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Holly Holm cashes in her life’s work to shock Ronda Rousey

Holly Holm, right, is declared the bantamweight champion after defeating Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.

Holly Holm, right, is declared the bantamweight champion after defeating Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.

(Andy Brownbill / Associated Press)

Holly Holm’s shocking conquest of Ronda Rousey was rooted in old-fashioned study and hard work.

There were days in preparation, Holm said after Sunday’s second-round knockout of the previously unbeaten Ultimate Fighting Championship champion, that she’d practice five times, the grind bringing her to tears.

But thanks to a Rousey fight plan swayed by the overconfidence that comes because the last three victories required a total of just 1 minute, 4 seconds of work, former world champion boxer Holm squeezed out of Rousey’s usual fight-finishing holds in the first round and otherwise made the bout a classic boxing lesson.

“Everything we worked on ended up being used,” Holm said after Sunday women’s bantamweight title bout that drew a UFC-record 56,214 fans to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.

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Holm (10-0) schooled Venice’s Rousey when the bout was in stand-up striking mode.

Even though Rousey’s coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, said before the fight that he “hoped” Holm would box, the southpaw challenger planted steady left-handed punches on the champion’s face, leaving Rousey’s lip split and mouth bloodied.

The climax came by another Holm left that caused Rousey to turn, slip and awkwardly begin to stand, when Holm, who also was formerly a pro kickboxer, whipped a left kick to the right side of Rousey’s head, knocking the champion to the canvas unconscious.

Holm threw three punches at Rousey on the canvas as referee Herb Dean hurried in to wave off the attack 59 seconds into the second round.

UFC President Dana White called it the biggest upset his organization has experienced and said he’ll work to arrange a rematch at or before UFC 200 in July.

“I have a lot of respect for Ronda,” Holm said. “This wouldn’t have meant half as much if it hadn’t have been for what she has done. She’s been imposing her will on everybody. She tried the hip-toss, the arm bar. I just wanted to stay focused. We did this in practice. I could do it again.”

It appeared to be disregarded by the Rousey camp, but Holm has a history of solving talented fighters. In 2005, she defeated veteran boxer Christy Martin and the popular Mia St. John.

Then, after getting knocked out by rugged boxer Anne Sophie Mathis in 2011, she answered with an evasive plan and won the rematch in their next bout.

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Now, Holm has taken out a fighter in her peak who few believed would be defeated.

“It was part of the plan. It’s been a work in process for many, many years and Holly did it,” said Holm’s Albuquerque-based striking coach Mike Winkeljohn. “I figured we’d pick her apart little by little. It played out real well.

“Holly walked into my gym 17 years ago. Now, you’re going to come here and give the biggest upset in history in people’s minds … not in our minds. We knew she could do it.”

Winkeljohn currently trains former light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who was considered the UFC’s top pound-for-pound fighter before a suspension this year, and he formerly worked with another UFC great, former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.

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“This is the No. 1 thing that could happen to me as a coach,” he said.

Holm fought tears in post-fight interviews, saying, “I’ll probably have a few sleepless nights replaying everything that happened. I’m so happy right now.”

Before the fight, at least one Nevada sports book listed Holm as a 20-1 underdog. In her first two UFC fights, Holm appeared sound but cautious, winning both fights by decision.

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But she elevated to the moment.

“I’m the one that has to fight and [my corner] is the one giving me advice. It doesn’t matter what odds are on paper, what happened before. It matters what happens that moment,” Holm said.

Holm was punched so hard by Rousey once that she lost her mouthpiece, but she responded with hard left hands and even an elbow to Rousey’s face — outclassing the champion.

“She has knockout power. You have to be able to be in that range as a target in order to get hit,” Holm said. “I wanted to move and be precise. Not too cautious. I wanted to go forward in a smart way, not let her bum-rush me to the cage.”

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The 34-year-old said she didn’t pay much attention to the massive crowd as she jogged to the octagon. Instead, she waited for Rousey’s rousing ring entrance and stayed loose, focused on her target.

“There’s times before the fight where I think, ‘The time is right now, you’ve to make it happen right now,’ ” Holm said. “Can’t be an hour ago, can’t be during practice. Has to be right now.”

In hindsight, there was attention Sunday to the distractions Rousey has experienced. Heated criticism of Tarverdyan — a boxing trainer — by Rousey’s mother. Reports of a relationship with a UFC heavyweight. Questions about her physical fight with an ex-boyfriend detailed in her book.

Rousey was aggressive toward Holm at their weigh-in, but after Sunday’s fight they hugged and shared a few words before Rousey was transported to a local hospital to inspect her cut mouth, White said.

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“I feel there’s a lot of emotion in Ronda that I hadn’t seen before … but I [felt] like I had an edge and wanted to stay focused,” Holm said.

“It came down to a whole game plan. I had the repetitions, the stand-up, not getting too involved on the ground. There’s so much to MMA. I had the best help I could have. I said before the fight, ‘I have no excuse. I just need to perform.’ ”

She was asked on Fox Sports 1 what the moment was like when she and Winkeljohn first met after victory had been achieved.

Trying to answer, tears welled in her eyes and she couldn’t speak.

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“Like that,” Holm said.


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