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UFC and boxing legend Holly Holm becomes leading candidate to face Taylor at Croke Park

The former three-weight boxing world champion left the sport for MMA in 2013 in search of better opportunities, but may pivot back to face the Irish icon.

Holly Holm in action against Ronda Rousey in Melbourne in 2015.
Holly Holm in action against Ronda Rousey in Melbourne in 2015.

UFC STAR AND soon-to-be International Boxing Hall of Famer Holly Holm has emerged as the leading candidate to challenge Katie Taylor for her undisputed lightweight crown at Croke Park in the autumn.

While Taylor’s team continue to work on a potentially seismic homecoming event, negotiations to bring Amanda Serrano to Dublin for a sequel to her and Taylor’s epic April encounter at Madison Square Garden are understood to have hit a snag.

There is a cognisance on the Irish side of the bargain that time is of the essence to make a fight worthy of taking place at Croker but proposed dates of Saturday 24 September or Saturday 1 October prohibit another protracted negotiation process with Serrano’s management: full training camps, with an additional week designated for press events on either side of the Atlantic, leave only about a month from now to put pen to paper on a bout versus anyone.

As such, Taylor’s team have opened dialogue with former UFC champion Holm.

‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ rose to global prominence when she wiped out MMA’s leading light Ronda Rousey in front of 56,000 fans at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium in 2015. Five years Taylor’s senior at 40, she continues to fight at the top end of the UFC today.

However, Holm previously put together a Hall-of-Fame-worthy CV in the boxing ring, earning multiple world titles across three weight divisions and twice being named Ring Magazine’s Female Fighter of the Year only to depart boxing due to its paltry pay for women and lack of competition in 2013.

ufc-193-australia-event-etihad-stadium Holm destroyed the UFC's leading star, Ronda Rousey, in November 2015. Source: AAP/PA Images

Her longtime manager Lenny Fresquez and Taylor’s equivalent, Brian Peters, have been friends since that same year, first meeting over dinner with the legendary boxing matchmaker/promoter Don Chargin in Las Vegas prior to Floyd Mayweather’s bout with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

This was three years before Taylor would turn professional and Holm already had one foot in the mixed martial arts cage but, even then, the pair had tentative discussions about reigning Olympic champion Taylor challenging the 33-2-3(9KOs) professional Holm for her world titles on a hypothetical debut in the punch-for-pay ranks.

“Katie was making good money out of the ring”, Fresquez says, “and Holly was the top female professional at that time.

Everybody wanted to fight her because she was the top draw: at that time, the top pay in women’s boxing was $10,000 to fight Holly Holm. That was the most a girl could make. Most of them would make about $400, some promoters would pay $1,000, but we would pay $10,000: that’s how we would get people to fight Holly.

“At one time, Holly had nine belts. All I was doing was paying money to the sanctioning bodies. They were making more money than the fighters.”

katie-taylor-versus-amanda-serrano-fight-for-undisputed-world-lightweight-championship Source: Lev Radin

Taylor has been the chief catalyst in a seismic culture shift in pro boxing since 2016. Her bout with Serrano saw her earn upwards of $2m, an all-time record for a female bout, while the Puerto Rican great by her own admission became a millionaire in her own right.

Holm, who has Irish heritage on both sides of her family and previously expressed an interest in fighting Taylor on these shores as far back as 2014, watched their 10-round epic and, for the first time in a long time, felt the allure of the sport she left behind for greener pastures in 2013.

Fresquez, a former boxing promoter who steered Holm from her from her job as a cocktail waitress in one of his restaurants to global stardom in the UFC Octagon, maintains that his fighter continues to be well compensated by MMA’s leading promotion. A potential bout with Taylor could see Holm earn five times her $250,000 purse for her most recent UFC bout but Fresquez insists that any pivot back to the ring would be less about money, and more about unfinished business.

“When Holly quit boxing, she told me, ‘I’ll never box again. Don’t ask me to box.’ But boxing does something to you.

When you’re watching a good fight, you feel the electricity. That’s the way I used to judge the success of my shows: not whether or not it was a sellout, but whether I could feel the electric energy in the show, that magic energy that a boxing show gives you. Holly had lost that energy. But then she watched Katie and Amanda… And she’s about to be inducted in the Boxing Hall of Fame on 17 June which has kind of helped to bring her back a little bit.

Following her decision loss to Ketlen Vieira at UFC Fight Night 206 on Saturday — a verdict deemed contentious by many — Holm has one fight left on her UFC contract. As such, a prospective Croke Park bout with Taylor would require the blessing of, and perhaps even the involvement of, UFC president Dana White.

Theoretically, that may not be restrictive: White and Taylor’s promoter Eddie Hearn are longtime admirers of each other’s work, with the MMA tycoon texting Hearn in the immediate aftermath of Taylor-Serrano at MSG to tell the Matchroom chief how much he had enjoyed the bout.

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spsingapore-ufc-fight-night Former UFC champion and boxing Hall-of-Fame inductee Holly Holm. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

There remains hope on Taylor’s side that Serrano and her management team, Jake Paul and his MVP Promotions partner, former UFC exec Nakisa Bidarian, will wish to do business on an event which would eclipse even Taylor and Serrano’s glorious night in New York last month.

Fresquez, however, maintains that a meeting of Taylor and Holm would boast even broader appeal than a sequel between pro boxing’s two leading female protagonists, and there remains a chance he and Holm could exploit any hesitation on the side of Serrano.

“Holly would be the ticket,” he says. “She’s Irish, she’s got the name.

Serrano barely got her name out there after the Katie Taylor fight. Katie Taylor was the A-side to that ticket, okay? There’s no doubt. Katie Taylor and Holly Holm are A-side fighters.

“Serrano’s popularity comes from Jake Paul. She got more attention after she became involved with Jake Paul than she ever had — which I mean as a compliment. He’s done a great job with her and he did a great job for women’s boxing. And Amanda has worked all her life for boxing — I know that because we dealt with her earlier in her career.

“Holly’s got a couple of years left. She’s got two or three fights left so we’re really going to look to ramp things up over the next couple of years. She’s not going to fight past 42. But Holly only fights the best. You look at her resumé and she has fought only the top girls in both boxing and MMA.

“If she comes back to boxing, she doesn’t want any tune-ups or anything like that. She wants to go straight back in against the best. She wants to fight Katie.”

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