Holly Holm wants to add a featherweight belt to her title collection at UFC 208
Holly Holm likes to run in the mountains of Albuquerque, New Mexico, her home. The scenery presents a much better background than the stale walls enclosing whatever treadmill she'd otherwise require.
"I'd rather run seven miles outside than three on a treadmill," she says.
Rarely does she listen to music when she goes. (When she does, she just picks a Pandora station -- the band O.A.R. is a favorite.) Instead, she listens to the sounds of her city and allows her mind to wander. Sometimes she thinks about what's going on at home or with her family, other times, about what's going on at the gym.
These days, she's visualizing her upcoming fight against Germaine de Randamie at UFC 208 in Brooklyn and what she needs to do to prepare.
Holm's fighting career has spanned nearly two decades and three disciplines -- kickboxing, boxing and MMA. She's 35, and those around her are starting to ask about retirement and kids. But the thought barely enters Holm's mind.
"If my mind was there, and I was thinking about that, I'd already be done," she says in a phone interview. "And I don't think that."
Holm, true to her nickname of "The Preacher's Daughter," isn't the type of fighter to go on a rant about how she's the best or about how her opponents aren't worthy of her. She doesn't call anyone names. Holm knows de Randamie is tough, and she isn't about to underestimate her.
"She's got a long reach, long legs and is schooled in Muay Thai," Holm says of her upcoming opponent. "She has a lot of things to fear and [things that] can cause a threat to me in the Octagon."
De Randamie is indeed a threat. She's the slight favorite in their UFC 208 bout (-130) and is on a two-fight win streak. She's good on her feet and will pose a challenge for Holm, who is seeking to become the first female multi-division champion in UFC history.
This bout is the inaugural fight for the women's featherweight division, the third women's division in the UFC. It was only four years ago that Ronda Rousey first fought for the UFC, and her success helped spawn this latest evolution for women MMA fighters. With Holm ending Rousey's bantamweight run at UFC 193 in 2015, she's now after the featherweight belt.
"She wants both of them," said Mike Winkeljohn, one of Holm's coaches. "She's doing [this fight] because this is where we're at, but she wants the 135-pound title back. She wants it all."
Holm has won boxing titles across three weight classes, and her record in the sport is 33-2-3. She started doing MMA at her gym -- Jackson Wink MMA Academy, which is regarded as one of the best -- after helping a teammate to train got her hooked. Though she originally wanted to simultaneously hold titles in boxing and MMA, the strain of switching between the two became too much. There wasn't much left for her to accomplish in boxing, and MMA presented a new opportunity.
"I can't say it was that I didn't love boxing all the years that I boxed, it was just a new mountain I wanted to climb," she said.
Those who aren't Albuquerque locals or aren't die-hard fans of combat sports probably didn't know who Holm was until she delivered a kick to the side of Rousey's head in 2015, unseating the previously undefeated -- and presumed invincible -- bantamweight champion.
Holm promptly followed that performance with two losses. She gave up her belt to Meisha Tate at UFC 196 in March 2016, succumbing to a rear naked choke in the fifth round. (She didn't tap out, moving UFC president Dana White to say Holm "went out like a gangster.") She was then defeated by Valentina "Bullet" Shevchenko by unanimous decision in a five round bout in July.
"There's no excuse that I have," Holm says about those losses. "It's my own fault for not performing."
Even though she's not one to posture about her fights or her opponents, at the heart of it all, she is afraid of failure -- failure to be a good daughter, to be a good wife. And the losses to Tate and Shevchenko struck a chord because she failed to win.
"She's pissed off right now," Winkeljohn says. "She's mad about her last performance."
And while Winkeljohn isn't all that thrilled with the fact that Holm has dropped two fights in a row -- the first time that's ever happened in her career -- he won't let her shoulder that responsibility on her own.
"I wasn't able to change to a different game plan for Holly, and in the past, we've been able to do that," he says about the Shevchenko fight. "This time, I didn't get there fast enough to help her out, so it was a bad night for all of us."
Holm works out at least three times a day, Monday through Friday and runs six days a week -- at least three miles twice, at least five miles twice and a long sprint on Saturday. She rests on Sundays.
In the eight weeks leading up to a fight, her number of workouts balloons to four or five times a day. In addition to her runs, she spars twice a week, does conditioning workouts three times a week, trains jiu-jitsu and wrestling nearly every day and hits mitts five days a week.
"She works harder than the guys in the gym, there's no doubt about it," Winkeljohn says.
Even after these most recent losses, she didn't sulk. She went right back into the gym to get better.
"She fought [Tate] on Saturday, maybe cried for a day and was back in the gym on Monday," said Michelle Waterson, Holm's teammate and UFC strawweight contender.
That work ethic was something that developed over time. It used to be hard for Winkeljohn to get Holm to train the way he felt she needed to. She was young and undisciplined, and training is tough. Most fighters don't go four or five times a day. "Now it's hard to get her to stop," he says.
"She wants to get back on the winning track and she will do whatever she has to do until she gets there," Waterson said.
The opportunity to fight for another title is a welcome one, especially with Holm's recent struggles. It also signals the continuing commitment from the UFC to grow women's divisions and invest in their star power.
If things had gone differently in her career, Holm might have been the heir to Rousey's throne as the face of women's UFC. Some might have said she was too old or not telegenic enough. Maybe that's true, but her upset of the former bantamweight champ gave Holm the strongest social media following behind Rousey. Only Paige VanZant has a one that's comparable.
But fame doesn't interest Holm. She's focused on fighting and winning a title. Or two. Even if she claims the new featherweight belt on Saturday, it won't spell the end of her quest for redemption. Winning back the bantamweight title still beckons.