The mingling of boxing into the UFC has defined this year, so it’s fitting that the final bout will be a women’s featherweight title match between former pro boxer Holly Holm and hard-punching champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino.
The pair appeared in Detroit on Thursday to promote the start of ticket sales for their UFC 219 main event, which will be staged Dec. 30 at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. Pacific Time for the card that also marks the return of unbeaten lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) against Brazilian Edson Barboza in the co-main event.
Justino (18-1) sent a message of sorts to former UFC bantamweight champion Holm (11-3) on Thursday by showing up at their session with reporters with two-time Olympic gold-medalist and current World Boxing Council champion Claressa Shields.
Justino has sparred in the past with Shields in the Southland and she said she’ll work with her again while preparing for the boxing skill of Holm, which in 2015 led to the dismantling of former champion Ronda Rousey.
“It’s going to be a great fight,” Justino said. “Holly has a lot of boxing experience, like 300 rounds, but the difference will be the power. She’s never fought anyone like me. I really like boxing.”
Justino’s punching power has defined her career, as seen in her battering of Tonya Evinger in July in Anaheim to win the featherweight belt stripped from Germaine de Randamie, who hesitated to fight Justino.
Holm recovered from a February controversial loss to De Randamie in Brooklyn in what was the UFC’s first women’s featherweight bout. In that bout, De Randamie twice punched Holm after the bell and avoided discipline before winning by a narrow decision.
Holm told reporters she plans to incorporate more strength training to deal with the force of Justino.
“But I don’t want to get so bulky, I’m slow,” Holm told video reporters.
The bout has the potential to be a stand-up classic.
The UFC has embraced boxing like never before this year, allowing lightweight champion Conor McGregor to box Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a lucrative August pay-per-view bout won by Mayweather, and UFC President Dana White said last month that he’s exploring boxing promotion.
Holm said she doesn’t expect to box for White.
“I am done boxing. I don’t have the passion for it” anymore, she said. “Maybe that’s because I’m still fighting …”
Maybe that’s because this bout with Justino will effectively become a boxing match.
Asked about Justino’s work with Shields, Holm said, “That makes no difference at all. Have you seen my teammates? This is an MMA fight.
“I hope all she’s doing is boxing. I know she’s not. There was so many things from boxing that I had to adapt to MMA. She’s training everything else, practicing her kicks, her grappling – she’s a hard worker. I have to do everything right [to win], but I know I’m capable of doing that.”