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'Excited' Holly Holm says, 'Let's do this,' to Ronda Rousey fight

'Excited' Holly Holm says, 'Let's do this,' to Ronda Rousey fight
Holly Holm, right, punches Raquel Pennington during a bantamweight fight at UFC 184 on Feb. 28. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Holly Holm wasn't expecting the Tuesday night phone call she received from Ultimate Fighting Championship officials telling her she would be Ronda Rousey's next opponent.

"It was definitely a shock, a surprise," Holm told The Times on Friday. "It wasn't something I thought would happen right now. But I immediately got chills and thought, 'All right, this is exciting, let's do this, let's feel life, let's decide this right now.' "

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Rousey-Holm is scheduled for Jan. 2 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Holm, 33, is off to a 9-0 start in mixed martial arts -- 2-0 in the UFC -- since leaving behind a championship boxing career, but the ninth-ranked women's bantamweight hasn't dominated as expected and top-ranked Miesha Tate was expected to land a third fight with Rousey.

Venice's Rousey (12-0) announced on "Good Morning America" on Friday morning that she'd fight Holm, and UFC President Dana White told The Times he was swayed to present the champion with a different challenge instead of repeating a Tate matchup.

Holm said she'd started preparing for a Dec. 5 fight against Sarah Kaufman when she was alerted Tuesday night that she'd instead fight Rousey.

"Definitely came sooner than I thought, but I like to just kind of go with it, just do it," Holm said. "Fighting is not a comfortable career. It's filled with anxiety and emotion. Physically, mentally, emotionally draining. I just like to take the challenge when it comes."

Holm, who trains near her Albuquerque home under notable MMA trainers Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, won her first boxing title in 2004 after being thrust from six-round fights to a title bout.

She won that fight, then proceeded to defeat standout boxers Christy Martin and Mia St. John in back-to-back bouts in 2005. Ring Magazine named Holm the women's boxer of the year in 2005 and 2006.

Holm said the quick turn to a Rousey showdown that was expected after her signing with the UFC last year is something, "I want to dive into it and make the most of.

"People say I'm the most decorated boxer [in the UFC], and I'm proud of my boxing career, but this is totally different. I do feel like that the thing that has helped me from boxing in my MMA career is that any challenge that came to me, I took it 100%, believed in myself. That will be my biggest help."

Holm looked sluggish in her Feb. 28 UFC debut after an injury layoff, defeating Raquel Pennington by split-decision at Staples Center. She followed that with a more convincing victory in which she out-struck Marion Reneau by nearly 40 punches in a unanimous decision.

Rousey had high praise for Holm's striking, but given the champion's judo pedigree, the expectation is she'll work to take Holm down and subject her to Rousey's famed armbar.

Rousey needed just 2 minutes, 10 seconds to defeat her last four opponents.

"There's a lot of negative media right now, that, 'Oh, she's going to smash Holly, Holly's not ready,' " Holm said. "I've dealt with that before. The odds were 4-1 I'd get knocked out by Christy Martin and it was one of the easier fights of my career. I'm not saying that's how this fight is going to be, but I definitely have learned how to get past the negativity and believe in myself. The times I've been thrown in there, thinking, 'Already?,' it's worked out.... I understand this is a lot bigger."

The answer, Holm says, is diligent work in the gym.

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"I can tell you there's never been a fight in my entire life that when I found out about the fight I felt prepared that day.... I have four months to prepare," Holm said. "Do I feel better about myself, that I'm capable of doing this? I do.

"What I want to do is put in the hard work.... I need to go into the gym every day as if I'm brand new and need to learn something new. That's my mind-set now, to be a sponge, to experience every position, scenario, so by the time I get to the fight I know them 100 times over."

White said he's working to make the Jan. 2 card a heavy women's fighting night, expecting to have strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (10-0) fight top-ranked challenger Claudia Gadelha, as long as Gadelha can fully recover from a finger injury she suffered during an Aug. 1 victory.

Tate should also be on the card, White said, fighting fourth-ranked Amanda Nunes.

Holm watched a recording of Rousey announcing the fight on "Good Morning America," a signal of how successfully the champion has taken her sport to mainstream attention.

"She was very gracious, very complementary of me," Holm said. "I feel honored to have this opportunity. I think it's going to be a great fight. I think very highly of Ronda, always have, she just continues to impress and I think she's great, inside and outside. A lot of people see her as this tough girl, but I think she has a soft side too, and is a compassionate person, passionate about life."

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire

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