Holly Holm’s shocking upset of Ronda Rousey on Sunday wasn’t a fluke. At least not the way she sees it.
“I’ve been the underdog more than once, and it’s fine with me. Every day in training, I’m up against great training partners. Every day is a test for me, so I don’t mind being an underdog,” she says. “Some of these girls put her so high up on a pedestal that they’re not remembering they’re in there for a reason. I’m in there for a reason – because I have the capability and the ability to win.”
Holm (10-0) was the most skilled opponent Rousey (12-1) had faced in her career. And she showed it for all five minutes and 59 seconds of their UFC 193 main event, before landing a vicious head kick and a pair of follow-up punches for the incredible knockout victory. Despite being a 16-1 underdog, her confidence never wavered in the lead-up to the fight – or inside the Octagon.
And why would it? The former multi-time boxing champion earned belts in three weight classes during her career inside the ring, and that success has carried over to MMA, where Holm is undefeated – and, after knocking out Rousey – the new Women’s Bantamweight champion. Of course, that crown also comes with overwhelming media attention, something the former champ was able to handle (mostly) masterfully. Can Holm, who still lives in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, do the same? Now that might be a challenge.
“When I’m winding down sometimes I sew, sometimes I do woodworking, sometimes I paint,” Holm says. “I’m very blessed to still be in the town I was born and raised in, and I have a lot of great friends and family around me. Sometimes before training I just go meet up with some friends and have some coffee and just chew on the fat and talk about whatever.”
Holm has stuck tight to her roots since she began her boxing career. She teamed with famed striking coach Mike Winkeljohn at 17 and has remained by his side ever since. She trains at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA in Albuquerque, the camp that has helped groom notable UFC champions such as Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and Rashad Evans – a pedigree that gave her more confidence heading into her fight with Rousey.
“Coming from a camp like Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, this isn’t the only big fight they’ve seen,” Holm says. “They’ve put game plans together for the best. Knowing that gives me confidence in my trainers and my teammates, and being surrounded by teammates that have done so well, it helps me realize how attainable it can really be.”
After an impressive 7-0 start to her MMA career – including six knockouts – Holm made her UFC debut in February, fighting in UFC 184’s co-main event slot under Rousey’s title defense vs. Cat Zingano. Although her debut was forgettable (a split-decision victory over Raquel Pennington), Holm was touted as a future challenger for the Bantamweight title. One more victory in July put her in position to challenge Rousey for UFC gold.
Rousey had shown minimal flaws during her 12-fight winning streak prior to UFC 193. Holm knew exactly what she was getting involved with, though, and once the opportunity to execute one of the many tactics trained arrived, she delivered.
“There’s habits every fighter has,” Holm says. “I don’t care who you are, you have a fighting style, and every offense and defense has a counter…I visualized that if the head kick was there to go for it.”
Rousey was appointed the 135-pound champion when the division made its debut in February 2013 and dominated the competition for close to three years. Now, the title belongs to Holm, and the soft-spoken, humble fighter has massive shoes to fill. She’s aware she can’t be Ronda Rousey…but she doesn’t want to be.
“I want to show people I’m made up of a lot and I have a lot of potential to do great things in this sport,” she says. “I don’t get in there thinking, ‘I’m fighting for my paycheck.’ I get in there thinking, ‘I want to win this fight.’ The feeling of a victory is priceless. You can’t put money on that.”