Boxing champion Holly Holm’s transition to MMA has been well received. | Daniel Archuleta/Sherdog.com
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Even as she compiled a 29-1-3 mark and captured multiple world championships inside the boxing ring, mixed martial arts remained the tiny voice in Holly Holm’s ear.
Mike Winkeljohn, Holm’s longtime trainer, also serves as the right-hand man for famed coach Greg Jackson and has helped corner numerous champions inside the cage. As a result, Holm has spent many a training session surrounded by some of the MMA’s most decorated fighters. At times, her teammates at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts would give her a gentle nudge toward the sport they love.
“I’ve always encouraged her to [try it], but it’s not my place. I’m not her coach,” says Julie Kedzie, a veteran of 23 MMA bouts, the most famous being a 2007 loss to then-EliteXC star Gina Carano.
Eventually, the allure of a new conquest proved too difficult for Holm to resist. In her most recent boxing match on Dec. 3, Holm dispatched Ann Marie Saccurato via eighth-round technical knockout. A little more than a month later, she announced her intention to step into the cage for the first time. Holm will meet Wisconsin native Christina Domke at Fresquez Productions “Double Threat” on Friday at Albuquerque’s Route 66 Casino.
“I was never really passionate about it until now. I waited until I was ready to do it,” Holm says.
As it turns out, the influence of her Jackson’s brethren played a role in fueling Holm’s competitive instinct.
“Just helping some of the girls get ready for their MMA bouts [increased my interest],” says Holm. “They’re like, ‘So and so’s gonna try and take you down while you do a circle with her.’ I'm like, ‘Sure,’ but of course, I’m competitive. I don’t want them to take me down. I thought, ‘That’s kind of fun. I want to try that a little more.’”
Holm is immensely popular as a boxing draw in her home state, but a shortage of fresh, appealing fights has become an issue of late. The victory over Saccurato was the ninth rematch of her career. Viable opponents remain in Europe, but whether those matches will become a reality remains uncertain.
Winkeljohn believes his fighter has progressed enough within the sweet science to tackle a new obstacle.
“Personally, years ago, I really didn’t want her to do it, because I just wanted her to become a legend in boxing. There’s only so many hours in the day,” he says. “Holly achieved that faster than I thought she would. I can’t see her not going down as the best woman boxer -- ever. So, it’s on to a new challenge. She’s ready and willing to accept that challenge.”
Holm has made it clear that she is not finished with boxing. Her manager, Lenny Fresquez, has already announced she will fight against an undetermined opponent in July. According to Holm, even a temporary switch to MMA has drawn a mixed reaction.
“A lot of people are asking, ‘So, why the change?’ I’m not making a change; I’m just doing boxing and doing MMA. It’s not that I don’t want to box anymore, but that’s pretty much been the biggest question, I think. I didn’t stop boxing,” says Holm.
Within the confines of the gym, Holm’s move was well-received.
“I’m really excited that Holly is in MMA,” says Kedzie. “It’s good for the sport, and it can only take all of us to a higher level. For me, it makes me have just one more amazing training partner in the sport that I’m doing. She’s the best in the world in boxing, so I don’t see why she wouldn’t be the best in the world at MMA. She’s that determined and that competitive.”
While such a high-profile transition is sure to benefit women’s MMA with the attention it attracts, there remains the matter of Holm proving herself competent in the cage. Before she embarked on her wildly successful boxing career, Holm competed as a kickboxer, amassing a 2-1 mark as a professional.
“I don’t feel like I’m starting from scratch on everything,” says Holm. “The grappling, that’s new to me, but I’ve also been working on that for a while. Kickboxing’s just always been there, so I feel comfortable at least with that. It’s not like I’m learning kicking and grappling and takedowns and takedown defense all together -- that would be too much.”
Holm’s debut opponent, Domke, is largely an unknown commodity within Holm’s camp, as Winkeljohn says little footage exists on the fighter known as “Machine Gun.” Although the 4-1 Domke possesses two submission wins, the world champion boxer’s inexperience on the ground could be masked by her standup aptitude.
“The other girls will see her coming, and they’re going to try to change levels and come underneath her, but Holly is pretty good at disguising what she does -- throwing at angles and enough fakes so they don’t know when [she’s coming],” Winkeljohn says. “She’s got incredible knees coming up and great kicks, and nobody wants to fall into that, nor do they want to fall into her sprawl, because Holly is very strong in the clinch, so I think it’s going to leave most women out there with nowhere to go.”
Holm strives to become a well-rounded fighter, but she remains well aware that her best chance of success resides in her hands.
“I want to be able to work it out and get back to my game plan, get back to my feet,” says Holm. “I still feel comfortable grappling. It’s pretty obvious that’s not my main game plan. I’m comfortable enough that I’m not gonna be afraid to be there.”
In boxing, Holm has fought for world titles at weights as high as 154 pounds. In MMA, she will compete at 135, the same division that Miesha Tate and Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen call home. An impressive showing or two could potentially land Holm a spot on the Strikeforce roster. Winkeljohn claims one of the promotion’s matchmakers has already been in contact with Fresquez.
“They’re very interested in her. They’re watching what’s going on,” Winkeljohn says. “I think they would love to have someone new come to the table.”
Holm seems content to take it one step at a time.
“Right now, I’m just worried about March 4, and that’s about as far as it goes,” she says. “I don’t want to get so far looking at what can be there ahead of me and not what’s right in front of me.”
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