Holly Holm landed a side kick to Irene Aldana‘s face in the closing seconds, then moved forward with a hard punching combination as she let out a loud, sustained yell.

It was the exclamation point on what was a nearly flawless performance for Holm in a unanimous decision (50-44, 50-45, 50-45) victory in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi.

Holm dominated from start to finish, mixing in takedowns and ground work with her superior boxing and kickboxing. It was arguably the best all-around MMA performance for Holm, the former boxing champion.

“When I came over to MMA, I didn’t come to be a boxer in an MMA cage, in an Octagon,” Holm said in her postfight interview. “I came to be a mixed martial artist. And it has taken time. … I’m still very green and learning. I just want to put it all together.”

Holm, the former UFC women’s bantamweight champion, issued a firm reminder against Aldana. Five years after her famous knockout of Ronda Rousey, Holm remains one of the very best female MMA fighters on the planet. Holm has won two straight, her first winning streak since beating Rousey.

“There’s this whole new kind of excitement coming through, a lot of new talent,” Holm said. “They think this is their stepping stone. And I’m not gonna be that.”

In ESPN’s women’s bantamweight rankings, Aldana was No. 5 and Holm was No. 6 coming in. Holm is tied for No. 9 in ESPN’s pound-for-pound women’s MMA rankings. Though she is close to another title shot — Holm lost to current women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 239 on July 6, 2019 — Holm said she wasn’t thinking too far ahead.

“I like to just let the future fold out,” Holm said. “I have a great team around me that worries about that so I can just train.”

The event took place without fans at the Flash Forum on Yas Island, which the UFC has dubbed “Fight Island,” the promotion’s international enclave during the coronavirus pandemic.

Holm dictated the fight from the get-go, forcing Aldana to chase her around the Octagon while Holm picked her apart with punching combinations and side kicks to the body. When Aldana got too close, Holm landed takedowns — one in every single round.

Holm’s five takedowns were a new career high, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

In the second round, Holm wobbled Aldana with a left. She was able to take Aldana down in the third and get full mount, where she landed elbows.

Aldana was finally able to land a hard right hand on Holm in the fourth, causing blood to trickle from Holm’s nose. But Holm was already in full control of the fight by then.

In the fifth, Holm closed strong, doing more damage than in any previous round with hard punching combinations and a side kick to the face. Holm nearly finished in the closing seconds with Aldana touching and closing a damaged eye.

Holm (14-5) was coming off a lackluster unanimous-decision victory over Raquel Pennington at UFC 246 in January, and this was a statement victory. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native has won four of her past six fights with the two losses coming against Nunes, the current UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion, and former women’s featherweight champ Cris Cyborg.

Holm, 38, is only 4-5 since beating Rousey at UFC 193 on Nov. 15, 2015. Prior to starting MMA in 2011, Holm was a three-division boxing champion, one of the best women’s boxers of her era. This was Holm’s sixth UFC main event, tying Rousey for the most headlining bouts among women in UFC history.

Aldana (12-6) had won two straight and five of her past six fights prior to Saturday’s main event. She became the first Mexican-born women’s fighter to headline a UFC event Saturday night. In her previous fight, Aldana, 32, knocked out Ketlen Vieira in the first round at UFC 245 last December.



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