Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm steps back into the cage this weekend to face Ketlen Vieira in the main event of UFC Fight Night 206. The event will take place at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, this Saturday, May 21.
Holm returns for the first time since October 2020 when she defeated Irene Aldana in Abu Dhabi. It marked a successful year for the former champion as she also recorded a unanimous decision victory against Raquel Pennington. Holm is still ranked #2 in the bantamweight division and will be defending that spot against the rising contender in this main event.
Vieira started with a 4-0 record in the UFC but eventually experienced defeat at the hands of Irene Aldana and Yana Kunitskaya to halt her run through the division. Most recently, she returned to form with a unanimous decision win against Miesha Tate in November last year.
Read on for our UFC staff picks, predictions, analysis, and the latest betting odds for Holm vs. Vieira.
Holm’s the betting favorite against Vieira ahead of this Saturday night’s main event.
Holly Holm’s style of fight is no surprise to anyone, but the level of frustration it creates is a surprise for her opponents. She’s likely the single most disciplined athlete in the UFC both in her physical preparation and her adherence to gameplan sets her apart. She comes from a background of boxing and kickboxing and she fights as such. She is always moving in her southpaw stance by bouncing karate style and throwing out jabs and lead leg kicks to maintain range and prod her opponent. She will typically skirt the outside and then counter when her opponents chase her; the important part is the volume with which she does so. She does not return one for one punch, instead if her opponent throws one, they are getting hit back with three or four strikes.
Holm typically does this with a cross-step burst, where the real emphasis is on the left hand. She likes to pump the first left, angle to her right, and land the second as she blitzes. Later in the fight when she has established the timing and range for her combinations she then begins to end them with kicks, the blitz to leg kick combination is so effective because the punches drive her opponent backward leaving the weight on the rear and unable to avoid.
Holly Holm has shown improved grappling over her career, although it has been her largest point of criticism. During her early days in the UFC, rumors circulated that she actually disliked training on the mats, but her offensive wrestling most recently showcased against Aldana and before that Megan Anderson would say otherwise. However it is important to note that her grappling skills tend to come to fruition against fellow striking specialists and Vieira is a different kind of animal.
Vieira’s base is Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, and her ability to handle women in grappling exchanges is elite. Rarely can she be taken down and when it looks as though someone will, her ability to counter and reverse is some of the best in the UFC. On top, she utilizes an exceptionally heavy base, lands good shots, and works towards submissions simultaneously, of which she has many options. However, if there is a weakness, she has been caught in half guard and unable to escape while eating shots through some of her fights.
On the feet, Vieira has developed into a very clean and accurate striker. She stands in a Muay Thai-esque stance but her specialty is in her boxing. Most of her shots come with an arc, and her uppercuts and hooks stand out. For as wide as she throws them, she is surprisingly and dangerously accurate, and the momentum with which she throws just adds to the heat they land with. However, compared to Holm’s straight blitzing shots up the middle, there is a lot of space given up in Vieira’s striking style.
For Vieira, she has to put Holm on the fence and drag the fight to the floor. Technically, she is a very very good striker and should be able to contest with the level of Holm, but because Holm’s strengths are in her tightness of shots and footwork it’s a perfect storm to beat Vieira’s particular approach. If Holm can stay on her bike and consistently use angles, it will make it difficult for Vieira to get enough momentum in pushing Holm back to the cage. I think that Vieira’s wide punching leaves gaps for Holm to exploit, and the same opportunities are not present vice versa.
Pick: Holly Holm to win
Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm, impressively, is not only fighting at 40 years old but seems to still be evolving in the octagon. She first entered the UFC with a high-level boxing game that translated to immediate success. Her boxing is technical, volume heavy, and, pun-intended, packs a real punch. As her career has progressed, so has Holm’s game. She has progressed from a traditional boxer to a mixed martial artist with a powerful kicking game and more of a wide-based karate style that accentuates her kicks and movement. As a striker, Holm can land a variety of strikes, from a variety of angles, and dictate range with impressive footwork. Said plainly, “The Preacher’s Daughter” often outstrikes her opponent on the back of her volume and footwork; she lands more than she is hit. The most recent growth area in Holm’s game is her clinch game. Historically, Holm struggled if an opponent crashed distance and forced a dirty boxing match or clinch fight. However, recently, Holm has demonstrated a strong clinch wrestling game where she can utilize her wide base and head position to hold her opponent against the cage. Holm has only lost to the top of the division and in fights where her technical striking is countered by power or dedicated wrestlers. Short of those two archetypes, Holm has continually found success out striking and out clinch wrestling fighters for years.
Ketlen “Fenomeno” Vieira is a strong and dedicated wrestler who can shoot, secure, and find success in her takedown attempts. She averages 1.7 takedown attempts per fight at a 46% clip. More importantly, than the stats is Vieira’s takedown style. Unlike many fighters in the division who secure takedowns from clinch positions, Vieira is athletic and fundamental enough to shoot a takedown without relying on her opponent being pinned against the cage first. This is important because Holm’s clinch game, both offensively and defensively, should at least equal if not surpass Vieira’s. Vieira has found, and could find again in this fight, success in timing a takedown attempt as her opponent is striking. Then, once the fight hits the mat, “Fenomeno” is a skilled grappler who does enough work in top position to threaten a finish without sacrificing the advantageous position. Outside of her wrestling and grappling, on the feet, Vieira is athletic and can land with some heat, but, ultimately lacks offensive technique and defensive awareness. She can struggle to land with consistency while eating several shots in return. If she can get the fight down, Vieira can win imposingly, if not, she tends to lose drastically.
Prime Holm is levels above Vieira. Vieira has not faced anyone near the striker that Holm is and has struggled against volume-focused fighters. Holm should have the skill and stylistic advantage in this fight; the only hesitation is Holm’s age. Unless she comes in rusty or her cardio uncharacteristically fails though, Holm should piece Vieira up from range and stuff Vieira’s takedown attempts en route to a wide decision win.
Prediction: Holly Holm to win by decision
Holly Holm is a likely future UFC Hall of Famer and general fan favorite. Her poise inside and outside the octagon accompanied by having a well-rounded arsenal of attacks with traits of elite striking explains her large fanbase. These traits also explain how she has fought just about every elite women’s fighter in the past decade, and, having moments of elite fighting, Holm has secured wins over some of the top women fighters the UFC has developed.
Holm’s bread and butter trait is her kickboxing. The movement she employs in the octagon allows her to keep the range best suited for her striking, which is a smorgasbord of attacks, both with kicks and punches. Perhaps the best trait she has that allows her to use movement and a range of striking attacks is her having strong cardio – 25-minute cardio. Lastly, Holm has overlooked offensive wrestling, as she is both skilled and comfortable mixing in a takedown to keep her opponent guessing and uncomfortable. Altogether, Holm has very few weaknesses inside the octagon – her power at this stage of her career is not too severe – which is not surprising given she has been at the top of the division for many years now.
Ketlen Vieira is a sturdy, strong female bantamweight. Her physical makeup translates to having impressive grappling and a solid ground game once on the mat. Often, submission-oriented fighters have difficulty wrestling their way to a position suitable to their ground game, but not Vieira, as she understands both technical wrestling accompanied with how striking can allow her to more easily secure a takedown. Continuing her deviance away from the norm, relative to submission-oriented fighters, Vieira does a good job using ground and pound to open up her opportunity to secure a victory. The decision to do so showcases her having sound fighter intelligence, which will be needed in a fight against an opponent with the experience of Holm.
In the striking department, Vieira is on the slower side, while also having less than stellar creativity. The former is perhaps indicative of why she has somewhat poor striking defense while the latter explains why Vieira can, at times, find it difficult to land. While these are very worrying negatives, particularly when facing an elite striker in Holm, Vieira does have good power, as she can throw big overhand punches with little fear of being taken down – if she is taken to the mat, she is happy to play Jiu-Jitsu.
I expect Holm to successfully integrate lateral footwork off of her technical striking to quickly separate herself from Vieira in the standing exchanges. Once sufficiently frustrated with how the striking goes, I anticipate Vieira looking to clinch-wrestle her way to a takedown, and if successful, she can lay on Holm while inflicting ground and pound. But, knowing Holm is solid in the clinch coupled with her having strong takedown defense, I believe Holm will be able to circle away from the clinch after a while compared to being taken down. And, once done, Holm will go back to piecing Vieira up on the feet, if not also landing a takedown herself. In total, I believe this style of exchange will be rinsed and repeated throughout all 5-rounds, henceforth, I am confidently taking Holm by decision at a good price of +105.
Pick: Holly Holm to win by Decision
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.