Why Holly Holm made move to MMA, and what she thinks of Ronda Rousey

Kevin Iole
Why Holly Holm made move to MMA, and what she thinks of Ronda Rousey
Why Holly Holm made move to MMA, and what she thinks of Ronda Rousey

For the longest time, Holly Holm felt out of place.

She was surrounded by friends throughout her decorated boxing career while training at Jackson Winkeljohn's Mixed Martial Arts Center in Albuquerque, N.M., near her childhood home, but something wasn't quite right.

Holm had gone to great heights as a women's boxer, winning world titles and, perhaps most significantly, taking a wide unanimous decision over Christy Martin, arguably the most famous women's boxer of them all.

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But as Holm watched, and in many cases helped her teammates prepare for their MMA bouts, she felt a longing. Despite her success in boxing – she compiled a record of 33-2-3 and was champion at both light welterweight and welterweight – MMA seemed to be grabbing more of her attention.

She was a two-time Fighter of the Year in boxing and was a 2013 inductee into the New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame. Her roots in boxing were deep, and strong, but with each passing day, she got closer to leaving the sport behind.

Eventually, the feeling became too strong to ignore and she took the plunge.

"Over time it became clear to me, and maybe because it is new and there is so much to learn, but I just became so much more passionate about MMA," Holm said.

By the time she stopped Juliana Werner on April 4 in Albuquerque to win the Legacy women's bantamweight title, there was a lot of pressure being put on UFC president Dana White to sign her.

UFC champion Ronda Rousey was destroying all of her competition and the public perception was that there were few women out there who would have a chance to defeat her.

Holly Holm signed with the UFC on July 10, 2014. (Getty)
Holly Holm signed with the UFC on July 10, 2014. (Getty)

Holm was one of that few, largely because of her boxing background. But Holm, who professes tremendous admiration for Rousey, knew that while it might be time to sign with the UFC, she needed plenty of time to still develop as an MMA fighter.

She'll debut in the UFC on Dec. 6 when she meets Raquel Pennington at UFC 181.

"I was around boxing a long time and not just around boxing, but at a high level," she said. "I have a lot of experience in boxing against a lot of really high quality opposition. But in transitioning to MMA, there is so much to learn and I'm still on that learning curve.

"It feels good to go to the gym and be challenged and feel like I'm learning new things every day, but I have a lot of work to do."

While a full-time boxer, she appeared on Fox Sports and on ESPN2, but women's boxing doesn't get the same kind of promotional push that women's MMA does.

The major boxing promoters in the U.S., led by Top Rank and Golden Boy, don't promote women's boxers. The two major boxing television networks, HBO and Showtime, haven't broadcast a women's fight in years.

Things are completely the opposite in MMA, where White has become a passionate supporter of the women's fight game and where women routinely get high profile spots on television.

Rousey may be the sport's biggest star, and in some ways already transcends the sport.

But for the women's game to succeed long term, it doesn't need Ronda and the Seven Dwarfs. It needs a deep, competitive division in which there are multiple title threats.

Holm is one of the women who has the ability to be one of those challengers. Rousey is so talented and so mentally strong that she's made the rest of the division pale by comparison.

Rousey is so well rounded that it's going to take a Herculean effort to beat her, Holm said.

"Ronda has been incredible and she's run through everyone without it being too much of a competition," Holm said. "In trying to close the gap on her, a lot of girls don't want to get too close because then she can clinch and toss you to the ground and then arm bar you in two seconds. But if you don't get close enough, you can't hit her. You have to be able to put together a game plan to get past that.

"If you're going to be in range, you have to be ready to deal with the clinch game. If you're going to be out, you better be working on some angles to try to strike from distance and use footwork and the cage to your advantage. I'm not saying girls haven't tried, but she's obviously just flat shut down their plans."

That said, Holm is a long-time sports fan who knows that there have been plenty of invincible teams and athletes who seemingly couldn't lose and then actually did.

The mental game is a particularly important part of fighting, and it's yet another in which Rousey excels. Holm said the first steps on the path to a win over Rousey will begin with someone who believes she can do it. It's making sure all bases are covered and that a fighter has total belief in what they're doing.

Holly Holm. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Holly Holm. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

"Nobody is impossible to beat, and I don't care who you are," she said. "I'm not just talking about Ronda Rousey. I'm talking about anybody. There are huge upsets in sports across the board and have been from the beginning of time.

"There are always huge upsets, and let's be honest: That's why people watch sports. It's why sports are interesting. If you always know what's going to happen, you wouldn't watch. But that's why we watch sports, because we never really know the end result.

"It's possible for athletes to psyche themselves out and so they don't perform as well as they're capable. For myself, I focus on believing in myself and believing I've done everything I can do to be ready and that I haven't cut corners. My mindset is to do what I have to do and that when I get in there, I know I've put in all the work and I believe I can win."

She'll start her journey in MMA's major league with a test against Pennington. It's a road that one day may lead her to a title shot against the woman regarded as perhaps the sport's biggest star, or untold riches.

While Holm is competitive and wants to win, it's not the fame or the riches that drive her.

"I just am so passionate for MMA, and I believe in focusing on what I'm passionate about," she said. "I turned down one of my biggest paydays in boxing after I'd turned over to MMA full-time. When they offered me this huge amount of money, I didn't want to be bought out. I didn't want to take the fight just for the money, because I said I'd never do that.

"I really want to do what my heart is set on, and I've fallen in love with MMA. I am loving this life and I'm loving this challenge of being a better fighter every day. It's that challenge that motivates me and keeps me going."

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