Bellator comes to Santa Ana Star

Holly Holm to take her third MMA fight

Holly Holm at the Bellator 91 press conference
Will Fox

In recent years, Bellator fighting championships has solidified its hold as the nation’s #2 Mixed Martial Arts promotion, behind only the UFC in terms of revenue and exciting fights. Well, revenue, anyway. After last Thursday’s Bellator 90, in which there were six fights and six finishes on the main card alone, Bellator has strengthened an already compelling argument that it can deliver the goods.

This coming Thursday, Feb 28—as in, the day after tomorrow—Bellator is coming to the Santa Ana Star Casino in Bernalillo. Several local fighters are on the card, including boxer Holly Holm, who will be taking her third MMA fight against Katie Merrill.

Holm comes in as a favorite, at least in terms of hometown sentiment and big fight experience. But in the world of MMA, both Holm and Merrill are newbies. Merrill has a ground game, if she can get the fight there. Holm, one would expect, wants to keep it standing. The decorated boxer has a mean kicking game as well as boxing, having ended her first MMA fight via kicks to her opponents’ legs. Holm’s world-class striking will be a lethal asset as long as she can stay on her feet. If she gets tested on her back, the hometown crowd will surely be gritting its teeth.

However evenly matched it is, Holm has the most to lose. Just ask Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, who came in as a heavy favorite and ended up on the wrong end of a highlight-reel knockout. “Mo” came out with his hands low, as if he believed merely having Jeff Mayweather in his corner would grant him powers of immunity. Emanuel Newton ended that fantasy with a perfectly placed spinning backfist that hit the “off switch” as perfectly as a single punch could.

Holm, we assume, won’t be bogged down with that kind of hubris, even though she has an even better striking coach in her corner, Mike Winkeljohn. And I can attest that she will come in shape. I saw her last night at Wink’s Gym, where she trains and teaches a weekly cardio heavy bag class. (She won’t be teaching this Thursday; the gym will be closed because everyone will be at the fight).

She wasn’t there to train last night, but to hold pads for a teammate. I briefly chatted with her, and she was relaxed. She may have a lot more to lose than her opponent, but if she couldn’t handle that kind of pressure, she wouldn’t be a fighter.

Tomorrow, look here for updates on some of the other local fighters on Thursday’s Bellator card at Santa Ana Star.