Following UFC 166 last month, UFC President Dana White may have paid undefeated bantamweight Holly Holm the ultimate compliment for an emerging fighter looking to get into the Octagon.

“I’ve never seen her fight, but everyone is talking about her,” White said. “She’s like the female Conor McGregor.”

After McGregor used the hype behind him and a fantastic UFC debut to catapult to stardom in less than six months, it’s safe to say that that comparison means that Holm is firmly on the radar of the UFC president. Which, let’s be honest, is exactly where every fighter competing on the regional circuit wants to be.

The best thing is, every bit of hype behind Holm seems to be warranted. She’s a former world champion boxer, but she’s taken out several of her MMA opponents with her kicking skills (she has competed as a kickboxer, winning an amateur title and winning her lone professional kickboxing bout) instead of her world-class hands . She’s been competing in MMA full time for less than a year, but she’s already amassed a 5-0 record and stopped every fighter put in her path. And while we haven’t had much of a chance to assess Holm’s ground game, that’s mostly due to “The Preacher’s Daughter’s” skill at controlling the distance and tempo in the striking game. A lesser fighter that darts in and out as often as Holm would be takedown fodder for a decent wrestler, but Holm has been unpredictable in her attack thus far in her career and that has kept her upright.

No one is saying that Holm is ready to be next in line for Ronda Rousey, but there’s no denying that she has the talent to be one of the top female fighters in the sport—and soon. A Team Jackson-Winkeljohn product, Holm is purposely being brought up a little slowly by her camp, who realized that Holm’s boxing pedigree was going to force a bit more of the spotlight on their fighter than they were normally accustomed to on the regional scene. After taking a couple of regional fights in her native New Mexico, along with a one-off appearance with Bellator earlier this year, Holm and her team settled on Texas-based Legacy FC as the next stop in Holm’s career.

A moderately well-known promotion that is featured on AXS TV, Legacy was supposed to be a definite step up in competition compared to the fighters Holm had competed against in her first three appearances in the cage. And while Legacy has done its best to get Holm into the cage with some notable names, it’s been tough for the smaller promotion to actually provide Holm with competition that seems worthy of one of the top up-and-coming women in the sport.

Signing Allanna Jones, who was coming off a loss to the infamous Fallon Fox prior to her fight against Holm, was a good attempt at securing a name that many MMA fans would at least recognize, but it was hard to take Jones as a serious threat after seeing her get throttled just a few months earlier. Legacy showed another good effort at grabbing a big-time opponent when it matched up Holm with Erica Paes, the only woman to defeat Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, but Paes was eventually forced from the card. That left Holm to fight a relative unknown in Nikki Knudsen, who brought a game effort, but just a 2-1 record into the cage when Holm defeated her last month.

Holm keeps on winning, but until her level of competition is upped a little bit, the MMA world is going to have no idea just how good “The Preacher’s Daughter” really is. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. Holm and her team have insisted on being very active as she works her way towards becoming a high-level mixed martial artist. She has had three MMA fights and a boxing match in 2013, and instead of waiting for Legacy to provide her with another fight, Holm is returning to the regional scene this December. Her opponent? Angela Hayes, another virtually unknown fighter who brings a very average 6-6 record into the cage. Hayes may end up being the most talented fighter that Holm has ever competed against in the cage, but anything but another highlight-reel finish is going to be considered a disappointment for Holm fans, considering how lackluster the opposition looks on paper.

You could easily make the case that Holm should have waited a bit longer and let Legacy set up her next bout, which likely would have been the previously announced fight against Paes. However, the truth is that Holm doesn’t have much to gain—other than experience, of course—by fighting anyone on the regional scene at this point. Paes may have a strong victory under her belt, but it came in Cyborg’s MMA debut back in 2005. Throw in the fact that Paes is 2-2 in her career and returned to the sport this year after an eight-year absence, and she looks even less impressive. If anything, Paes is the answer to a trivia question in the eyes of many MMA fans, not an actual threat to a fighter looking to get into the UFC.

Considering that Holm is the only women’s bantamweight listed on the Legacy FC roster on the promotion’s website, it’s safe to say that Legacy probably doesn’t have a lot of alternative opponents in its back pocket. The UFC has been active in signing 135-pound females to help fill out its growing division over the last year, and any top talent that Zuffa doesn’t have its hands on is currently fighting under the Invicta FC banner. Legacy can try to go after a longtime veteran like Tara LaRosa, but it’s highly unlikely that Holm would face her Jackson’s teammate for anything less than a UFC belt.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Legacy, nor any other non-major promotion, can offer Holm a fight that’s truly going to allow fans to gauge her skills as a fighter, but with Holm locked into a four-fight deal with Legacy, it looks like fans will have to suffer through at least a few more fights where Holm is the overwhelming favorite. It’s possible that the UFC or Invicta FC could attempt to buy out her contract—Bellator and Legacy brokered a similar deal for welterweight Matt Riddle earlier this year—but Holm is a hot commodity and it may be a bit tougher for a rival promotion to get its hands on her.

Until Holm’s contract is up or the UFC makes Legacy an offer it can’t refuse, there’s little for the Albuquerque native to do but keep treading water in the Texas-based organization. Another few wins outside of the Octagon will be more than enough to convince UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby that Holm is ready to compete against the best in the world (if he hasn’t been convinced already), and once Holm and the UFC have the chance to work out a deal, expect it to get done rather quickly.

Until then, though, people are going to keep getting in Dana White’s ear about Holm. The longer “The Preacher’s Daughter” sits outside of the UFC and keeps racking up wins, the more the hype behind her is going to grow, and her talent suggests that her winning ways aren’t going to stop once she hits the Octagon. Right now, being compared to Conor McGregor is a fantastic compliment, but Holm’s fighting style and skill set give her the chance to be something special if she succeeds when she hits the pinnacle of the sport. If that happens, White may eventually end up comparing her hype train to that of another female fighter that fans wouldn’t stop bugging him about: Ronda Rousey.

Photo: Holly Holm (Will Fox/Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.