NEW YORK — When Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey in November in Melbourne, Australia, the complexion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight division changed forever.
What was once seen simply as Rousey and everyone else became a much more viable weight division almost overnight.
Never was that more evident than Thursday when Holm and top contender Miesha Tate did a media tour around Manhattan promoting their title bout at UFC 197 on March 5 at the MGM Grand Garden.
Holm and Tate traversed the borough doing national radio appearances, newspaper interviews and even stopping for a photo-op at the top of the Empire State Building.
During their downtime, there was far more talk about the impending storm set to wreak havoc on the East Coast than about Rousey being hard at work in rehearsals to host “Saturday Night Live” a few blocks away.
Tate said she thinks the outcome of Holm-Rousey added much-needed intrigue to the division.
“For a long time, the biggest qualm people had with women in mixed martial arts was there’s not enough depth,” she said from the back of an SUV as she was whisked from the Empire State Building to the downtown studios of CBS Radio. “So I think it’s the best thing that could have happened to prove anyone can beat anyone on any given day, even if you’re a 14-to-1 underdog. There’s going to be a lot of talented women who are up and coming and very dangerous.
“Maybe not everyone knows them because they’re not plastered all over television and commercials, but it doesn’t mean there’s not women that can be a threat to win the belt at any point, and that’s great.”
Holm said she enjoys that her win shook up the division.
“I threw a wrench in it,” she said as she headed uptown for dinner with her husband, Jeff Kirkpatrick. “I’m here to make waves, too. I’m here to do what I want. I’m here to impose my will. I’m here to excel at what I’ve put a lot of work into. So, yes, I’m proud of that. I think me going in and believing in myself and doing well kind of rubbed off on people. I think other women might say, ‘Well, I train hard, too. I can do this, too.’ I do feel there’s a bit of a different vibe right now around the women’s division.”
Still, the specter of Rousey hangs out there.
The former champ had the option of taking a rematch at UFC 200 on July 9, but a busy movie schedule at least partially contributed to her decision to take more time before returning to competition.
That opened the door for Tate, Rousey’s bitter rival, to get the first shot at Holm’s title.
Tate, for one, will not be watching Saturday night when Rousey goes “Live from New York.”
“I really don’t think I’ve seen anything she’s done,” Tate said. “Call me a hater, but I just don’t have any interest to watch or look at her any more than I have to.”
Her relationship with Holm is much better. While Rousey and Tate were famously kept apart at several media events, Tate and Holm, along with their significant others, chatted comfortably while waiting to make appearances Thursday.
“I think Holly’s done a phenomenal job embracing all this,” Tate said. “I think her world is a little more chaotic and a little more crazy now, but she seems to be the kind of person that can keep a level head through it all. She doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by it. She seems to be just embracing the positivity that’s come from her hard work. That’s the kind of person she is, and I think she makes a great champion.”
Holm certainly has a different approach than Rousey. While Rousey always seemed to know exactly what to say during interviews to generate the most headlines and page views, Holm prefers to thoughtfully approach each answer with a smile and her trademark charm.
It may not translate to massive pay-per-view numbers, but Holm doesn’t plan to change anytime soon.
“I’m just going to be who I am,” she said. “I’m pretty headstrong in how I feel about things, and I’ll say how I feel, and I think people will learn that. I don’t like to be run over, but I won’t go out of my way to create drama. I’m not into trash-talking. I have a sense of self-respect and pride in myself. I am a nice girl, but I feel like I’ll still speak my mind if something needs to be said.
“I’m the fighter, not the promoter. That’s not my job. I’ll do my part in helping promote the fight, but I let them take care of that. I feel like the best thing for the sport and the best thing for the promotion is a good fight. So I feel I am doing my part by training hard and putting on good fights.”
She had plenty of opportunities Thursday to drum up controversy, and she concedes it would be easy to do, but she politely declines to rub salt in Rousey’s wounds.
“That’s not me,” she said. “I’m in a position right now that I was able to renegotiate a contract, and I’m in a spot where I have more opportunities than I did before, and that came purely because I trained hard and won a fight.
“I’ll keep with that.”
Still, it’s Rousey who will be on national TV on Saturday night.
Holm said if she’s still awake, she’ll probably watch the show.
Will she be upset that she’s not taking the stage to deliver a monologue and star in sketches on a stage made famous by the likes of Eddie Murphy and Chris Farley?
“No,” Holm said. “My opportunity will come as long as I keep doing well.”
It’s certainly a new era in the division.
— Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.