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Holly Holm vs. Belinda Laracuente

Holly Holm vs. Belinda LaracuenteStyles make fights. That’s what I’ve heard anyway. I can’t remember who told it to me , but it always seems to hold true. It was certainly borne out once again in the clash between Holly Holm and Belinda Laracuente at the Pechanga Resort and Casino Thursday night. Let me tell you, it was one hell of a fight. You should have been there. Holm was the counter-puncher, and Laracuente was the dancer in this one. Each played pugilistic siren and tried to draw the other into the rocks for the kill.

This time, however, the counter-puncher won. It was Holm’s night.

The atmosphere was electric. The crowd was juiced. There were at least 2,000 people in the audience. Fox Sports was covering the fight and TV cameras were all over the place. There were plenty of print journalists as well, and a row of photographers surrounded one side of the ring.

The undercard had brought out strong reactions from the people at the venue. Many felt the decisions of the judges were not correct. That would not be the case with this fight. Holm won and the crowd was in accord.

Laracuente was the first to be announced and she came in with charisma to spare. The crowd cheered. Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” blared over the speakers as Laracuente and her entourage entered the ring. She was wearing a white fedora and sported a million-dollar smile that lit up the crowd. A row of people were behind her. When she entered the ring she was beaming and bouncing. If she was tight, she sure as hell didn’t show it. She seemed as relaxed as a tourist on a cruise ship.

Holm was announced next. There were no frills for this woman. The Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” rang out over the sound system. I heard her name and the next thing I knew, she was in the ring, appearing out of nowhere like some kind of genie. Though they cheered for Laracuente, they roared for Holm. And let me tell you something, Holm looked flat-out fit. She was ripped. With her braids and baby face, she looked like Gabrielle, but was built like Xena. She paced the ring like a caged cat. She seemed tighter than Laracuente, no smiles, just the pounding of her gloves against each other.

It was fight time now. The crowd was ready.

Laracuente set the pace in the beginning of round one. She tried to pressure Holm, but Holm’s strategy for the fight was clearly to counterpunch. Laracuente would move in, but Holm would deflect and try to land combinations of her own. The crowd was behind Holm early on, chanting, “Hol-ly, Hol-ly.” After some tentative moments, Holm got Laracuente in the corner and landed some hard shots. Later she pounded Laracuente on the ropes with blows that you could feel in the press row. She could hit so hard it could hurt your feelings.

In the early rounds, Holm threw punishing blows, but Laracuente withstood the onslaught and tried to play head games with Holm, smiling after every punishing exchange. Holm got Laracuente on the ropes plenty of times, pounding her body like a butcher tenderizing meat, but if the shots were having effect, Laracuente didn’t let on inside the ring. At the end of round two, however, when Laracuente returned to her corner, she already started to look a little pained from the punishment. She was already starting to breathe heavily and shaking her head at her corner people.

By round three, Holm was expending a lot of energy, landing far more blows and pressing the action. She didn’t seem the least bit winded though. Her physique wasn’t just for show. Laracuente continued showing a brave face. Holm would make high-pitched grunts when she punched, kind of like Maria Sharapova serving, and Laracuente would mock her, mimicking the grunts, even after she got hammered. Holm was nonplussed and kept right on banging. She kept up her pace throughout the early rounds and started to build up points.

In the middle rounds, Holm looked particularly strong, getting the best of most exchanges. Holm would cover up, letting Laracuente throw combinations, block most of the blows, then return several shots of her own which got through. At one point, Holm landed a body shot you could hear all the way to San Diego. Laracuente was getting worn down, but she continued to taunt Holm with feinting and making faces. Laracuente’s face was starting to swell under the eyes as Holm’s punishment began to take its toll.

Holm moved well throughout the middle part of fight, counterpunching and landing hard. Laracuente tried to press the fight at times, but got nowhere. Holm’s defenses were too strong.

By the later rounds, Holm had built a big lead and Laracuente needed to do something drastic. Holm had brutalized her with shots to the face and body, while covering up well on Laracuente’s attacks. Laracuente needed to go for broke.

In round nine, Laracuente tried get Holm out of her game psychologically. She began swinging her arms bolo fashion, dropping her gloves, taunting, doing anything she could do to draw Holm in. But Holm wasn’t biting. Holm continued to cover up and counter, trying to force Laracuente to take the bait instead. She got in several good exchanges in the round, backing Laracuente into the ropes or in a corner and landing hammer shots to her body and face.

Round ten would be do-or-die for Laracuente.

Behind on points, Laracuente finally let it all hang out, and it helped– somewhat. She put the pressure heavily on Holm, but for most of the round, Holm got the better of the exchanges. By the end of the round, however, Laracuente landed some blows that seemed to surprise Holm. The pressure had had some effect. Holm answered the blows, but they had gotten her attention. It might have been Laracuente’s best round.

The bell sounded. The fight had gone the distance and would be handed to the judges. The scores were 97-93, 99-91 and 98-92, all for Holm. Unlike the earlier fights, the crowd was in accord and roared their approval. I agreed with their decision as well.

If there’s one thing that I learned about Holm in this fight, it’s that she can hit like a freight train. The other thing I learned is that Laracuente can take a licking and keep on ticking. In the end, generally, the latter doesn’t count for as much when it comes to winning fights. Holm was the victor on points and deserved to be. She was the better fighter and showed great defensive skills as well as great power.

The one thing I’d be interested to see is how Holm will handle pressure from a tougher, stronger fighter. Laracuente was able to pierce Holm’s formidable defenses, ever so briefly, at the end of round ten. How will Holm hold up and take a punch against a bigger woman? That remains to be seen. That’s the main question, in my opinion, about this superstar in the making. Holm is definitely in the upper echelon of female boxing, but whether she gets crowned the best of the bunch will depend a lot on how she handles the heat.

With the fight ended and the title belt still safely in her hand, Holm did her trademark back flip for the crowd. Maybe she is Xena after all.

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