MMA fighter's profile shows fancy footwork, but doesn't score a knockout

Holly Holm is a formidable mixed martial arts fighter, skilled with accurate kicks and punches. But the Albuquerque Journal's profile on her lands only glancing blows on her spirituality.

The undefeated 9-0 MMA fighter goes up against champion Ronda Rousey Saturday night for the bantamweight title, and the Journal took the occasion to write a profile on Holm. And it found a good hook: her blend of ferocity and gentleness.

Here's the opening:

Two sides of Holly Holm’s nature were on display in a Houston cage on July 19, 2013.
First, the Albuquerque MMA fighter felled Allanna Jones with a vicious kick to the head. Holm dropped to finish her opponent on the ground, but it wasn’t necessary; Jones was out cold.
Then, instead of celebrating the spectacular victory, a somber Holm knelt on the canvas – waiting for a sign that Jones was going to be OK. Only after Jones stirred did "The Preacher’s Daughter" get to her feet and acknowledge the crowd.

What a great start, hinting at a link between religion and compassion. I wish the story had spelled out that link.

Much of the piece turns on the relationship of father and daughter. A former farm boy and high school football player, John Holm "exudes a certain toughness," the Journal says. Like Holly, his two sons are physically active: wrestling, football, bronco riding.

But he also set a nurturing example, the article says:

"I taught my kids hope," he said. "Always make sure you’ve got time for somebody’s heart.
"That’s the key to life."

Another thumbs-up for saying what kind of preacher Roger is. The story says he ministers at the Edgewood Church of Christ, although it doesn't go into detail on what Churches of Christ teach. (Maybe that's just as well; mainstream media usually tag Churches of Christ as "fundamentalist," without saying what that means.)

The story brings out John's quietly supportive nature toward his daughter. You'd think a tough dad would either forbid Holly in her career or push her in it. Instead, he's encouraged her but has largely stepped aside. Holly says she's glad he hasn't been "the stereotypical Little League parent." And her coach blesses John as Benedict "very, very easygoing."

The Journal alertly spots an unexpected benefit of a fighter having a minister father:

Being a preacher’s kid, he said, expected to behave a certain way pretty much all the time, wasn’t always easy for his daughter. But there were advantages, too.
"Holly knows what it’s like to be in the limelight," Roger said. "I guess that’s why she can handle it a little better than some."

Still another beauty is the honesty about the rough spots in John's life. He divorced his wife, her mother, and left the pastorate at his previous church, "having decided he needed a break from preaching." This is told matter-of-factly, neither cynically nor defensively. It doesn't say definitely whether the divorce led to leaving the pulpit, though. It also doesn't say what he did between pastorates.

So the article has a lot to recommend it. Problems?

A comparatively minor one is when the Journal says John studied at the Bible Institute of Denver. I don’t see that in a Google search. Perhaps he was talking shorthand for the Bear Valley Bible Institute International, part of Denver's Bear Valley Church of Christ. The paper should have asked a little more closely.

A larger issue is one that the newspaper brings up itself: "Roger Holm has been asked many times, he said, how as a minister he could allow or approve of his daughter’s career in combat sports." Having posed the question, the story then veers off into her career and upbringing.

And wasn't Holly herself asked about it? We began the story with a glimpse of her two sides in that 2013 fight: first kicking someone to the ground, then kneeling to see if she was all right. How does she reconcile her brutal vocation with the gentle, redemptive nature of Christianity?

Now, I know that all kinds of things could have happened. Maybe a reporter ran out of interview time and couldn't ask a lot of follow-up questions. Or maybe he did ask, and Holly and John gave muddled or contradictory answers. Or maybe the story was kicked around by a brutal editor.

But any of those possibilities ends up with an incomplete story. This is one way that journalism is different from MMA: You need to finish before the buzzer. If you raise a question, you answer it.


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