Holm content with her trailblazing status
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It depends on how you look at it.
On one hand, Holly Holm's failure to bring home an ESPY for "Fighter of the Year" on Wednesday night in Los Angeles -- though hardly surprising -- was a setback in her quest to bring women's boxing one step closer to mainstream sports consciousness.
But, speaking of consciousness...maybe it wasn't exactly the worst thing, either.
"If they'd called my name, I'd probably have passed out," the 26-year-old New Mexico native said in a FitzHitz interview. "People asked me if I'd prepared an acceptance speech or had any idea what I might say if I'd won, and I was thinking, 'Are you kidding me? I wouldn't even make it to the stage.'"
Holly Holm is a recognized champion by a myriad of sanctioning bodies.
Eventual winner Floyd Mayweather Jr. had no discomfort in accepting his second straight honor from the cable sports giant, but the trailblazing inclusion of a female among the final five nominees -- a first-time occurrence in the awards shows 16-year history -- was not lost on Holm.
"I had no idea that I'd even be nominated, and when I first heard about it, I figured it must have been for some smaller-level awards show that they had, not the real ESPY Awards," she said. "My promoter called and left a message on my answering machine, and when I got it, I was pretty excited."
"To be included in that group and to be able to go to California to meet people and take part in it all, and bring my boyfriend, too, it's all pretty cool. I'm proud to be the first."
The fresh-faced, 5-foot-8 southpaw was in against Mayweather, Joe Calzaghe, Kelly Pavlik and mixed martial arts competitor Georges St. Pierre for the ESPY nod, largely on the strength of a 2008 run that's brought her to the top of her segment of the womens segment of the square-ring sport.
A recognized champion by myriad sanctioning bodies since 2004, Holm entered this year in possession of both the IFBA and WBC welterweight titles, which she successfully defended with a seventh-round stoppage of Miriam Brakache on Jan. 11 in her hometown of Albuquerque.
She risked the IFBA belt again the following month and scored a unanimous 10- round decision over Belinda Laracuente, then reached the pound-for-pound summit with a subsequent 10-round verdict over previous consensus No. 1 Mary Jo Sanders on June 13.
For relative significance, the Holm-Sanders bout was widely regarded as a women's equivalent to next week's Cotto-Margarito showdown or last year's Mayweather-De La Hoya bout -- which provided a tidy spike in take home pay from the usual $20,000 to a career-best $40,000.
It also kept Holm in possession of her IFBA junior middleweight belt -- her third in three weight classes -- which she'd won in 2006 against Tricia Turton, but never defended.
"I know there are always up and comers and there a lot of good people out there for me to fight, but after fighting Mary Jo, I really do feel like I'm in a good place overall," she said of her new high-end status in the sport. "I can't relax and coast. But I wouldn't want to anyway. That's not me."
Born in Albuquerque in 1981, Holm was drawn to the sport through a desire to maintain physical fitness. She took aerobics and kickboxing classes to stay in shape, then got to know some of the area's amateur and pro fighters and would occasionally attend their bouts.
She competed in her first amateur kickboxing bout as a senior in high school and turned pro as a puncher/kicker at age 20. And, because early coaches spent a great deal of time on the basics of delivering straight punches, a subsequent transition to hands-only in the ring was less daunting.
"I've always been the 'take one fight at a time' person, so I never really stopped and allowed myself to think, 'OK, you're pretty good at this. You've accomplished something,'" Holm said. "But I always trusted my coach, and when he had the confidence in me to progress, I believed him."
Along the way, she took on and knocked off two of the sport's established stars -- defeating 16-year PPV undercard veteran Christy Martin by decision in September 2005, then toppling ex-Playboy cover girl Mia St. John by a scorecard shutout just three months later.
The title-winning defeat of Turton came four bouts later in December 2006, prolonging a winning streak that reached 15 with last month's decisive nod over Sanders, and, Holm hopes, moves the sport incrementally beyond days when its stars had to rely on gimmicks to draw the spotlight.
"Christy was really the first. She was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and she put us on the map," Holm said. "She did her part, no question. But the women doing it now, as a whole, have gotten a lot better than those days, and we're getting a lot more respect than we used to."
Another step toward equal, or at least moderately equal, recognition could come with Holm's dream fight, which would pit her against perhaps the best- known female fighter in the world -- Laila Ali.
Ali is taking time away from the sport and is due to deliver her first child with husband Curtis Conway, an ex-NFL wide receiver, in early September.
Should the daughter of the former heavyweight champion choose to return after giving birth, Holm thinks a match between the two would provide the biggest windfall the sport has seen, perhaps approaching the million-dollar stratosphere reserved for the planned-but-aborted bout between Martin and Lucia Rijker.
"If (a fight with Ali) happens, I don't think getting six figures would be an outrageous request for what we've accomplished," said Holm, who'll focus in the mean time on tentative plans for a rematch with Sanders in October. "But either way, I'm going to continue to challenge myself with the biggest names that are out there.
"I was really young when I started. So in the shape I'm in, I feel like I've got a lot of time left."
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The championship slate is clean until next weekend, leaving space for a quick look-back at how the crystal ball fared with last week's title-bout predictions.
The connections were apparently sound for both the Klitschko-Thompson (KO 8) and Solis-Donaire (KO 6) picks, though the bouts actually ended in an 11th- round stoppage and a wide unanimous decision, respectively.
Signals were clearly scrambled for the Alcine-Santos guess, however, where the forecast of a decision win for the defending champion instead ended poorly when Santos scored a one-punch KO win in the sixth round.
Overall record: 2-1.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides 'In The Ring' commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com), is a periodic contributor to 'The Drive with Dave Smith' on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.