Holly Holm’s UFC career began with a co-main event showdown against Raquel Pennington on pay-per-view. Saturday night in Las Vegas, a little less than five years after their first encounter, the bantamweight combatants will once again share the Octagon, serving as the co-main event at UFC 246.
The fact that it has only been five years since the former multi-time, multi-division boxing standout first graced the Octagon is surprising, but that’s what happens when you’re the architect of one of the most impactful rookie years in UFC history.
“I think the reason it may seem like that to a lot of people is because my very first year in the UFC was the year I fought for the belt and I think that’s kind of what’s different,” said Holm, who dethroned Ronda Rousey to claim the bantamweight title at UFC 193 in November 2015, just nine months after edging out Pennington by split decision in her debut. “When they watch someone in the UFC, they’re not fighting for the belt in their third fight with it being eight or nine months.
“My first fight was a co-main event on pay-per-view, so I think that when I came over, it was just like BOOM — I was in everybody’s ears and eyes and within eight or nine months, I was the champ, so it probably seemed like I had been around longer. More of my career in the UFC has been since that fight, not before, so I think it seems like it has been longer because that was long ago, but it really hasn’t been that many years.”
Another contributing factor is that her time atop the division didn’t last long and the subsequent years have been filled with challenges both inside and outside of the cage for the 38-year-old Albuquerque native.
Thrust into the spotlight after handing Rousey her first defeat in shocking fashion, Holm dropped the title four months later, getting dragged to the canvas and submitted by Miesha Tate in the final round of a bout she had been winning. Two more losses followed and she has alternated wins and losses since, earning victories in non-title matchups against Bethe Correia and Megan Anderson, while landing on the wrong side of the results in championships fights against Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes.
Away from the cage, the very private “Preacher’s Daughter” went through a divorce and describes last year as “insane in every way, shape, and form,” though she declined to expand on the various issues that wreaked havoc on her life in 2019.
“Honestly, I feel if I talk too much about those issues, I give them too much credit in my life,” said Holm, who welcomes the opportunity to get an early start on her 2020 campaign and test herself for a second time against the durable, gritty Pennington this weekend at T-Mobile Arena. “I feel like the less we talk about it, the less significance they have and I see them as not significant.”
Despite a tumultuous year where she said she “lost pretty much everything in a lot of aspects of my life,” the decorated combat sports standout has always remained positive, believing that you only have two options in life.
“I’ve realized a lot of things lately and one of those is that happiness and stress are not necessarily correlated. A lot of people think that if you’re not stressed out, you’re happy, but I tell you what: this last year I’ve been really happy, but I have had a lot of stuff happen in my life in 2019.
“So you can count your blessings or you can count your losses,” continued Holm, who enters Saturday’s rematch with Pennington with a 5-5 record inside the Octagon and a 12-5 record overall. “If you count your blessings, you’re going to have a much more positive mindset and if you count your losses, it’s never going to help you get anywhere.
“I think what has helped me think more like that is that there was a moment in my life where if somebody was to look from the outside, they would think, ‘Wow — she has everything. She’s got stability here, stability there; she’s moving forward, she’s got this win,’ and everything looks picture perfect, but inside, I was unhappy.
“I chose to make myself happy, but when everybody else felt like I had everything, through some of those times…”
Holm trailed off, pausing for a beat to find the right words.
“There was a year there where I was sad, but everyone else seemed to think there weren’t any problems in my life,” she added. “It’s been a journey, but I wouldn’t change anything about it, other than that my goal is to never lose again; that’s the only thing that is a sore in my side.”
Nearly five years after their first encounter, Saturday’s rematch with Pennington once again feels like the perfect measuring stick for where Holm fits in the UFC’s bantamweight division.
Following an excruciating two-plus-year stretch that saw her endure multiple surgeries, a horrific ATV accident, a championship fight shellacking and another loss where she missed weight for the first time in her career, the former Ultimate Fighter standout Pennington got back in the win column last July with a hard-fought split decision victory over Irene Aldana.
It wasn’t the best performance of her career, but it was a good win over a fighter who has since propelled herself into title contention, and a chance for Pennington to get things moving in the right direction again.
And Holm is looking to follow suit on Saturday night.
“I do welcome a fresh start to the year,” she said with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of positive things in my life going forward. I feel like this is a good challenge for me, and a step that I need to have right now. I feel like I’m in a place in my life where I need to be; I’m in the spot I need to be in.
“I’m excited for this fight and eager to start the year off great. I’ve been training hard for it, I’m focused on it and I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
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