Single sentence summary:
Phil: WMMA's most unbreakable fighter takes on the new queen.
David: The synoptic storm heat and greets the bakery blitz.
Holly "The Preacher's Daughter" Holm 10-0
Miesha "Cupcake" Tate 17-5
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: There isn't much to be said about Holly Holm. She engendered MMA's most high-profile upset when she knocked out Ronda Rousey. Combined with her boxing career as a long-running champion and the P4P #1 women's boxer, she's likely already done enough to be considered one of the best women's combat athletes ever. All this without dynamite punching power or blinding athleticism.
David: Blinding athleticism? Perhaps not. Overwhelming physicality? Sure. One of the factors in Rousey's dominance has been her technique combined with a raw power advantage. She flat out didn't have that against Holm. Still, I think it's reasonable to question her potential reign. For as good as Holm is, and for as bad as she made Rousey look, Holm has had enough fights in the UFC for us to look at and say, 'well hold on a second'.
Phil: Tate was the Strikeforce W135 champion before Rousey came along, and she's been chasing the belt ever since. Two brutal armbar losses to Rousey and a clinch knee barrage from Cat Zingano pushed her down the pecking order, but she just kept fighting and winning and has clawed her way back into contention, through close fights and broken bones, including the Sarah McMann fight where she got her orbital bone broken in the first, and went on to win the next two rounds. At times she's had some of the same flavour of (uninteresting) drama around her as Rousey, where people have gotten wound up by things she's said or people she's dated, but all this is ancillary to the fact that she is one of the most purely tough fighters in the UFC.
David: This is what we call the Bryan Caraway dilemma. Not a comment about Tate goes by without some dig at the fact that Miehsa chose Bryan Caraway and not the cadre of hermetically sealed internet personalities who can't avoid vulgar puns involving pastries. And so lost in the shuffle of trolldom is an appreciation for what Tate has been able to do in this sport; endure at the highest levels. She once held the title when it mattered least, lost it against one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet, and yet here she is making a sincere challenge to the throne she lost 4 years ago.
What are the stakes?
Phil: The belt, of course, but the chance for both women to cement a place for themselves in history. Holm gets to prove that she wasn't just a stylistic horror for Rousey, and Tate gets to prove that she only lost her belt because Rousey was a stylistic horror for her.
David. Far too concise for me to add anything to. The stakes are higher for Holm long term. For Tate, they're higher short term. As in, Tate would probably get a bit more attention for winning, and the UFC could actually justify a rubber match with all the opulence of a Steve Spielberg film.
Where do they want it?
Phil: No surprises here. Tate is primarily a wrestler. Her kickboxing has improved greatly but she's really one of the elite in the division when it comes to top control. She keeps a very solid base, primarily choosing to maintain pressure with her upper body and landing short elbows rather than posturing up for strikes, and she's a great guard passer and submission threat. The problem is how to get it there? Tate is a willing and even adaptive striker, she's just not a terribly good one. She's improved her shot selection from a winging overhand to include a pretty sneaky stinging jab and a left hook, as well as gradually working more combination striking into her game. She's good at mixing up the traditional overhand with the double leg as well.
Her best trait is her adaptability. She drops the first round with an almost startling consistency, but she uses her toughness in order to cycle through approaches until she finds something- a set-up for the right hand, a takedown, the jab.
David: My impression of Tate has always been that she has the instincts of a fighter who understands mechanics, but lacks the athleticism to execute them efficiently against the elite. Maybe it's the other way around. I don't know. Say what you want about her coaching, scouting, or general direction when it comes to strategy, Tate has a high IQ in certain areas.
For example, her boxing shouldn't work against great fighters, but she ends up doing well during heated exchanges because she knows how to shift approach. She never would have been able to beat McMann or Eye in the past, but both were beat with smart adjustments, and violent economy. Moreover, I've always been impressed with her grappling. There's a technical polish to it that is amplified by her dogged persistence. Think Rafael dos Anjos. She's not truly elite, but she is truly opportunistic.
Phil: Holm is the striker. She's a very, very big 135lber (and much bigger than Tate, who'd be in the 125lb class if that existed) and wants to stay back as far as possible. She relies on the southpaw staples of left straight, check hook and left body kick, and she's a fairly prototypical Jackson's fighter in that she's a better kicker than a puncher. On offense she likes the kind of blitzing, marching combinations which are also favoured by Condit. She doesn't have quite the variety in timing or approaches that Condit uses, so it's more possible to thread the needle. She's been extremely difficult to take or hold down in the UFC, so it's impossible to really tell how good her ground game is, but she's historically been an extraordinarily coachable fighter. She focused on the key elements of Rousey's approach (controlling the elbow / preventing Rousey from establishing a line through their hips), without ever deviating from the script.
David: My ultimate impression of Holm coming out of the Rousey fight after I looked at the bout minute by minute, is that she's a lot like Lyoto Machida when it comes to philosophy. Both are rare talents when it comes to the capacity to get opponents to retreat with counters. For Holm, she selected just one strike to counter with (the right hook). Once Rousey understood this, Holm selected the left straight to pressure with. Confusing the wind, to borrow the elegant phrasing of yours I could only dream of having the IQ for, is what counter strikers excel at because the shift from defense to offense and vice versa happens before you can adjust efficiently.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Pennington-Holm is one which a lot of people will reference, but I actually think Pennington is a deal better than Tate on the feet, both technically and physically. Instead, I'm going to go back to Rousey-Tate II. The problem with Tate was that her head is bolt upright all the time, so Rousey was able to simply out-horsepower her in a fight between two people who knew exactly where the target they were aiming at was at all times. Tate is very, very good at adapting her approach at finding an angle or a strike she can exploit on opponents, but she always has to take some serious damage to do so and her fundamental flaws never disappear, she merely finds ways to work around them mid-fight. What if she fights an opponent who can actually adapt as well as she can?
David: For something far less relevant, but certainly more dramatic, I can't get over the Rin Nakai bout. It was basically a boring, fifteen minute long version of Ken Shamrock's flop hook attempt on Rich Franklin. Tate is as much a fighter as she is a strategist in the cage, but trying to sift through strategies in real time during a prizefight can look painfully unstrategic. If Tate gets lost in her own head, who knows what can happen.
Phil: Tate's previously busted eye? She looked fine against Jessica Eye (ironically), but you never know when that kind of injury can reoccur.
David: Holm's nerves? Who knows. Tate is at a very good fight age, so injuries shouldn't be an issue.
Phil: I'm a big fan of Tate, but I actually liked her for this fight more before I started studying it than I do now. Her flaws on approach; the huge size advantage exacerbated by an open stance matchup; the way she's relied on breaking the discipline of her opponents. I think these things which are all tilted in favour of the champ. Tate is so insanely tough and driven that you can never count her out, but she's not a ferocious finisher at this level, which means she needs to outpoint the bigger, stronger and more technically sound fighter. Holly Holm by unanimous decision.
David: I don't know. I'm right there in the middle. I think Tate has the ability to chain offense together to disrupt Holm's rhythm, but she has to do more than just disrupt. She has to upheave Holm's rhythm. And I just don't see her closing the distance, avoiding damage, and pressuring with her own all at the same time because that is precisely what it will take to beat Holm. Holy Holm by TKO, round 5.