Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, is credited as having said it first: If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.
No opponent could be scarier than Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
But Holly Holm is dreaming big.
On Dec. 30 in Las Vegas, Nev., Albuquerque’s Holm (11-3) will challenge Cyborg (18-1) for the Brazilian’s UFC women’s featherweight title. As of Thursday, Cyborg was approximately a 4-1 betting favorite.
Don’t tell Holm the odds. She was a far more pronounced underdog in November 2015 when she defeated the previously unbeaten Ronda Rousey in Australia — an outcome still considered by many the greatest upset in MMA history.
Leading off a Thursday news conference with Sirleaf’s memorable quote, Holm made it clear she welcomes the task of facing the powerful Cyborg, whose only loss came in her first MMA fight 12½ years ago.
“I don’t want to get to the end of my career and think, ‘I made it, but I did it comfortably’ — fighting people I thought were easier people, or anything like that,” she said.
“I want it to be (against) the best, because then I feel better about it.”
During her 16-year professional combat-sports career, Holm first as a boxer accepted challenges against women’s ring pioneer Christy Martin, the then-unbeaten Mary Jo Sanders and the power-punching Anne Sophie Mathis. Then, just nine fights into her MMA career, she climbed into the Octagon with the thought-to-be invincible Rousey.
“Those are the fights people remember across the world, and so that’s what I want to create,” she said. “I want to create that moment.”
For that matter, don’t tell Holm she’s the underdog.
“I think it’s a little more than just thinking ‘I’m the underdog, I’m gonna prove everybody wrong,'” she said. “I’m the underdog on paper, but in my own mind and with the people that are on my team and believe in me, I don’t really feel like I’m the underdog.”
At age 36, Holm said, she’s as motivated as she was before her first pro boxing match at age 20.
She wishes everyone could experience not just the highs, but the lows of a combat-sports career.
“I know there’s a lot of people that say, ‘I don’t understand your job. You’re a 36-year-old woman. Don’t you want to have kids, don’t you want this, don’t you want that?’
“They say, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know how you do it without being able to experience the excitement and the passion that this sport brings.’ You can’t explain it unless you’ve been in it.”
Still she said, everyone understands, or should, the pursuit of excellence.
“Everybody has a fighter in them, no matter who it is,” she said. “You want to succeed in whatever it is you’re doing. Whatever it is you’re doing, you want to do it well.
“That’s definitely what I want to do. I want to succeed in it. I want to do it well. I want to put my heart into it, and I want to be able to make a difference.”
Her sport is a selfish one, she said, and her primary drive is not to prove herself to anyone else. But, she said, she wants to “show people I believe in myself for a reason. I don’t want to just say that I believe in myself just to try to trick myself into believing I really feel that way.
“I do really feel I can beat her. … I just want to do the best I can for me, for my team, for my family my friends, for everybody that’s supported me.”
The Cyborg fight will be Holm’s second at the 145-pound featherweight limit. She lost by unanimous though disputed decision to Germaine de Randamie for the UFC title at that weight in February.
Holm’s other six UFC fights, including her victory by third-round TKO over Bethe Correia in June, were at 135.
Holm will not have to cut significant weight to make the 145-pound limit at the weigh-in Dec. 29. Cyborg, who said Thursday on a UFC teleconference that she’s on her way down from 170 pounds, likely will enter the Octagon the following night weighing significantly more than Holm after eating and hydrating.
The Albuquerque southpaw, a relatively big 135-pounder, has had little experience against bigger opponents. But she’s taken the necessary steps, she said, to prepare — sparring with men bigger than she, and bigger than Cyborg, in her training at Jackson-Wink MMA.
“They were really good for this fight,” she said. “Some of them have really pushed me.
“Even when they knew some of their shots kind of hurt me, they still stayed on me, because in a fight they know that I’m gonna want to keep pushing through that.”
VIEWING PARTY: Isleta Resort & Casino will host a showing of the UFC 219 pay-per-view telecast. Doors open at 5:30. Tickets ($15) are available at isleta.com or at the Isleta box office.