ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Holly Holm closed the book on her boxing career in impressive fashion on Saturday night, earning a unanimous decision triumph over Mary McGee in front of a supportive throng at Route 66 Casino, the venue of choice in her native New Mexico.
Holm, a 14-time, three-division world champion with a 33-2-3 mark as a professional boxer, won every round on all three judges’ scorecards in her sweet science swan song. She utilized feints, movement and footwork while consistently hurting her opponent with sharp punches to the body. But that wasn’t all: “The Preacher’s Daughter” also routinely found her mark with crisp, straight punches and hooks in a thoroughly dominant effort. McGee was game throughout the 10-round encounter, but her notable moments were few.
It was the type of showing that has made Holm’s full-time transition to mixed martial arts so highly anticipated -- save for the boxing purists who would prefer to see her continue to showcase her skills exclusively in the ring. There are few, if any, woman in any promotion who possess Holm’s striking prowess.
In the days leading up to her showdown with McGee, Holm wondered if she was making the right decision.
“I knew where my heart was before this fight, [but] there was still that [unknown] of how I would feel after the fight,” Holm said at a post-fight press conference. “If I lose, am I going to be really bummed out? Because, who wants to go out like that? If I win, am I gonna be like, ‘I want to do this again?’”
After her hand was raised, nothing had changed. Holm is officially taking her talents to MMA -- this time for good.
“You know, I really feel done [with boxing]. I’m definitely not done fighting,” Holm said. “There’s a lot of things that have brought me to where I have made this decision. This isn’t something where a decision has been made overnight. It’s been something that I’ve been thinking about for about a year.”
Holm made her MMA debut on March 4, 2011, earning a second-round technical knockout over Christina Domke. She faced Strikeforce veteran Jan Finney in her next appearance three months later, finishing “Cuddles” with a kick to the body in round three. Most recently, Holm stopped Katie Merrill with punches at Bellator 91 in February.
It is a promising beginning to be sure, but Holm continued to box during that time as well. When the last big challenge in that arena -- a bout with unbeaten Norwegian Cecilia Braekhus -- did not come to fruition earlier this year, Holm knew it was time to shift her focus. It didn’t make sense to wait around for one big fight, Holm said.
“I had been starting to think, ‘When will I make the transfer [from boxing to MMA]?’ in 2011, when I had my first MMA fight,” Holm said. “I’m 31, I’m still young. I thought, if I want to make a go at MMA, I want to give some time for it. That’s where I’m at -- that’s where my passion is at and that’s where my heart is at.
“I’ve only had three fights,” she added. “This is a road unknown. I have a lot to learn -- I’m a beginner, but it’s also what’s kind of intriguing me.”
The next question for Holm is simple: How quickly can she ascend the ranks in the women’s bantamweight division? Talk has already surfaced regarding Holm as a potentially interesting challenger for UFC 135-pound queen Ronda Rousey.
Lenny Fresquez, Holm’s promoter/manager, does not shy away from such a possibility.
“The goal is to make her the best MMA fighter in the world,” Fresquez said. “I know [trainer] Mike [Winkeljohn] and Holly won’t say it, but our goal is Ronda Rousey. That’s what I’m looking for. My job is to make that come to fruition.”
Fresquez acknowledges that a date with Rousey is not in Holm’s immediate future, saying that he would like to see Holm get four to five MMA bouts under her belt before considering a meeting with the Olympic judoka. Where those fights come is currently unknown: Fresquez has promoted two of Holm’s fights in New Mexico, but all-female organization Invicta FC would could also be an option. Keep winning, and the UFC will eventually come calling. Until then, gaining experience is of paramount importance.
“I’ll put it like this: Would Ronda want to get into the ring with Holly in a boxing match? I don’t think so,” Fresquez said. “Same thing, Holly needs to learn her ground game a little bit better. In the standup game, I don’t think there’s a comparison.”
Holm was emotional throughout the evening, breaking down in a post-fight interview in the ring as well as during the press conference. Goodbyes are never easy, but Holm, arguably the most popular combat sports athlete in her home state since Johnny Tapia, won’t be too difficult for fight fans to find.
“This is a big chapter that’s just been closed, but I’m still thinking of the future,” she said. “If you’re a fighter, you’re a fighter, whether you get into the cage or the ring. You’re still up against another opponent that is trained to beat you, and there’s still the same mental aspect behind that. It’s just different tools that you’re using while you’re in there.
“I have always said that every fight is its own journey, “she added ,” and this has definitely been its own journey.”
The next one figures to be one heck of a ride, as well.