First thing’s first: Holly Holm will try to bounce back against Valetina Shevchenko at UFC Chicago

The fight will headline UFC Chicago on Saturday, with bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes a potential next opponent for the winner

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2016, 5:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2016, 5:55pm

The UFC women’s bantamweight belt has been treated like a hot potato in the past year, and that can be looked at as Holly Holm’s fault.

It was Holm who surprised then-undefeated Ronda Rousey, and all of UFC, with a swinging left foot that made her the new champion last November.

Then Holm lost the belt to Miesha Tate in her first title defence in March, before Tate coughed it up to Amanda Nunes in the main event of UFC 200 on July 9.

Some may say the division’s fickle hierarchy cuts into its credibility, but Holm looks at it the other way.

“I feel like it’s very competitive. If it was weak that means there would still be one champion running from everybody,” Holm said. “If I really had it my way, we wouldn’t be on the fourth champion, we’d still be on the second champion.”

Holm (10-1, seven knockouts) has her long-term sights on regaining the belt, but she’s now focused on her fight with Valetina Shevchenko (12-2, four knockouts) that will headline UFC Chicago on Saturday.

It will be Holm’s first bout since her fifth round loss to Tate, and she insists she isn’t thinking about Rousey, Tate or the possibility of fighting Nunes for the bantamweight title later this year.

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Just Shevchenko, because Holm knows better than anyone that looking too far ahead can hurt.

“She’s just as tough if not more than what I had to face before,” Holm said. “I’m really focused on trying to make the most of this fight because you’re not promised this opportunity. Who knows what’s next?”

After the dramatic defeat of Rousey, UFC hoped Holm would sign on for a rematch right away.

Holm says she’d considered it, but she didn’t express any regret on bypassing that possibility to fight Tate.

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The decision was criticised by UFC President Dana White at the time, but Holm thinks she’s had one major mis-step since winning the belt: not putting away Tate at UFC 196 when she had the chance.

“I 100 per cent stand by it because we’re still waiting for Ronda to come back,” Holm said. “That was my point. I told them, ‘I will wait for the rematch with Ronda as long as we can promise it can be by a certain time.’”

Even if her time with the belt was short lived, Holm lived it up.

She watched a Broncos game from the sideline and met Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. She was spotted in public by comedian Dave Chapelle and he approached her. She hung out with Jamie Foxx and his cousin, and they stood in front of her to re-enact her victory over Rousey. Foxx chose the role of Rousey, and his cousin delivered the knockout blow in slow motion.

Hearing Holm reminisce about those three months makes it clear she wants the belt back. But she also knows it’s a complicated goal.

If Rousey comes back and the timing’s finally right, a rematch could be extremely lucrative. If a title shot is offered and doesn’t include Rousey, she’d have a chance to reclaim what was briefly hers.

She pondered this for a second, then snapped back into her fixed fight week approach.

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“I can’t even look that far. I just can’t even think of other fighters right now because Valentina is who I’m facing and she’s so tough,” Holm said.

“If I don’t win this, they may not give me either of those opportunities, and I really honestly don’t think about it.”