By Mark Dorsey
Former world champion boxer Holly Holm is an MMA franchise. She’s a marquee star, a better face of the UFC women’s division than Ronda Rousey, and worth a six-figure contract — at least according to her manager, Lenny Fresquez, who has been making the media rounds lately trying to convince the public that his undefeated client is the only worthy challenger to Rousey’s belt.
Let’s get one thing straight: Calling Holly Holm a “franchise” is ludicrously premature. Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva are MMA franchises. Beyond that, the list gets very thin. In fact, the concept of franchise players is fading in every sport as the Lebron Jameses and Jacoby Ellsburys of the sports world show that their loyalty only extends to the highest free market bidder.
The argument could be made that UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey is a franchise athlete. After all, Dana White has admitted that the UFC only created the women’s division because of her. But Holly Holm is not on the same level of recognizability as Rousey. Sure she was a big boxing draw in New Mexico, but being a regional draw does not translate to franchise-level success with a global brand like the UFC.
Chances are, not many outside of the hardcore MMA and boxing fanbase have even heard of Holly Holm. The Holly Holm brand might bring a few new eyeballs from the boxing world but she is certainly not selling a PPV on her own.
However, just because Holly Holm is not a “franchise” does not mean she wouldn’t make a great investment for the UFC’s fledgling women’s division. Holm is a fantastic athlete. Once considered by many as the best female boxer on the planet, she was twice named Ring Magazine’s female Fighter of the Year. Training under Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, she not only has the physical ability and attributes, she also has the right team around her to be a world champion in MMA.
It’s possible that Holm may one day be a UFC franchise athlete. She certainly has the potential to dominate a women’s division that is severely lacking in high-quality strikers. She could also develop into a legitimate MMA star. She’s personable, good looking and professional. However, she’s not there yet.
Holm hasn’t fought anybody even near the top 10 in MMA and it’s yet to be seen what will happen once she gets taken down by a quality grappler. Her last fight was a forgettable unanimous decision win over 40-year old Angela Hayes, who has a losing record. Even during her successful boxing career, there were those in the boxing community who felt Holm was protected by not facing top competition, like Cecilia Braekhus, and mostly fighting in her hometown.
Though her early MMA career has intentionally followed the boxing model of record-padding en route to a title fight, Holm needs to fight high-quality competition in order to demand anything close to six-figures upon entry into the UFC. Fresquez claims that Holm makes more than 80% of UFC fighters. That may have been true in her boxing career — although even that seems doubtful — but she certainly didn’t make that much fighting for Bellator and Legacy FC.
The Holly Holm controversy will likely devolve into a debate about unfair UFC fighter pay in general. That debate has been going on for years and will continue to rage for years to come. However, this is about the worth of one particular fighter in the context of the current WMMA landscape, and Holm’s management needs to be careful not to price her out of a potentially lucrative long-term UFC career.
Zuffa has shown that they are willing to let free agents sign with other companies if the UFC feels the fighters are not worth what they could get on the free market. For every Hector Lombard who gets signed to an inflated UFC contract, there are the Ben Askrens of the world who the UFC decides aren’t worth it.
Dana White has called Holly Holm “the female Conor McGregor” because of the amount of MMA fans telling him to sign her. There’s no doubt the UFC wants Holm but they don’t exactly need her either. They have a long list of contenders waiting to challenge for Rousey’s belt with Miesha Tate, Cat Zingano, Alexis Davis, and Sara McMann waiting in the wings. Holm versus Rousey would certainly be a high-profile matchup. It would be a marketing dream — a pound-for-pound world champion boxer versus the Olympic judoka and undisputed MMA champion — if we ever get to see it happen. At this point it looks like a big if.
The MMA landscape is littered with managers who have screwed over their fighters by overvaluing their clients. So far, Lenny Fresquez has done an outstanding job promoting — and some would argue protecting — Holm’s career, both in boxing and MMA. However, his recent claim that Holm needs a six-figure contract in order to sign with the UFC is delusional. Holm has a bright future in MMA. She would be a great addition to the UFC’s roster and could pose a legitimate threat to Rousey’s belt. However, Fresquez needs to recognize that WMMA is still in its infancy and the market value is not the same as it is in boxing. He’s doing his job trying to get the most for his client but he needs to be careful not to play his client right out of the UFC picture altogether.
If Holm is worth it, she’ll establish herself as a top contender and get her six-figure contract in due time. However, that time is not now.