Holly Holm, fresh off beating Ronda Rousey, is ready to defend UFC title against Miesha Tate

Now, for Act II. Holly Holm rocked the Ultimate Fighting Championship, shattered the mystique of Ronda Rousey and introduced herself to the mainstream sports world by knocking out Rousey with a second-round head kick in November.

Holm, a former boxing world champion who's 10-0 in mixed martial arts, returns to the octagon Saturday night at UFC 196 for her women's bantamweight title defense against Miesha Tate (17-5), a recent No. 1 contender who's won four consecutive fights since her second loss to Rousey in late 2013.

"I still feel like there's a lot of work. I never really feel like [the belt] is mine," Holm said.

"My plan is to always be improving, that's something I'll never stop saying. [Tate's] gritty, she doesn't get mentally beat. She can be down and come back. Those types of fighters — having a warrior in front of you — make the toughest kind of fight ever."

Rousey, outclassed and dazed by first-round punches in her futile effort to fight Holm standing up, balked at an immediate rematch with Holm in July, citing Hollywood film work obligations.

UFC President Dana White has said Rousey will fight Saturday's winner in the fall. But there remains uncertainty — particularly among Saturday's fighters — if Rousey will keep that date.

Holm agreed she "likes to keep busy." Both she and Tate were non-committal after public workouts Wednesday about the prospect of taking a summer fight against someone other than Rousey.

Questions about Rousey are a constant for Holm, 34. "[Rousey] has done a lot for MMA, but … Miesha Tate's the name on my mind. She has the most experience of anyone I've ever fought," Holm said.

The Tate bout is "just as important of a fight [as Rousey]," Holm added.

"I don't want to be a one-hit wonder. It's even more of an important fight with people wondering, 'What's going to happen now?' 'Is she the real deal?' There's a lot more pressure than I put on myself. Before I took this fight, people said it was a big risk and it's like, 'What are we in this for?' ''

Holm had just one fight remaining on her UFC contract following the Rousey victory, but she signed an eight-fight extension that facilitated the Tate bout.

Tate wore boxing gloves during her public workout, and said she's not convinced Holm has the sturdiest chin after reviewing Holm's fight against Rousey and some of her past boxing clips.

Tate, 29, a strong wrestler, seemed to be in line for the November fight against Rousey in Melbourne, Australia, but UFC selected Holm instead. Tate called the disappointment "character-forging," and said her second UFC title shot Saturday is "do-or-die."

"I've got to make the most of this. I feel this is exactly how it was supposed to play out," Tate said. "I have to think her ground game is her biggest weakness … [but] I think Holly's chin is a little suspect. I've seen her wobbled by punches that didn't look like anything more than I can deliver."

Holm, after successfully defending a takedown by Rousey in their fight, said she's capable of more than stand-up fighting.

"I don't want to get stuck on one game plan and then not be ready for everything else," Holm said. "I want to be ready on the ground. I want to be ready on the cage. My mind doesn't limit myself to standing."

While Rousey's shadow will hover until the first bell and through the post-fight discussion, Holm will have the opportunity to enrich her status with a successful title defense.

"I'm more busy," Holm said of her life after winning the belt. "My days are … filled with doing more media. I had to say no to some vacation days, but that's OK with me.

"This is a short-lived career. I've been fighting for quite awhile, but it's not like you get your doctorate degree and you practice medicine forever. We have a small window, and I want to make the most of it."

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter: @latimespugmire

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 03, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Holm is taking next step forward - Fresh off her stunning victory over Rousey, she'll put her belt on the line against Tate." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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