It’s no surprise that Holly Holm is STACK’s Athlete of the Year. She shocked the world.
The former kick-boxing champion was given no chance against the seemingly unbeatable Ronda Rousey in their UFC bantamweight bout back in November. But as top athletes often do, Holm stepped up in her biggest moment and knocked out the previously unbeaten Rousey to win the title and shock the world.
Holm entered the fight in the role of Rousey’s polar opposite. Where Rousey was brash and cocky (“I can beat any girl in my division with one hand”), Holm was quiet and respectful.
“I know I’m going to have my hands full with Ronda, and I have all the respect for her in the world,” Holm said at the weigh-in, even after Rousey charged her on the stage in a bit of pre-fight hype.
Prior to her career in the UFC, where she is 10-0, the 34-year-old Holm was a world champion kickboxer who racked up a 33-2-3 record with 9 knockouts. She went into the fight against Rousey with the right skillset to challenge the sport’s most popular fighter, and the confidence and heart to win the championship.
Most experts didn’t give her a chance to beat Rousey. In fact, most of the betting action on the fight centered not on who would win but on how quickly Rousey would subdue her opponent.
“Everybody has their opinions about it, and that’s great,” Holm told MMA Weekly before the fight. “Nobody would want to watch a fight if they knew what was going to happen. The unknown is there and anything can happen. I’m very capable. I’m walking with every bit of confidence into this fight, confidence without being cocky or overconfident.”
The victory took Holm out of relative anonymity and thrust her into the spotlight as the new face of women’s MMA. But despite her newfound fame, she retains the humility she displayed leading up to the title fight.
“It’s one of those moments you dream about: ‘If this is the big fight, how awesome would it be if I won in devastating fashion?’ And it happened,” Holm told Rolling Stone. “It takes a minute to soak in; I can’t believe we’ve come this far, but I also think I’ve been working really hard—and hard work pays off.”
A rematch with Rousey is inevitable, and Holm welcomes the challenge.
“Is [Ronda] going to come back hard? Ten times as hard, ” Holm said to Rolling Stone. “She’s going to want to avenge that loss, and I get that. But I’ve been on that side before, so I’m going to be ready. I still have a lot to learn, and I still have a lot to prove. I’m constantly trying to get better–that fight’s in the past.”