Holly Holm: Preaching to the Choir
“My dad always says, ‘Fighting’s the oldest sport in the book. It’s always been around. Everybody has a little fighter in them…’”
On Friday, Dec. 7 at Route 66 Casino Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, junior welterweight champion Holly Holm, aka The Preacher’s Daughter, defends her IBA and WBF titles against WIBA super featherweight champion Diana Prazak.
The 31-year-old Holm (31-2-3, 9 KOs) is a 12-time, three-division champion. She is one of the finest women boxers fighting today and has wins over Ann Sophie Mathis, Christy Martin, Mary Jo Sanders, Mia St. John, Jane Couch, Duda Yankovich and Chevelle Hallback.
Prazak (11-1, 7 KOs), an Australian fighting out of Los Angeles, is ranked number one by the WBC. A late replacement for Myriam Lamare, who withdrew from the fight citing a shoulder injury, Prazak is moving up in weight to challenge Holm.
“I’m a determined fighter,” said Prazak. “I have fought at 130, 135 pounds. However I walk around at 145. I will feel much stronger at 140 because I don’t have to starve myself. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with some great champions, not to mention the rounds I get in with my trainer, Lucia Rijker. If I can get punched by the most dangerous women in the world, I most definitely do not have any concerns about being hit by girls in other weight classes.”
Lucia Rijker is a female fighting legend. The same can be said of Holly Holm.
“Holly is a great champion who always steps into the fight in top shape and with a great fight plan,” Prazak continued. “After Holly came back from a brutal beating from Mathis, by fighting an intelligent and courageous fight, Holly has all my respect and she earned the right to be called, pound-for-pound, the best today.”
Women’s boxing remains an issue, even after Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” even after the 2012 London Olympics. Some would have us believe that a woman’s place is in the home. But the competitive juices that drive men to perform incredible physical feats also drive women to test their mettle when the situation demands.
I recently spoke with Holly Holm. I’m interested in women who box and wanted to get her take on women’s boxing, and on boxing in general, and what drew her to the sport of sports.
Born a little south of Albuquerque, Holm was the youngest of three, with two older brothers. I ask, almost apologetically, if she was a tomboy growing up.
“Yeah!” she says. “I always hung out with my brothers. Both of them were around. I thought they were cool, so I just kind of did what they did. We were always outside playing around. I played soccer. I did gymnastics. I did swimming every summer, competitively, and even diving one year. I did all that before I ended up finding boxing.”
Holly had no exposure to boxing growing up. She doesn’t recall ever watching a fight on TV when she was young. I thought that in order to find a fringe sport one had to venture out to the fringe. But it ain’t necessarily so.
“I was doing some cardio kickboxing classes to get in shape,” Holly tells me, “and I started watching the sparring classes and I thought I might just want to try one fight to see what it was like—and I tried it one time and I got addicted to it and just kind of went from there.”
Holm’s ring moniker is The Preacher’s Daughter, and for a good reason. Her father is a preacher. I don’t have a daughter, but if I had a daughter I’m not sure I’d want her to box. It’s not retrograde thinking on my part. It’s a fear that my heart might break before her nose. That said, I wonder how Holly’s parents greeted her decision.
“I didn’t meet with any problems or anything when I first started at all,” she says. “My mom didn’t want me to fight right away, but I was about 18 so I just wound up kind of doing it anyway. They figured maybe when I got in there I might actually wind up starting to compete, so I don’t think it was really a surprise to anybody. My father sees the way the fights are run and the way the teammates are. Nothing is out of an evil art. It’s not going out and picking on someone when you fight. You go sign a contract—yes, I want to do this. I think a lot of people really don’t look at it the right way if they do see it as a negative thing. It’s a team. You have a lot of people supporting each other, wanting to succeed in something in life, and push themselves and be passionate about something. There’s nothing wrong with that. My dad always says, ‘Fighting’s the oldest sport in the book. It’s always been around. Everybody has a little fighter in them.’ I think it also comes down to how each person carries themselves. I never want to hurt someone when I’m in there.”
Although Holm’s exposure to boxing was nonexistent growing up, I ask if now, now that she’s a pro, now that she’s a champion, she watches films of the greats from yesteryear.
“If you don’t think you can learn from the greats, you’re not going to succeed. Obviously they were great and successful for a reason, and I do learn from them. But it’s not necessarily just technique, but maybe a confidence, a pride, a humbleness. You can learn a lot of things from fighters, not just their fighting style. I look at different fighters for different things. I look at Muhammad Ali. He was very confident—and he was good. He was big and long and he fought a fighting style that was smart. I like that he was confident. I don’t like to talk the way he talked,” Holly laughs, “but he was an entertainer in a lot of ways. He loved the fans, and he loved what he did and was very passionate about it. I want to be that passionate about my career, because that is what made Muhammad Ali so successful. It wasn’t just his style. It was his desire to succeed and his belief in himself.”
Women’s boxing is taken more seriously now than at maybe any time in the past, but its following remains small. It’s been a long time since Christy Martin appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She was, with the added weight of a prime Don King behind her, one of women’s boxing modern-day pioneers, along with Lucia Rijker, Laila Ali, and the inimitable Ann Wolfe.
“I think without them, opportunities for myself may not even have been as good. So I have to give my respect to those pioneers who helped to put women’s boxing on the map. I’d like to believe that I helped with it. But when you really come down to it, I just want to win for me a lot of times. I hope it does something for women’s boxing and makes it even easier for another female coming up behind me. But there has to be pioneers. Without them the sport would never be where it’s at. So I have respect for all of them.”
Because of Holm’s visibility and success, she is often approached by young girls who want to fight. Her thoughtful accessibility is as much an attraction as her skill in the squared circle.
“A lot of teenage girls ask me what should they do, where should they train, and tell me that they want to fight, and my advice is to have patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. They all want to know how long it’s going to be till they even can be a pro or fight for a belt. That takes time. You’re not going to have your first fight making money or a belt. And if you push for that, you’re probably not taking the correct steps with the basics, which I think is the biggest thing. Because if you really, really want to get into it, it’s a lot of time invested, and it’s a lot of hours in the gym and patience.
“Many people think, ‘Oh this fight’s just a small one. I’m ready for the big one.’ Well, that small fight might be the one you’re going to lose if you’re not taking it seriously and respecting your opponent. Because everybody has a chance to win. Everybody has a puncher’s chance. I just feel like a lot of times people are wanting to get through the beginning—in their eyes—non-meaningful fights to get to the big ones. I’ve always felt that every fight in my career has been a big fight.”
Big fight or small, win, lose or draw, it’s obvious that Holm has a good head on her shoulders. But she’s not just another pretty face. She takes boxing seriously, to do otherwise is suicidal, and is a fighter to her very core.
“I strive to be a smart fighter,” says Holly. “I want to perform well. I always want to be in shape. And I hope I put that out in the ring. I try to be more of a technician, but I also want to knock my opponents out. What fighter doesn’t? A fight to me is still interesting and fun, with or without the knockout. Each fight has some battles, so I try to take each fight as it is and really try to capitalize on trying to perform my strengths and prey on their weaknesses.”