The best is yet to come.
Those words, uttered as they were recently by a 35-year-old MMA fighter coming off two consecutive losses, might ring hollow to some.
To Lenny Fresquez, manager/agent of the aforementioned MMA fighter, they speak the absolute truth.
Today’s Holly Holm, Fresquez believes, is the best Holly there has been since the former world champion boxer switched to MMA full time in 2013.
“Most people start getting out at 35, and she’s taking it up a notch,” Fresquez said by phone Monday, minutes before boarding a plane on his way to Brooklyn, N.Y., for Holm’s fight against Germaine de Randamie on Saturday. “She’s a freak of nature.
“… People say she’s getting old, but she’s really in her prime right now.”
In her prime? What, then, of the back-to-back defeats that followed Holm’s shocking upset of Ronda Rousey in November 2015 — to Miesha Tate by fifth-round submission (rear naked choke), costing the Albuquerque fighter her UFC bantamweight title, and to Valentina Shevchenko by five-round unanimous decision?
Two, Fresquez said, like 35, is just a number.
“Miesha Tate was a one-minute mental lapse,” Fresquez said. “(Otherwise) Holly had that fight.”
Regarding the loss to Shevchenko, Fresquez echoed remarks made earlier by Mike Winkeljohn, Holm’s primary coach.
“There were a lot of outside distractions going on,” he said. “As manager, I probably should have pulled her out of that fight.”
As had Winkeljohn, Fresquez declined to specify what those distractions were. Holm has said only that, for whatever reason, she wasn’t totally focused that night in Chicago.
Holm, a left-hander, fought part of the Shevchenko fight with a broken left thumb that later required surgery. But she said she couldn’t recall in which round the injury occurred and refused to use it as an excuse.
After the Shevchenko loss, on the heels of the Tate fight, doubts widened and deepened in the MMA community regarding Holm’s talents and her future in the sport.
“… From what we have seen from Holm in her UFC run, this is who she really is,” wrote Steve Muhlhausen of The Sporting News. “We bought into the hype and thought we had it right when she beat Rousey. Now it seems like Holly Holm has had her 15 minutes of fame.”
Not so, it now appears. Here’s Holm, preparing to headline UFC 208 on a pay-per-view telecast from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Those two losses didn’t prevent the UFC from matching her with de Randamie for that organization’s inaugural featherweight (145-pound) title.
Holm’s popularity and marketability, Fresquez said, remain intact. Just last week, she renewed an existing sponsorship agreement with Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, a high-profile manufacturer of dietary supplements.
Her original agreement with Hi-Tech, signed in January 2016, created a brief firestorm. Hi-Tech had manufactured and distributed products containing DMAA, a substance banned by the World Anti-Drug Agency and thought to have been declared illegal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
But Hi-Tech has sued the FDA, claiming that it never formally banned DMAA and that the dangers DMAA allegedly presents are not proven.
Hi-Tech continues to manufacture products containing DMAA but makes and distributes scores of products that don’t contain it.
Holm has never failed a drug test during her 16-year combat sports career.
Fresquez said there’s no shortage of other companies interested in doing business with Holm and said he’ll be talking with some of them while in New York this week.
“There’s a lot of stuff cooking,” he said.
Some of those opportunities might well be predicated on a Holm victory Saturday night. Reflecting the doubts created by her two losses, oddsmakers have made Holm (10-2) a slight underdog against de Randamie (6-3).
But, regarding that “best is yet to come,” comment, spoken by Holm during a UFC 208 preview aired Sunday on Fox Sports 1, count Greg Jackson among the believers.
“Holly’s career is really just starting in the high level of mixed martial arts,” Jackson, Winkeljohn’s partner in Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA, said on the Sunday preview show. “A great win (Saturday) and a 145-pound belt can propel her to that next level that we’re looking for.”