MMA: Holm will have to deal with Werner’s Muay Thai clinch

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Juliana Werner, left, and Holly Holm pose after their weigh-in Thursday. They will meet in the main event of a Legacy Fighting Championship MMA card at Route 66 Casino Hotel tonight. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The hands go behind the opponent’s head, firmly. The elbows go inside the opponent’s elbows. Then, you pull. Hard.

The downward force created can bring the opponent’s torso, even the head, within range of devastating blows with the knees.

It’s called a Muay Thai clinch, and it’s one of Brazilian MMA fighter Juliana Werner’s favorite moves.

And it’s something Mike Winkeljohn, Holly Holm’s trainer, wanted his fighter exposed to as the Albuquerquean climbs the ladder toward the championship level in the sport.

The first championship is at hand. Holm (6-0) and Werner (7-3) meet tonight in the main event of a Legacy Fighting Championship MMA card at Route 66 Casino Hotel. The newly minted LFC women’s bantamweight title is at stake.

Werner is Holm’s opponent tonight, in part, because of her skill in Muay Thai kickboxing – particularly the clinch.

“Juliana’s got a really good Thai clinch,” Winkeljohn said in February, when the matchup was first announced. “In her mind, she thinks she’s much stronger than Holly in that position, grabbing her around the neck and throwing knees.

“That gives Holly an opportunity now to deal with that – (learn) how to time that, how to counterpunch down the middle of those kicks, kick underneath those kicks, catch those kicks and throw our own takedowns.

“It’s perfect. It gives us a new avenue, a new thing to look at and new things to work on, a new skill set.”

But then, in the brutal yet technical world of MMA, tactics can change in a nanosecond. In previous fights, Werner also has flashed some punching power – in stand-up and on the ground – and the ability to control an opponent with wrestling skills.

Full disclosure: There’s also a video out there that shows Werner being choked out – out, as in unconscious – by fellow Brazilian Vanessa Porto in just 33 seconds of the first round. All three of Werner’s losses have come at the hands of Porto.

The Muay Thai clinch, then, might come into play tonight. It might not.

Holm said she’ll be prepared for whatever comes.

“We worked on things (to defend against the clinch),” Holm said. “But I’m not going to be focusing on that, because she’s going to be doing a lot of things.

“I know she’s coming in with her own game plan, trying to throw my game plan off.”

Holm weighed in Thursday at a chiseled 134.6 pounds, Werner at a much less defined 134.8. The bantamweight limit is 135 pounds.

In a semi-main featherweight event, two hardy veterans of the MMA wars will meet. Albuquerque’s Donald Sanchez will face Brazil’s Flavio Alvaro in a match between fighters with a combined 98 career professional outings.

Sanchez (29-13) and Alvaro (46-10) both have been fighting professionally since 2005.

If there’s a grudge match on the card, it’s the flyweight showdown between Albuquerqueans Nick Urso (7-1) and Ray Borg (5-0). It’s a rare matchup between fighters from the city’s two most prominent gyms, Jackson-Winkeljohn (Urso) and FIT-NHB (Borg).

Seven pro fights are scheduled. A five-fight amateur card features the MMA debut of Mike Benefiel, a 2013 NCAA Division III wrestling champion who trains at Jackson-Winkeljohn.

In the gym, Winkeljohn said, Benefiel “takes everybody down. He takes (UFC light heavyweight champion) Jon Jones down.”

Benefiel is scheduled to face Roswell’s Jose Cueto (3-0) at 170 pounds.

In February, at a Wednesday news conference and again at Thursday’s weigh-in, Winkeljohn and promoter Lenny Fresquez said – without any concrete explanation – that tonight’s fight might well be Holm’s last in the Albuquerque area.

If so, Holm said, “I definitely don’t want to leave on a sour note.”

Recently, UFC President Dana White – apparently irritated by Fresquez’s financial demands and negotiating style – said he had “no interest whatsoever” in signing Holm to a contract.

The buzz created, for better or worse, has given Holm more publicity as an MMA fighter than ever before.

Losing to Werner tonight, she said, might be the ultimate buzz kill.

“I really am focusing on just this (fight),” she said. “I feel good, and I’m ready to go.”

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Ray Borg, left, and Nick Urso, right, will meet tonight in a flyweight showdown between two Albuquerque fighters. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

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Holly Holm weighs in Thursday at 134.6 pounds ahead of today’s MMA fight at Route 66 Casino. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

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