Holly Holm said she was “blessed” to create history in Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning, as the former champion registered a win to open options at the top of the bantamweight division – including dominant title-holder Amanda Nunes.
Holm, the No 2-ranked challenger, delivered a clinic of a display in the headline bout at UFC Fight Night at Flash Forum, defeating dangerous Mexican Irene Aldana by unanimous decision. It marked the first time a female fight has topped the bill in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m just blessed that there was belief that we could come out and do a show,” Holm told reporters at the post-fight press conference. “It’s really just an honour. That’s just something that we can add on to a little piece of history.
“I always like to do something that hasn’t been done before and to be the first female fight to headline out here, it’s great. And even better that it’s with a victory. So we’ll go home with happy hearts.”
The win was Holm’s second successive triumph – she defeated Raquel Pennington in January – the first time she has put together back-to-back victories since she began her career with 10 unbeaten.
The American, who rose to stardom in 2015 by shocking then-champion Ronda Rousey to claim the belt, made commendably light work of the fast-rising Aldana to take the match-up 50-44, 50-45, 50-45.
As always with Holm, she moved straight back into genuine title contention, with rematches against either champion Nunes or No 1 contender Germaine de Ramdamie – the Dutchwoman won on Sunday also – sure to figure on the horizon.
Holm, 38, lost to De Ramdamie in a controversial decision in 2017 when they met for the inaugural featherweight crown, while Nunes stopped her in the first round of their bantamweight title encounter last year. The Brazilian, who holds the featherweight belt as well, is slated to face Megan Anderson in December. She became a mother for the first time last month.
On what’s next, Holm said: “I’m going to keep working hard. That’s what I’m going to do. I know [Nunes] has got a lot going on right now, with another fight already scheduled. There’s some tough girls coming up.
“I feel like the 135-pound division’s always pretty stacked, so I’m not going to set my sights on something too hard. I’m going to let the opportunity come and the next fight after the next fight. And whatever that may be, I’m going to put my heart and soul into it and do it again.”
Should the Nunes clash not transpire, De Randamie seems an obvious alternative. The former champion, 36, had success in Abu Dhabi on Sunday too, seeing off No 4-ranked challenger Julianna Pena via a third-round submission.
“That’s definitely an option,” said Holm, now 14-5 in professional mixed martial arts. “I think everybody probably thought her and I might meet up again in there, so we’ll see what happens. We’ll see where it goes from here.”
Sunday’s victory was certainly a worthy reminder of Holm’s talent. Having been criticised in the past for not being aggressive enough – she lost her past three championship bouts – she took the fight to Aldana throughout, forcing a takedown in each round and landing a high output of significant strikes.
And, although she surprisingly didn’t get a bonus for performance of the night, Holm was rightfully satisfied with her morning’s work.
“It felt good to just go in there and get a dominating performance and not something that’s just too close,” she said. “There’s fights I’ve had that are brawls and some are in the clinch, and I’m trying to put it all together and be a well-rounded fighter. I felt I was able to do a lot of that tonight. But yes, I always want to do more.
“I think just coming over here, it’s just a lot of sacrifice from my team and I just wanted to get in there and I didn’t want to let the time pass me by without making the most out of it. Get out there and get it done. We came this far for 25 minutes; I better at least do something for 25 minutes.”