When the administrative team at Manzano High in New Mexico met Monday morning, among the first items on the agenda was figuring how to honor an alum who gained worldwide acclaim over the weekend.
Holly Holm — former high school soccer player, swimmer and football team manager — is a 2000 graduate of Manzano in Albuquerque. The same Holly Holm who knocked out the unbeatable Ronda Rousey in the second round to become the UFC women’s bantamweight champion on Saturday in Australia.
“We had our meeting and we were talking about hanging up a banner in a trophy area or inside the gym or to put something on the marquee out front,” athletic director Michael Espinoza told USA TODAY High School Sports. “It’s a good thing for our community and she’s an inspiration for our female athletes.”
If Holm shocked the world, she didn’t shock Chris Baca, her soccer coach at Manzano. Before she kicked people for a living as a professional kickboxer and now MMA fighter, Holm was the real deal on the soccer field in New Mexico. She also was an undefeated professional boxer.
Baca spoke with USA TODAY High School Sports on Monday about his memories of Holm and watching her blossom into a world champion.
Q: Taking a guess that you tuned in to the broadcast Saturday night.
A: “I’m so excited for her. It’s such a neat accomplishment. She’s a super young lady and a class act. It was thrilling to watch. The whole family stayed up to see her.”
Q: What do you remember about her most as a soccer player?
A: “She’s definitely a competitor. She was the type of person, when we put her on the field, she just went full bore. She would run through people and get to the ball and was fearless in how she approached the game.”
Q: Would you say she was a star player or more of a role player?
A: “Probably in between. She was a solid player and she definitely brought the level and intensity up where she went into the game.”
Q: It seemingly takes a unique personality to do what she does now. What was her personality like as a teenager and have you seen any changes as she’s gotten older?
A: “She’s been completely consistent since then. She’s very pleasant and a great young lady with a caring demeanor. When she engaged in athletics, she was fully engaged. That’s paid off for her in her professional fighting career.”
Q: But there has to be a high level of toughness to climb into that cage, right?
A: “She goes into the game — or in this case the ring — and can take on the challenge and be fully engaged in what she’s doing. Soccer is a contact sport — not like football or MMA or boxing – and she’s just resilient. She actually broke her shin in club soccer between her sophomore and junior years. We had a concern when she came back to school that she would be real timid because she had been so aggressive and wouldn’t be the same player. She didn’t skip a beat. She provided the same caliber and level of effort and commitment to the team. She’s a unique person in that regard. She can really focus on things that are important to her and know what environment she’s in.”
Q: You actually don’t sound surprised at all that she won this fight.
A: “I’m not. My wife said to me going into it, ‘This is going to be Holly’s fight. I can tell.’ She’s such a competitor. I think that was one of Rousey’s problems. She probably underestimated how well Holly was prepared and game ready. She takes full advantage of what she was taught and where she is going. When it starts, she’s fully engaged and ready to go. That characteristic has always been there.
“My wife and daughter, who was young when I was coaching Holly, run into her in places now in the area and she’s always like, ‘Hey how’s it going?’ She’s remained even-keeled with all of her success. I haven’t talked to her since the fight, but I don’t see her responding any differently.”