pick for Holm’s next bout, as the TUF 18 winner had a four-fight win streak snapped against Shevchenko earlier this year. Yet names like Sara McMann and Alexis Davis also make sense. Davis has traded wins and losses of late, and is 2-1 since losing to Ronda Rousey for the title. The timing for Holm vs. Davis works, as Davis picked up a win over Cindy Dandois at UFC Fight Night 108 in April. Sara McMann, meanwhile, is ranked immediately after Holm (for now) in the bantamweight division, and is on a three-fight win streak.
Any of these bouts work, and could headline a Fight Night card or serve as a co-main event elsewhere. The featherweight division? Stay away, at least until the mess at the top is sorted out.
In any case, Holm getting back in the win column is a shot in the arm for the UFC. Now, she just needs to stay on course.