Holly Holm and the thrill of the fight

It does not take much to go from mostly unknown athlete to the talk of the sports world. All it takes is dominating and then knocking out a fighter generally considered to be unbeatable.

Although she was one of the best boxers in the world for years, it took a move to mixed martial arts and a stunning kick to the head that defeated “unbeatable” Ronda Rousey to make Holly Holm the woman of the moment.

As part of her victory tour, Holm sat down with reporters and editors from The New York Times to discuss the upset, what’s next in her career and what it feels like to drop someone in the ring. (This interview was edited and condensed.)

Q: Many athletes can remember every tiny detail of a competition. Do you remember every sequence of the fight?

A: I remember certain moments that were almost in slow motion.

As soon as I landed the first couple of straight lefts, I knew that I could have her timing as long as I didn’t get sloppy and get countered. I knew that she would probably try to go to her game of the clinch and the judo and the trips and push me on the cage, what she’s best at.

Q: The final sequence, how did that unfold?

A: In the second round, she came out, and I had her timing at that point. I knew I could pick my shots. She went for either a leg hook or to grab at me. It was almost in slow motion. I just dipped under it and that’s when she kind of went down into the cage. At that time I knew that if I imposed my will a little bit I could finish. There was a shot that kind of dazed her and then a little bit of a scramble. And I pushed her off and she dropped. And when she got back up that was perfect timing for the kick, and the kick put her down.

Q: You kind of knew you had her number. Did you sense she was reading that, too? Did she seem vulnerable?

A: She was getting a little frustrated. She tried to put me on the cage, and tried for an arm bar, and tried for a hip toss. That can be really frustrating when you’re in a fight and you’re used to these things working for you.

Every fight is different. Yes, I had her timing as long as I didn’t get sloppy.

Q: What do you mean by “sloppy”?

A: A lot of times fighters get not only physically tired, but mentally exhausted. It’s like a chess match — you’re thinking of offense and defense at the same time. It’s almost exhausting to think about it. After a while you just go, I’ll move my pawn. A lot of times in fights people get exhausted and they’re just sick of trying to focus on it.

How many fights have you seen in the last round they’re just standing in front of each other and throwing big wide shots? They’ve lost all focus and are just going forward with no game plan or technique. That’s the hardest thing about fighting, staying focused and not just saying forget it and going at it.

Q: When you landed the kick, did it cross your mind that there must be permanent damage here?

A: No. I know that sounds bad, but in a fight your mindset is just one way until it’s over. If it was up to her, she’d be doing that to me. We’re in a battle for survival. Those thoughts don’t cross my mind until the fight’s over.

Q: How much of your preparation was specifically tailored to Ronda Rousey’s game?

A: Ronda’s not a one-dimensional fighter. She has the clinch game, she goes for a lot of hip tosses, she goes for trips, she pushes you on the cage, she’s very aggressive on the ground, she goes for arm bars, not just from one position but from many positions. So our entire training camp every day was about it.

But we also wanted to excel at the things I do well. Could I go out and survive? Yes. But if I just survive, if I defend everything she comes with, I’m not going to get a victory. For a victory against someone so dominant, you have to make it very decisive. Our whole thing was to be careful of what she does but not to be afraid of doing what we want to do.

Q: When you watched Rousey’s previous fights, did you think, ‘Oh my gosh, I can conquer this,’ or were you a little bit frightened?

A: I was impressed by her. She was running through everyone in the division easily. Just knocking them off, checking them off. I thought, this is going to be a tough one to beat. I think I can do it, I think I have a different style than anybody she’s faced.

I really believed I could do it; I think that’s half the battle. If you’re thinking I’m just going to go in and see if I can kind of last a little bit with her, well, then you’re not going to win.

I have a different kind of experience than other girls had. I’ve had to face a lot of different styles and adjust to them. I had to face a lot of bad situations and come back. I’ve had to fight with my eyes swollen shut and my nose broken and bloody. I’ve been the underdog before. Those types of moments helped me in this moment.

Q: If you were to fight her 10 times, how many would you win?

A: Ten. Because if I tell myself that there is one that I might not get, then I’ll be vulnerable. I also know that I’m beatable, so I’m going to train twice as hard. She’s going to come back. She’s mad that it’s not her title anymore. I’ve got to be twice as ready as last time.

Q: Did her comments before the fight motivate you? (Rousey wrote on Instagram, “I see through your fake sweet act now” and “I’m really going to enjoy the beating I give you.”)

A: No. For me, it doesn’t make a difference. No matter what happens, I still want to hit them just as hard, I still want the knockout. I just have to remind myself not to get involved in that. It’s a waste of energy. Fighting is a very emotionally draining sport. I don’t want to waste time on drama beforehand.

Q: When you land a big punch or kick and your opponent just goes down, what does that feel like?

A: Not to sound barbaric, but it’s awesome. It’s not that I have an evil heart. Hitting a clean shot is just instant gratification that the hard work is paying off. And you want to do it again. It’s an addicting thing.

Q: What does your career look like from here?

A: I want to fight as long as I’m still passionate about it. I don’t know how many more fights that is, how many more years that is.

Some people feel stronger in their 30s. I’m 34. I’ve noticed I do feel stronger now than when I was 24. But I’m also more sore in the mornings. If I have a bump or a bruise from practice, it takes me a little bit more than just an ice bath to get rid of it. At the end of the week, my body’s ready for a day off.

I also feel like it depends how much damage you’ve taken over your career. In boxing, there’s more brain damage because there’s 12 rounds of focus on the head, on punching each other in the head. In MMA, there’s more blood because of cuts from elbows and things, but I’d rather have a cut or a little bleeding than brain damage. You see people getting an arm bar, that’s uncomfortable, but I’d rather have an injury on my arm than my head.

Q: Do you worry about the long-term effects of the punches you’ve taken to the head?

A: I don’t feel like I’ve taken too many shots. I think I would have retired if I felt I had. I was very fortunate to have a dominating boxing career. I had two losses and all the other fights were pretty handily won. One of the losses was a cut. The other one was a knockout. And it was a good one (by the French fighter Anne Sophie Mathis in 2011). She knocked me clean out. I did come back and avenge the loss though.

Q: You’re under contract to the UFC. Now that you are the champion, is the money going to escalate?

A: I’m meeting with them … and we’re going to talk about that kind of stuff.

Q: You’re not locked into a low salary? There’s an opportunity to make more?

A: There’s an opportunity.

Q: Do you get a little more say as the champion in whom you fight and where you fight?

A: I’m sure that maybe I could. But I never once in my career said I want to fight this person, not that person. Never. So far it’s worked for me, so I’m going to keep it there. I feel like the minute I pick someone is the minute I’m going to get my butt handed to me. If I had been more cautious, maybe I wouldn’t have taken the fight with Ronda so soon.