Former boxing champion Holly Holm had run up a record of 7-0 in lower level professional MMA fights, but tonight "The Preacher's Daughter" made her much-hyped debut in the UFC, and got through it with a win over veteran Raquel "Rocky" Pennington.
Holm won a split decision by scores of 29-28, 29-28, and 28-29. BLH had it 29-28 for Holm. It was a tentative sort of fight on both sides, with Holm landing a lot of pitter-patter type punches and some pushing front side kicks, always looking to set up the left high kick that has been her MMA bread and butter to date.
Pennington (5-5) was unable to do much with Holm (8-0) in the first round, as Holm maintained distance well, and looked strong in the clinch, where she was unable to thwart much action from taking place. Her lead leg did get marked up from some of Pennington's kicks, but otherwise she was in firm control for both of the first two rounds. In the second, Pennington did land some punches, but never established a rhythm that threatened Holm. Midway through the second round, the crowd began to get a bit restless, not booing overwhelmingly, but certainly noticeably.
The third, however, was more to Pennington's liking, as she was able to land some good hooks and bloody Holm's nose. Holm continued landing side kicks and some knees in close. The crowd came back alive later in the fight, as the two mixed it up a bit more, and Pennington landed some telling blows.
Holm was happy with the win, but kept a realistic mindset, too, and admitted to some nerves.
"It's a new experience. The unknown is there," she told UFC's Joe Rogan. "There's a lot of nerves with it."
She also said that she did feel pressure. "Because of all the hype, I don't feel I can live up to it. There's so much talk. I hate that it's a split decision."
Asked if Pennington did anything she didn't expect, Holm said, "I felt like we might be in the clinch a little more. I didn't think she would be shooting as much. It kinda took away from some of the striking I wanted to do. So we did have to change the game plan a little bit, but what can you do? I just try to get better."
There is already talk of Holm, 33, being set up as an opponent for UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, but a serious look at her performance tonight certainly doesn't suggest she's close to ready for that level, no matter what happens with tonight's Rousey-Zingano main event. Holm is far from the elite level of the UFC women's bantamweight division, but if she keeps working, who knows? And she's always kept working.