It was big news on Monday when the UFC announced that Invicta featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino would be making her long-awaited debut for the company at UFC 198 in May. But imagine how much bigger that news would have been if Justino’s opponent were Holly Holm.
On Thursday, we learned that the former UFC bantamweight champion could indeed have been squaring off against Justino, but she turned down the opportunity. Instead, Holm prefers to wait for a rematch with either Miesha Tate or Ronda Rousey, preferably the former, while veteran Leslie Smith will face Justino at the fight’s catchweight of 140 pounds.
Of the chance to take on Justino, widely considered the most fearsome female striker in MMA, Holm’s agent said “We were not interested in that right now.” Holm “just wants to fight Miesha,” Lenny Fresquez told the Albuquerque Journal.
After having stunned the previously undefeated — and seemingly invincible — Rousey with a second-round knockout at UFC 193 in November, Holm herself suffered an upset by Tate in the first defense of her bantamweight crown at UFC 196 earlier this month. Holm could have waited a year for a lucrative rematch with Rousey, who is not expected to return to the Octagon until around November, but she wanted to stay active and so took on the top challenger at the time, which proved a costly decision.
Now on the outside looking in, Holm said Wednesday that the choice of her next fight was “definitely a little more out of my hands,” so she has “to be patient and wait for that opportunity to come.” However, Fresquez told the Journal, “Whether it’s Miesha or Ronda, those are the fights we’re interested in.”
UFC president Dana White now wants Tate to wait for Rousey to be ready to fight again, all the better to stage their third match as the next battle for the bantamweight title. However, Tate is now in a somewhat similar position as Holm was in November, having to decide if she wants to wait up to eight months before again stepping into the Octagon.
Holm’s camp may be hoping that some combination of Tate and White decide they can’t resist the idea of adding Holm-Tate 2 to the already loaded card for UFC 200 in July. “I really want that rematch, but I’m not the one with the title now,” Holm said (per the Journal).
If it becomes apparent that the next match for both Tate and Rousey happens late this year against each other, then Holm may have little choice but to find another fighter to face in the meantime. That opponent could even turn out to be Justino in, say, August, if the latter’s UFC debut is the success most expect — and Holm agrees to fight at 140.
It wouldn’t be an ideal circumstance for the former bantamweight champ, but, in terms of a high-profile opponent, she could do a lot worse. And, as she noted Wednesday, she’s “the one coming off a loss” and can’t “be too picky.”
(H/T Fox Sports)