Holly’s hubby: UFC fame hasn’t changed New Mexico’s fight queen (w/ video)

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.

ALSO READ: UFC Notebook: Holm most drug tested fighter of past year, other notes

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.”

Holly Holm will fight in the main event at "UFC on Fox 20" tonight in Chicago. (Geoff Grammer/Journal)
Holly Holm will fight in the main event at “UFC on Fox 20” tonight in Chicago.
(Geoff Grammer/Journal)

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.”

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Holm: The focus is still there

Holly Holm, left, attacks Miesha Tate during their March 5 fight at UFC 196 in Las Vegas, Nev., which Tate won with a fifth-round rear-naked choke. Holm returns to action on Saturday in Chicago against Valentina Shevchenko. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
Holly Holm, left, attacks Miesha Tate during their March 5 fight at UFC 196 in Las Vegas, Nev., which Tate won with a fifth-round rear-naked choke. Holm returns to action on Saturday in Chicago against Valentina Shevchenko. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

One split second. A “momentary lapse.”

That’s how Holly Holm describes what led to her loss to Miesha Tate via a fifth-round rear-naked choke and losing her UFC belt in March.

It wasn’t the media circus, the Holm-town parade in Albuquerque and the life-changing whirlwind of events following her stunning upset knockout of Ronda Rousey, mixed-martial arts’ biggest star, with a kick felt ’round the world in November. That victory made Holm the freshly anointed queen of the UFC.

“As far as training and everything in that fight, I was preparing for (Tate) and I was getting ready for her,” Holm insisted on Monday.

“I was not overlooking her at all. But I do feel like maybe I didn’t fight in the same sense of urgency for her in that last round that I should have been.”

Now, Holm (10-1), is the UFC’s No. 2 ranked women’s bantamweight fighter, back on the pursuit toward winning a title instead of defending one. She is out to prove her focus is as sharp as ever against Valentina Shevchenko (12-2).

The two are the main event for Saturday night’s nationally televised UFC on Fox in Chicago’s United Center. A win, many predict, could earn Holm, 34, another title shot – this one against new champion Amanda Nunes, who beat Tate last week at UFC 200.

Holm spent Monday on another UFC-mandated media blitz in Los Angeles with appearances or interviews with at least a half dozen media outlets before she heads to Chicago for the fight. She feels she has a grasp on the balance between enjoying the moment and blocking out the distractions of fame around her.

“I don’t want to get all the way to the end of my career and think, ‘Oh my gosh. All that really happened?'” Holm said. “I want to experience it as it’s here and be as real as I can with it as it’s here. But at the same time, I want to put in all the hard work because I want to make it all worth it.”

Saturday’s primetime appearance for the “Preacher’s Daughter” won’t be easy, even if it against an opponent with whom even many regular UFC fans might not be that familiar.

Like the path Holm took from her world champion boxing days to the fledgling UFC women’s bantamweight, the 28-year-old Shevchenko is one of the most decorated champions in women’s combat sports, but gained most of her notoriety as a world class muay thai champion.

“Her muay thai background has, I think, actually more fights than my boxing background had,” Holm said.

“And she had a couple more fights than me in her (mixed martial arts) career. So she’s definitely a seasoned athlete. I know what I’m facing. I know that I have my hands full with her and I know that I have a very tough opponent in front of me.”

ON BONES: Asked three times during a Monday afternoon conference call, Holm politely answered three different ways that she has not yet spoken with friend and teammate Jon “Bones” Jones since his failed drug test led to his being pulled from the UFC 200 card in Las Vegas, Nev., earlier this month.

She said he was back in the gym working out and training the Monday after UFC 200, which was July 9.

“He’s always been supportive of my whole career,” Holm said. “He’s even been there for some of my boxing fights and always has been a good mentor and a good teammate. … I don’t ever want to support anything negative or wrong. And I don’t want to ever assume anything that I don’t know all the facts on. I guess we’ll just see how everything plays out.”

“FIGHT VALLEY”: Filmed months ago, and well out the time frame of any training camp, “Fight Valley,” starring Holm, Tate and Cristina “Cyborg” Justino debuts on demand and in select cities on Friday.

The only theater in New Mexico scheduled to show the film this weekend is Santa Fe’s Jean Cocteau Cinema, 418 Montezuma Ave.

FIGHT MADE: Jackson-Wink middleweight Derek Brunson (15-3), ranked No. 10 in his division on UFC.com, will fight No. 9 Uriah Hall (12-6) on Sept. 17 at UFC Fight Night 94 in Hidalgo, Texas. The fight was announced on Monday.

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