Megan Anderson will make her long awaited UFC debut against legend killer Holly Holm, and the possible last shot at Cris Cyborg in MMA could be on the line.
The women’s featherweight division has existed since February of 2017 when Germaine de Randamie won the inaugural championship. Since then, there have been only three bouts in the weight class. All of them were championship bouts and all of them won by Cris “Cyborg” Justino. But on Saturday, the belt will not be on the line as Megan Anderson makes her long awaited UFC debut against former champion Holly Holm.
Last January, the hardcore fans were buzzing about the prospect of Australian powerhouse Megan Anderson arriving in the UFC. At 26 years old, Anderson looked for all the world as the next big thing in the featherweight division. She was tall, long, explosive, and most importantly, a fighter who finally appeared capable of competing with the unbridled physicality of Cyborg. When the UFC opened the division, it was believed that she would be quickly brought into the fold. However, Anderson would unfortunately fall off the map and has not been seen since.
When Germaine de Randamie was stripped of the belt, Anderson was called up to face Cyborg last July for the vacant title. However, Anderson withdrew from the match for undisclosed personal reasons, and this will be the first time she steps into the cage since winning the Invicta interim featherweight title (later promoted to the undisputed belt). She sat on the sidelines as bantamweights Tonya Evinger, Yana Kunitskaya, and upcoming opponent Holly Holm all took their shot at the featherweight crown. However, she may have the golden opportunity to introduce herself to the masses on Saturday. The UFC 225 card is arguably more loaded than the upcoming UFC 226, and she has a favorable match-up against a well-known former champion. With a victory, a fight with Cyborg could finally materialize later this year.
For Holly Holm, she steps into a featherweight match-up with the chance to expedite another shot at championship gold. Cyborg recently went on the MMA Hour to say she expects to face the winner of Saturday’s contest, and that would put Holm in her third title fight in two years with a victory. The alternative would have been a return to 135 pounds where she would have to have an impressive performance to get ahead of surging contender Ketlan Vieira. Against Anderson, even a razor close victory locks in a title shot with the current state of the division.
In the last several years, Holm has been the biggest beneficiary of the lack of star power at both bantamweight and featherweight. “The Preacher’s Daughter” is 1-4 since 2016, but her name recognition from her world stopping finish of Ronda Rousey three years ago continues to give her staying power. Until Anderson steps into the cage, there are still no featherweights in the UFC besides Cris Cyborg. That has helped Holm secure two title shots without ever having fought in the weight class before. With a lack of contenders for Amanda Nunes, it could be argued that Holm could be on the short list at bantamweight also if she were to record another victory.
Stylistically, the bouts pits Holm’s technical prowess against the physicality of Megan Anderson. The Australian should look to use her size to put pressure on Holm, keeping her back against the fence and taking away the space she needs to set up her combinations. Also, Anderson should look to use the clinch to drag Holm to the ground where she can use powerful ground-and-pound to deliver damage.
For Holm, she should look to improve upon the strategy she used against Cyborg and use a high volume attack in the center of the Octagon. Holm’s biggest strength is her multi-faceted striking attack and being able to mix her punches and kicks will serve her best against the bigger and more plodding Anderson. The biggest criticism of the bout with Cyborg was that Holm lost valuable time initiating the clinch but not using it to advance position, a move that cost her when she fell into a deficit in the stand-up.
Both women also carry an X-Factor going into the fight. Holm’s four losses in the last two years have only come against championship level fighters like Miesha Tate, Cyborg, Germaine de Randamie and Valentina Shevchenko. Also, she gave Cyborg arguably her most competitive contest. Anderson on the other hand has not fought in over a year and it will remain to be seen if she struggles with any ring rust coming back from such a layoff.
A title shot will be on the line for the winner at a crucial time in the division. The upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter will feature women’s featherweights in a move signaling the commitment to developing the weight class moving forward. However, reigning champion Cyborg has expressed her interest in possibly moving on from the promotion. In a recent interview, Cyborg stated her intention to fight the winner of Saturday’s bout before her contract expires next March and then moving forward to pursue other options such as boxing. That would mean that this title shot could well go down as the last chance to upset the Brazilian legend.