Simon Says: Former Champions, Stars Deserve Tune Ups
On Saturday, June 17th the UFC will host a Fight Night (Fight Morning?) card in Singapore. Headlining that event will be one of the most elusive category of fights the promotion ever puts on: a real tune-up fight between Holly Holm and Bethe Correia. The fight itself might not be the most exciting on paper but the context from which it emerged certainly is.
As the sports premier organization, the UFC has had problems in the past with building up and rehabilitating talent. The nature of having so many elite fighters — and an absence of lower-tier ones — makes it difficult for matchmakers to book extremely one-sided fights. This issue is especially true when it comes to former Champions. Time and again the UFC has fed its former title holders to the wolves rather than attempting to revive their careers with a little preferential treatment. Two recent cases illustrate this problem perfectly.
When Chris Weidman lost his belt to Luke Rockhold in 2015 by way of a brutal TKO, it made all the sense in the world to build him back up. After all, this was the man who twice beat the legendary Anderson Silva. Instead the UFC gave him a fight with now #1 Contender Yoel Romero. After losing that fight from a devastating flying knee, Weidman was again matched with Gegard Mousasi who was riding a 4 fight win streak and now sits at #5. After 3 straight TKO/KO losses who is Weidman fighting next? Welterweight standout Kelvin Gastelum who has looked spectacular in his last 3 fights.
Former Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis fell into a similar cycle. Rather than building him back up after his loss to Dos Anjos, the UFC pitted him against the highest ranked contenders over-and-over again. Why would the UFC treat their former Champions this way when they could quite clearly make more money off of their victories?
The answer to that question lies partly in the culture of the organization and the fighters. Fighters aren’t happy to take “easy” fights even when they are dearly needed. The UFC too bills itself as a place where the best fight the best. They can’t very well push that narrative by having a couple tomato cans on call to take a beating. In certain cases though, the UFC and fighters have come together and realized what needs to be done.
Holly Holm versus Bethe Correia is just one of those very rare cases. Holm, like Weidman, has lost 3 in a row. After her loss to Miesha Tate, she fought Valentina Shevchenko the now #1 Contender at Women’s Bantamweight. Following that loss, Holm was gifted a title-shot at Women’s Featherweight, a division which boasts one occupant on the UFC’s website.
Although many people had Holm winning her title-fight against De Randamie, the official record has her on a 3-fight losing skid. Enter Bethe Correia. Correia is perhaps the perfect matchup for “The Preacher’s Daughter” and aside from the fact that Holm is not fighting at her alleged new division, Featherweight, this is one of the best fights the UFC could make for her.
The Albuquerque native is an exceptional counter striker and matches up best against those who push forward with reckless abandon – see UFC 193. “The Pitbull” is a brawler who, without refined technique, marches forward throwing heavy shots. The Brazilian’s lack of pedigree contrasted with the American’s excess of technical acumen points to an obvious conclusion.
Why then did the UFC take so long to attempt to resurrect the career of Holm? And why don’t they do the same for Weidman? It appears as the former Women’s Bantamweight Champion had reached a point of no return with the organization. A fourth loss in a row would have rendered her all but unsalvageable, and it still might. But a win over Correia and another over an opponent of equal ability places Holm back in title contention.
UFC Fight Night 111 in Singapore has received the amount of media attention proportionate to the marketing efforts of the organization… which is, basically nil. For a card flying so under the radar, there really are some big storylines to look out for including, dos Anjos’ Welterweight debut and the return of the “Stun Gun”. However, no narrative is more compelling than the career of Holy Holm, which may very well rest on her performance Saturday. The UFC has stacked the deck in her favor, something they almost never do. Now, it’s up to the former champion to prove everyone right.