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Why Ronda Rousey's mind games won't work on Holly Holm

Dave Doyle
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LOS ANGELES – UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has made a habit out of beating her opponents at their strengths.

Sara McMann was an Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, but Rousey out-grappled her before knocking her out. Cat Zingano was supposed to be a killer finisher on the ground, but Rousey took her down and submitted her in 14 seconds. Bethe Correia was said to be a heavy hitter, but Rousey's striking made her faceplant less than a minute into their fight.

Despite this growing body of evidence that mixed martial arts' biggest star can beat most of her opponents at their own games, Holly Holm remains unfazed.

Holm isn't a newbie to the combat sports world. She launched a professional boxing career in 2002 and held world championships in multiple weight classes before turning her full attention to mixed martial arts in 2013.

And while Holm (9-0 in MMA) never had a matchup as grand in scale as her UFC 193 title fight with Rousey (12-0) – a UFC-record crowd is expected at the 70,000-seat capacity Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia on Nov. 14 – Holm's been around long enough to separate the bluster from the real talk.

So when Rousey said at a recent media day that she's going to outbox the former world boxing champ, Holm took it in stride.

Holly Holm reacts to a question during a media event on Sept. 16. (Getty)
Holly Holm reacts to a question during a media event on Sept. 16. (Getty)

"I don't know how much she really wants to box," Holm said. "And how much she just wants to play little mind games and the psychology of making people do what she wants to do."

As is her wont, Rousey has been attempting to plant seeds of doubt in her opponent's mind through the media in the leadup to the bout. Rousey also said at her media day that Holm doesn't really want to be champion and wouldn't enjoy a champion's life, a curious comment to aim at an opponent who was a world champion long before anyone ever heard of Rousey.

Holm, who's surrounded by some of MMA's true psychological masters at Jackson/Winkeljohn MMA in Albuquerque, calmly dismissed Rousey's claim, believing it to be a sign Holm is in the champion's head.

"If she's basically saying 'if I win,' then she's got that thought in her head already, so that's awesome," Holm said. "So she's saying with a win that I won't be able to handle it, but with a win I'll be able to handle anything. That's what I care about. That's the bottom line."

So it's clear the 34-year-old Holm, who compiled a pro boxing record of 33-2-3, is not going to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. That's good for her, because simply getting the title shot caused a firestorm in and of itself.

UFC president Dana White had originally promised the shot to Miesha Tate, who had lost twice to Rousey, but also seemed to have a clear-cut case as the No. 1 contender after an impressive four-fight win streak.

Holm, for her part, was considered a bright future contender, someone who might be a real threat for Rousey down the road if she was given a bit more time to develop.

But for whatever reason, the UFC went with Holm over Tate, making the announcement on Good Morning America in August. More than two months later, Tate is still upset enough with the decision that she's pondering retirement.

Holm, for her part, fully admits she was surprised she got the nod. But she wasn't about to say no to the opportunity when it presented itself.

"I thought for sure there would be one more fight because I thought she'd fight Miesha," Holm said. "But then Dana called and said, 'Hey, let's talk right now,' and I figured [a Rousey fight] was exactly what was coming. When I thought about getting a Rousey fight before, I always thought it would take my breath away, but as soon as they told me, I was like, 'OK, cool.' "

Ronda Rousey has rapidly emerged as one of the biggest names in combat sports. (AFP)
Ronda Rousey has rapidly emerged as one of the biggest names in combat sports. (AFP)

As for the not-quite-minor matter of whether Holm is ready for Rousey, she's not making any promises. But with trainers like those at Jackson's – home to a roster of fighters which includes Jon Jones, Carlos Condit and Donald Cerrone, among many others – she's confident she won't be goaded into making the types of mistakes that have led to quick defeats for so many Rousey foes.

"I don't want to go into the fight thinking, 'She's going to come out with this, so I'm going to throw this,' " Holm said. "A fight is unpredictable. That's why people love to watch fights. You don't know what's going to happen. So, I want to go in with kind of an open-ended plan and be able to adjust along the way."

And hey, Holm knows how to box. So while she's too polite to come out and answer Rousey's comments about boxing with a direct "try me," she also makes it clear that if that's what Rousey wants, she's quite happy to oblige.

"Do I think she's improved a lot on her boxing? Absolutely," Holm said. "She has three knockouts, one from a knee set up by her boxing and the other two from overhand rights basically. I feel like yes, she's proven a lot, but a fight is different and everybody has their go-tos. Even if she wants to box, she can always change to what's comfortable for her. Everything's different when the fight actually happens."

Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @DaveDoyleMMA

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