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Rick Wright: Holm, Trout fighting to stay relevant

On Sept. 16, 2005 at Isleta Resort & Casino, Austin Trout made his professional boxing debut on a card headlined by Holly Holm.

They both won that night – Holm by lopsided, unanimous decision over women’s boxing legend Christy Martin, Trout by third-round TKO over journeyman Justo Almazán.

Since then, the two New Mexico southpaws have taken divergent paths. They don’t even compete in the same sport anymore, Holm having left boxing for MMA in 2013.

Yet, their career arcs reflect some similarities. They both have succeeded at the highest levels, only to be toppled from those heights.

Tonight, fighting on the same evening for the first time since that boxing card at Isleta, but in different cities in different sports, they nonetheless face a common opponent: irrelevance.

Holm, 36, has lost four of five fights since her unforgettable upset victory over Ronda Rousey in November 2015. She’s facing lanky Australian Megan Anderson (8-2) tonight on UFC 225 at the United Center in Chicago (pay-per-view, 8 p.m.).

It’s a non-title fight at the 145-pound featherweight limit, but if Holm (11-4) wins as expected – she’s approximately a 2-to-1 favorite – she’s a likely candidate for a title shot at featherweight or bantamweight (135). She and her management have expressed a preference for bantamweight, where she’s the No. 1 contender for the title held by Brazil’s Amanda Nunes.

If Holm loses, though, championship opportunity will not be knocking anytime soon.

Trout, 32, was 26-0 when he stepped into the ring to defend his WBA super

Former world champion Danny Romero, left, and former WBA chamption Austin Trout, right, attended a news conference to kick off the USA Boxing Western Qualifier and Regional Open Championships this past March 5. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

middleweight title against Canelo Alvarez in April 2013. He’s now 31-4 (17 knockouts). Losses to Alvarez, Erislandy Lara, Jermall Charlo and Jarrett Hurd – as has Holm, he’s only lost to the best – have put the Las Cruces boxer in a virtual must-win situation tonight. He’ll face unbeaten Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 knockouts), Jermall’s identical twin, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with Charlo’s WBC 154-pound title at stake (8 p.m., Showtime).

Of the two situations, Trout’s is the more urgent.

Forever, after all, Holm will be the woman who so dramatically stripped Rousey of her apparent invincibility. Even now, insists Lenny Fresquez, Holm’s longtime Albuquerque promoter, his client is the most marketable female fighter on the UFC roster.

Should she lose tonight, just a couple of wins, maybe even one, could restore her to relevance at 135 or 145. The UFC likes her, and so do the fans.

Trout, in contrast, has never registered high on the marketability meter. He’s not a devastating puncher. His signature victory, over legend-in-waiting Miguel Cotto in December 2012, didn’t have close to the galvanizing effect of Holm’s victory over Rousey. If anything, given Cotto’s popularity, it had the opposite effect.

A loss tonight for Trout, a 6-to-1 underdog as of Friday evening, would deal a crushing, if not mortal blow to Trout’s relevance in the junior middleweight division.

Regarding the matchups:

Trout is such a prohibitive underdog because bettors and oddsmakers look at his recent record and believe his skills have deteriorated with age and mileage. Las Cruces’ Louie Burke, Trout’s longtime trainer, says it’s not so.

Though Jermell Charlo is unbeaten, Burke says, he’s not unbeatable.

At Trout’s best, Burke says, “He’s relied on his good footwork and his boxing ability. That’s really what we need to get back to.”

Regarding Holm-Anderson, those in the minority who pick Anderson point to her height (6 feet; Holm is 5-8), reach and punching power. The Kansas City-based Australian has won her last four fights by knockout or TKO.

A solid majority, though, favors Holm on the basis of superior experience, footwork and strength in the clinch.

In losses to Valentina Shevchenko, Germaine DeRandamie and Cris “Cyborg” Justino, Holm’s vulnerability to counter shots was decisive. She spent more time in training, she said, scouting herself than scouting Anderson.

Fans should look, Fresquez and coach Mike Winkeljohn have said, for some new wrinkles.

“Hopefully I can be a different and better fighter,” Holm said before leaving for Chicago. “I’m always trying to learn new things, but let’s fix those bad habits as well.”

For Holm and for Trout, getting back to a winning habit – starting tonight – is the name of the game.