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The 2 Lives of Holly Holm

It’s 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, and Starbucks has a line and few open seats. So if you weren’t looking for her, you could easily walk right by Holly Holm.

Despite her straight, waist-length bleached blonde hair, she blends in wearing a lilac-colored hoodie and ripped jeans at a two-person table. One manicured hand holds her cellphone to her ear while the other lazily hits keys on the iPad her fiancé gave her for her birthday. Some days, a Bible takes the place of her computer.

Seeing Holm like this, chewing gum unabashedly, she could be taken for any 30-year-old modern woman with leisure time. Aside from the fact that she is New Mexico’s best-known professional boxer, Holm is still a girl’s girl.

Manis and pedis, snowboarding, yard work, sewing, time with friends and family, getting her hair highlighted (she is naturally a strawberry blonde and wishes she could easily go back to that) and shopping — these make up the “other side” of Holm.

She has already been to a fabric store this morning to look for the perfect mix of prints for a duffle bag she will sew for a friend getting married. Before that, she was spreading hot-pink icing on some heart-shaped cookies at the Far Northeast Heights home she shares with her two cats — a ragdoll named Buster and a Siamese named Frenchie (after one of the Pink Ladies in the movie “Grease”) — as well as her fiancé, Jeff Kirkpatrick, and his Yorkie, Steve.

“I made some (cookies) for Valentine’s Day, and I had some leftover ones, so I just frosted ’em real quick,” she says nonchalantly as she gets into her white Infiniti G35S, the stereo tuned to classic rock 102.5 FM. Foreigner’s “Urgent” is playing, and the dozen or so cookies cover a paper plate protected by plastic wrap on the passenger side floorboard.

Though Holm appears all sugar and spice, there is nothing soft or sweet about her when she enters the ring. Even when she likes her opponent as a person, which is more often than not, Holm is merciless when the gloves go on. She has pummeled another woman nonstop for 10 rounds, not out of anger, but because she will do whatever it takes to win. Between her bulls-eye punches and strong defensive moves, Holm has won at least eight world titles given by five organizations in three weight classes.

Certainly neither Holm nor her mom could have pictured the evolution of Holm’s warrior side when Holm, learning from her mom how to cook, went by the nickname “Nay Nay” — her mother’s version of her only girl’s middle name, Rene.

Holm the Homemaker
vs. Holm the Hitter
Q: How do you reconcile the two?
A: “It’s simple. They’re trained to beat you, so you’re in there (the ring) for survival. This is a sport and you know they train to win. That’s as basic as I can make it.
“You can’t be too nice, (but) you’re not in there to hurt someone; you’re in there to win. It’s competition.
“I feel like it’s a really pure sport. You put everything emotionally and physically into it. You’re totally exposed. It’s just you.”

“I love to bake, and I love to cook,” she says. “I’ve always baked. I mean, if (my mom and I) make pies, we make the crust from scratch. If we make cookies, we’ll even make the frosting from scratch,” just like the sugar/butter cookies she is taking today to her future sister-in-law, Lauren Kirkpatrick, and future mother-in-law, Vicky Kirkpatrick, who, along with Jeff, she is meeting for lunch at Cheese and Coffee on Louisiana.

“I come here about once a week,” she says, arriving at the restaurant. Her menu favorite: the Chelsea sandwich. “It’s like the typical Albuquerque turkey, except way better,” she says, ordering that with a side Greek salad and a Diet Coke.

“I chew gum every day, all day. I drink Diet Coke every day.”

But “I don’t diet,” she says. “A lot of my teammates get so irritated with me because they’re like, ‘Don’t even tell me what your diet is ’cause you’re diet is like our regular (eating habits). ‘Cause I don’t cut out carbs, and I have to eat something sweet every day, even if I’m training.

“I mean, I do modify things. I try not to eat greasy foods when I’m training. … French fries are probably a huge downfall for me, and I try not to order those when I’m getting closer to my fight.”

Her next battle is in June, and it’s a biggie — a rematch against Anne Sophie Mathis, of France, whom Holm lost to in December at Route 66 Casino. It was Holm’s first time to be on the receiving end of a knockout since her professional debut in 2002, and her first loss since 2004.

“I’m trying not to train too hard right now, because (the fight is) still so far away,” says Holm, who despite that, works out three to four hours a day, five days a week, including gym time, teaching aerobics and running trails in the foothills.

As the next Mathis fight approaches, Holm has to concentrate even more on her physicality. She performed well in the first four rounds against Mathis last time. A few fierce blows staggered the Frenchwoman against the ropes initially, and Holm waylaid her more than once with combinations in the fifth round, even though it was clear Holm was losing momentum. By the sixth, Holm was bloodied and dazed and barely standing. Even so, she said later she was telling herself, “You know what, Holly, you don’t just not go down, you need to fight back.” She did just that and ended up unconscious.

It was the most brutal beating Holm has endured, but she still left saying the biggest injury of the night was to “my pride and my ego.”

“This is a normal day,” Holm says of the recent day the Journal spent with her — training, going to lunch with family, browsing fabric stores and running errands.

“I have to go to the grocery store ’cause I’m making taco soup tonight. It’s actually a recipe that my grandmother made. I have to go to the post office ’cause I have to send out this card. One of my dad’s friends had to put his cat to sleep, so I got him a card with a cat. So there’s stuff like that … I do go sewing and do go to fabric stores all the time. I do like to go look at houses (that are for sale), even the not-so-glamorous ones.” She says she likes to imagine how she could fix them up.

Holm even got her Realtor’s license about a year and a half ago but is not using it. It’s “just to have something to fall back on … My dad does it, and he encouraged me to do it.”

Her dad, Roger Holm, is also a preacher at Edgewood Church of Christ. When Holm was growing up, he had preached at Bosque Farms Church of Christ.

“I went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. … We grew up living in a house owned by the church … We had potlucks all the time, and I was like a babysitter for a lot of the members of the church. I always had to be on time for services and help out with the nursery. … I couldn’t be a very selfish kid.”

Which is probably why, as an adult, much of her energy outside the ring is focused on family and friends.

“That is my favorite thing — having everybody come over. I love to cater to them, feed them, and I don’t want them to clean up. … I like people just to come relax — like this house is your house,” Holm says.

It’s a trait her sister-in-law-to-be does not take for granted: “You’re always kind of scared of who your brother marries, but I lucked out big time,” says Kirkpatrick, who has become one of Holm’s best friends and confidantes.

Touting Holm’s selfless nature, energy and creativity, Kirkpatrick pulls up a cellphone camera shot of a caterpillar cake Holm helped design and bake for a Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed baby shower. “Amazing,” she says.

For her wedding, set for April 27 in Cancun, Holm is also a do-it-herselfer, making everything from the Mason jar centerpieces for the reception to the gifts for guests.

“And if anybody needs alterations on their (floor-length, shell-colored bridesmaids) dress, I’m gonna do it,” she says, showing a photo of the dress on a cellphone.

Today, Holm is accessorized in brown leather flats and a black and white Coach tote. Crystal stud earrings, a pendant necklace and square diamond engagement ring dress up her otherwise casual-fashionista appearance.

“I’m never against shopping,” she says. “I shop all the time. I’m a cheap shopper. Like I’ll buy a lot of shirts at Forever 21. … And I clean my closet out all the time. I’m, like, if I haven’t worn it in a year, it’s gone. I’ll give it to my friend.”

For now, Holm is determined to find, with the help of Kirkpatrick, materials for the quilted duffle bag she is sewing for her friend getting married. “I look for a reason to make them,” she says of the creations that usually mix bold colors and prints.

“There’s like a waiting list for Holly’s bags,” says Kirkpatrick.

The first duffle Holm made was for herself: “I wanted one for the gym. I was going to look, and I thought, none of those are really it … I made it with like leopard, tiger and pink leopard (prints).”

She has it with her later at a pro sparring class at her manager Mike Winkeljohn’s gym on Acoma Road SE.

The heavy stench of sweat and mildewed clothes is almost suffocating. It’s loud and stinky and threatening. Dozens of fighters spar, punch bags and practice in a ring they call the cage. Holm faces five male partners, each for a 5-minute round. It’s common knowledge she gets upset if anyone goes easy on her. Her hair is up now, but loose and tangled and sweaty within blue headgear, and a protective mouthpiece makes her makeup-free face even more intimidating. Grunts fill the room, including Holm’s own with almost every punch.

But when the final buzzer sounds, the headgear comes off and she steps into a pair of purple flip-flops. A one-inch, pink puffy spot and scar that weren’t apparent earlier now stand out under her left eye — a reminder of the deep, bloody cut she received from the knock-out in December.

“Some days, it’s poofier than others,” she says. “Like in the morning, it won’t be there, and then in the afternoon, it will be poofy again.”

She seems less concerned about that than her fingernails, which have just emerged unscathed from an hour in boxing gloves. “It’s that gel stuff,” she says of her neutral nail color. “I just got these done yesterday, and then I had to put on gloves 10 minutes later and was afraid they’d chip, but they didn’t.”

Though she is wearing her favorite hang-out attire — yoga pants — she does not practice yoga or do other specific activities for relaxation.

However, she does admit to hours of couch time in front of “Family Feud,” which she says she and her fiancé have become somewhat addicted to.

Her quilting and sewing are also respites.

“But I much prefer, if I have the time for that, to go to church. I feel really not focused and detached if I don’t go to church. I feel like I feel better about myself and life and my relationship with God if I go. I feel more connected. I try to go every Sunday morning, but there’s times that I just can’t. And then sometimes I get a little irritated with myself because I’m like, ‘Really, Holly? God sacrifices and has you in mind all day, every day. One hour (is all it takes).’ … I’m very blessed — how can I not want to give back one day, one hour even? I’m like OK, I’m going to Starbucks (and) instead of bringing my iPad, maybe I’ll bring my Bible. I might as well use the time then.”

Though her nurturing, spiritual nature is difficult to reconcile with the kick-ass persona most New Mexicans see, the two sides of Holm are united by one quality: intensity.

Q: Is there anything you’re afraid of?
A: “Just losing.”
Q: What about outside the ring?
A: “Mostly just failure. At anything. I don’t care what it is. Like I want to be a good friend to people. I don’t want to fail at that. I want my marriage to last. I don’t want to fail at that. I want my career to be successful. I don’t want to fail at that. I want to be good to my family. I don’t want to fail at that. If I make food, I want it to taste good. If I sew something, I want it to look good. I don’t like failure — in any way.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal