Holly Holm woke up Monday morning in Australia basking in the satisfaction of her massive upset of Ronda Rousey and her new standing as the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight champion.
And she might not have to fight again until the summer, given UFC President Dana White’s position that Rousey deserves a rematch and probably won’t be ready until UFC 200 on July 9, 2016, in the new Las Vegas arena.
“I want to fight when they give me the opportunity,” Holm told The Times in a telephone conversation from Melbourne, Australia. “I’ve never once said I want to fight this date against this person. I’ve always wanted to be the champion.
“My mental game is the best when I just take the opportunity when it comes, so whatever opportunity they give me is what I’ll want to take.”
Holm, 34, shocked the sporting world by dominating the 28-year-old from Venice, subjecting Rousey to repeated punches in the first round before finishing her by knockout with a kick to the head that rendered Rousey briefly unconscious.
Holm (10-0 in mixed martial arts) became the first fighter to claim a world boxing title and a UFC belt.
Meanwhile, Rousey (12-1) was kept overnight in a Melbourne hospital after receiving stitches for a cut lip and undergoing a CT scan that came back negative, a UFC spokesman said.
Rousey took to Instagram to thank her supporters and assure them that she'll return to the octagon after taking some time off.
"I just wanted to thank everyone for the love and support," she wrote. "I appreciate the concerns about my health, but I’m fine. As I had mentioned before, I’m going to take a little bit of time, but I’ll be back."
Holm said she spoke briefly to Rousey after the fight at Etihad Stadium that drew a crowd of 56,214.
“I told her I appreciated her and we wouldn’t have the opportunities we had unless she had been such a great champion, and that I respect her a lot,” Holm said.
Out of that respect, Holm says she anticipates another compelling battle in the second fight with Rousey.
“There’s always a good confidence knowing you did it once,” Holm said. “A rematch is different. I had a brutal knockout [loss in a 2011 boxing match] and wanted that rematch so bad, and I avenged my loss.
“So going into a rematch, there’s a confidence for the winner of the first fight, but the other is coming with a whole different heart and a whole different mind-set. It’s a scarier fight. I’d train as hard or not harder.”
Holm’s superior conditioning and preparation decided the bout.
While some boxing enthusiasts were quick to credit Holm for proving that a fit boxer can beat a mixed martial artist in a cage fight, Holm, a former pro kickboxer, pointed to her well-rounded skills for the triumph.
“I was proud of the performance and my boxing background and everything boxing has taught me [but] I do feel like this fight I performed as an MMA fighter,” Holm said. “The kick is what sent her down to the mat.
“What I’ve taken from boxing is the footwork that helped set up the striking, but I felt like this fight, she pressed me to the cage, and I still was able to get off. There was a clinch and I wound up going for a body block takedown. So it had more than boxing in it.
“But boxing and striking set up everything. It definitely helped a lot, along with all the training.”
Among the intensive sessions was a focus on dealing with Rousey’s famed armbar.
“I started training camp with a professor who made me learn every armbar,” Holm said. “I thought we were wasting time at the beginning of camp with not much time to get ready.
“But after we did that, every time anybody tried that, I stopped it because I knew what they were going for from the get-go. I could sense it coming before it was there. I didn’t want to be in a deep armbar before trying to get out of it. We want to prevent it from happening. That played out in the fight [in the first round]. We got into a scramble. I felt it coming and got out of it right away.”
Holm said her ability to frustrate Rousey in that exchange set a tone of failure for the former champion’s bid to get the fight to the canvas.
“I felt like we didn’t let her clinch, didn’t let her do what she wanted to do,” Holm said. “She pressed me to the cage, went for the headlock, tried for the hip-toss, but I had her timing down.
“I don’t think she was trying to stand up all fight. I think our game plan worked well and I was able to control the ring.”
While Rousey had reason to be confident, given her finish of her previous three opponents in a combined 64 seconds, Holm endured a taxing training camp that included cardio-boosting runs through the mountains of high-elevation Albuquerque, N.M.
Was Rousey’s gasping for air by the end of the first round a sign that she was overconfident, and didn’t take the preparation seriously?
“I feel like she’s so successful because of her confidence. She’s very mentally strong and determined,” Holm said. “It’s not a bad thing to be confident. I don’t think it was overconfidence. It was just -- it’s hard to explain how a fight goes -- but you never know what’s going to happen in there and that’s why people watch it.”
As a 20-1 underdog at one Nevada sports book, Holm entered the Rousey fight after two conservative victories in her opening UFC bouts.
“My first fight, I was concerned from coming back from a broken arm and a herniated disk in my neck – my first injuries,” Holm said. “It wasn’t just my first UFC fight. It was a mental battle. I was still cautious in the second fight. I should’ve gone harder sooner, but at least I had two full fights to learn. I got more experience. They helped me prepare for this moment.”
And when the moment came, Holm embraced the lessons of her coaches, who urged her to increase the aggression.
“They told me, ‘Look, you’ve got to go forward. You have to go take rounds from her very clearly because she’s a champion,’ ” Holm said.
“So I decided I was going to be able to go 25 minutes hard and impose my will.”
Turns out, the job was complete in less than six minutes.