If anyone thought Albuquerque MMA fighter Holly Holm was close to being done at age 41, think again.
When Holm steps into the Octagon against Yana Santos in San Antonio, Texas on Saturday, said her longtime Albuquerque promoter Lenny Fresquez on Tuesday, the fight will be the first of six under a renewal of her contract with the UFC.
Why would the UFC re-sign a 41-year-old fighter for six fights?
Several reasons, Fresquez said, beginning and ending with Holm’s enduring popularity. She has 2.5 million followers on Instagram.
That popularity, he said, extends beyond her fan base. Saturday’s fight was to be Holm’s last on a contract signed in 2019, and other organizations were interested.
“(The UFC) knew Holly had lots of options out there,” he said. “She was very sought-after and probably could have earned more money elsewhere.”
But Holm’s goal remains the re-capture of the UFC bantamweight title she won from Ronda Rousey in November 2015 and lost to Miesha Tate the following March.
“Her mission is to get that gold,” Fresquez said. “She’s one or two fights away from it.”
A victory over Santos, a former teammate of Holm’s at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA, would constitute a major step in that direction.
“This is a very important fight for her,” Fresquez said. “But I’m confident she’s going to look very good.”
Both fighters have 14-6 records, both with 2-2 records against common opponents. Holm was an ever-so-slight betting favorite as of Tuesday.
Like most combat-sports athletes, Holm has missed fights due to injury. Yet, Fresquez said, the UFC knows she stays in top condition between fights and will always be ready come fight time.
As well, he said, “They know she doesn’t give them problems. Fifty-five clean drug tests, the most of any athlete, so she’s an example for them.”
In February 2020, Holm was honored as the first MMA athlete with 50 clean samples.
The negotiation with UFC, Fresquez said, took all of 15 minutes.
“They (the UFC) love Holly,” he said, “they know she’s one of the faces of the UFC and they wanted her to stay.”
Fresquez said the ink has been dry on Holm’s new deal since December, but he didn’t announce it at the time because he was still dealing with the death of his son, Leonard, in June.
It actually was Leonard Fresquez, his father said, who brought Holm to his attention almost 21 years ago.
Holm made her professional boxing debut on a June 2002 card that Fresquez promoted at Sky City Casino, but hers was a prelim bout and Fresquez, busy with the card, hadn’t watched the fight. Leonard, however, was impressed and said so.
Fresquez signed Holm to a two-year contract in 2004, renewed on a handshake. There’s been nothing on paper since, he said.
“That’s how loyal and devoted Holly is,” he said.
Saturday’s fight will be Holm’s 63rd, Fresquez said, as a professional kick-boxer, boxer or MMA fighter — all under the tutelage of trainer Mike Winkeljohn.
There is, it appears, no end in sight.
UFC Fight Night, San Antonio, Texas: Marlon Vera vs. Cory Sandhagen, Holly Holm vs. Yana Santos, several other fights. ESPN, 5 p.m.