Holly Holm will return from the longest layoff of her prestigious combat sport career when she meets Ketlen Vieira in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 206 main event.
That’s not an easy fact to digest for Holm (14-5 MMA, 7-5 UFC), who will compete for the first time since turning 40 with the women’s bantamweight headliner vs. Vieira (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC), which takes place at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas and streams on ESPN+.
Holm, a former UFC champion, hasn’t stepped foot in the cage since she put on one of the most complete performances of her career with a dazzling unanimous decision win over Irene Aldana at UFC on ESPN 16 in October 2020. More than 19 months without action since has not been by choice.
The discovery a long-present kidney issue required an operation, as well as a knee surgery, has kept Holm on the sidelines. It’s been an agonizing experience for “The Preacher’s Daughter,” but that’s made her appreciate the opportunity to fight again even more.
“It feels good to be in a place that I’m actually competing,” Holm told MMA Junkie and other reporters at a UFC Fight Night 206 pre-fight news conference. “I’ve been training. Even through the stuff I had going on, I’ve been training. Not to where I could really go 100 percent and have this goal I’m shooting for. … It feels good to get in there, and it also comes with all the nerves that come with it. Which also makes me know it’s real.
“I feel it. I’m living life. I care if I win. I think that’s another thing. I think those nerves just remind me that I care.”
Holm has seen and done it all during a more than 20-year run in boxing and MMA. She’s been a world champion in both sports and reached the highest of highs, but she said she’s still motivated to dedicate her life to this craft. With her age and experience comes wisdom, too, and Holm knows how important this fight is to her overall goal of getting UFC gold back around her waist.
With Julianna Peña expected to rematch Amanda Nunes this summer for the 135-pound title, a win could put Holm in prime position for a crack at the belt. She’s well aware of that, but she said all of those grander narratives are swallowed up by her hunger to defeat Vieira this weekend.
“I have to win regardless,” Holm said. “I hate to lose. I just hate to lose, period. No matter what’s on the line. Whether I’m in practice training – I want to win the rounds when I’m in training. If I’m in front of two people, if I’m in front of 2 million people, I’m if I’m front of the whole world. I just hate to lose. That’s No. 1. I want to get in there and I want to win on Saturday.
“But as far as a career, if you don’t win your next steps and your next options are never as many as you want and they’re more limited. You take a step back instead of a step forward. So yes, in the long run I need this win so that I can keep progressing forward because I want to get to the belt.”
Holly Holm’s goal extends far beyond this Saturday’s bout against Ketlen Vieira.
“I want to be the one who does what’s never been before,” Holm said. “I wanted to win world titles in boxing and MMA, and I was able to do that. Women in this sport haven’t been able to fight into their 40s and win titles. But that’s what I want to do.”
Now 40, and approaching her 20th professional fight, Holm is motivated to win and regain the bantamweight title. She won that belt courtesy of a stunning victory against Ronda Rousey in 2015 but dropped it in her very first defense against Miesha Tate. In order to reach the lofty territory of becoming a two-time champ, Holm must defeat Vieira this Saturday.
“She’s is young and hungry, but I’m hungry, too,” Holm (14-5) said. “I know I’ve been around the sport for a while now, but I’m still hungry and I’m still motivated. She is a very tough opponent, and I’m aware of that. I’m training hard and I’m ready.”
“I don’t mind earning my shot,” Holm said. “Ketlen is right there, as well, so it’s so important for me to go out and perform.”
Holm looked outstanding in those last two fights, giving credence to the notion that she is just now entering her prime.
“I don’t feel 40, I don’t feel old,” Holm said. “I feel stronger and healthier. Looking back [to the fights against Rousey and Tate], I was so green back then. Not that I didn’t train for the ground, but my ability on the ground wasn’t where it is right now. Even being in the clinch back then, I didn’t want opponents to shoot. Sometimes I was so worried about being taken down that I respected my opponents’ space too much. I’m a completely different fighter now. I’m unpredictable.”
Holm is on the cusp of making history. Again. But first, she needs to take care of business against Vieira.