Max Holloway, Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Petr Yan have all been called the best boxer in MMA but there’s only one fighter on the UFC roster who’s about to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Former UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm, who will be inducted with the class of 2022 on June 12, held titles across multiple divisions as an 18-time defending champion during her boxing career yet she rarely raises her voice when this particular debate starts swirling amongst fighters and fans.
The reason why Holm isn’t shouting about her own boxing accolades, which alone would separate her from anybody else in the UFC trying to make a compelling argument, comes down to the vast differences between the sweet science and throwing hands in the sport of mixed martial arts.
“I think it’s honestly really hard to put a name on it because as far as just boxing, it’s just very different the way you even use boxing in MMA,” Holm explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “So in order for me to be able to tell someone you’re the best boxer, I would like to see them boxing.
“Because the thing is boxing’s just different. You’re wearing a little bit bigger gloves and you’re only using your arms and when you get in the later rounds and you can still only punch and your arms feel like they weigh 100 pounds, let’s see how crisp you can hit. I feel like there’s MMA boxing and there’s boxing and I think that’s really hard.”
Holm is quick to point out that while there are definitely fighters with great striking in MMA, it’s not really a fair comparison to simply say somebody has the best boxing.
In reality, Holm knows that techniques, footwork and even just the stance used in MMA are so opposite from what an accomplished boxer would utilize that it’s really just two separate sports.
“I think people talk about certain people’s boxing but even boxing in MMA, you’re at a longer range because you still have to worry about kicks and there’s always clinching involved with that,” Holm said. “So you can clinch and throw punches out of that. I just feel like it’s hard to say, ‘Oh, this person’s the best boxer in MMA.’ It’s really hard.
“There’s some [fighters] that don’t mind exchanging and they focus more on their standup than their grappling, but as far as being the best boxer, it’s really hard put a name on it. I’m afraid to even throw out a couple names right now cause I could argue both sides of it. You have people that are sometimes just harder to hit because they have a long reach but are they using their MMA stance to keep that range and still land their punches? Like that’s a good boxing sense in MMA. But would it be the same if they were just in boxing? It’s hard to say.”
While she’ll never be the one to say it, Holm acknowledges that she’s definitely the best pure boxer competing in the UFC but it’s not worth an argument because she actually had to change a lot of the skills she used in the ring in order to compete inside the octagon.
“I take pride in my boxing career,” Holm stated. “Like I said, there’s habits from boxing that I had to break in MMA. Boxing you can stand real close to someone and still throw uppercuts and hooks and not have to worry about anything else.
“You do that in MMA, it’s like they’re on my legs and they’re taking me down. They grab on to you and clinch on to you. Things are just different.”
One thing Holm will concede is that the transition for her coming from boxing to MMA was much more difficult than the average mixed martial artist attempting to crossover to boxing.
Lately that trend has become all the rage with former UFC champions like Tyron Woodley taking lucrative fights in boxing and more and more athletes talking about doing the same thing in the future.
“A lot of these MMA fighters do have boxing because that is part of mixed martial arts,” Holm said. “That is an art that is part of mixed martial arts. But it’s still different if you compete with it. [People] always say what do you think is harder, boxing or MMA? Is it easier to go from boxing to MMA or MMA to boxing? I definitely think it’s easier to go from MMA to boxing because you already have some knowledge of boxing because it’s part of MMA.
“To go from boxing to MMA, you only know boxing and all of a sudden you’ve got to learn everything. Clinch, ground game, wrestling, cage work, all of it. Kicks, knees, elbows, everything. To go from MMA to boxing, you at least have some knowledge of boxing but it’s still different.”
For all the talk about who’s the best boxer in the UFC, Holm would welcome the chance to revert back to her old sport to prove it.
“I would like to box with the majority of the people in the UFC,” Holm said with a smile. “Just box. I feel like I’d do real well.”
In reality, Holm has long since put her boxing career behind her as she’s remained focused on MMA since making a full time move into the sport in 2013 but she’s never forgotten her roots.
That’s why her induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame means so much to Holm as she becomes only the fifth woman to enter the modern wing alongside Laila Ali, Christy Martin, Ann Wolfe and Lucia Rijker.
“When you start fighting it’s like one of these days maybe I could be a world champion and then you look at all the greats in the Hall of Fame and you’re like that would be really cool if I could ever do that,” Holm said. “But you don’t ever really know if that’s going to happen. They don’t just let any boxer in there. That’s definitely something that I feel very humbled and honored and I’m very excited about it.
“It’s kind of surreal the company that I’m considered to be a part of. To be able to be considered in that same group with all the greatest. I never thought I would be considered to be in the Hall of Fame with Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. We could go on all day about all the greats. It’s just super humbling.”