At 41, Holly Holm continues to evolve as a fighter - Albuquerque Journal

At 41, Holly Holm continues to evolve as a fighter

Holly Holm is shown at a celebration at Civic Plaza in 2015 after a parade in honor of her MMA championship fight upset win over Ronda Rousey. Holm’s win is the top local sports story of the decade. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal File)

San Antonio, Texas, is famous for its Riverwalk. But on Saturday in the Alamo City, Holly Holm’s Fountain of Youth flowed unabated.

Albuquerque’s Holm, who at age 41 has signed a six-fight contract extension with the UFC, soundly defeated Yana Santos — a mere kid of 33 — by unanimous decision on a UFC Fight Night card at the AT&T Center.

Last week, after the Journal reported news of the contract extension, the story was picked up by most of the major MMA websites.

The reaction in some quarters was positive. In others, not so much.

“… She is too old and too beat up,” posted one MMA fan in response to a tweet on MMA Women’s Rankings. “… But she has a name and so people buy tickets, so we get boring and old.”

If the Holm-Santos fight was at all boring, it was because it was so one-sided. After a competitive first 4½ minutes, it was all Holm from there.

Holm, a former kickboxer and boxing Hall of Famer best known for her striking ability, used her superior strength and her ever-growing repertoire to take Santos down four times and maintain control on the ground for long periods of time.

The judges saw it as a shutout: 30-27, 30-27, 30-26. Judge Chris Lee scored the second round 10-8, reflecting Holm’s complete dominance. It appeared round three could have been scored that way as well.

Holm’s grappling/wrestling skills shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise, since Saturday’s fight was in some ways a continuation of her October 2021 victory over Irene Aldana. Holm was dominant on her feet in that fight but also took Aldana down five times with significant stretches of ground control.

It is all, Holm said at a post-event news conference, about the ongoing development of her game.

“I do feel like I’m still evolving. I feel like I’m still learning,” she said. “I want to use a little bit of what I was doing great before and add on things I’ve learned and just keep putting it all together.”

Holm said she believes the best of her career is yet to come, but added she knows — and feels — that she’s not 21 or 31 anymore. The proper adjustments, she said, have been made.

“There’s the recovery that takes a little more,” she said. “If I really look back at what’s different now at 41 than at 31, I actually schedule my recovery in between my trainings.

“But I’m able to do it. I have the time to do it.”

Holm signed the contract extension with the stated goal of regaining the UFC bantamweight title she won so spectacularly from Ronda Rousey in November 2015 but lost so unexpectedly to Miesha Tate the following March.

Though her path to another title shot remains unclear, it’s clear that in defeating Santos, and so impressively, she avoided a major setback.

In any case, UFC President Dana White liked what he saw — and likes Holm.

“What’s incredible about Holly Holm is what she means to combat sports, period,” White said at the news conference. “Boxing Hall of Fame, she’ll end up UFC Hall of Fame, she did kickboxing too.

“… She’s somebody that we will absolutely, positively celebrate all her achievements in all the combat sports. She’s incredible, and one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet.”

TEAM PLAYER: After the fight, Holm made a point of thanking her training and management team: Jackson-Wink MMA co-head coaches Mike Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson, agent Lenny Fresquez and wrestling coach Israel “Izzy” Martinez.

“I don’t think people really realize how much (preparation) it takes for one fight,” Holm said. “I love my team right here.”

COWBOY TO THE HALL: It was announced during Saturday’s card that retired MMA star Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who lives in Edgewood, will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July.

The colorful Cerrone ended his career ranked second among UFC fighters in wins (23), second in finishes (16) and first in knockdowns (20).

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