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With contender callouts mounting, Holly Holm already feeling target on her back: ‘It’s a lot of pressure’

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Wilson Fox

Holly Holm may only be a month removed from the ink drying on her UFC contract, but with top-six ranked contenders Miesha Tate and Jessica Eye already calling for a chance to welcome Holm into the Octagon, the former 18-time boxing champion knows that the publicity of being the female bantamweight division's next big thing comes at a cost.

"It's a lot of pressure," Holm admitted on Wednesday's episode of UFC Tonight. "Especially, people who even just run into me are like, ‘Aren't you so excited? You made it to the UFC!' Well, that's exciting, but I didn't make it anywhere yet. I have all my work ahead of me. So yes, it's exciting, but comes with a lot of pressure and a lot of emotion around that. I figure you've just got to take the good with the bad.

"If nobody was excited about it and nobody was talking about it, that means maybe I wasn't really someone to look out for. But the fact that I feel like a lot of the girls do want to, like you said, I have a target on my back and they want to be the first to get at me, I like that. It just makes me want to train harder and it motivates me. I really just want to stay focused and keep it as a good motivation, not get overwhelmed with anything."

Holm (7-0) inked a five-fight deal with the UFC in July, ending a lengthy standoff between her management and Zuffa executives. With her decorated boxing and kickboxing backgrounds, along with a blistering highlight reel that stretches across MMA's regional scene, Holm enters the UFC as the most highly-touted prospect in a division sorely lacking in marketable contenders to challenge undefeated champion Ronda Rousey.

Though she may be young in the game, Holm has impressed thus far in her limited cage time. In her most recent outing last April, Holm battered Juliana Werner with a dazzling array of striking combinations before finishing the veteran with a devastating salvo led by a head kick, all while competing with a broken arm.

She's been stuck on the sidelines ever since, and although she's now nearing 100-percent in regards to her injury, Holm admitted to being "frustrated" by her lack of ability to train her ground game at full speed, especially considering that the mat is the one area where Rousey excels the most.

"It's coming along," the 32-year-old said of her evolving skillset. "I'll never feel ready, even if I'd been doing it for years. I still think that my jab needs a ton of work and I've been boxing forever. So I don't think like I'll ever feel like my ground game is there, but I definitely have a lot of work to do."

UFC matchmakers have yet to pin down an opponent for Holm's UFC debut, but one thing is for certain: If she's able to maintain her striking dominance against competition on the highest level, a title shot won't be far from her future. And while Holm won't specifically call for her road to be fast-tracked, she won't argue against the idea either.

"I don't know," she said. "It's like, I want it, I want it right away. And then I think, let's take baby steps. So I don't know.

"[Rousey] is the person to beat. There's a lot of tough girls along the way, and I just want to be able to take it one step at a time and work my way up. I obviously would love to fight for the title, otherwise why would I be doing this sport? It's one of my goals and my dreams, and I'm just going to keep shooting for it."