One fateful head kick in November in Melbourne, Australia, sealed Holly Holm’s place in Ultimate Fighting Championship history.
She capped a spectacular performance with a knockout of Ronda Rousey to become the women’s bantamweight champion and end one of the UFC’s most dominant title reigns ever.
The stunning victory before a record crowd was a signature moment not only for Holm and mixed martial arts, but it also sent shockwaves through pop culture as the invincible media darling crash-landed back to reality.
But Holm said she thinks her journey is far from over.
“I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder,” she said this week as she prepares to make the first defense of the belt, against Miesha Tate on Saturday at UFC 196 at the MGM Grand Garden. The fight is part of a UFC 196 card headlined by a welterweight bout between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor that will air on pay-per-view.
“It’s just as important of a fight. It’s even more important,” Holm said. “A lot of people are wondering, ‘What’s going to happen now after that kind of victory? Is she the real deal?’ There’s a lot more pressure in this that I’ve put on myself, but that’s what I’m here for.”
Holm’s accomplishments in combat sports extend far beyond one upset victory.
She has amassed a 10-0 record in professional MMA, including three wins since debuting in the UFC in February 2015. Before that, Holm was a world champion boxer in three weight classes, defending belts 18 times and winning two fighter of the year awards.
Still, she will enter the fight against Tate with something to prove. Holm said she has the same mentality she did as a challenger.
“My goal is to get that belt put around my waist again,” she said. “I don’t ever feel like it’s mine. There’s still a lot of work to be done to retain it. I want to put just as much work in now as I did for the last one.”
It also will be nice to start to put Rousey behind her.
Holm has been answering questions about the former champion since long before she signed with the UFC. The questions continued before each of Holm’s first two fights in the organization and have remained a constant since she won the belt.
Even now that Holm is fighting Tate, the storyline has continued to be when Rousey will return for a rematch and whether Holm is making a mistake by jeopardizing what could be the biggest women’s fight in history by taking this bout instead.
Holm said she doesn’t think much about Rousey and only mentions her to answer questions.
“She’s done a lot for MMA,” Holm said. “I don’t want to take anything away from her, but I’ve got Miesha Tate in front of me and she’s the one on my mind.”
Holm is definitely taking the Las Vegan seriously.
While Tate lost twice to Rousey, she is relentless and aggressive. She’s also the best wrestler and most experienced opponent Holm has faced.
Holm went so far as to say this is a more difficult challenge than she faced in November.
“She’s a really gritty fighter,” Holm said of Tate. “She knows how to grind it out. I definitely feel that’s what makes her the toughest opponent I’ve faced. She’s very mentally strong and very scrappy in all the exchanges rather on the feet or on the ground. I haven’t faced a fighter like her. She won’t get mentally beat. She can get down and come back, and that makes it the toughest fight ever. When you have a warrior in front of you, that makes the most difficult challenge.”
Whether Holm truly believes that or is trying to find motivation after the defining moment in her career is unclear. But the champion did say learning how to stay focused on fighters not named Ronda Rousey was one of the skills she picked up before her first two fights.
“When I first signed with the UFC, everybody was already talking about Ronda,” Tate said. “I had to learn how to just focus on the fight in front of me, and that’s what I’m doing now with Miesha.”
Now Holm, a New Mexico native who has trained in Albuquerque for her entire combat sports career, is learning how to deal with life as both a champion and a celebrity.
She has done the talk show circuit and still receives invites to every major event.
While she has tried to enjoy some of her newfound fame, Holm says she knows when it’s time to get back to the grind.
“I just had to say no to more fun things,” she said. “My days off were for media, and I then was back in the gym training. There’s things like the Super Bowl. How awesome would it have been to go to (the game), but I did media there the four days before so I had to get back to the gym.
“I feel like the priorities need to be in line so my days off are work, but that’s OK because I know hard work pays off.”
So far, that has proved true. But now Holm must deal with pressure and expectations. She feels she is ready.
“Every fight has a lot pressure because I put it on myself. My last fight, a lot of people told me, (Rousey) has everything to lose and you have nothing to lose.’ I was like, ‘I put a lot of hard work in. I have everything to lose. I put a lot of hard work in. I don’t care what the odds say, I’m capable of winning this fight,’” Holm said. “Now that everybody has seen the performance I had, the expectations are so high so there’s even more pressure from everybody else, but it’s the same pressure I put on myself.”
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.