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Holly Holm Is Searching For Another Big Moment

Holly Holm is still searching to add another moment to her career where she shocks and entertains fans

Holly Holm arrived in the UFC as an undefeated 33-year-old former boxing champion with a world of potential, massive amounts of hype, and having spent less than two years focused exclusively on being a mixed martial artist.

She closed out her rookie campaign in the Octagon by authoring one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, picking apart and putting away Ronda Rousey in dramatic fashion at UFC 193 to claim the women’s bantamweight title. Rousey was at the height of her popularity and more mainstream than ever before and Holm’s breathtaking effort in Melbourne, Australia became a highlight played the world over, transforming her from an emerging talent those in the MMA community were excited about to a globally-recognized competitor.

“I think as soon as that fight was over, it was one of the best moments of my life and all of that, but I also knew there will never be another time that I can have that shock factor on people; it will never happen again,” Holm said of her win over Rousey, just days before stepping into the Octagon to face Irene Aldana in the main event of Saturday night’s event in Abu Dhabi. “When you have such a moment that is so big that the entire world remembers, they remember it because it was that big and now they remember you. The next time something like that may happen, it’s not going to have shock factor.

“I have had a knockout since then and people don’t remember it because there is no shock factor, but I had another head kick knockout,” she said with a laugh, referencing her June 2017 third-round finish of former title challenger Bethe Correia in Singapore. “I know that it’s going to be hard to please people after that, I knew that no one would ever be as satisfied after that, but I’m still striving for it.

“I still want to have a performance that stands out, and that’s why I keep working.”

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When you author a master class against a previously unbeaten champion who looked like an unstoppable juggernaut, it not only make it more difficult to impress fans and critics with future efforts, but it also led to Holm being typecast in a way. She was the woman who knocked out Ronda Rousey with a picturesque head kick and the expectation was that she would continue to do the same to everyone else going forward, regardless of the shifting dynamics of each individual matchup.

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In a sport that loves watching inexperienced fighters add to their repertoires and develop over time, winning a title in memorable fashion just 10 fights into her career suddenly shifted Holm from “impressive rookie still putting it all together” to “the best female fighter on the planet” and the desire to see her add to her arsenal and round out her skill set was replaced by the belief that she would simply continue to be the same precise counter-striker who felled Rousey overnight.

“When I first came into MMA, everybody was like, ‘Watch out for her boxing,’” said Holm, who hung up her boxing gloves for good following a unanimous decision win over Mary McGee in May 2013. “Nobody said anything about kicks, nobody said anything about the clinch, nobody said anything about wrestling; just boxing, just ‘watch out for her boxing.’

“Then I started kicking and it was ‘watch out for her kicks’ and ‘at least take her down and go to the ground because her ground game is not there,’ and then I start controlling people in the clinch and they’re like, ‘Well that sucks; she was just in the clinch the whole time.’ But it’s like, ‘I’m becoming a well rounded fighter.’”

She chuckled at the absurdity of it all before continuing.

“I know people are going to have their things to say, but now they’re talking about how I’m not punching enough when before the punching was all you had to worry about,” she added, highlighting much of the criticism that flowed following her decision victory over Raquel Pennington earlier this year where Holm controlled much of the action in the clinch along the fence. “So I just let people say what they want and while they’re all talking on the side, I’m still going to the gym and working my ass off to get better at every aspect of the game.”

This time around, she’s done so with greater focus and a clearer head.

Heading into her bout with Pennington, Holm had described 2019 as “insane in every way, shape, and form” after dealing with a number of personal matters that she’s largely kept to her herself and declined to speak about publicly. 

Fight Island 4: Holm vs Aldana - Preview
Fight Island 4: Holm vs Aldana - Preview

Then a few weeks before the fight, her father, Roger, suffered a major stroke, leaving the fighter and her family wondering about his future. Holm chose not to speak about the situation publicly ahead of the fight, both from a desire to keep some elements of her life private, but also so that observers and critics wouldn’t attempt to position her disclosure as a means of establishing a potential excuse should she not perform on fight night.

Nine months later, the 38-year-old fighter is thrilled to report that her father has made a full recovery, which she describes as “miraculous,” and recognizes that her ability to navigate those difficult weeks and still pull out a victory at UFC 246 was in part because of the lessons her father and mother imparted on her earlier in life.

“I truly feel that when life throws some of the hard things at you, it’s fight or flight and I’m just glad that my parents were those people who taught me that life’s not going to be perfect and you’re going to have to go through some hard times, so stand on your own two feet and have a sound mind about it; be focused and don’t let your emotions be too involved to where they control your actions.

“I think because they taught me to be that way, it was easy to know that ‘now is the time where we just need to fight and be strong,’” said Holm. “A lot of the things that he taught me are the things that helped me get through that time, and there are definitely a lot of emotions involved with that. I just knew that it was what life had handed me and I needed to deal with it and move forward.”

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Despite the challenges of competing amidst a global pandemic and previously noting that the appearance of happiness on the outside doesn’t always mirror what’s going on with a person internally, the former bantamweight champion is heading into this weekend’s clash with the streaking Aldana in good spirits and focused on translating that into a strong performance on Saturday evening.

Holly Holm Reflects on Highs and Lows of UFC Career | Full Interview
Holly Holm Reflects on Highs and Lows of UFC Career | Full Interview

“I always say that Instagram can be very deceiving in terms of what people put out — but I am in a good place right now,” said Holm, whose social media feed is filled with playful videos, pictures of her “ride or die” travel companion River, and post-training pictures with her team from the Jackson-Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“Training for a fight is so exhausting anyway that when you have other things going on, it can really wear you down. When there is a time where you don’t have all this other stuff pulling at you, you’re able to keep your focus on what it needs to be on.

“I’m happy,” she added, the tone of her voice echoing the sentiment. “I enjoy my life. I’m focused, I’m happy, I’m ready, I’ve had a good camp, and great training partners. With that comes the pressure that I put on myself, like, ‘Holly, you have literally everything going for you right now, so you better make the most of it; there are no excuses.’ I always say, ‘no excuses’ no matter what’s going on, but it’s definitely one of those times where when you’re feeling this good, you have to go out there and let it show, let it shine.”

For the first time in a long time, it feels like Holly Holm doesn’t have the weight of a thousand different expectations and outside the cage situations resting on her shoulders as she readies to step into the cage.

“My goal is to keep bettering myself and I know it will show in my performances because I know I’m putting that work in and I know I’m getting better every single fight,” she said.

The work is evident and the improvements are obvious, even if they move her further away from being the fighter many would like her to be.

She’s still the woman who shocked the word and knocked out Ronda Rousey, but she’s also just another contender looking to work her way to a championship opportunity, and trying to become the best possible fighter she can be with each and every trip into the Octagon.

Despite her championship past, Holm is still a work-in-progress, just like everyone else who crosses the threshold into the UFC cage.

“Eventually, I’m hoping that I’m going to have that performance where I’m just dominating in every spot and it’s all coming together at the same time in a fight,” she added. “I’m still striving for something great, something perfect.”

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