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UFC 219 is quickly approaching, and the title fight is one you won’t want to miss. Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm, the pro boxer-turned-UFC-fighter who won the bantamweight title from Ronda Rousey with a notorious knockout in 2015, will challenge UFC featherweight champ Cris Cyborg for her title.
But this is no ordinary title fight. If Holm wins the featherweight belt, she’ll become the first female multi-division champ in UFC history.
The lead-up to the fight hasn’t been short on drama or trash talk, which is to be expected ahead of any bout, title defense or otherwise. But Holm isn’t one to play into it. No matter the hype around the fight or what her opponents say, she perpetually seems cool, calm, and collected.
In a one-on-one interview with Muscle & Fitness ahead of UFC 219, Holm reveals her approach to fighting such a formidable opponent, why she plays it cool ahead of big fights, and the opportunity to become a multi-division champ in the UFC.
Leading up to a fight, Holm’s training schedule is hectic. She runs five days a week, does mitt work for four or five days a week, and has a class each morning in sparring, wrestling, or grappling. On Saturdays, she knocks out a sprint run for good measure.
On top of training, every fight brings a new wave of media obligations. While it can be tough to stick to her rigorous training schedule amid those responsibilities, Holm says it’s a matter of staying disciplined and looking ahead.
“I go do my workout, do the media, and go right back to my workouts,” Holm told M&F. “It may mean running in the dark with a headlamp on because I didn’t get it done before the sun went down, but I know that the time put in then will pay off later. I’m disciplined to get it done, but there are times when it’s challenging for sure.”
Holm made headlines for taking down Ronda Rousey with a knockout via head kick and punches to become the UFC women’s bantamweight champion back in 2015, but she abruptly hit a slump, losing her next three bouts and shattering her thumb during a bout against Valentina Shevchenko. But even when she’s down, Holm keeps her head up.
“I’ve had highs and lows in my career before, and it’s easy to be happy and confident when you’re on top. But it’s definitely a challenge when you have losses that come your way, and it’s one of those things where you have to dig deep. It’s not up to anybody else…My dad has always told me that you’re in charge of your own happiness. If you’re letting someone else control your happiness, you’re letting them control how you think and how you feel.”
Losses still get her down, of course. Holm is just wired to not stay down.
“I knew that I was able to still move forward and push through,” she says. “It’s my life, and it’s not over after a loss. I know that I’m still capable and I still believe in myself, so I just keep trucking forward.”
And when it came to recovering from her thumb injury, which required surgery, she took the setback in stride with a simple rule of, well, you know. “If it hurt, I’d still work with it, but if I’d damage it [by training], I’d still be careful,” she says.
Despite those setbacks, Holm came back and won her last bout against Bethe Correia at UFC Fight Night 111. Now, she’s ready to give it her all against Cyborg at UFC 219.
During her career as a boxer, Holm held titles in three weight classes, defending her titles 16 times. If she dethrones Cyborg and wins the featherweight championship belt on December 30, she’ll become the first woman to have held titles in two divisions in the UFC.
“Holding a title in two weight classes is something that motivates me. I want to win a fight whether it’s for a belt or not, but there’s that extra motivation to be able to do something that hasn’t been done.” But even if she does win the featherweight title, she doesn’t see herself going for a third weight class.
Cyborg may not be a UFC vet, but she’s been an MMA powerhouse for more than a decade. Plenty would be intimidated by the thought of challenging her for her belt, but not Holm, who says she’s going into it as prepared as she could be.
“She’s dominant and has been doing well for a reason. She’s very good at what she does, but that doesn’t mean she’s unbeatable,” Holm says. “I’m ready to take on this fight, and I fear her, but I’m not afraid of her. I fear her in the way that I fear any of my opponents, because there’s a possibility of losing a fight against anybody. Every fighter presents their own challenges, and there are lots of things to fear in her, but that doesn’t mean that she’s unbeatable.”
Plenty of UFC fighters are known for their excessive trash talking, which is admittedly a huge part of the hype leading up to big fights. It’s easy enough to bash opponents on social media, but Holm isn’t one to do that. Despite the fact that fans expect trash talk and animosity between fighters, she prefers to let her performance on fight night speak for itself.
“I try to just have my confidence show when I’m fighting,” Holm says. “I want my actions to be what my message is. I don’t really get too much into the trash talk with it, I just want to train hard, and I don’t want to be the fighter who talks a lot of trash and then looks like a fool because it doesn’t go my way. I try to just stay humble and work hard. I know the training and hard work that’s gone into it, and that’s when it pays off. It doesn’t matter what’s been said on social media.”
Athletes in every sport have strict, and sometimes downright ridiculous, pre-competition rituals or traditions to get them ready both physically and mentally—but Holm isn’t one of them. Instead, she says good old-fashioned thorough preparation, sans superstition, is her good luck charm.
“I just try to stay healthy, keep my body feeling good, eat foods that make me feel energetic but not overly heavy. I like to be surrounded by my team—they make me feel good and confident, and the energy is good,” she says. “Other than that, I just focus on the fight and I know that all the hard work has been put in.”
Superstitious rituals, she says, won’t make or break that hard work that’s been done. “The hard work and training’s done, and nothing can take away from that, so I try not to get worked up in my head,” she says. “I try to stay level-headed and keep my body feeing good until it’s time to shine”
Watch Holly Holm challenge Cris Cyborg for the UFC women’s featherweight title on Saturday, December 30 at UFC 219.