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UFC champion Holm has ties to Medford

Marybeth Pearson felt the full spectrum of emotions last Saturday as she watched the highly anticipated Ultimate Fighting Championship bout between Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm.

Pearson didn't have a big bet on the line — the Medford resident is Holm's aunt.

"It feels that much more intense when you are watching someone you love," Pearson says.

Gathered at Pearson's home, "Holly's Holmies" — a small group of friends who support Holm — erupted in cheers as Holm won the fight via knockout in the second round after delivering a jarring head kick. With the UFC 193 main-event triumph, Holm claimed the UFC bantamweight crown, further boosting her skyrocketing fame.

It's been a journey to the top for the 34-year-old Holm, who is the youngest of three children. Pearson is one of five siblings, and her brother Roger is Holm's father. Marybeth, Roger and their brothers and sisters grew up on a farm in Colorado before everyone eventually went their separate ways.

Roger became a preacher who worked in Iowa and then Albuquerque, N.M., where Holm resides.

Old posters and photographs of Holm can be found in the Pearson household. The family, including husband Greg and three boys, has followed the rise of their favorite fighter, cheering her on from afar all the while.

The Pearson family last met with Holm at a family reunion in Colorado two years ago and they exchange occasional text messages. Before the fight, Holm sent out a text that said, "I hope I make the family proud," Pearson says.

Holm has been to Oregon a handful of times but not recently, Pearson says.

Pearson has watched several of her fights in person, including UFC 184 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, on Feb. 28. Holm beat Raquel Pennington by split decision in her UFC debut.

Against Rousey, Holm improved to 10-0 in MMA fights after displaying exceptional striking and defending against her opponent’s renowned takedown ability.

If Holm is on TV, the Pearsons have it on.

The 5-foot-8, 135-pound Holm grew up with two brothers in Bosque Farms, N.M., near Albuquerque. She participated in soccer, gymnastics and swimming as a child before evolving into a world-class kickboxer and boxer. During her boxing career, she defended her titles 18 times in three weight classes and is the only person of either gender to capture true world championships in both boxing and MMA.

Pearson said her son Drew recalled running around the family farm in Colorado with Holm when they were younger, as both families came to visit their mother. They would go out and buck hay and feed cows.

Sean Pearson, another of Marybeth’s sons, relayed to her that Holm would playfully pin the boys down to give them a kiss.

Holm signed a multi-year deal with the UFC on July 10, reportedly for five fights.

Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis recently signed a proclamation naming November Holly Holm Month, and newspapers, magazines and websites around the globe are covering her.

The attention has not changed Holm, Pearson says.

"It wasn't about the money, it was about the love of the sport and just wanting to be the best," Pearson says. “She's not in it for the fame or money."

The scene last Saturday with "Holly's Holmies" was a festive one, with the clan of women dressed in green shirts to represent the family's Irish side and holding up a sign that read "We Believe" with a shamrock on it.

Pearson purposely kept the gathering low key so that everyone could focus on the fight, which took place in Melbourne, Australia.

"She comes out to Irish music and is very Irish on the inside," Pearson says. "We wore the green shirts as a tribute to our heritage."

Holm was a big betting underdog against the previously undefeated Rousey, but the local women believed.

"Our hearts were in our throats and our stomachs were churning," Pearson says. "You have that fear that she could get hurt, but we were confident so we felt more excited than scared. We just knew she would fight Ronda way differently. She fought the perfect fight against her and couldn't have executed any better."

Afterward, Pearson's phone blew up with words of congratulations for her relative.

"I can't imagine what (Holm's) phone was doing," she says.

Pearson says she and her family hope to attend Holm's next fight. Pearson also hopes to invite Holm to Southern Oregon to visit the family. Marybeth’s brother Brad lives here with his wife Ronda and two of their daughters, as do Holly’s cousins Crystal Holm and Whitney Davidson.

"She comes from humble beginnings and is a hard worker," Pearson says. "One of Holly's mantras is work hard and stay humble. She has worked her tail off and stayed humble and gracious."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt

Medford resident Marybeth Pearson holds a fight poster of her niece, Holly Holm, on Tuesday. Holm stunned the fight world on Saturday with a second-round knockout of UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey in Melbourne, Australia. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH