The main event of last night’s UFC 219, Cyborg vs Holm, saw the Brazilian UFC champion defend her featherweight title against former women’s bantamweight champion, Holly Holm. This was Holm’s third fight as a featherweight after moving up in weight. She was coming off a big win against Bethe Correira back in June, and got her chance to test her skills against the formidable Cyborg, who has dominated practically every opponent she’s faced her entire career.
Stylistically, both Cyborg and Holly are strong and athletic. Cyborg is usually an early pressure fighter and when she senses that her opponent is vulnerable, she will unleash a furious attack resulting in either heavy damage or a conclusive finish. Holm, on the other hand, is a more technical and methodical striker and always looks to use movement to find her openings.With Holm’s decorated striking background as a pro kickboxing and boxing champion, as well as the former UFC bantamweight champion, many viewed her as presenting a serious test to Cyborg’s dominance.
Holly Holm’s best trait is arguably her lateral footwork and ability to circle out of danger to land strikes of her own and she was very active throughout the match. Looking sharp in pretty much every round, Holly managed to throw some nice combinations and even negated at times Cyborg’s punching range by pressuring her against the fence.
Despite 145 pounds being Cyborg’s natural weight class and Holly Holm moving up from 135, the latter was able to match Cyborg in strength, doing well in the clinches and in-fighting and even pummeling Cyborg on the cage. She stayed aggressive and attempted to strike off the release when pressing on the cage, or push off when Cyborg got close to kicking range, a distance where Holly showed some advantages.
However, overall Cyborg landed the heavier, more damaging shots, including a late third round flurry that seriously rocked Holm. According to the UFC strike meter, Cyborg landed more total significant strikes as well. She was able to maintain striking range and countered well to land the big shots. Even with Holm managing to use her elusive footwork, Cyborg maintained composure and pivoted well to follow and cut Holm off.
There were many good back back and forth exchanges. If you are a fan of technical striking and chess match style fighting, the main event was a good one to watch, especially as it was a rare chance to see Cyborg in this type of fight, when we’re so used to seeing her go trigger happy. The real chess match though was the footwork. When Holm would move in and out, Cyborg was patient and countered with power shots, before Holm would follow up by circling out and countering from outside. Then Cyborg would pivot away and pressure again.
The fight went the distance, and Cyborg won by unanimous decision.
Despite commentators, Joe Rogan and Dominik Cruz agreeing on a dominant performace by Cyborg, the fight was very competitive, justifying a close decision. Yes, the champion landed more strikes, but Holm pushed the pace. She did not get intimidated and still demonstrated some great strategies to use against the champion. She would circle out to avoid the devastating overhands and hooks, and would always follow up with a strike of her own to counter. This was one of the few times we’ve seen Cyborg having to be tentative at times. Holm also landed some solid straight lefts and showed she was just as strong and athletic as Cyborg when pressuring her bigger opponent against the cage.
Perhaps, we are just used to Cyborg being a monsterous force when she dominates her opponents, and Holly was merely able to go the distance. But saying Holly Holm’s performance was a valiant effort would be an understatement. Holm was effective and intelligent and made good use of some smart tactics.
In the end however, Cyborg was just that much better and proved why she is the featherweight champion of the UFC. Big fights await Cyborg while Holm might well consider moving back down to 135. — Wes Derequito