Former boxer Holly Holm trying to slow 'hype train' going into UFC debut

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – It's never easy for the new kid in school, and the adjustment is often awkward and fraught with problems. It often gets harder before it gets easier.

In an odd way, 13-year boxing veteran Holly Holm is the new kid. There is a significant difference, however.

Holly Holm is announced the winner in her MMA debut in March 2011. (Getty)
Holly Holm is announced the winner in her MMA debut in March 2011. (Getty)
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Holm hasn't had the chance to blend into the background and find her way in her new surroundings. Rather, she's been brought to the head of the class and singled out on her very first day.

Holm is not only a former world champion boxer, but is one of the most successful boxers to ever transition into mixed martial arts. Her boxing record is long and glorious.

She was 32-2-3 as a boxer and won multiple world titles in different weight classes. She's a member of the New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame and was a two-time Ring Magazine women's Fighter of the Year.

Almost from the day she first considered giving MMA a try, the sport's fans anticipated her arrival and potential opponents looked forward to schooling her.

"I feel a lot of girls want to say, 'Well, I'll welcome her,' and rightfully so," Holm said ahead of her UFC debut on Saturday against Raquel Pennington in the co-main event of UFC 184 at Staples Center. "I like it. I like that people are looking at me and I do like it that they're going to be coming with their best game."

Because of her boxing background, there was little question that her UFC debut would be noteworthy. The original UFC was designed to answer the age-old question of which combat sport was the best.

But Holm's UFC debut is being further magnified because her bout with Pennington is on the same card in which Ronda Rousey will defend her women's bantamweight title against Cat Zingano. The Rousey-Zingano match is only the third championship bout in UFC history in which both fighters enter with perfect records.

Holm herself is unbeaten on the regional circuit, going 7-0 with six finishes as she learned her way in MMA. Despite her gaudy boxing record and numerous world titles, she's still essentially a rookie in MMA. Nonetheless, the expectations are soaring.

"I haven't even had my first fight in the UFC and I can feel the expectations," she said. "But I'd rather be in this position than the opposite, where they don't feel like I can do anything."

She's been mentioned as a potential Rousey opponent almost from Day One, and there has been speculation that if Rousey beats Zingano, Holm could be next if she defeats Pennington.

Holm, though, wants to put the brakes on such talk. She's a born fighter and would never shy away from a bout, but as the new kid on the block, she knows she needs to prove herself.

Rousey has long been effusive in her praise of Holm, but she gave her a half-hearted endorsement when asked who she thought would win the co-main event.

Undefeated Ronda Rousey (R) takes on Cat Zingano on Saturday. (Getty)
Undefeated Ronda Rousey (R) takes on Cat Zingano on Saturday. (Getty)

"I would put my money on Holm, but you never know," Rousey said. "Fights are chaotic. You never know. This is a whole new venue for Holm. She's never really fought outside of her hometown [of Albuquerque, N.M.]. She's never really fought a UFC-caliber opponent before. Pennington definitely has the potential to surprise a lot of people.

"And so I wouldn't be surprised if it went either way. But if I had to put money down from what I've seen on paper, Holm is the person to favor on paper."

Holm, 33, has been around the fight game a long time. Rousey was just 14 when Holm made her pro debut as a boxer in 2002.

She's quiet and respectful and seems amazed by all of the attention she's received. Even when it's suggested she'll dominate fights that take place standing, which is her strength, she's deferential.

She learned early that MMA is an entirely different sport which presents a slew of unique and entirely different problems that a boxer has never had to face before.

Holm loves to box on the inside, but in one of her first days sparring MMA she paid for standing still and going to the body by getting dumped on her back.

A lot of her attitude about her position in the sport comes from experience and learning the hard way that it's never wise to take anything for granted in the fight game.

"In any fight, anyone can land a punch and [end it], because it's a fight," she said. "A lot of people have said to me, 'You should be in great shape if you keep the fight standing.' Yeah, but even in that situation, I am aware that one punch or knee or kick or whatever can change everything, and you have to have respect for the person in front of you."

She's earned respect from her peers by the quiet and professional way she's gone about her business. Pennington spoke of her goal of derailing "the hype train" that surrounds Holm, but none of that has been Holm's doing.

It's not outlandish to suggest she may one day be the big star of the big show. Her background not only in boxing, but in kick boxing and karate suggests this is a highly talented martial artist.

Holm isn't fully comfortable, though, with all of the hoopla that surrounds her. She'd just prefer to do something on the big stage first to justify all of the hype.

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