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LAS VEGAS, Nev. – No one, perhaps, other than Holly Holm’s family, close friends and training/management team, will be rooting harder for the Albuquerque MMA fighter tonight than UFC President Dana White.
It’s not that White is so terribly fond of Holm, though she clearly has his respect. It’s just that a loss by Holm to Miesha Tate tonight on UFC 196 would destroy or seriously damage a future megafight and a financial bonanza.
Conor McGregor, UFC’s 145-pound champ, is fighting replacement opponent Nate
Diaz at the 170-pound welterweight limit in the main event. McGregor took the right after 155-pound champion Rafael dos Anjos withdrew last week because of a foot injury.
McGregor (19-2) weighed in at 168 pounds, with former lightweight title challenger Diaz at 169.
A rematch between Holm and Ronda Rousey, White believes, could break all existing pay-per-view records – but only if Holm remains the champion after tonight’s fight at the MGM Grand Garden. Holm defeated Rousey by second-round TKO in November, claiming the UFC bantamweight title that she’ll defend tonight.
White, in fact, had fought to keep Holm out of the octagon until Rousey was available for the rematch. But with Team Holm insisting on a fight in the interim, and with Rousey’s immediate fighting future cloudy, the Tate fight was made.
White told radio talk-show host Jim Rome he’s as nervous as a kid on a first date.
“As a fan, I love (Holm’s) attitude,” White said. “(On) the business side, I absolutely hate it. Holly vs. Ronda is the biggest fight in UFC history without a doubt.
“And she’s going in (tonight) against Miesha Tate, who A), is hungry and wants that belt so bad, and B), stylistically matches up very well to give her a tough night.”
White is hardly the only MMA figure who believes Tate, a decided underdog, might spoil the party.
Brian Stann, a former teammate of Holm’s at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA and now a television commentator, believes Tate is the harder puncher of the two – despite Holm’s boxing background.
“Miesha’s best chance to win this fight,” Stann told MMA journalist Ariel Helwani, “isn’t shooting takedown after takedown and getting frustrated not being able to get Holly down. It’s waiting for the right time punching with her, knocking her down with a punch, then getting on top of her or knocking her out.”
That’s not to say Stann, any more than White, will be rooting for Tate tonight. He considers Holm a friend, and on Helwani’s “The MMA Hour” called the Albuquerquean one of the best people he has met in the sport.
To both White and Stann, Lenny Fresquez’s message is “fear not.”
In an interview with the Journal on Friday, Fresquez, Holm’s longtime former promoter and now her agent, was asked to consider an either/or question. What does Holm’s future hold if she wins tonight, and what if she loses?
As for the second question, Fresquez considers the possibility as remote as the Mojave Desert.
“Miesha is good, one of their best, just as Ronda was one of their best,” Fresquez said. “But Holly’s just on a different level than these other girls, just on a different level.”
But, Fresquez was asked, should the unthinkable happen, would Holm (10-0 as an MMA fighter) continue to fight? The Albuquerque left-hander is 34, and she’s been fighting professionally – boxing or MMA – for more than 14 years.
Whatever Holm wants, Fresquez said, is what her team will do. But he fully expects her, win or lose, to continue fighting.
“We have no intentions of losing,” Fresquez said. “… (But) she’s not ready (to retire). She’s in her prime.”
If tonight’s outcome is the widely expected Holm victory – she’s an approximate 7-2 betting favorite – White likely will get his wish: the Holm-Rousey rematch.
But that will depend on Rousey.
“Everybody will talk,” Fresquez said, “and hopefully Ronda will execute a contract rather quickly and we’ll have a fight.
“If Ronda decides to fight right away, then we’ll be happy to wait. If she doesn’t commit, then we want to fight again (in the interim).”
Tate (17-5) is on record as wanting to see that Holm-Rousey rematch, but not as a Holm title defense – and not as quite the pay-per-view record-breaker that White is hoping for. Tate fully intends to spoil that party.
“It’s not every day you get a title shot, so I want to make the most of it,” Tate said at Thursday’s news conference. “… I feel this is my time.”
Though Holm may share Fresquez’s confidence, she consistently has said that fear of losing is a valued motivator. That hasn’t changed.
“She’s gritty,” she said of Tate. “… She can be down and come back.
“That makes the toughest fight ever. When you have a warrior in front of you, that makes it the most difficult challenge.”
THE WEIGH-IN: Holm weighed in Friday at 134½ pounds, a half-pound under the bantamweight limit. Tate weighed 135.
SANCHEZ, TOO: Albuquerque’s Diego Sanchez (25-8), Holm’s Jackson-Wink MMA teammate, will face fellow veteran Jim Miller (25-7) on today’s undercard.
“Mark my words,” said Sanchez, who has lost three of his last four fights. “This will be the best Diego you’ve seen.”
Sanchez weighed in at 156 pounds, a permissible one pound over the lightweight limit. Miller weighed 155½.