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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

‘I’ve been here before,’ says Holly Holm as she faces mission impossible against ‘Cyborg’

Holm leans on her massive upset of Ronda Rousey two years ago as she takes on Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino, who has not lost since her debut in 2005

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 10:21am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 8:41pm

Holly Holm has ridden perhaps the UFC’s most volatile career roller coaster, from the zenith of her upset of Ronda Rousey two years ago to a three-fight losing streak that left her in tears earlier this year.

“It definitely is that,” Holm said. “I don’t know anybody else it’s happened to.”

Holm, 36, buckles up again on Saturday night when she meets Cris “Cyborg” Justino (18-1), the dominant new featherweight champion, in the main event of UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“If I was able to do it once, I can do it again,” Holm said. “I know I’m capable of beating these girls, and it really comes down to that.”

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A former professional boxing world champion, Holm points to lessons in resiliency she gained in that sport as the inspiration for her massive upset of Rousey, and for the confidence she takes into the fight against the 32-year-old Justino, who has not lost since her debut in 2005, with eight consecutive victories by knockout.

“I’m in a place where no one thinks I can do it and there’s no possibility for me, but I’ve been in situations – four fights – where I’ve thought, ‘What are you thinking taking this fight?’ ” Holm said. “And this is the fifth …”

Holm won those other four, reeling off her one-sided decision over the famed, vastly more experienced Christy Martin in 2005; moving up two weight classes to deliver a first loss to Mary Joe Sanders; avenging a brutal knockout loss to Anne Sophie Mathis by winning a unanimous decision six months later; and beating Rousey.

That remarkable event in Melbourne, Australia, seems a lifetime ago now, but Holm on Wednesday easily relived the stunning day.

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“The feeling when nobody thinks you can do it and you’re walking in … you really have to tell yourself you know better than what all of these people are thinking … because you can easily think, ‘Are they all seeing something I’m not?’ ” Holm said.

“Walking to the octagon [to face Rousey] was very heavy, very nerve-racking. There’s never been a feeling like that. It’s such an intense feeling, close to being unbearable,” Holm said. “Every fight, I’m in the locker room thinking, ‘Why do I do this? I hate fight day.’

“The octagon is the most vulnerable place and the most lonely place to be. They lock it up and it’s just you and this person. Millions of witnesses, and you’re totally exposed, and what you do is either going to be laughed at by millions, mocked by millions or praised by millions. You don’t know.”

Holm was defeated by Valentina Shevchenko by decision in July 2016, then lost the inaugural featherweight title fight by narrow decision to Germaine de Randamie in February after the referee didn’t punish de Randamie for two punches after the bell.

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Tears came to Holm at the post-fight news conference, the moment feeling like a possible ending before she knocked out Bethe Correia in June and landed the title shot at “Cyborg”.

“Here we are again. Bigger, stronger opponent, people asking, ‘What are you thinking?’ ” Holm said. “I know it’s a risk. All of them have been. But I’ve been here before.

“That alone doesn’t guarantee a win, but I know believing in myself has been the biggest thing that has helped me.”