For all her accomplishments in the pro boxing world, Holly Holm has to admit that she’s never had a fight announced on Good Morning America.
“Never,” she laughs, referring to last Friday’s GMA segment in which UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey let the world know that she would be fighting “The Preacher’s Daughter” at UFC 195 on January 2.
The announcement came as a surprise to fans and pundits, as well as to Holm, who expected to be fighting former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman next. But the unbeaten Albuquerque native wasn’t turning it down.
“It was definitely a shock, but I was super excited right away,” Holm said, noting that she got the call for the bout last Tuesday. To keep it quiet for that long in the days of social media is a championship effort in itself, but even on the day of Rousey’s GMA appearance, Holm treated it as just another training day.
“I said I’m just gonna get up and train and I’ll train hard but not get too worked up,” she said. “I don’t want it to be any different than another fight. I don’t want to get too anxious or psyche myself out with stuff like that. It’s time to put a game plan together and train. So I didn’t get up necessarily to watch it, but when I got up, my phone was blown up from everybody that had watched it.”
Then the internet blew up. Some welcomed a new challenger to Rousey’s crown, others believed the shot should have gone to the Olympic Bronze medalist’s nemesis Miesha Tate, while still wanted to see more of Holm in the Octagon before she got a title fight.
“I know that a lot of people maybe weren’t one hundred percent excited about it,” Holm said. “I didn’t think they would be calling me next, but I’ll take it. (Laughs) I’m really excited with it.”
Yet despite being a three-division world champion in boxing and the pound-for-pound queen of the sport for much of her career there, as well as an unbeaten (9-0) mixed martial artist with two UFC wins, Holm will enter the UFC 195 main event as an underdog, perhaps the first time she’s had that role since the lead-up to her 2012 rematch with Anne Sophie Mathis.
Holm avenged her loss to Mathis (only her second defeat in an 11-year career) that night, proving that what the oddsmakers think really doesn’t matter when the gloves are on.
“I don’t let it really bother me too much,” Holm said. “I figure every fight is the fight I need to win, whether I walk in as the underdog or as the favorite, so the actual title of it doesn’t affect me mentally at all.”
That cool under pressure has been a hallmark of Holm’s career in boxing and MMA, and it makes her a unique challenge for Rousey. Yes, there are all the stylistic battles to decipher, but when it comes to being on the big stage with the world staring at you, the 33-year-old has been there and done that. She’s fought and beat the best before, and while this is a different arena than boxing, a fight’s still a fight. Having said that, Holm does admit to a few butterflies. Then again, that’s always the case for her.
“I get butterflies every time that I hear about any fight,” she said. “Obviously this is a really, really big fight, so everything felt a little bit heightened when it came to the nerves and excitement, but when I first heard about it, I was just more excited to get going and start training.”
And though the fight might still be more than four months away, speculation on the outcome and how the combatants will get there has already begun. Will Holm’s striking and rangy attack be enough to keep Rousey at bay? What happens if the fight becomes a grappling match? Will Rousey choose to stand with the former boxing champion? All the possibilities are intriguing, especially the one that would see the Californian opt to test out the striking that has led her to knockout wins in three of her last four bouts against the most decorated stand-up fighter she’s ever met.
“I feel like they might try something new,” Holm said. “They might try and go out there with striking because she’s obviously been very successful with it lately. She’s gotten a lot better, and has obviously evolved into a very well-rounded fighter. She’s not known just for armbars. So she can easily go back to her judo if she doesn’t feel comfortable with the stand-up, but I think she’ll come out and try doing stand-up, knowing that she can always go back to what’s comfortable.”
As for Holm, who has decision wins over Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau in her first two UFC bouts, she doesn’t want to go to battle with just a small selection of weapons.
“I’m hoping that I can give a different look myself,” she said. “I want her to feel uncomfortable in other situations and my plan is to make it difficult for whatever game plan she comes with, whether it’s her wrestling or stand-up game or judo game. I want to be able to give her a hard time wherever the fight goes.”
What it may come down to is how Rousey and Holm are able to compete in the areas the other is strongest in. Holm will never catch up to Rousey in judo, and Rousey isn’t likely to catch up to Holm in boxing, simply because they haven’t spent years and years training in those realms. So who can hold their own better in the other’s ballpark?
“I think one thing that is very true is that you can put her in any kind of competition in judo and she’s going to be able to do something with it,” Holm said. “You put her in anything with just stand-up or boxing and it would be a lot harder for her to adjust. And it’s the same on the other end. You put me in a lot of judo situations and it’s gonna be a lot harder to easily adjust without having to think about it. I know that if she gets really, really uncomfortable in a situation with just stand-up, she’ll want to go toward what works for her, and that’s what anybody wants to do in a fight – they want to do what they’re best at, especially when they’re in an uncomfortable position or a vulnerable position.”
Holly Holm may only have two UFC fights, but she’s no neophyte when it comes to fighting. She’s one of the best in the world, and she aims to prove it in January. Is it when she thought this moment would come? No, but she’s been in this position before, and when it’s time to make that walk, she makes it.
“Here’s that chance that I was looking for and it came a lot sooner than I thought,” she said. “But my first world title in boxing came sooner than I thought. Even my first pro fight came sooner than I thought, and I think that it’s good for me because it pushes me right away and throws me in there and it’s more of an exciting ride to take. And I really prefer it that way. So I’m really glad that they just sprung it on me. Everything in my career has gone that way.”