"She's turned down a lot of money," Holm's longtime coach, Mike Winkeljohn, told MMAjunkie.com (mmajunkie.com). "I'll throw a figure out there: She turned down a quarter-million dollars, because she had decided, hey, I want to do MMA."
The question is, why? Why would such a decorated boxer leave the sport she knows best in order to devote herself to one she'd previously only dabbled in? Why turn your back on guaranteed success in one arena for the faintest hope of it in another? Who does that?
Apparently the 31-year-old Holm does. Earlier this year the New Mexico-based fighter announced her retirement from boxing in order to focus on a full-time MMA career. A couple months later she proved how serious she was about her new profession when she knocked out Allanna Jones with a second-round head kick at a Legacy FC event in Houston, bringing her record as an MMA fighter to 4-0.
To outsiders, it might seem like Holm ditched boxing in favor of MMA because the latter offered a brighter future for female fighters. But to hear Holm tell it, the decision had a lot less to do with a cold calculation and more with how she felt when she walked into the gym each day.
"When I first started coming up, I told myself I would only fight because it was my passion," Holm said. "I said I'd never fight just for money or fame. And what started happening was, I would go into the gym and I would have to box, and all I really wanted to do was kickbox or do MMA."
In a way, you can blame Winkeljohn for that. He first met Holm back when he ran his own New Mexico-based kickboxing gym – well before he merged with noted MMA trainer Greg Jackson to form one of the most successful MMA teams in the world.
Back then, Winkeljohn said, one of his most popular offerings was a cardio kickboxing class for people who wanted to get in shape and maybe learn some new skills but weren't crazy about the idea of actually being punched in the face. Holm was a teenager "in between soccer seasons," she said, when a friend invited her to come along to one of Winkeljohn's classes.
"I thought, sure, I'll go with you," Holm said. "I need to stay in shape anyway. Why not?"
Right away, she took to it. Then one day, according to Winkeljohn, he spied her on the edges of the gym, watching his more competitive kickboxers spar.
"She watched for a while and said, 'You know, I kind of want to do that.' I told her OK, you can try it," Winkeljohn said. "I worked with her just a little bit and then put her in there and I could tell she was a fighter when she got smacked and right away went to fire back. That's not always a good idea, but she had heart. She was willing to throw down, and afterward she was kind of mad at herself for not doing better. It was one of those moments where you go, yep, that's a fighter."
Since kickboxing was what Winkeljohn taught, that's what Holm did. She took one fight, she said, "just to see what it would be like."
"Then I was hooked," Holm said.
The problem was, there weren't many opportunities for female kickboxers in New Mexico at the time. Boxing was a different story. That's where Holm first began to find real success, which only motivated her to look for new challenges.
"At first she had toughness, but she didn't have the conditioning," Winkeljohn said. "But that changed. She quickly became the hardest worker in the gym, and that's when she went to the next level. I could see she was willing to do the work."
When Winkeljohn joined forces with Jackson to form the Albuquerque-based fight team that would become an MMA powerhouse, Holm went with him. Her intention was simply to continue her training as a boxer, albeit one surrounded by MMA fighters. But one thing led to another and soon she was using her boxing and kickboxing skills to help her teammates prepare for upcoming MMA fights.
"One day it would be like, 'Well, she's going to fight a girl who's going to try and take her down, so mix in some of that,'" Holm said. "I didn't even know takedowns but I thought, sure, I'll try it. I just had a lot of fun trying. Over time, my passion grew for it."
At the same time, her passion for boxing gradually diminished.
"I think she was just tired of getting burned in the boxing world," Winkeljohn said. "Everything was always, the next fight, that's going to be the big one. She kept beating everybody out there, but it was always, next one. ...She just didn't have any challenges left. She wanted a challenge, like she said, to climb a new mountain. That's the kind of person she is."
But if she was going to climb that mountain, Holm figured, she'd better get started.
"I'll be 32 this year, and while I don't consider myself old, I don't consider myself young," she said. "If I want to make a go of it in MMA, I should really start now. If I wait, there might not be enough time. If I'm going to see what I can do with it, let's do it now."
That was her goal in signing with Legacy FC, Holm said. After winning her first fight in that organization with the highlight-reel head kick in July, she hopes to have another in the next few months. The money she's making now isn't much compared to what she might have earned if she'd stayed in boxing, but with the UFC recently opening its doors to female fighters, that might not remain the case for long.
"The money's never been my motivation in any way," Holm said. "I mean, it's my livelihood, and there's also something to it where you want the recognition that comes with it. In that sense, I feel like there's more potential money for women in MMA right now. I think if you'd have asked three years ago, I don't know if that would have been true. ...Boxing for women, it's had its ups and downs, but I don't think it was ever as big as women's MMA is starting to get right now."
According to Winkeljohn, success at the top level – and the money that comes with it – are both "right around the corner" for Holm.
"She could be in the UFC right now," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind. She could be there, but she's not ready for the top, the biggest sharks there. Not yet. When she goes, I want her to go at the right time."