Thousands of people took to the streets of Albuquerque Sunday to welcome Holly Holm home as the newest victor in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s women’s bantamweight division.
Little girls carrying pictures of the champion were decked out in velour tracksuits, alongside their parents, aunts, uncles, even grandparents rolling up in wheelchairs.
Holly Holm won the mixed martial arts championship title last month at a fight in Melbourne, Australia against Ronda Rousey.
Evan and Ava Villegas are nine- and ten-years-old and said they are so glad that the champion finally came home from Australia.
Tina Aragon was wearing boxing gloves that she said are a Christmas present for her granddaughter who has dreams of pro-fighting. That makes Aragon nervous.
“My granddaughter wants to be a boxer, I’m not so sure,” Aragon said. “It’s going to be tough for a grandmother to see your granddaughter get hit, but whatever she wants to do.”
Six-year-old Marco Ray, who has been watching Holly Holm fight for as long as he can remember, held a sign that said “Holly Holm for President” alongside his father, Dominic Archibeque.
“We’ve been watching her since the beginning,” Archibeque explained, “when she was fighting at the casino. Now that she won the title she is an international star.”
Archibeque said his family was happy for Holm and that winning the UFC title couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more humble person.
The restless crowd at Albuquerque Civic Plaza was giddy, chanting for Holm whose nickname is “The Preacher's Daughter.”
City Councilor Klarissa Pena and County Commissioner Art De La Cruz introduced the athlete together.
Holm was emotional as she took the microphone with her long golden hair hanging down freely. In fight mode it's always tied back.
“I’m going to shoot from the hip and the heart,” Holm said, before explaining the history of her fighting career.
She said her training team has had faith in her for nearly 20 years. She also thanked her family.
“My mom and dad were always telling me, 'you belong there, you believe in it and you go for it,'” Holm said. “'You are always capable and you can accomplish anything you really put your heart into.'”
Then came the moment when her local fans got the shout-out of their lives.
“I can have all this support in the world and if nobody is in the stands watching the fight, I don’t even have a job. I love you guys!” Holm said. “My fans started here, my whole career started here, and it wasn’t just my team that helped me believe in myself, it was the support of Albuquerque. Thank you so much for taking your time.”
In that moment, the pride of the city was palpable: the people of Albuquerque taking great joy in making headlines for being part of an inspiring win.