UFC 239 card: Amanda Nunes vs Holly Holm full fight preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight strikers Amanda Nunes and Holly Holm will collide this Saturday (July 6, 2019) at UFC 239 from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The first and only female “double champ” really doesn’t seem like she plans on losing any time soon. Nunes absolutely destroyed her opponents in 2018, battering Raquel Pennington like she was owed money before knocking out Cris Cyborg in less than one minute. Simply put, Nunes is riding high into her fourth title defense. As unlikely as a Holm victory may seem, the former boxing champion was also counted out before kicking Ronda Rousey upside the dome (watch it). A pair of losses in her most recent two title shots has admittedly stolen the wind from her sails, but Holm will still enter the cage as a legitimate challenger to the belt.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:

Amanda Nunes

Record: 17-4
Key Wins: Cris Cyborg (UFC 232), Ronda Rousey (UFC 207), Miesha Tate (UFC 200), Valentina Shevchenko (UFC 215, UFC 196), Sara McMann (UFC Fight Night 73), Raquel Pennington (UFC 224)
Key Losses: Cat Zingano (UFC 178), Sarah D’Alelio (Invicta FC 4), Alexis Davis (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Kharitonov)
Keys to Victory: Ever since Nunes fixed her conditioning problems, the Brazilian has been largely unstoppable, with only Valentina Shevchenko able to make it a close fight. Nunes hits absurdly hard, can wrestle if need be, and her top game is brutal as well.

To me, this bout is less about the questions Holm poses to Nunes and more about the champion’s mindset after obliterating Cyborg in 51 seconds. If Nunes attempts to charge Holm and knock her out in similar fashion, it will probably work, but it also plays into Holm’s only real shot at victory.

Hopefully, Nunes retains her previous composure. If she calmly stalks Holm, sticks the jab, and throws counters when Holm flurries forward, she will land the better shots. Once she really has a strong read on her opponent’s timing, Nunes would be wise to look for a takedown.

If Nunes can put Holm on the mat, a finish seems likely.

Holly Holm

Record: 12-4
Key Wins: Ronda Rousey (UFC 193), Raquel Pennington (UFC 184), Megan Anderson (UFC 225), Marion Reneau (UFC Fight Night 71)
Key Losses: Cris Cyborg (UFC 219), Germaine de Randamie (UFC 208), Miesha Tate (UFC 196), Valentina Shevchenko (UFC on FOX 20)
Keys to Victory: The disparity between Holm’s credentials and her in-cage skill set is remarkable: her boxing is really not great despite all the world titles in the ring. Luckily, her kicks are well setup, powerful, and tricky. Last time out, Holm showed some unexpected offensive wrestling, although I would still hesitate to call it a strength.

When discussing a major underdog’s best path to victory, some good general advice would be to double down on what the underdog does well. In Holm’s case, it’s clear that her kicks are far and away her best weapon: it’s hard to see her winning this fight unless she finds a way to kick Nunes in the face or rip the liver badly.

Holm has to commit to her left kick early and often. Slamming her shin into the body repeatedly is only beneficial, as even a blocked kick will fatigue Nunes and slow her knockout punches. In addition, targeting the thigh or calf would be wise as well, as destabilizing Nunes’ base could limit her athleticism too. If Holm really commits to the left kick — which means stepping into the strike, not just flicking it up from distance — it should level the playing field a bit and could potentially set up that high kick as well.

What’s next for Nunes should she win this fight? A rematch with Cyborg is definitely a worthwhile option, but what about her home division? The winner of next week’s main event that pits Germaine de Randamie vs. Aspen Ladd seems the most likely answer, but Nunes already trounced de Randamie once before, and it seems far too early for the admittedly-talented Ladd.

It must be rough being this dominant.

Holm has a chance to throw everything into chaos and end Nunes’ hot streak, which would really be an incredible moment for Holm’s legacy. Knocking out Rousey has already secured Nunes’ place in history, but Nunes is looking roughly as dominant and unstoppable as “Rowdy” was at the height of her power. For Holm, to step in as an underdog and stop another dominant champion, it would really cement her as an incredible spoiler.

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