UFC Fight Island 4: Aldana Looking To Use Holm for Career Breakthrough

Holly Holm and Irene Aldana, UFC Fight Island 4
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 02: (L-R) Opponents Holly Holm and Irene Aldana of Mexico face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in on October 02, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Irene Aldana is looking to establish herself as the top contender for bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, but Holly Holm is looking to prove she can still be the best in the world when they meet at UFC Fight Island 4.

Things have been different in the bantamweight division since 2016.  Originally the glamour division for the women upon its inception in the UFC in 2013, things have since shifted.  As previously established stars and veterans like Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and others either retired or fell out of title contention, the division has struggled to build stars to fill the void.  Furthermore, the rise of pound-for-pound great Amanda Nunes has put the rest of the weight class under her thumb.  The Brazilian stands as Goliath amongst a sea of Davids; A titan so dominant that it is difficult to sell a fight with new contenders as she has already dispatched more elite competition.

But on any given night, a fighter can shock the world and change the entire picture.  Saturday’s main event features a woman who has done exactly that before.  Former champion Holly Holm at 38 years of age will be continuing her march back to Nunes and the gold wrapped around her waist.  Those who would say she’s had her share of opportunities to become a champion again are likely misdirecting their frustration.  Injuries and lack of competition have left champions in two weight classes without fresh faces in the title picture.  Thus, an established veteran and name like Holm has been able to compete for titles frequently without new options available.

The resume of “The Preacher’s Daughter” reads like a “best of” list of the last decade.  She’s fought every current or former UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion.  Though she has reached the point of fielding questions about being at the end of her career, Holm maintains that her career focus remains the same.  She’s stated in interviews leading up to the fight that her goal is another shot at Nunes and that she seeks opponents who can get her there.  In terms of fresh opponents, Aspen Ladd and Irene Aldana were the only ones who could assist in that endeavor.  With Ladd injured, that left only the Mexican upstart for Holm to set her sights on.

Irene Aldana’s UFC career has been a slow simmer, but it is finally on the verge of having a pop.  An Invicta FC veteran, “Robles” joined the UFC in 2016 and hit a rough patch in dropping back-to-back fights to Leslie Smith and Katlyn Chookagian.  Aldana’s rebuild would take place outside of the spotlight with four of her next six fights being relegated to the prelims.  The result would actually work to her benefit as she was able to develop further as a fighter and go on the 5-1 run that has led to her first UFC main event.

While she’d put several victories together, Aldana was 1-1 in her recent fights when she met undefeated contender Ketlen Vieira.  The Brazilian was coming off back-to-back victories over former title challengers and many saw the fight with Aldana as a tune up for Vieira before she moved on to her own shot at UFC gold.  Aldana would go on to flip the script and steal Vieira’s place in the title picture, stopping Vieira with a brutal first round knockout.  At a time when Nunes has already dispatched of the names ranked ahead of her, the sixth ranked Aldana can leap into the slot of title challenger should she get the victory over Holm.  Notably, that feat is something only current or former champions have been able to do.

Aldana has shown her ability to finish fights on the mat and standing up, but she will have to overcome one of the most technically sound fighters in the division.  Holm, per her standard, will be looking to maintain the distance behind her jab and side kicks.  The key to a victory will be to use her footwork to avoid exchanges and to get in close to Aldana.  Aldana will be looking to make the fight more of a physical bout and walk down Holm.  Using leg kicks to chop away at her mobility and attacking with high volume to get inside will be key to Aldana outworking one of the best counter-strikers at 135 pounds.

Currently, Amanda Nunes is scheduled for a featherweight title defense in December.  Should she come away victorious, it will complete a sweep of the division and leave her to turn her sights back to 135 pounds.  A Holm victory is unlikely to earn another title shot considering that her fight with Nunes last year was one-sided.  Should Holm be victorious, Nunes could turn her attention towards Aspen Ladd who is expected to return to action in the spring and is coming off a victory.  A victory for Aldana, particularly an impressive one, could secure her a title shot or set up a title eliminator with Ladd depending on when Nunes were to return to action in 2021.