Entering a fight that some thought she didn’t deserve and most thought she wouldn’t survive, Holly Holm made it look easy against Ronda Rousey.
Regardless of the how the finished product might have looked in the Octagon at UFC 193, Holm says that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“This fight was a lot for me mentally. I couldn’t tell you how many times I cried in the gym leading up to this fight. It’s a lot to take in,” Holm said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “Those kind of fights are the ones that a loss is that devastating, but a win is that sweet of a victory. It’s uncomfortable sometimes but I just really like to take the chance, believe in myself and give myself a chance.
“It’s hard to put yourself out there sometimes. I know a lot of people thought it was early. I didn’t expect the phone call to come this early. If you don’t take the opportunities that are in front of you, how can you really expect to get anywhere? As soon as it came I said, ‘This is great. Let’s do it.’”
Holm seized her opportunity by the throat and didn’t let go. She set the tone by repeatedly tagging Rousey with a hard counter left cross in round one, which left the reigning champion with a look of confusion after the bout’s first five minutes. When Rousey was able to tie up her adversary, Holm relied on her strength to avoid falling into any precarious positions.
With Rousey quickly running out of options, Holm rocked her foe with another straight left in round two, a punch that spun the Olympic judoka around and made her drop her guard. Moments later, Holm planted Rousey on the floor with a head kick before punctuating her victory with punches and hammerfists on the mat.
That ending was just one of several possibilities Holm visualized in the weeks leading up to the fight.
“I visualized if a head kick was there to go for it. We didn’t want to go out of our way searching for it. I didn’t want to force it,” Holm said. “She can come straight forward with your leg in the air and you can be off balance, so there’s times to use them and times to not. If it was there I wanted to take it and it was there.
“That wasn’t the only thing in the fight. She was kind of going for an armbar, we were in the clinch on the cage at one point. We were in the clinch in the middle of the cage. There were a lot of things going through my mind, and I wanted to make sure I was focused every minute of the fight,” she continued. “That’s one of the things I would think about. I also visualized myself being in other situations in the fight because I didn’t want to get in there and it be brand new.”
The victory was shocking not only because of Rousey’s prior dominance, but because Holm wasn’t nearly as impressive in defeating Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau in her first two promotional appearances. When Holm leapfrogged Miesha Tate for a title shot, many thought the opportunity came at least one fight too soon.
Such doubt suddenly looked silly when Holm authored the most complete performance of her MMA career to date. Still, even Holm had to deal with doubt as fight night against a champion who rarely allows her foes to see a second frame approached.
“I don’t think you can prepare yourself if you’re not aware of what can happen. She’s been the most dominant athlete,” Holm said. “There were days I got to the gym, didn’t perform well, sat in my car upset, cried and thought you know what, ‘If I perform like that that’s not gonna get me a win. So I’ve got to come back tonight and perfect those things I need to get better.’ There’s moments in your mind that you doubt yourself. You can have a good night; you can have a bad night. There’s days in training where everything flows and there’s days when they don’t. You just pray that doesn’t happen the night of the fight.”