UFC 208: Holly Holm’s Spotlight

By: S. Davis
208poster

How will Holly Holm be viewed on Sunday?

Will her UFC 193 victory end up to be a curse after all? A shining moment against an opponent designed, perfectly, for her counter-attacking repertoire. A night that she, ultimately, couldn’t replicate once more? Will she be draped in gold or heckled with scorn?

She’s occupying an odd space within mixed martial arts. Holm could turn in a spirited performance against a tough opponent in Germaine de Randamie, have Dana White wrap her in the shiny new belt showcasing her as the new UFC Featherweight Champion and immediately she’d be labeled a fraud. (Although the same insults will be hurled upon her opposition provided she wins the heavy gold belt, in my opinion, but to a lesser degree when you view Holm’s peaks and valleys in the UFC.)

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos is the cloud hanging over the entire division being that White created a title in a division, headlining a Brooklyn card this weekend, that doesn’t have a true featherweight on the roster besides her. (Personally, I think Cyborg is the best female fighter to ever compete in mixed martial arts – and that’s no slight to Gina Carano, Ronda Rousey or Joanna Jedrzejczyk.) Holm will sit at the dais and field inquires about Cyborg, losing three straight, not waiting to rematch Rousey or holding a championship that MMA-media are having a hard time trying to quantify. That awaits her…and it’s not entirely fair.

Was it smart business for the UFC to put Rousey in with Amanda Nunes? The UFC might have just killed a star by putting her in competition far too soon…in a title fight, no less. As a pivot, I fully believe someone had an idea to create another nauseating strap out of thin air in the hopes they can manufacture another supernova after this weekend. Imagine if Holm sat on the sidelines – and was the one to beat the version of Rousey that shouldn’t have competed against anyone at UFC 207. I feel a victory there would’ve been discredited in some fashion. I’m going on a tangent here…..

Holm is backed into a career crossroads after losing to Miesha Tate in a desperate scramble that cost her the bantamweight title and being stunningly flummoxed against Valentina Schevchenko – whose style could just turn out to be an unfavorable matchup for her no matter when they share the cage. She’s on a losing streak, yes, but she was controlling the majority of her title defense against Tate. Additionally, her struggles against Schevchenko were on live broadcast for the world to see but she wasn’t dominated.

It’s the fight game and everyone stepping into a cage will be beaten at some point but does the world have to step in to attempt to defeat the woman as well? How many fights does an athlete have to take on? Had she been devastating in the two wins that preceded her title triumph there would be detractors there as well. If the UFC is the pinnacle of the entire sport, shouldn’t any victory in the Octagon be enough on its own? Are style points the added criteria to having one’s hand raised at the end of battle?

I honestly don’t have a favorite in this fight; I think both women are worthy of championship shine. I just hate the narratives that will form around Holm if she should fail to win. They’ve already begun, unfortunately.

Scream hard, Brooklyn!

Picks: Holm, Silva, Jacare, Teixeira, and Poirier.

Advertisements

MMA’s Most Intriguing Division

By: S. Davis

ShevHolm

Congratulations to Valentina Shevchenko on a tremendous performance in her win over former bantamweight champion Holly Holm over this past weekend. She was crisp in her movement, patient, and she completely mastered her spatial awareness in regard to cage position so that her strength – counter striking – would overwhelm her opponent. Oddly enough counter striking is also the main strength of Holm.

Usually in combat sports when a bout features two counter strikers the final result can amount to a snooze fest. It’s simple really: An aggressive athlete falls prey to the counter fighter because they come forward hoping to dictate pace and the terms of engagement. The counter striker truly needs and hopes for a dancing partner to balance what they do well. They like to react, to counter. (Re: Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm.) The right hook and straight left scored points all night long and Holm couldn’t adjust at all. She was confused, tentative and her offense was completely nullified.

There was a reason why Holm looked so stellar in that fight and now finds herself on a two-fight skid. Let’s make this clear: I don’t think her career’s over or that she’s “overrated” or analogous to Buster Douglas. She’s an accomplished combat athlete across multiple disciplines – and the only combatant, regardless of gender, to hold titles in boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. She’s legit and I don’t smell “one hit wonder” on her. No. She was winning her last fight against former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate before Tate gambled everything and went for the desperation takedown which ultimately won her the belt…for a few months. Holm isn’t trash all of a sudden but her style of creating offense from distance, timing and counter striking was hampered against a fighter who excels in the same areas. It was a bad style matchup.

Shevchenko, an accomplished Muay-Thai and kickboxing champion with three wins over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, uses precise clinchwork, crushing knees and has a flair for spinning back fists and kicks. However at her core she’s a calculated fighter that loves to react. Someone had to be the lead dancer – and Shevchenko played coy just enough to suck Holm into the type of fight that puts her at a disadvantage. If striking is your thing, this was the fight for you. I found it fascinating.

What’s next for the division? There are divisions in the sport with more talent but there isn’t a single one that has seen so much upheaval in such a short amount of time. It’s like an eternity since Rousey seemed insurmountable and stood above all the other talented women at bantamweight. Rousey dropped the title to Holm, who then lost it to Tate…who was finished by Amanda Nunes in the first round at UFC 200.  Did you get all that? Not a single successful title defense from any of the aforementioned women and now the spotlight is directly on Amanda Nunes and her first fight since becoming the queen of the 135 class.

I always felt the division would eventually catch up to Rousey but the hot potato nature of her former championship is curious and worthy of attention. Is there any fight in the current division that has a true favorite and underdog? Any of the women can pop up and take center stage – as the recent present has proved.

The UFC put themselves in a bad position in what they’ve done since Rousey’s been on hiatus. First off they were pushing Holm to wait until Rousey returned for an immediate rematch, which, in my opinion, would’ve been a disaster considering the manner in which Holm took the title from her. They would’ve set themselves up for a colossal disappointment with that one as Rousey would be far better suited to get a fight that caters to her style. A crisis was averted there as Holm wanted to stay active – a decision that’s scorned for some strange reason when factoring Rousey has yet to inform anyone of a return date – so she could defend against Tate. Was it a bad move for Holm? No. She lost the fight – one she controlled – in an all-or-nothing gamble.

As opposed to booking an immediate rematch with Tate to headline UFC 200 – one of the cases that made obvious sense – UFC brass put Tate in against Nunes. No slight against the new champion, who deserved the opportunity, but to keep the storyline and financial interests aligned, I felt having a triangle of Holm, Tate and Rousey going for the gold sells itself. Holm just lost it, Tate won it in incredible fashion…and Rousey could be moved into the picture against any of them. Again, I think Rousey’s initial fight upon her return should be against anyone not named Holm. Had they got Rousey to come back for UFC 200 to fight Tate, no matter the winner, Holm would be there. Oh well.

I’m sure that wasn’t on the table which is why Holm opted for the Schevchenko challenge. I hope the new ownership won’t act in such a petty fashion as Zuffa did regarding her when she went against wishes to sit on the bench and shine the belt until Rousey returned, whenever that happens to take place.

As talented as Nunes is she isn’t a popular name or star – and this is where I hope the UFC puts the promotional strength behind her to enhance her in the eyes of the casual viewer. (They already own the die-hards.) She’s strong in all facets of MMA but she isn’t fit enough to keep the gas going for more than three full rounds (which Schevchenko proved a few months ago). They pushed other athletes on their roster to the moon after wins not as impressive as hers so they should help create a new star.

It’s imperative because another great fighter in Julianna Pena is right on the cusp of a title shot that she deserves. Sitting at 4-0 in the UFC (7-0 if you care to factor in her TUF victories) and coming off a massive victory over Cat Zingano, logically, the title fight versus Nunes is the way to go. However logic doesn’t apply much to the UFC as Michael Bisping will be defending his middleweight title against Dan Henderson in the fall/winter but you understand the point.

Losses in MMA aren’t apocalyptic – unless you carry two losses to a division champion – as it’s a short-term memory sport, for the most part. Pena and Shevchenko are alive in the queue and I feel Holm and Zingano are both two wins away from being title challengers once more. I’m not sure where Tate goes after she heals up her broken nose but an argument can be made that you can throw her right back in with Holm (both coming off losses) or opt to sideline her to set up a trilogy fight with Rousey in the fall/winter. Maybe these ladies take the main event or co-main at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden.

I always pay closer attention to the female fights and even more so now. Maybe it’s because they seem to fight harder and push to take chances, I don’t know. Hold on to that belt ladies or keep losing grip of it – it’s great to see new stars being made.

 

This is Happening, Dana White?

By: S. Davis

I’ve been holding on to this piece for a while because watching how the UFC arranges their chessboard going forward is quite embarrassing. With all eyes – and marketing – geared towards UFC 200, in July, the management is intent on making a spectacle (i.e., cash) over making the fights that should happen. Where do I even begin?

Congratulations, Holly Holm! The new UFC bantamweight champion overcame the odds (bluster, and unwarranted personal attacks) of Ronda Rousey to take the title in spectacular fashion. She’s articulate, soft-spoken, humble and ready to defend her crown. How does the UFC strike on the momentum of such a ripple in the sport of mixed martial arts? They put her on the shelf, dimming her star, while Rousey fulfills her well-earned Hollywood pursuits. Huh?

So Holm, who so thoroughly dominated Rousey that an immediate rematch can be debated at-length, has to stand around eight months? Was Dana White occupied and not paying attention to what happened in that octagon when both women were locked inside? It wasn’t a close fight in any sense. Rousey wasn’t hit with a lucky shot by an overmatched contender that caused her to lose the title. Holm exposed the holes in her game – that other women were unable to take advantage of – and controlled her over the six minutes the fight lasted.

Rousey showed a lack of ANY head movement, her poor striking defense was visible to even a novice, casual, fan of the sport and her footwork was elementary for a woman of her accomplishments. If you watched the fight with the sound muted you would walk away thinking that Holm was defending the belt against a contender that wasn’t prepared to challenge for a championship. It was that lopsided.

If Rousey took the time she could clean up those three deficiencies at a level where it could possibly allow her to get the fight into the clinch where she can transition to her judo throws and trips. She could work on her striking until 2020 and never make up the gap that Holm has on her in that discipline. The point is that Rousey could win a rematch but she would have to change her style to actually stop being a pressure fighter, which gives Holm the opportunity to really control the distance and beat her on points, defeating the need for Holm to be aggressive at all – and lower the risk of being within arm’s distance of Rousey’s optimal fighting range.

Like I stated above, her best chance is to improve her head movement, because it was stationary, footwork and striking defense. Maybe with those three facets undergoing further development she could get the fight in her distance to set up her trips, throws and possible armbar. Who knows what would’ve happened if Rousey were able to get Holm into her clinch three or four more times? The problem is that Holm has been a seasoned champion in boxing and kickboxing so no matter the outcome, the event atmosphere itself would not rattle her – and she’s been training mixed martial arts with elite athletes and coaches at the Jackson Wink Academy for possibly longer than the time it took Rousey to ascend in the sport. In hindsight the outcome from last month shouldn’t have been so shocking. Lastly, Holm is bigger and stronger than any opponent Rousey has faced and those attributes are unlikely to change in July.

Rousey gets to go off and do her films while a burgeoning star waits? Who’s the champion again? Dana White stills thinks it’s Rousey, clearly. Holm is on her clock when it should be the other way around. Maybe I should quit being reasonable here.

Holm-Rousey 2 is the money fight for UFC 200 – and I get that but they are courting disaster by that being Rousey’s last fight…ever. Why put the company in that position, Mr. White? No more bank off her name, the headlines begin to melt away and the record-breaking numbers from one of the most marketed athletes ever become past tense. Rousey has already stated that if she drops the rematch she will retire. Now that could just be the raw emotion that she’s still dealing with in the aftermath of her aura being eviscerated in the most visible way but isn’t the fact that she’s talking about retirement an indictment of her confidence, her mental state? Isn’t that against many of the foolish (and unwritten) rules in the athletic credo? White is setting up Rousey to be retired after a second loss to the champion – and she would easily find herself in the same position that she put Miesha Tate in. It doesn’t seem logical to even consider this route.

Holm deserves to defend against Tate. It’s almost as if she’s being punished for defeating the promotion’s golden girl. YOU WIN, YOU SIT DOWN! Rousey could have a big return fight against Amanda Nunes or Julianna Pena while Holm could give Tate her well deserved title shot (I’d pick Holm to retain) and if Rousey wins her fight…boom! Of course both women could lose and the rematch could be shot in the foot but there’s always risk in combat sports. I just don’t like Holm being put in a freezer when she could fight anywhere from Febraury-April and still make it to July for another battle. Looking back at the minimal damage she took at UFC 193, Holm could possibly fight twice and still compete in July.

Holm is the champion – and deserves the same, maniacal, whirlwind push that the woman she unseated received. That way you have two stars simultaneously. Who’s not going to be excited to see Holm defend her title before UFC 200? Where’s the person that’s going to boo a Rousey comeback story? Not many. But it’s the UFC and if it doesn’t make dollars, first and foremost, they don’t care. Just ask Frankie Edgar about fairness. Give Holm her spotlight, her platform to reign in a manner fitting for her; she doesn’t need to replicate the former champion. It’s called variety so let Holm realize her potential by allowing her to stay active.

Moving on to another issue that would make me want to jump through a window if I wasn’t familiar with how White conducts business: Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor. Full disclosure, I picked Aldo to win a four-round, close fight by TKO. Needless to say that after parking my car en route to a holiday party and checking my phone I almost couldn’t see clearly when it read “McGregor finishes Aldo in 13 seconds.” Congratulations to McGregor, he’s good. However I do not think he’s revolutionizing striking by any means (Tell me how?) or do I find him to be a master of angles, distance and movement. If that’s true why is his defense, the majority of the time, supreme confidence in his chin?

He gets hit, a lot. Now Aldo did nothing of note in the fight with him two weeks ago but Chad Mendes put fists on his face a number of times (outside of the takedowns he scored) at UFC 189. Biting down on a mouthpiece and taking clean shots from anyone is not mastering of distance and movement, it’s gambling. I compare a fighter’s chin to a running backs legs as there are but so many carries for a running back as there are so many times the button can be pressed on a chin before your brain starts shutting off – and your knees take on the consistency of macaroni. McGregor is a good fighter but he’s not the first of his kind, he’s not dissimilar to what we’ve seen before. He’s a gifted striker with a variety of accurate punches and kicks, excellent stopping power in both hands, although his left is a night-ender, and up to this point he has questionable takedown defense. That’s an apt description of Anthony Pettis (without the finishing power in his fists), Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, etc. His mouth makes him unique, I’d imagine, but as a fighter he fits a well established template. If someone should have the title of unique applied to them on that roster, look at Demetrious Johnson. He masters every facet of martial arts in the octagon and searching for someone to join him on that list is a chore.

What I think is a major plus for McGregor is his composure in the cage; not the trash talk and mean-mugging when he eats a shot to the head but how calm he seems the entire time. That might play a part into how he’s able to influence an opponent mentally. Now that is one aspect of his that I think – along from the verbal missiles he launched at Aldo over the past year – pushed Aldo to start so aggressively. He began his attack in a way that’s a stark contrast to how he’s opened fights over his most of his career. If you watch McGregor in a fight, just by his facial expression you would think he’s ordering a coffee or relaxing at the beach with his girlfriend.

Now standing as the undisputed champion at featherweight, he has “options” as the division that he rules waits for him to make a decision. (Again, sorry Frankie.) So why again is Rousey automatically granted a title rematch while Aldo is not? Rousey was dominant and undefeated since 2010, impressive. Aldo was just as dominant – and although his record wasn’t without a loss (now a second after McGregor’s left hand hit flesh) he entered his clash with McGregor sporting an 18-fight win streak with his last loss dating back to 2005. What’s going on? While a 13 second loss is devastating, in a way, it doesn’t really prove much in terms of who’s the best among the two men. Holm controlled her counterpart for two rounds – and I think that’s a bigger statement of why Rousey should not get an immediate rematch. Yet I’m reasonable, I get what the UFC is looking at but I don’t think they’re seeing clearly.

Any reasonable MMA fan can understand this, right? You know what? I retract that as it seems the most unreasonable fans are in fact those that follow MMA.

Consider me outside of the chorus of those worshipping the boastful Irishman, it’s not because I’m a “hater,” it’s more of the fact that I’m not into the deification of humans. Not. At. All. Furthermore, I don’t classify myself as a “fan” as that’s short for fanatic. I like sports – and by direct relation I have respect for athletes who compete. I think Edgar should get the featherweight shot against McGregor next as it seems he’s not that excited to challenge for the lightweight title now that Rafael dos Anjos retained (and Aldo has to get in line for some reason). I’m not of the ilk that feels McGregor is “better” than Aldo but it was an impressive win nonetheless. I stand on the sideline of grand declarations as most of the MMA world said, loudly, that Junior Dos Santos was “better” than Cain Velasquez after their first meeting…then they met twice after that.

Does Aldo not deserve his redemption in a second showing? What’s the exact criteria for an immediate rematch?

I’m not stupid in thinking the UFC is very comfortable with McGregor holding one title, threatening to try for two, and making sure Aldo is pushed to the side. I say this because Aldo has been critical of management, has had to pull out of title fights due to injury and they have a hard time marketing him. In defense of the UFC, he has not taken to learning English, unlike his fellow countrymen Vitor Belfort and Junior Dos Santos and the company must be bonkers over having an English-speaking star. Of course it would be detrimental to class and business sense to ever declare that publicly. I also thought it would echo the same sentiment to release the dressing room footage of Aldo after losing the featherweight title fight…and then it went viral. What do I know? Maybe they just want to let the promotional beast – and fans – take a deep breath after having to promote Aldo-McGregor twice already. That’s fair.

Now the ongoing narrative from McGregor’s mouth and others that he’s “cleaned out the featherweight division” is comical. It doesn’t make any sense. Are MMA fans and media dumbing down the meaning of “cleaning” out one? Yes.

You can legitimately say that Jon Jones cleaned out light heavyweight with eight title defenses, Anderson Silva at middleweight with 10, and Georges St. Pierre joined that elite club with nine defenses at welterweight. McGregor does not have ONE title defense. Yes he defeated Chad Mendes, Dustin Poirer, Jose Aldo and (a young) Max Holloway but does that mean the division is conquered? If so, then Jones completely defeated the light heavyweight division before he went on his perfectly legal attempted-murder spree of 2011.

Someone always emerges so it can be argued that a weight class will always provide new challengers. It’s the cyclical nature of things. I wish the UFC, and more importantly, the MMA media would behave like objective journalists and not wide-eyed fanboys when it comes to common sense topics. Featherweight is not a dying division – and if the weight cut is a threat to his physical well-being then he should stop dropping pounds and go to 155 exclusively…or hold both belts simultaneously (if he can win the second and keep the first).

Sorry but the Cerrone fight is no longer an option, Mr. White. How about trying to add some legitimacy to your rankings by actually using them for something aside from you to acknowledge when you want to push someone up the ladder? One minute you boast about how high a fighter is ranked for one possible matchup and then blatantly disregard those same numbers preceding their name when another fight makes more sense “for the company.” Are you going to continue to do this? C’mon Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, Dana White you are all smarter that this. How else would you three have been able to spearhead a brand that couldn’t secure legitimacy worldwide to now having corporate sponsors like Reebok? For the most part, the UFC makes the right fights but there are a few times that match-making falls short.

Clear some things up. Is it Edgar or Aldo? Why should Holm sit on her star when it’s burning? Why can’t Rousey take a fight and earn a title shot? Why put her directly across the cage from a woman who handed her the only professional loss of her career upon her return? It can’t all be about money, although of course it is, it’s prize fighting. You’ve got to do better than this, White.