March is Girls Sports Month. USA TODAY High School Sports will provide a series of pieces in which female athletes from high school to the pros and their mentors and coaches share their views on topics such as leadership, mentoring, perseverance and the important role athletics has played in their lives. Today’s installment is with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm.
“The Preacher’s Daughter,” Holm (10-0) fights Meisha Tate (17-5-1) on Saturday at UFC 196 in Las Vegas. The fight co-headlines the main pay-per-view card. It is Holm’s first bout since her surprise defeat of Ronda Rousey in December in Melbourne, Australia.
Holm spoke with Mike Bohn from our friends at MMAJunkie.com after a training session in her hometown of Albuqueque, N.M.
Answer: “My parents raised me with sports. I think they saw how important it was not just to do academically well but physically. Be good to your body – and I think they go together. I think if you’re out being active you’re getting your blood flowing, your brain working, and they always encouraged us to do that. They never forced us to do anything we didn’t want to do, like ‘You will play soccer,’ it was what we wanted to do. They let us have our own passions and encouraged us to be in any sport we wanted to be in.”
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“I started fighting in high school, and I just would train year-round, and I still wasn’t getting sick of it. Like soccer season, by the end, I was ready for the season to be over with. I love the games, but I was kind of over practice. And for some reason I still wanted to come into the gym all the time for this, so I thought, you know what? This might be my niche.
“So I decided to just stick with it, and when I had my first pro fight I just thought – I didn’t think I would fight professionally, I just did it because I loved it, and after my first pro fight I thought, you know, I’m going to keep doing this just to see how far I can go. I don’t even know if I’ll even fight for a title, or how far it’s going to take but I’m just going to take one fight at a time and see where it takes me.”
Question: How do you handle being a role model for young women and what advice would you give young female athletes — not specific to MMA — but about competing in general?
Answer: “I don’t ever look at myself as a role model, but what I hope that I do is inspire people to take a chance to follow their dreams. Believe in themselves that they can succeed in something. This isn’t the first time I’ve been the underdog going into a fight, and a lot of people say ‘This really inspires young girls,’ and I always say, ‘Well, I hope it inspires anybody.’
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“To say, ‘Oh, it’s a vulnerable position – you might fail, you might be victorious. You don’t know. The unknown’s there.’ But I hope it inspires anybody to say ‘Look at that, she just believed in herself. The odds were just crazy against her and she still was able to do it. So why don’t I?’ In whatever they do, whether it be some kind of fitness goal or whether it be some kind of career with a company in an office, anything. Whatever it is. I hope what I do just inspires anybody.
“I don’t really see myself like ‘Oh, I’m a role model,’ but I hope I inspire people. I don’t want to be a letdown later on by doing something stupid, so I try to watch what I say and do a little bit, which I think all of us should be like that.”
Answer: “I feel like it’s getting bigger. I think that a lot of times that sports for men has been evolving longer than for women. So I feel like that’s why it’s behind, but I feel like it’s catching up. And my hope is that all of the sports will be at an equal level. I feel like tennis is there and MMA is there.
“But other than that, I feel like there needs to be more people wanting to support it. People follow women’s sports, but I feel like more people need to want to promote and take a chance on putting it on TV. They’ll see good results. One thing that women do bring to the table is passion. Just when you look at men and women, women are naturally more emotional people and I think that also comes out in our passion in our sports. So I think people see a whole different side of sports when they see women compete.”
Question: Many young girls are faced with body image issues, especially those who compete in sports with weight classes. Is the success of women in MMA who are in great physical shape and super athletic changing the perception of beauty?
Answer: “I think so. I think that you see a lot more athletic models out there, not just really slender, and there are a lot of good toned athletes out there. Even if you’re not born with the 100-pound frame that some people have, but I think this (change) gives people motivation to say, ‘I’m going to be more fit. I’m going to be more toned with my body and what I have.’
“But every body’s different, and this world would be really boring if everybody looked exactly the same, so I think it’s just encouraging people to make their body fit. And I think that’s a good thing. I feel like it’s getting better as far as people getting into health things. There are more healthy restaurants and more healthy menus. There’s a lot of really unhealthy and very processed foods and chemicals, and I feel like it’s improving.It’s a good thing that it’s going in that direction because there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”