Outside of Conor McGregor, Holly Holm might be the competitor most in need of a win on Saturday’s UFC 246 fight card. The former women’s bantamweight champion went from a 10-0 world-beater in 2015 to 12-5 fighter with a shaky future in 2019. Holm, who has not fought since she was knocked out by current 135-pound champion Amanda Nunes, has not won two fights in more than four years.
Despite her rough run since losing the title to Miesha Tate in 2016, Holm remains near the top of the official UFC women’s bantamweight rankings. She checks in at the No. 3 spot. Her opponent in the co-main event of UFC 246, Raquel Pennington, who is coming off a win over Irene Aldana, is the No. 5 ranked fighter in the division. These two women met in 2015. Holm won that matchup via split-decision.
This rematch was initially booked for UFC 243, but that fight fell through when Holm suffered a hamstring injury.
The odds of this fight are revealing. The first time these two met, Holm was a -667 favorite over Pennington, who was a +350 underdog. At the time of this writing, those odds have become much tighter. Holm is once again the favorite, but the ex-champ is only a -150 front-runner over Pennington, who comes in at +100.
Pennington had a brief stumble in 2018. She won four straight contests between September 2015 and November 2016. Pennington did not fight again until 2018 due to multiple surgeries. When she did return in May of that year, Pennington faced Nunes. Pennington fought valiantly, but the champ knocked her out in the fifth round. Pennington then dropped a decision to ex-women’s featherweight queen Germaine de Randamie in November.
After her win over Aldana, Pennington spoke about what that victory meant.
“It’s exciting. There’s really no words for me right now. I’m just really proud of myself, to get back in there and prove some things to myself,” Pennington told MMA Junkie. “I’ve had a hard comeback. I’ve just been climbing one mountain after the other, and it just felt like I couldn’t catch a break. So to get back out there and get my hand raised, I mean, self accomplishment for myself right now.”
“My entire career, I’ve been the underdog,” Pennington added. “I’ve kind of been the dark horse in everything, and that’s fine. I keep fighting top opponents, I keep doing things. I’ve been slowly climbing and just having fun through it all. There are some great fans out there that truly support me. I have a phenomenal family. I have coaches that truly believe in me and teammates who are always there. And for me, that’s all I need. Just to go out there, I have a passion in my heart, and I’m just chasing it, and I’m just grateful and blessed to have this opportunity.”
A win over the 38-year-old Holm might not earn Pennington a second shot at Nunes, but it will move the 31-year-old a few notches up the rankings. As for Holm, if she wants to remain a viable title contender, she needs to get back in the win column, preferably with an emphatic win.
UFC 246 takes place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, January 18. The pay-per-view card streams on ESPN+, following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+.