Holly Holm is ready to make more combat sports history at UFC 208 on Saturday night.
Holm has already carved a legacy for herself as the only fighter to win world championships at the highest level in both MMA and boxing. Holm owned the ring for more than a decade, losing just twice in 38 career boxing matches. She made a full-time transition to MMA less than four years ago, and within 10 fights became the UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion with a now-infamous knockout of Ronda Rousey in November 2015.
Although Holm no longer holds the 135-pound title and has lost back-to-back fights since beating Rousey, she’s still in position for a monumental achievement this weekend. “The Preacher’s Daughter” faces Germaine de Randamie for the inaugural UFC Women’s Featherweight championship in the UFC 208 headliner at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, giving her the chance to become just the fourth fighter in history to win UFC titles in two weight classes.
A win would put her in the same category as Conor McGregor, B.J. Penn and Randy Couture as fighters to accomplish the feat, but Holm is adamant this is not where she’s going to settle.
“I always want to do what no one else has done, and that’s part of what drove me to MMA,” Holm tells Rolling Stone. “No one had won world titles in boxing and MMA. I wanted to be the first one to do that. I love that I was able to do that. I hate that I didn’t defend the belt, but that’s what keeps me motivated. Here I am with another opportunity to be part of another history-making thing. It’s never been done before. If I had my way I would still have the 135-pound belt and still done this, because that would be the real accomplishment. Being able to hold both belts for a while would have been ideal, and I still want to do that.”
For Holm, UFC 208 represents an opportunity she didn’t necessarily see coming. She was on top of the world following the shocking knockout of Rousey at UFC 193, but then it all fell apart. She agreed to fight Miesha Tate less than four months after topping Rousey, and that’s where the skid began. Holm looked on her way to defending her title for the first time until the final few minutes of the final round when Tate scored a takedown, locked in a submission and choked Holm completely unconscious to capture the gold.
It was the first time Holm had experienced defeat in an MMA fight, but unlike Rousey, who vanished for more than a year following her title loss, Holm attempted to rebound as quickly as possible. She accepted a main event fight against dangerous striker Valentina Shevchenko at UFC on FOX 20 in July in a matchup many believed was tailor-made for Holm to win and get back on track. That’s not what happened, though, because Shevchenko arrived in the Octagon with a near-flawless game plan and gained more points than Holm over five rounds to take a unanimous decision.
Losing is something Holm has rarely dealt with in her career. Two-straight losses, however, was a brand new low that had never happened previously in her entire career as a professional athlete. To make matters worse, she suffered a broken hand against Shevchenko, meaning she was forced to sit on the sidelines absent of the ability to get back in the gym and train.
It all piled on at once. The day after losing to Shevchenko she returned home to Albuquerque, N.M., and “wrecked” her scooter while out for a casual ride. She could have allowed everything to shatter her spirit at that moment, but instead she kept true to the resilient mindset that’s carried her to so many successful moments.
“It was depressing in all honesty; I hated it,” Holm says. “But feeling how low I was served as a reminder to me about how passionate I still am about the sport. If I didn’t really care that much about losing I would question myself and whether I should be doing this anymore. There was a breaking point, but what are you going to do? It’s in the past. I can’t change it and I have to go forward. My thumb was broken, my hand was broken, I had road rash all over me and I couldn’t even go to the gym. I just had to accept that I failed. I was at a point I’d never been but I knew I wouldn’t let myself be stuck there. I wanted to learn and get back. The reason I’m doing this sport is because I love it. It doesn’t mean I need to feel defeated forever. I knew I had a lot to offer still.”
While Holm waited for her injuries to heal, her team and the UFC began exploring options to figure out what could come next. Her name still holds significant value with fans, but the consecutive losses limited her options. Several proposed matchups fell through, including a potential catchweight fight with another female MMA star in Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
“Cyborg” is globally considered the best Women’s Featherweight fighter in the world and has dominated the division for more than 10 years. However, the UFC never housed her division. It will finally be introduced at UFC 208, though, and the original plan was to have the Brazilian fight Holm for the inaugural title. Justino claimed the timing didn’t work for her and declined two offers to compete at the event, then just days news broke she’d been notified of a potential U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) violation stemming from an out-of-competition drug test.
Justino’s case is still going through standard procedures which will determine if, and for how long, she is suspended from competition. She would be the natural fit to fight the winner of Holm vs. de Randamie, but there’s no telling how her situation will unfold and when she will receive clearance to return.
The leaves significant mystery around what could come next for the UFC 208 winner. The organization has yet to sign any additional 145-pound fighters to the roster, meaning the division currently has just three fighters, with only two available to compete. The growth of the division apparently doesn’t concern Holm, but she trusts the UFC will do right by the weight class once she assumes the role of champion.
“If they want to build this division they can build the division in no time,” Holm says. “There’s girls in (all-female promotion) Invicta FC who would love to be in the UFC. There’s girls out there fighting at 145 who always want to go to the UFC. All they have to do is make some phone calls. They can build this division in no time. But, with that being said, I’m going to fight no matter what they do.”
Holm doesn’t want to do much forward thinking because her focus in locked in on UFC 208 and defeating de Randamie. “The Iron Lady,” like Holm, is a decorated standup fighter, but her striking accolades largely came in the world of kickboxing and muay Thai. De Randamie is taller and longer than Holm, and despite fighting a significantly lesser level of competition throughout her UFC career, is listed as the betting favorite by oddsmakers ahead of UFC 208.
Although Holm is the bigger name in the matchup, she intends on giving de Randamie every ounce of her respect inside the Octagon.
“I fear Germaine as a fighter,” Holm says. “It’s not like she’s fought nobodies. I do feel like I’ve had challenging fights in MMA and that I’ve had a very competitive career. But she has more fights than I do with her background in muay Thai. MMA or not, UFC or not, she has a lot of fights and a lot of experience being in there. She’s been through some battles and has fought some top girls. I expect the best Germaine to come and I definitely fear her as a fighter as I do everybody I get in there with.”
De Randamie doesn’t have a signature win in her career as Holm does with Rousey, but UFC 208 is her chance to get one. She could become the first Dutch fighter to win a UFC championship since Bas Rutten in 1999, and that’s an opportunity she doesn’t intend on letting pass her by.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that I have to be on top of my top game,” de Randamie says. “I have to perform. I cannot make a mistake. … If I win it will solidify my career. I’ve had an amazing career so far and accomplished things I couldn’t have in my wildest dreams believe I did all these things. Winning a UFC belt will solidify it. In the past a lot of people have told me I couldn’t do it. I’m a believer that you can do anything you want in life. I want to win and I want to solidify my career.”
Anything can happen in a fight, and de Randamie’s chances of becoming the inaugural 145-pound champion can’t be denied. However, the much more compelling narrative going into UFC 208 is based around Holm. She hasn’t won a fight since the knockout of Rousey 15 months ago and questions have been raised about whether she’s going to go down as a one-hit wonder.
Holm in conscious of that narrative and wants to be known for much more than just one marquee victory. She wants to leave a real legacy behind when her career comes to a conclusion, and becoming the first female to capture UFC titles in two divisions would go a long way in doing that.
“I don’t want my whole career to be defined around getting the belt from Ronda,” Holm says. “I want my career to be defined around me being the best fighter I can be and accomplishing the biggest things I can against whatever competition comes against me. I want this for my career. I don’t want it to just be around the one moment. I want people to remember everything after. I want to do a lot in this career still.”