Mixed Martial Arts is a nascent sport. Last year the Ultimate Fighting Championship barely became old enough to legally rent a car in the U.S. Given its nature, monumental moments usually occur in the sport and it takes the public hours, days, sometimes weeks, to realize how special what they just witnessed was.
On November 14, 2015, Holly Holm shocked the sporting world by upsetting MMA superstar Ronda Rousey in front of 56,000 Australians. A six minute boxing clinic was followed by a picture perfect head kick that flatlined Rousey along with her prizefighting future. She became a star overnight and looked to be the future and face of women in the sport.
On December 29, 2018, Amanda Nunes turned the Mixed Martial Arts world on its axis by emphatically defeating the decade’s most intimidating woman in the sport. Cris “Cyborg” Justino ran Women’s MMA with an iron fist for 13 years. No one even had the ability to say they were competitive with the Brazilian powerhouse. Then came Nunes, the champion and hardest hitting woman ten pounds south of “Cyborg.” “The Lioness” came to win and she wanted to leave no doubt.
Nunes dropped Justino three times before landing a thunderous right hand that finished the featherweight champion in less than a minute. The instant it was over, the fans at the Forum and viewers worldwide had the exact same reaction, “She did it. She’s the greatest female mixed martial artist ever.”
What both women accomplished in no uncertain terms, changed the course of not just WMMA but the sport as a whole. Nunes became the best female to ever compete, Holm became a star when no one in this sphere thought it was possible in the light of Ronda Rousey.
They will face this Saturday night at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The stakes? Amanda Nunes’ bantamweight belt, her claim as the GOAT and Holly Holm’s last chance at becoming more than a one time champion and the WMMA version of Buster Douglas.
Ahead is the strengths of each competitor, scenarios that can see them victorious and a prediction of the UFC 239 co-main event.
HOLLY HOLM ADVANTAGES
Holly Holm has competed in prizefighting virtually her entire adult life. Training in a sport for over half of one’s life comes with an invaluable sense of knowledge and experience in how the human body works in this realm.
The saying “Fatigue makes cowards of all” cannot be overstated in MMA. Signing up to get in a fist fight is nerve racking enough but to do it while also battling fatigue is a daunting task. Holm seems to have taken this saying to heart because she has yet to show a glimpse of losing energy in any of her fights.
Holm’s cardio is one of the biggest factors one has to take into account when facing her so it is imperative that Nunes does this. Nunes has shown numerous occasions where she was running on empty. The champion’s gas tank has improved since winning the belt three years ago but it still doesn’t seem to be on par with that of the former champion.
“The Preacher’s Daughter” throws 50 percent more strikes than Nunes, which means the champ will also have to deal with volume. The Burqueña’s cardio isn’t just limited to her preferred striking tactics. On the occasions that she chooses to grapple she can do so without tiring, which is a rare feat with many specialists. Whether on the offensive or defending, her stamina never seems to be affected.
An understated aspect of Holly Holm’s skill set is her clinch game. If it wasn’t for this ability she would have lost within minutes to Ronda Rousey.
The Jackson-Wink product was able to implement her kickboxing strategy solely because she knew how to avoid and more importantly, defend Rousey’s clinch. It is not just her defensive acumen that has gotten her this far in her career, she has added more offensive tools as of late.
Clinch work against the fence with a good use of elbows has allowed her to be competitive against a powerhouse like “Cyborg” and victorious against a much larger opponent like Megan Anderson.
Amanda Nunes is not bad in the clinch, it just isn’t her strong suit. Both women are out-fighters but Holm seems to be more comfortable with fighting both out and in, whereas Nunes will fight in close but will always prefer her space.
On the rare occasions that opponents were able to get a clinch on Nunes, they usually had some success. Even Raquel Pennington was able to get a takedown off a clinch in their fight last year. Holm is not easily muscled around, and given the cardio factor that was previously stated, it would not behoove Nunes to engage in the clinch with Holm for long periods of time.
AMANDA NUNES ADVANATGES
Amanda Nunes has always been a powerful puncher. Her knockout of Julia Budd back in Strikeforce is still impressive but that was a time when Nunes was fighting part-time. Her full-time move transition to the sport and her move to the United States has greatly improved her overall game but especially in regards to striking. Moreover, the fact American Top Team has a solid reputation of improving most fighters’ boxing skills is evident in the bantamweight champion.
Calf kicks have become an important and devastating tactic in modern MMA and Nunes is somebody that adopted it early. The power in her kicks in general cannot be overlooked, she is the sole woman to have a fight stopped via leg kicks when she defeated Shayna Baszler four years ago. Adopting that calf kick that has become so fashionable as of late and it has allowed “The Lioness” the ability to accentuate her hands by distracting and decimating opponents with leg kicks
One other factor about Nunes’ striking is how deceptive she can be. Her physicality definitely throw foes off, as well as her speed but the idea that she’s a blitzkrieging marauder is a bit of a misnomer. Nunes is patient, more importantly she’s efficient with her striking. She’s calculated with what she throws but once something lands with impact she turns the intensity dial to 11.
Even though Holly Holm is the more accomplished striker, it is the Brazilian that has the more effective striking. Nunes’ striking accuracy is right above 50 percent, where Holm hovers around 34 percent, add to that her power and it is clear to see that even in her strength “The Preacher’s Daughter” is fighting an uphill battle.
On the feet is where the majority of this fight should and most likely will take place but should the fight hit the mat, it will be to the detriment of Holm. The progress made by the American in the grappling department since her title losing effort to Miesha Tate three years ago is respectable but there is nothing to signal that she can be much but a grappling dummy for Nunes. The Brazilian is strong, aggressive and a natural born finisher on the ground.
What adds another layer of danger for Holm is Nunes’ rapid submissions. Holm has only suffered one knockout loss in her fighting career and it was a boxing match many years ago. The Albuquerque native has a solid chin but she’s shown a few moments where she got staggered or buckled.
Durability doesn’t improve with time and with Nunes’ fight changing power, a knockout is not necessary for a finish. As shown in her fights with Miesha Tate and Sara McMann, if a Nunes’ punch is powerful enough to put your knees to the canvas it may be all necessary for “The Lioness” to choke the challenger out.
Holly Holm is one of the most well-known names in WMMA, arguably the sport as a whole. Her accolades in boxing are undeniable, her win over Rousey was jaw-dropping but this is the tallest task she has been asked to take.
It’s been said Holm “exposed” Rousey. If Holm “exposed” Rousey, then Nunes’ obliteration of Rousey showed that Women’s MMA wasn’t what it was a year prior.
The judoka was beat by a boxer, the boxer was beat by a wrestler, the wrestler was beat by a better overall fighter. After December 30, 2016 it was apparent; this was a new era, this was the future at 135 pounds. Almost two years to the date after the Rousey win, Nunes went on to become the first double and concurrent champion by defeating the scariest woman the sport had ever seen and it showed that women are long past the single martial art style approach of yesteryear.
Holm is a good fighter, some might argue a great fighter but Nunes is undoubtedly, indisputably an all-time great. Should Holm beat Nunes, it would be an impressive accomplishment. If Nunes beats Holm, she’ll have taken out every single female UFC champion at bantamweight and featherweight. The difference is undeniable, one is looking for consideration, the other is taking scalps to adorn her headdress.
Holm does stand a chance, but the factors that are necessary for her to win are circumstantial and uncharacteristic of what she has shown. The open stance in the fight should open up the liver kick for Holm. If she can thud some in whilst taxing her body with heavy clinching, elbows and dirty boxing, Holm has a chance to run away with the W. Should Nunes endure a tough weight cut from going up in weight over the last year, it could leave her weakened and ill-prepared for five rounds but the practical and established scenarios of this fight are all in Nunes’ favor.
The champion has the power, the striking, the grappling, the versatility and the in-cage fight IQ to take this with relative ease. Holm’s predictability and seldom ability to adapt mid-fight does not paint a pretty picture for how Saturday night ends.
Official Prediction. Amanda Nunes by first round TKO.