It was a busy night at the Santa Ana Star Event Center in downtown Rio Rancho. The Bellator 91 fight card delivered a lot of action, including plenty of finishes.
The most anticipated fight on the card, at least for the hometown crowd, was Holly Holm vs Katie Merrill. Holm, a decorated boxer from Duke City, was making her third MMA fight. The crowd erupted as she made her way to the cage
When the bell rang, Merrill ran across the cage, as Holm circled away to keep her at distance. Eventually Merrill closes that distance—it almost seemed like Holm let her. They took turns pressing each other against the cage, and break.
Holm didn’t throw a single punch until about midway through the first. When she finally flashed a combo, the blows came with such speed that it seemed like you could hear them slice the air. At this point the crowd began chanting HOLLY HOLLY. She threw another explosive combo. And another, and began following her punches with kicks to the body and head. At the end of the round she telegraphed a kick, which got caught. The round ended with Merrill on top.
In the second round, Holm threw more hands, grunting like Jackie Chan with every strike. The body punches continued to provide openings for her kicks, which began landing with power.
Holm’s strikes were like meteors, but great drama was nonetheless achieved by the fact that she wanted nothing to do with the ground game. A few times Holms landed with enough power to make you wonder if Merrill would stop, but she absorbed the strikes and kept coming. Free of fear of Holm taking her down, Merrill threw kicks at will.
Merrill tried again to clinch, and Holm went to work on her body like she was a heavy bag, and Merrill had to let go. After a few more nearly successful takedown attempts by Merrill, Holm landed a left hook to the sternum. She then took a step back, as if to get a better angle from which to watch Merrill fall. Merrill tried to absorb the blow and threw a kick back, which Holm caught and dumped her to the matt. Merrill looked done; Holm pounded on her for a few seconds until the ref agreed.
It ended on the ground, but will be remembered as a body shot KO. Twitter blew up with premature demands that Holm take on UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Alas, Holm’s lack of confidence in her ground game and tentativeness in punishing her opponent early with strikes gives us little reason to believe she would be able to stop Ronda from taking her down and arm-barring her. But if Holm ever wanted to apply herself to developing a ground game, she would be a scary assignment for anyone. Training as she does at Jackson’s MMA, she’s hardly without opportunity to do so.
After being announced as the winner, Holm bounced around the cage like a puppy, looking for her long time coach Mike Winkeljohn. When she found him, he locked his hands together as a step, and she back-flipped off the step. And the hungry, angry beast that is the Albuquerque fight fans was appeased.