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Ahead of UFC 219 on Saturday in Las Vegas, Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White declared that Holly Holm would be on the greatest-of-all-time short list with a win over featherweight champion Cristiane Justino. The fact that Holm lost a competitive but definitive decision to “Cyborg” has muted this brief discussion. Despite White’s declaration likely being a product of hyperbolic promotion and his affinity for crowning pay-per-view headliners with fictitious titles, an interesting question was raised. Where does Holm rank among the all-time greats in mixed martial arts?
When the name of the former women’s bantamweight champion is brought up for discussion, most people are likely to remember how she earned that title. Her shocking head kick knockout of the previously unbeaten and seemingly invincible Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 will live forever on highlight reels and goes down as one of the single greatest moments in MMA history. However, aside from that one amazing main event performance, what else can we point to in regards to Holm’s legacy? The truth of the matter is that Holm does not have a lot to support the claims of her promoter, outside of her upset against Rousey.
Holm’s UFC debut -- a split decision over Raquel Pennington at UFC 184 -- was hardly the showcase some were expecting from the former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder, and her second appearance inside the Octagon produced a similarly lackluster decision win over Marion Reneau. After dethroning Rousey, Holm has enjoyed mixed results at best. Her first title defense turned out to be her last, as former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate pulled off a late submission at her expense. She then wound up on the wrong side of a decision against Valentina Shevchenko that saw her thoroughly outstruck and largely ineffective. From there, Holm dropped a controversial decision to Germaine de Randamie in a battle for the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight championship and knocked out Bethe Correia with another head kick.
Maybe a more favorable assessment of Holm does not depend solely on her 4-4 record in the UFC. Perhaps we should evaluate her in the context of the larger world of combat sports. Before entering the UFC, Holm was a decorated professional boxer; to be more specific, she was a champion in three weight classes, a draw separating her from a title in a fourth division. She holds wins over Christy Martin and Mia St. John, two of the most recognizable names in women’s boxing. The Ring Magazine, one of the most respected entities in the sport, named her “Female Fighter of the Year” in back-to-back years. Even without the mainstream coverage her accomplishments deserved, “The Preacher’s Daughter” certainly carved out a memorable career in the Sweet Science for anybody who was paying attention.
Holm is not the first boxer to cross over to MMA, but she might have experienced the highest level of overall success. Chris Lytle, for example, produced some good results in the ring but had little effect on the sport outside of his home state of Indiana, and he was never a title contender in mixed martial arts. Similarly, Marcus Davis only enjoyed regional success in boxing and failed to make a serious mark in MMA. Other crossovers from the two sports, including Conor McGregor and James Toney, were either short-lived or complete failures from a competitive standpoint.
More applicable comparisons can be found in other combat sports. Kickboxing has plenty of examples at which to point. Both Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem challenged for UFC heavyweight titles after winning the K-1 World Grand Prix; and Overeem has captured major MMA championships outside of the UFC. Mirko Filipovic had an enormous impact on mixed martial arts after a storied kickboxing career. The grappling disciplines have also produced standout talent in MMA, from Dan Henderson, Randy Couture and Daniel Cormier to Fabricio Werdum and Ronaldo Souza.
It goes without saying the Holm’s loss to “Cyborg” did not help her case for an all-time-great legacy in MMA; being the first female to win UFC titles in two weight classes would have been a nice feather in her cap. However, Holm can rest her hat on the fact that she nearly bested de Randamie and took “Cyborg” to a five-round decision in what was her most competitive fight in recent memory. When factoring in what she accomplished as a boxer, it should be more than enough to distinguish her from others. In that respect, Holm is one of the greatest combat sports athletes of all-time.