A New Kind of Champion

Holly Holm’s Triumph over Ronda Rousey

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Some fight analysts are considering it to be the biggest upset in the history of ultimate fighting. Others go as far as to say it’s the greatest sports upset ever.

A new name exploded onto the sports world Saturday night, as Holly Holm shocked the reigning champion, and burgeoning celebrity and actress, Ronda Rousey. Whether you’re a raging, cage-loving, UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) activist or simply a run-of-the-mill sports fan, chances are you have heard about the veritable fall of Goliath through the slingshot of David.

Many were quick to comment about how Rousey’s meteoric rise to fame, having newly become a household name, must have proven to be a distraction. While the believing and unbelieving alike pointed to the timeless truth of Proverbs 16:18 (“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”), I prefer to reflect on the unexpected path of Holm, whom I have known personally for many years.

Quiet, Humble Holly

Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm is a tried and true product of my hometown and current residence, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Raised in the home of a preacher (who officiated my wedding; Holly was a bridesmaid) and coming from humble means, Holly has carried herself with quiet confidence, yet she is no stranger to professional competition. As a nineteen-time world champion in the arena of professional boxing, she has breathed the tension-thick air of primetime events for fifteen years.

We went to the same high school, where as a senior she started training as a kickboxer at Winklejohn’s gym. Then Holly and my wife were roommates for two years in college. My wife went on the road with Holly when she had her first kickboxing bout in Phoenix. At our wedding, Holly knew my wife felt uncomfortable about doing “the dollar dance” to raise money for our new life together, so she rented a gorilla suit and devised a way to “kidnap” the bride and groom until the wedding guests could raise enough money for the ransom.

Subtle, Silent Victor

The shock factor in Holly’s upset of the world-famous champion, in my opinion, had little to do with the varying levels of athleticism, talent, and skill. The surprise had everything to do with the subtle and silent nature of this victory. Although Holly is known in kickboxing circles for her soft prowess and striking power in the ring, her most commendable attribute privately is her humility.

The reason the decisive outcome of this bout caught so many off guard is simple — Holly was quiet. Her quiet conduct, both in the octagon of UFC and in the ring of life, is a unique display of quiet confidence. Unlike Rousey’s manifest arrogance (tweeting unquotable obscenities about Holly the day before the fight), Holly knelt in concern next to her defeated and humiliated opponent. The Holly the world saw in the post-fight interview promoting her training team in sheer selflessness is the same Holly we see living in a way that is radically others-oriented. In other words, the quiet confidence that carried Holly into the octagon is the same quiet confidence that carries Holly in the entirety of her life.

The Underdog Victory

Something tugs on our heartstrings about a quiet, humble underdog victory. Jesus conducted his life in obscurity and selflessness. He was born in a backwater, in trying times, and was an underdog from birth. He was rejected and despised by the very people he came to help (John 1:11). His initial popularity came from the mass misunderstanding of him as a miracle-worker. However, his surprising rise to true world-changing fame came through quietness and humility.

The UFC now has a new kind of queen on the throne. The reign of this queen will have a fresh flavor, marked by humility and quiet confidence that echoes a true and better king. Such a counter-cultural reign, no doubt, will be underappreciated, even mocked, by the world. It won’t capture the attention and hype of a Rousey reign, but it will leave its mark, and remind us of the path and calling of the true champion.