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Holm breathes life back into career with latest head-kick KO

FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2015, file photo, Holly Holm celebrates after defeating Ronda Rousey in their UFC 193 bantamweight title fight in Melbourne, Australia. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)
(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)

It had been nearly two years since Holly Holm executed a backflip inside the Octagon, an acrobatic feat that has followed each of her wins as a fighter in mixed martial arts.

The latest backward somersault came just moments after defeating Bethe Correia at UFC Fight Night 111, stopping the former title challenger with a head-kick knockout early in the third round of their main event Saturday night (or morning, for those in the States) in Singapore.

While the victory itself came with an emphatic ending, Holm’s performance may preventing that head kick from shining in ways it once did.

Holm was timid through the first 11 minutes of the fight, unwilling to set aside the game plan she and her coaches at Jackson-Wink formulated to topple Correia in a five-round fight. Comfortable in her role as the counter fighter, “The Preacher’s Daughter” was simply waiting for the Brazilian to take the first step before she could let her hands and feet go.

The problem for fight fans across the globe — especially those who woke up bright and early on a Saturday morning to catch this unconventionally aired card — was that Correia had a very similar game plan. She, too, would not be baited into playing the lead, laser-focused on waiting for Holm to break her pact and strike first.

As is the case in nearly every fight between two counter strikers, that “waiting game” resulted in a mostly forgettable contest.

But then came the knockout, and all was saved… sort of.

Holm has finally put herself back into the winner’s circle after failing to do so in her previous three tries. Her victory breathes life back into a career her coach characterized as “do or die” less than two years after winning the championship. While the knockout win will rightfully find a permanent place in Holm’s highlight reel as a mixed martial artist, the first 11 minutes of the fight that reminded us why her career needed a helping dose of oxygen to begin with.

A former boxing champion with a slew of noteworthy accolades, no trophy on Holm’s mantel will ever be as significant as the one she earned on the night of Nov. 14, 2015. That was the night Holm trounced Ronda Rousey for all the world to see, knocking out the previously undefeated and seemingly invincible champion in Round 2 of their main event at UFC 193. That fight also ended with a head-kick KO, the third of Holm’s career at the time.

To this date, Rousey is the only UFC opponent who bit hard on “The Preacher’s Daughter’s” game plan. Fooled into believing she stood any chance on the feet against Holm, Rousey marched forward and ate punch after punch while missing with a majority of hers. Holm fought the perfect fight, yes. However, history must not forget that Rousey also fought a hugely imperfect one, flawed in every way.

Holm was on top of the world, seen by a majority of the sport’s brightest minds as the next big thing, but while she was technically Rousey’s successor in championship lineage, Holm could not match the former titleholder’s dominance as queen of the class. Holm lost the belt in her first title defense, subsequently dropping two other fights to bring her losing streak to three before defeating Correia Saturday.

What was most evident in all three of those losses, and her most recent UFC win, was how ineffective Holm was. A tried and true counter fighter, the only way Holm can wow the masses and judges is by being paired with a fighter foolishly willing to ignore the bright neon sign that reads “Do Not Enter,” as Holm stands her ground with her hands loaded and ready to strike.

Raquel Pennington fought “The Preacher’s Daughter” to a close decision loss by playing it smart, while Miesha Tate, Valentina Shevchenko, Germaine de Randamie and even Correia had a better idea of what it took to solve the puzzle. Had the stars aligned for a Holm-Rousey rematch, we likely would have seen “Rowdy” take a different approach as well.

Holm is undoubtedly one of the more talented fighters in this division, but she hasn’t evolved her game, assuming it would continue to bring her the same sort of success it provided against Rousey. The win against Correia will put her back under the spotlight for the time being, but the world will need more from the former champion if she has any hope of reaching the heights she did in the past.

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