In March, upon learning that her scheduled May 8 fight against Albuquerque’s Holly Holm would not happen, Julianna Peña immediately began lobbying for a title shot against UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
She got it. As first reported on Friday by espn.com, straight from the mouth of UFC President Dana White, Peña (10-4), from Spokane, Washington, will challenge Nunes (21-4), a Brazilian who trains in Florida, for the title on Aug. 7.
Where, then, does that leave Holm?
In a phone interview on Friday, Lenny Fresquez, Holm’s longtime Albuquerque promoter, expressed little concern. Noting that Holm has been cleared to resume training after surgery to correct a kidney condition that scrapped the Peña fight, he said he expects her to be back in action by the fall.
But against whom?
Fresquez expressed little worry about that issue, as well.
“We’ll take any of them,” he said. “Holly will fight anybody. It doesn’t really matter who it is. We’re not afraid of anyone on (the UFC bantamweight) roster.”
The first prospective opponent Fresquez mentioned was Miesha Tate (18-7), who in March 2016 defeated Holm (14-5) by fifth-round technical decision (rear naked choke) – snatching away the bantamweight title Holm had spectacularly won from Ronda Rousey the previous November.
Tate recently announced a comeback after retiring in 2016 and is scheduled to face Marion Reneau on July 17.
A Tate victory against Reneau (9-7-1) could lead to a highly appetizing Holm-Tate rematch, which Holm has said she would welcome. But should Tate lose to Reneau, diminishing the attractiveness of such a rematch, what then?
The Netherlands’ Germaine de Randamie (10-4), the No. 1 bantamweight contender, defeated Holm in controversial fashion for the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight title in February 2017. As compelling as a Holm-de Randamie rematch might be, Fresquez said the Dutch fighter simply refuses to fight Holm.
Aspen Ladd (9-1), the No. 3 challenger behind Holm, is scheduled to fight ninth-ranked Macy Chiasson (7-1) in July.
Fresquez likes the idea of a fight for Holm against fifth-ranked Russian Yana Kunitskaya, (14-5), a former teammate of Holm’s at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA. Kunitskaya defeated seventh-ranked Ketlen Vieira in February and has no fight scheduled as of now.
A loss to Kunitskaya, or for that matter to anyone, certainly would damage Holm’s chances of achieving her stated goal – another shot at the title she lost to Tate more than five years ago.
The answer to that, Fresquez said, is simple: Holm, even at age 39, doesn’t intend to lose.
“They (the UFC) don’t have many options (beyond Peña) for a title fight,” he said. “I think with one more great performance, Holly will be fighting for the title.”
SHIELDS’ DEBUT: A word of advice for Claressa Shields, the world champion boxer who’s scheduled to debut as an MMA fighter on June 10: if you knock Brittney Elkin down, don’t go to a neutral corner.
That’s what Holm, also a world champion boxer and now Shields’ teammate at Jackson-Wink, did 11 years ago when she made her MMA debut at Route 66 Casino Hotel against Wisconsin’s Christina Domke.
In the second round, Domke sank to the ground after absorbing several powerful Holm leg kicks. But instead of following Domke to the ground, Holm – despite having trained in an MMA gym her entire boxing career – stepped back and waited for the referee to start counting.
The error could have led to a Holm disqualification but did not. Alerted to her mistake by her corner, she finished Domke with the appropriate ground-and-pound.
Shields’ debut against Elkin (3-6) is scheduled for a Professional Fighters League card in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to be telecast on ESPN2.
In the meantime, Shields has renewed her boxing promotional relationship with New York-based Salita Promotions.
Shields (11-0, two knockouts), a two-time Olympic gold medalist, holds professional boxing titles in three weight divisions: junior middleweight, middleweight and super middleweight.