CHICAGO — Holly Holm has suffered consecutive defeats for the first time in her storied combat sports career.
Holm (10-2) came up short in a five-round bantamweight fight against Valentina Shevchenko on Saturday. A former professional kickboxer, Shevchenko (13-2) picked Holm apart over the course of 25 minutes en route to a unanimous decision. All three judges scored the fight convincingly for Shevchenko (49-46).
The fight, which headlined UFC Fight Night at the United Center, was Holm’s first appearance since she lost the UFC championship to Miesha Tate in March. Holm submitted to a rear-naked choke in the fifth round of that bout, but was mostly in control until then. That was not the case Saturday, as Shevchenko consistently beat Holm to the punch on the feet.
Holm, 34, is 0-2 since knocking out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in November. She had never lost back-to-back fights, dating back to her professional boxing career from 2002 to 2013.
“We expected counterpunches, Thai clinch game, trips — and she did all that,” Holm said. “We trained for it. I was taught all the right things. No excuses. My coaches teach me everything. My performance was not right tonight.”
Holm was a betting favorite going into Saturday, although a significant amount of money came in on Shevchenko in the 24 hours leading up the bout. Fighting out of Peru, the native of Kyrgyzstan is a seasoned striker, but Holm is listed as 3 inches taller with a 2-inch reach advantage. Holm also fought at a higher weight in boxing.
In the first round, the size seemed to throw Shevchenko off a bit. Holm dropped Shevchenko with a short right hand and, after giving up a takedown, popped immediately back to her feet.
By the second frame, however, Shevchenko started to find her range. She caught Holm coming in with the counter right hand over and over again, and started to find a home for the inside leg kick. She threw a wicked, counter-spinning back fist that Holm just managed to block. Momentum was firmly in Shevchenko’s corner after the second round and she never relinquished it.
According to immediate cageside stats from FightMetric, Shevchenko out-landed Holm in total strikes 110 to 69. Shevchenko, 28, improved to 2-1 in the UFC with the win. Her loss came via decision to current champion Amanda Nunes in March.
“Amanda is a good fighter. She has good standing and good ground game — and of course, I want a rematch with Nunes for the title belt,” Shevchenko said.
Holm seemed to be aware she was behind on the scorecards as the fight wore on. Shevchenko opened a small cut over Holm’s right eye in the third round, although that didn’t seem to have a huge effect on Holm. Shevchenko scored a takedown later in the round and finished with hard elbows from the top position.
With the Chicago crowd chanting Holm’s name, the former champ tried to get her left kick going — arguably her most devastating strike — but the counterstriking of Shevchenko limited its effect.
The UFC’s 135-pound women’s division has been in flux since Holm’s knockout of Rousey. Tate managed to hold the title for just four months, losing in her first title defense to Nunes at UFC 200 on July 9.
“I know there are competitive girls in this sport. I know there’s always somebody coming in,” Holm said. “The top five aren’t the same top five they were [before]. I feel like especially this being the first women’s division in the UFC, everyone looks at that and says, ‘I want to fight there.’ So, they work hard. It has created a lot of competition in our weight class, which is good. I want to feel like I’m up against the best. I know these girls are tough. That’s what makes a win great and a loss devastating.”
Despite consecutive defeats, Holm remains one of the bigger draws of the women’s bantamweight division. She has potential rematches against Tate and Rousey. The UFC has also showed interest in a potential fight between Holm and dominant 145-pounder Cris “Cyborg” Justino, who made her UFC debut earlier this year in a 140-pound catcheweight.
Holm declined to comment on which of those she’d be most interested in.
“Coming off two losses, I’ve never been in this position before,” Holm said. “Personally, yeah, I have some wins but I don’t really feel like I’m in the place to choose. I think I just have to take whatever opportunities they give me.”
Barboza gets the best of Melendez
Lightweight contender Edson Barboza (18-4) defeated former Strikeforce champion and two-time UFC title challenger Gilbert Melendez (22-6) via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28). Barboza assaulted Melendez’s body and legs with kicks, to the point that Melendez could barely stand on his lead leg by the third round.
Melendez, who sat out the past year due to a drug suspension, mixed his strikes well early on, but couldn’t match the Brazilian’s offense over the course of three rounds. He hurt Barboza with a right hand in the second round and enticed him into an extended exchange, but then elected to shoot a double-leg takedown in the middle of it. Barboza fought off the attempt and managed to clear the cobwebs in the process.
It was one of several failed takedown attempts by Melendez. As early as the first round, Barboza’s kicks and left hooks produced red welts on Melendez’s body.
Barboza, who trains with Mark Henry and with Ricardo Almeida Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in New Jersey, has put together two straight high-profile wins against Melendez and Anthony Pettis. Barboza mentioned former champion Rafael dos Anjos as a potential next opponent.
Ngannou finishes off Mihajlovic
French heavyweight Francis Ngannou (8-1) steamrolled his third consecutive UFC opponent, knocking out Bojan Mihajlovic with strikes on the ground at 1:34 of the first round. Mihajlovic looked out of his league from the start. Ngannou stalked his opponent around the Octagon, calmly looking for an opening. It came in the form of a blistering left hook, which put Mihajlovic down. Ngannou swarmed the Serbian with punches to finish the fight. Ngannou is 3-0 in the UFC.
Herrig returns to submit Curran
Strawweight Felice Herrig (11-6) came off a 15-month layoff and submitted Kailin Curran (4-3) via rear-naked choke at 1:59 of the opening round. Herrig scored a takedown after blocking a Curran head kick in the first minute. Herrig quickly passed guard and jumped straight to Curran’s back. Curran stood briefly, but Herrig stayed on her and slipped her right arm under Curran’s chin. Curran fell backward and eventually tapped to the choke. It is the fourth submission win of Herrig’s career. Curran drops to 1-3 in the UFC.