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SportsMixed Martial Arts

Holly Holm shining in spotlight that comes with being UFC champion

Holly Holm of the US celebrates after winning

Holly Holm of the US celebrates after winning the UFC title fight against compatriot Ronda Rousey in Melbourne on November 15, 2015. Photo Credit: Getty Images / PAUL CROCK

The moment Holly Holm's leg met Ronda Rousey's head, so began Holm's true introduction to the world outside the rings and cages of combat sports.

With a devastating knockout 59 seconds into the second round of their women's bantamweight title fight last week at UFC 193, Holm did what 11 other women couldn't. She dethroned Rousey, a superstar who transcended the mixed martial arts and sports worlds into pop culture.

Like Rousey before her, the world is getting to know Holm.

"We've been everywhere," Holm, 34, said in a phone interview this week.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native has assumed Rousey's vacated spotlight since her victory, appearing on "Good Morning America", "E! News" and "Extra", among other shows outside the sports world following the massive upset, among the biggest in MMA history.

Many fans, as well as oddsmakers, expected to see another Instagram-length finish from Rousey, the now former champion who won her three fights in a total of 64 seconds. Instead, Holm stepped into her spotlight.

A longtime world boxing champion, Holm first started training in aerobics classes under Mike Winkeljohn, eventually launching a professional career. Despite working at the acclaimed Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA in Albuquerque, Holm wasn't too interested in leaving boxing for the emerging sport just yet.

"I didn't really have the passion to put the time into jiujitsu," Holm said. "But I would watch it and get a little intrigued and I guess I just felt like it was too much that I didn't want to put my time into, having gone so far in boxing."

Helping teammates prepare for their MMA fights, however, allowed Holm a chance to have fun with the sport and try her skills. While Holm says her coaches never suggested she move to MMA, it was an obvious progression for them.

"I remember telling my coach, Mr. Winkeljohn, before a fight, 'You know, I think I want to try an MMA fight after this,'" Holm said. "He stopped and goes, 'Holly here's what I'm thinking: You could do this, you could do that, I see you going far, you could get to the top in no time.'"

"I was like, 'Oh, so you've thought about it, too.'"

Holm began her professional MMA career in March 2011, alternating between that and boxing until 2013. After winning her third pro MMA fight in February 2013, Holm realized she was "over" boxing, but her promoter had already booked another boxing match for that May.

"I would go to the gym and had to box and I just didn't have any drive," Holm said.

She informed her coaches it would be her last time in the ring, finishing her career eager to not go out on a loss. She succeeded, ending with 18 title defenses across three weight classes, earning two Female Fighter of the Year honors from Ring Magazine during her 33-2-3 career.

Two-plus years into her new full-time career, Holm remains just as dominant.

Like Rousey before her, Holm now sits atop the bantamweight division as an undefeated champion ready to fulfill the obligations that come with a title. "It's just a constant reminder that, if I have to do all of this because of a victory and people care and they're excited about, I have a hard time hating it," Holm said. "I really don't mind it at all."

While most of the attention has been positive, Holm already has experienced the scrutiny champions face. In the days after her win, USA Today reported that one of Holm's sponsors, Intel Pharma, sells supplements advertised as containing substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees the UFC's drug testing program.

Holm's manager told USA Today the company was up front about which products contained the substances, and the company's CEO claims it stopped selling the products before signing Holm.

Holm never has failed a drug test in her combat sports career and says critics are "grabbing at straws."

"They're looking for a reason to how [the upset] happened," Holm said. "For me, I'm 100 percent clean. I don't even use some of those supplements, actually I don't use any of them, they're just a sponsor.

"I don't know, I was drug tested four times for this fight, so I think that's one of those things that I can say, 'look at my drug tests.'"

While Holm has done well stepping into Rousey's bright spotlight in the first week, she is unsure of what it will bring next. Even before becoming champion, Holm already has filmed a role in a 2016 film called "Fight Valley," and the belt likely will bring more options outside the Octagon.

But Holm is a fighter first.

"Only if it's a good opportunity that doesn't take away from my fighting," Holm said. "I don't want it to be distracting. I love my job and love what I do, I just want to keep that as real as it is."

As long as she keeps loving it, Holm will keep fighting.

"I just want to do it as long as I'm passionate about it, and I don't know how long it will be."

As for now, Holm is ready to face any challenge.

"Whatever the UFC says is next," Holm said. "I'd love to fight sooner than later. If it winds up being a rematch next, that's great. If not, I'll take who they say."

New York Sports