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All the Cage: Holly Holm talks evolving talent in women's MMA; UFC 253's big numbers

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·6-min read
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.

It’s hard to believe, but Holly Holm is finishing her ninth full year as a mixed martial arts fighter. In 2011, it was huge news as the boxing world champion made the transition to mixed martial arts.

It was a different world in women’s MMA at that point. The UFC was still 23 months away from promoting its first match.

Now, nearly five years after Holm upset Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 to become the women’s bantamweight champion, the competition in all of the women’s divisions is at an all-time high, she said.

“I think they’re constantly evolving and getting better,” Holm said of the UFC’s female talent in a phone interview with Yahoo Sports. “I think any sport is like that. Let’s even talk about track, for example. There are world records, and it’s just about how fast you go around a track, but world records constantly keep getting broken. There’s nothing else about it; you’re sprinting as fast as you can. It’s always evolving when there’s competition out there. It’s always that next person who is up-and-coming.

“In a sport like MMA, and this is not to downplay sprinting and track at all, because there is a skill and a science and a gift to that, there’s form, there’s everything that you need to perfect, but when you’re talking mixed martial arts, it’s a constant evolving thing. You have two people in combat and details make such a difference. And it’s not just an offense thing. It’s offense and defense 100 percent of the time. You’re trying to perform these techniques and someone else is trying to knock you out.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 17: Holly Holm poses on the scale during the UFC 246 weigh-in at Park Theater at Park MGM on January 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Holly Holm poses on the scale during the UFC 246 weigh-in at Park Theater at Park MGM on January 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Holm said the sport has never been deeper in talent and her opponent in the main event of Saturday’s show on Fight Island, Irene Aldana, is an example.

Aldana is 12-5 and coming off of an impressive KO victory over Ketlen Vieira at UFC 245 in December. She’s won five of her last six and Holm knows she’ll have to be at her best to win.

She said she’s believed for a while now that Aldana would eventually rank among the elite women’s bantamweights in the world.

“She has that potential,” Holm said of Aldana becoming a star. “We’ve anticipated for a while now that I’d be fighting her at some point. Sure enough, she kept coming through and making waves and doing well. She’s one of those who I feel every time you see her fight, you see an improvement in her from the last time you saw her.

“That makes her a threat. We have to wonder, ‘What is she going to come with this time?’ She keeps improving, improving and improving and with someone like that, they’re obviously headed somewhere. This is a big fight for us.”

Big show for UFC

If there were any doubts that Israel Adesanya has become one of the top stars in mixed martial arts, they ended following his stoppage of Paulo Costa on Saturday at UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi.

Yahoo Sports has heard from multiple sources that the pay-per-view sold in the low 700,000 range. And all of the UFC’s internal metrics for Adesanya’s middleweight title defense were off the charts.

The show had 781 million impressions on social media. By comparison, UFC 246, which featured Conor McGregor against Donald Cerrone in the main event, had 608 million social media impressions.

There were 188 million video views from fight week on social media, whereas UFC 246 did 144 million. Also for UFC 253, there were 16 videos with more than a million views on the UFC’s YouTube page.

The hashtag #UFC253 trended No. 1 worldwide for three consecutive hours. It was the No. 1 trend in Canada and New Zealand on Google and the No. 2 trend in the U.S. and Australia on Google. It was also the No. 2 trend on YouTube and the cold open was the most watched ever.

Rematch for Costa?

Costa is a terrific fighter who happened to get cut down by one of the best in the business in a brutal and businesslike fashion. Costa had nothing to offer Adesanya and looked lost in the cage.

On Monday, though, he angrily demanded a rematch for what might be the most ridiculous reason ever: He was upset that Adesanya acted like he was humping him after the referee stopped the fight.

After all the vitriol and bad blood that was spewed between those two in the months leading up to their fight Costa fought with little passion and seemingly little understanding of what Adesanya would do.

Then, after being violently finished, he gets upset and thinks he deserves a rematch because of an admittedly juvenile move by the champion?

Please.

The way he will get his rematch is by going back and scoring victories over other elite contenders. He just made himself look bad by complaining about that.

DC under attack

Daniel Cormier is one of the best guys you’d ever hope to meet, inside or outside of MMA. But the now-retired former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion came under attack the last couple of days from Conor McGregor and Jan Blachowicz.

On his show with ESPN reporter Ariel Helwani, Cormier delivered a mild criticism of McGregor. Helwani opened by saying he was blown away that McGregor has only been in the Octagon once this year, and noted that he is so desperate to fight that he offered to face Diego Sanchez.

Cormier didn’t buy that.

“Conor’s trying to use a guy like you to prove, ‘I’m willing to fight anybody,’” Cormier said to Helwani. “We just talked about Diego being done, and the biggest star in UFC history is saying he’ll fight him. … The reality is, Conor ain’t fighting just anybody. It has to be the right fight.”

McGregor, though, didn’t take that well and tweeted angrily back at Cormier, referring to him as a “fat fool.”

Cormier also said that if former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was serious about coming back, a fight with Blachowicz would be easy for Jones.

Blachowicz heard about it and wasn’t pleased. He wrote to Cormier on Twitter, “If you have so much to say about me, get your fat ass off the couch and come to the Octagon. I’ll teach you some respect.’

Cormier politely declined and reiterated that he’s retired.

This just shows that if Cormier can be attacked, anyone in the business can.

He said it

“I told you guys in the pre-fight, I’m not a human punching bag. He’s only fought human punching bags, guys who would just stand there and cover up. They just let him tee off on them.” — Adesanya talking about Costa at the post-fight news conference Saturday.

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