CHICAGO — The eyes of the “Preacher’s Daughter” can turn cold as ice.
It’s a stark contrast to the wholesome, nice-as-can-be life she lives almost every other moment of the day. But, when a determined Holly Holm locks in her steely gaze, there’s not much more intimidating than being on the receiving end.
It was what Valentina Shevchenko experienced Friday in the United Center during a staredown with Holm in advance of tonight’s “UFC on Fox” main event – a staredown that ended only when others pulled the fighters apart.
And the feeling Shevchenko surely felt is one Jeff Kirkpatrick might be able to sympathize with better than anyone.
“Watching her go through the dieting,” Kirkpatrick said quickly when asked what the toughest part of being the husband of a world-class fighter is. “I can eat cookies and drink Coke and eat fat, fried foods and all the fun stuff, and she has to sit there and struggle watching me do it. So the weight cut (before a fight) is tough leading up to it.”
Like any good husband, Kirkpatrick says he quickly learned better than to flaunt his junk food around her while she’s trying to shed a few pounds.
Kidding aside, the 36-year-old husband of New Mexico’s queen of fighting says the bond between him and his wife is as strong now as ever. That’s because they’ve managed to keep their lives as close to the same as possible despite the world around them being anything but normal since Holm’s November upset victory over Ronda Rousey.
“What I’ve learned is Holly is the same Holly she ever was and always will be,” said Kirkpatrick, the vice president of operations for his family’s Albuquerque-based AAA Roofing Co.
“She doesn’t let the fame, the popularity, any of that get to her head. … Her best friends are still her best friends. Her family is still her family. That all comes first in her life.”
And the life they made long before they were meeting Jay Z and Beyoncé, winning ESPYs or attending basketball games with Jamie Foxx, is still the life they try to live.
“At the end of the day when she leaves her work and I leave my work, we’re still just two normal people from New Mexico,” he says.
The “normal” couple, Kirkpatrick acknowledges, now has trouble going out in public without being hounded for pictures and autographs, something that the two used to be able to escape when outside of Albuquerque. Not anymore.
“We could go to Colorado, go to California or out of the country and no big deal,” Kirkpatrick joked. “Now, all that’s changed. You come to Chicago, you go to New York, you go to Mexico, anywhere you go it’s not quite as peaceful as it used to be. … She doesn’t get to be the normal Holly from Bosque Farms she used to be.”
But make no mistake, he’s loving the ride they are on.
Friday, while donning his familiar backward baseball cap and a Jackson-Wink MMA T-shirt, he sat nervously in a dark corner, stage right, during the weigh-ins. He watched proudly as a few thousand fans screamed for his wife, and he’ll do so again tonight when thousands more cheer her name, with millions more expected to tune in to the national prime-time broadcast.
He says that part – watching his wife get locked into the octagon with her opponent – is the easy part.
“Once the fight starts, all the emotions go away and 100 percent confidence in her,” Kirkpatrick said.
And while he won’t make specific predictions, other than a victory, he says his wife is more than ready for Shevchenko, who could be a springboard for Holm to get another title shot. And he’ll gladly be along the journey every step of the way, serving, he says, as “the arm candy” for one of the most famous fighters in the world.
“I like watching her succeed,” Kirkpatrick said. “The satisfaction she gets out of it, it’s more important than anything in the world for me.”