How does Holly Holm counter the counter?
In defeating Albuquerque’s Holm Saturday night in the main event of UFC 219 in Las Vegas, Nev., and retaining her UFC featherweight title, Brazil’s Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino employed a tactic that previous Holm opponents have used successfully: the counter punch.
Like Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie before her, Cyborg essentially outboxed the woman who first came to fame as a world champion boxer.
Neither Cyborg, de Randamie nor Shevchenko has had a single boxing match, but all, like Holm, have kick-boxing backgrounds. And UFC competition attracts the best of the best from all the various combat-sports disciplines. Only a handful of Holm’s 30 opponents as a boxer had striking skills approaching those of the aforementioned three.
Saturday, Cyborg showed surprising patience — relentless, but not frenetic — in the pressure she applied. Her patience paid dividends in a victory by unanimous decision.
Those who keep track of such things have noted that Holm, while an effective striker, is not a particularly accurate one. Saturday’s statistics, as compiled by fightmetrics.com, reflect that.
According to the website, Holm (11-4) and Cyborg (19-1) threw approximately the same number of strikes (punches and kicks). But Cyborg, over the course of the fight, out-landed Holm by a 3-to-1 margin.
And repeatedly, when Holm missed with a punch, she was made to pay with a Cyborg counter shot.
“Absolutely,” said Mike Winkeljohn, Holm’s primary coach since she first set foot in his kick-boxing school some 20 years ago. “That was it, that amongst many other things. People can’t match (Holm’s speed), so they have to just kind of block a punch and throw back.
“Holly would throw some punches and come back to center. Cris couldn’t keep up with Holly’s speed, so she would start to wait. … A couple of mistakes that way, a couple of things we have to go home and practice and make better, and we beat her next time.”
THE FUTURE: Winkeljohn said Holm, at age 36 and having lost four of her last five fights, wants no part of any retirement talks.
What she wants, he said, is a rematch with Cyborg.
“Absolutely, she told me she wanted a rematch. Immediately, as soon as we got out of (the arena).
“She said, ‘That’s it, I want a rematch. I can’t believe I didn’t do a few things that we had trained for,’ and she was upset.”
It seems unlikely that UFC would schedule an immediate rematch, since there was no controversy surrounding the outcome.
But in becoming the first fighter to take Cyborg the five-round distance, Holm should remain a prominent player in the sport — whether at the featherweight limit of 145 pounds or in the 135-pound bantamweight division. She’s a former UFC bantamweight champion.
THE EYE: Holm went to a Las Vegas hospital Saturday night because of swelling around her left eye.
Albuquerque’s Lenny Fresquez, Holm’s manager, told the Journal via text on Sunday that the eye was fine and that the hospital visit was purely precautionary.
THE CONTROVERSY: While there was no dispute about the outcome of the Holm-Cyborg fight, a controversy arose on Sunday.
As reported by Damon Martin of UFC.com, Mark Aragon, a photographer for Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA who had a media credential for UFC 219, referred to Cyborg as “he” and “his” in an Instagram post Saturday night.
Others at Jackson-Wink were quick to disassociate themselves from Aragon’s post.
“#notmyphotographer,” tweeted Jackson-Wink fighter Lando Vanatta.
“(Cyborg) is a true champion, and great representative of our sport,” tweeted Jackson-Wink coach Brandon Gibson. “I know the coaches and fighters that truly represent @JacksonWinkMMA think the same.”
On his Twitter and Instagram feeds, Aragon on Sunday posted a photo of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) after having been assimilated by “The Borg” on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
“This is what I know as a cyborg. She calls herself the cyborg. I’m sorry for the confusion,” he posted.
Cyborg responded on Monday, calling Aragon’s post unacceptable and demanding either an apology or that Aragon’s eligibility for future UFC credentials be reconsidered.
Later on Monday, as reported by mmajunkie.com, Aragon issued issued an apology on social media.
“I am embarrassed by my actions and I sincerely apologize to (Cyborg) and her friends, fans and most importantly her family for posting such an ugly misrepresenting of a great hard earned championship retention,” he wrote.
Aragon also said, however, that his original post was motivated by disparaging and disrespectful remarks he had overheard Cyborg make about Holm after the fight.
“My personal emotions got in the way of my professional status which I failed to adhere to,” he wrote.