IN THE SUMMER of 2012, I won a welterweight world title belt in women's boxing. The fight was held in front of 3,000 fans at the Route 66 Casino, in my hometown of Albuquerque. It was a great night. I had family and friends there and got a lot of texts congratulating me. Afterward, my husband, Jeff, and I got into our truck and drove home. The next day there was a story in the local newspaper.
Last November, I fought for the UFC's women's bantamweight championship. In front of almost 60,000 fans in Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, and a ton of eyeballs around the world, I knocked out Ronda Rousey in the second round. I remember that after the fight, as I was being driven to the press conference in a golf cart, I was wondering whether my life would change. Before flying back home I spent the next two days with friends and family in this faraway Australian city, having team meals, taking in the moment and not letting the time pass me by. Looking back, I see that was the calm before the storm. I was hanging on to a last bit of "normal" before the fame train took off.
After I came back to the U.S., I spent less than a day at home before I was off to New York City for all sorts of media appearances—including, yes, an interview and photo shoot for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. There were early-morning wake-up calls and late-night TV shows. I was a guest on Seth Meyers's show. I always loved Kelly and Michael, and then there I was, on their show. I went to Los Angeles. I went to Las Vegas. If I wasn't flying, I was in the back of a town car. I picked up more than 100,000 followers on Twitter. When I finally had some time at home, the city of Albuquerque threw me a parade.
I want to be clear: I'm not complaining or looking for sympathy. This has been an amazing and humbling experience. You work hard for something, and while you haven't been doing it to get recognized, it's nice when you are. I've had so many incredible experiences these last few months. I met John Elway, someone I've always admired, and that was an honor. Same for Derek Jeter. Jamie Foxx. Floyd Mayweather.
But it's an adjustment. Your time gets sliced and diced. You want to sign every autograph and take every photo, but something has to give. I'm 34 and married and have a lot of people around me who have been with me a long time, before any of this. It must be so hard to deal with fame when you're younger or you don't have that support base.
People say it all the time, but after the last few months it really is easy for me to see how celebrity can change a person. It's helpful to remind yourself why you got this fame. It wasn't for your ability to do an interview or pose for photos. You had an underlying talent. In my case, it was because of the way I competed in mixed martial arts.
That's one reason I was so eager to get another fight from the UFC. I wanted to get back to training and competing and doing what got me here. When I was given an opponent, Miesha Tate, and a fight date to look forward to, it was like, Yes, I can focus on what I do best.
I'm back in training. Back to driving myself and not being driven. Back to sleeping in my own bed. And I'm dialing back the interviews and appearances. From game-planning for a different kind of opponent—Ronda has a judo background, Miesha is more of a wrestler—to altitude training, I'm going to do everything I can to be prepared for the fight. If, afterward, there's another victory tour, that will be fine with me.
Holly Holm, who knocked out Ronda Rousey in her last fight (left), defends her belt against Miesha Tate at UFC 197, on March 5 in Las Vegas.
One reason I was so eager to get another UFC fight: to get back to training and competing and doing what got me here.
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VICTORIA WILL FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HOLM)
PAUL CROCK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (FIGHT)