Holly Holm has been here before. She knows what it takes to pick herself up off the floor and dust herself down.
A veteran of 77 recorded professional fights – across boxing (38), kickboxing (22) and mixed martial arts (17) – this is not the first time ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ has stood at the crossroads in her fighting life.
The former UFC bantamweight champion, who climbed on top of the MMA world with her unforgettable 2015 head-kick knockout of Ronda Rousey, faces off against a familiar foe in Raquel Pennington at UFC 246 in Las Vegas.
Holm scored a points victory over Pennington on her Octagon debut, utilising the same solid takedown defence she will need this weekend. But this return comes after the worst run of results in her fighting life.
The Albuquerque fighter was knocked out for the first time in mixed martial arts in her last outing, contesting her old world title against Amanda Nunes, a champion the MMA world is starting to recognise as the greatest female fighter of all time. A mythical championship belt that was at one time bestowed on Holm.
Reigning UFC bantamweight and featherweight title holder Nunes won with relative ease last July, bringing Holm’s current UFC run to a miserable 2-5 since beating Rousey. To remain relevant in the sport, Holm must have her arm raised inside the T-Mobile Arena this weekend.
But if history has taught us anything about the 38-year-old, it is that when talk of retirement fills the air, she has a habit of reinventing herself.
Prior to testing herself against the world’s best mixed martial artists, Holm was the world’s finest women’s boxer. A two-time Ring magazine ‘Female Fighter of the Year’, she held several boxing world titles. Count Holm out at your peril.
“What I’ve always known about Holly, she always jumps back on the horse,” said coach Mike Winkeljohn, who has worked with the former champion throughout her career.
“She had a boxing match where she got knocked out years and years ago by a girl named Anne Mathis, who is the hardest puncher she ever fought.
“Everybody said she should retire and I looked at her and said: ‘You’re going to rematch her and you’re going to beat her up.’ That was it. That was the moment Holly said ‘of course’ and that’s when I knew that about Holly.
“Same thing here. Same frame of mind, Holly wants it back. She knows she made a mistake [against Nunes]. When you make mistakes against someone like Amanda, Amanda capitalises on it. She took that mistake and ran with it.”
Incidentally, the biggest match-up on the horizon for Nunes in 2020 is a rumoured boxing-MMA double-header with the ring’s incumbent number one, Claressa Shields.
Both the UFC champion and the three-weight world boxing champion have spoken repeatedly about going head-to-head while at their peaks. Once in a boxing ring, with a return inside the Octagon.
As long as veteran Holm can win this weekend, she has the pedigree to compete with both too – regardless of the shape of the canvas. As a boxer, Holm was once the world’s most dominant champion. And, briefly, after shattering Rousey’s supremacy at UFC 193, she was the first lady of MMA also.
But a lot has happened in the five years since, including a broken marriage, and that run of results that fail to reflect the true skillset Holm possesses.
Fight sports and the destinies of its main protagonists can change in an instant, however. And Holly Holm and coach Winkeljohn know that she remains just one viral knockout away from career salvation.
By the time Conor McGregor makes his ringwalk this weekend, we’ll know for sure whether Holm’s highlight reel knockout of Rousey is the moment that forever defines her MMA legacy, or whether it becomes a landmark in the career of a woman still contesting the mantle of fight sports’ greatest champion.