Last Saturday at UFC 193 was billed as one of the biggest pay per view events of the year, with 2 heavyweight bouts, a middleweight bout and two women’s title fights on the main card, but outside of the main event not much of the rest of the card will be terribly memorable. In the main event one of the most shocking moments in the history of MMA took place, when Holly Holm became the women’s bantamweight champion by knocking out Ronda Rousey by a head kick 59 seconds into the second round. The betting odds had Rousey around a 20 to 1 favorite, and the consensus among the masses was that Rousey would demolish Holm quick, likely by submission, because Holm is early into her UFC career, doesn’t have the same MMA experience and has an untested ground game.
Those sentiments were very far off from the actual result, and although hindsight is always 20/20, taking a deeper look at the background and stylistic matchup between the two highly touted women reveals that maybe this wasn’t as big of an upset as it was perceived to be. The UFC tried to depict the trail of each woman in a promo to hype their meeting, but there is more to it than portrayed in the 3 minute promo.
Rousey and Holm both came into MMA with high level experience in other martial arts and combat sports, Rousey coming in with a strong judo background and Holm coming in with a strong boxing background.
Rousey’s judo career was highlighted by an Olympic bronze medal in 2008 and world championship silver medal in 2007. Rousey began Judo at age 11 and went on to become one of the best female judokas from the US of all time by the time she was 21 and had won the Olympic bronze medal after 2 Olympic appearances. Rousey came to MMA after stopping competitive judo and working as a bartender to make ends meet, hoping to continue her combat athletics career with a strong base to build from.
Holm was a decorated boxer and had won 19 world titles in several weight classes before coming to MMA. Holm started boxing a lot later than Rousey began her judo career, becoming a professional boxer at 21 after having a successful year doing kickboxing at the amateur level. Holm boxed for 11 years at the professional level, and began her MMA career 2 years prior to retiring as a boxer. Holm is known as one of the best female boxers from the US of all time and chose to focus solely on MMA after accomplishing almost everything she could in boxing.
Budding MMA Careers
Rousey started her MMA career at 145 lbs. and had three amateur fights that she won via armbar in 23, 57 and 24 seconds before turning pro. Rousey continued the same trend at the pro level, winning her first two bouts in smaller organizations before being signed by Strikeforce, the second largest MMA promotion at the time, and winning her first two fights there, all by armbar and all in under a minute to bring her to a perfect 4-0 in professional MMA.
Holm jumped straight into the pro leagues at 135 lbs. and won her first two pro fights by TKO by way of kicks before earning a TKO via punches under the Bellator banner and signing with Legacy FC, a popular regional promotion that has a reputation as a UFC feeder promotion. Holm earned two victories by way of knockout under the Legacy banner and one bout outside of the promotion via decision to bring her to a perfect 6-0 in MMA.
Rousey first fought for a championship title in a new weight class, dropping from 145 to 135 lbs. to challenge Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Championship. Rousey garnered attention going into her bout with Tate after talking trash about her opponent to the media, and her talking was arguably a main factor in her receiving the title shot. Rousey defeated Tate with an armbar at 4:27 into the first round, and the bout not only marked the longest she had fought so far in her MMA career, but was also the first time that she faced someone who had some knowledge and ability of how to escape her armbar once it is set up.
Holm fought for her first championship title under the Legacy FC banner, knocking out Juliana Werner with a head kick at 1:50 of the fifth round to become the Legacy FC women’s bantamweight championship. Holm was beginning to develop a reputation of being a high level striker with some of the most vicious knockouts in women’s MMA, earning 6 stoppage victories in her 7 MMA victories with 2 of those coming by way of head kick knockouts.
Blazing Separate Trails
While the path that both Rousey and Holm took to their first championships seem to align well, the time frame for both was quite different, with Rousey starting MMA in 2010 at 23 years old and winning the Strikeforce title in 2012, and Holm starting MMA in 2011 at 29 years old and winning the Legacy FC title in 2014. Beyond this path differing in timing, the steps that these two women took from here to their eventual meeting couldn’t have been more different.
Rousey’s brash personality on display before and especially after her title victory against Miesha Tate and brought considerable eyes to the sport. Rousey defended her title a second time under the Strikeforce banner defeating Sarah Kaufman by armbar in 54 seconds.
The president of the UFC Dana White who once famously stated that women would never fight in the UFC, began to change his tone after witnessing Rousey’s rise to media stardom, and changed his tune, deciding to develop a women’s bantamweight division and crown Rousey the first champion two months ahead of her first fight for the UFC. In what was technically her first title defense, Rousey faced Liz Carmouche and after having her back taken and her face cranked in a somewhat back and forth first round, Rousey showed perseverance and submitted Carmouche with an armbar 11 seconds before the end of the first round.
Rousey created a media storm from the moment that she initially signed with the UFC, and it continued to get bigger and bigger with every fight that Rousey dominated. Rousey signed on to coach the Ultimate Fighter against the winner of Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate, and although Zingano won, she got injured and Tate coached against her resulting in a drama filled season culminating with their rematch, where Rousey went beyond the first round for the first time in her career and submitted Tate with an armbar early in the third round.
Rousey set off on a rampage after the Tate fight, ending her next 4 fights in a total of 2:10 seconds, and those 4 fights consisted of a TKO from a knee to the body on Sara McMann in 66 seconds, a KO from punches and a judo throw over Alexis Davis in 16 seconds, a straight armbar on Cat Zingano in 14 seconds and a KO from punches on Bethe Correia in 34 seconds.
Rousey now broadened her repertoire by showing that she has the ability to finish fights on the feet and on the ground in early barrages of attacks.
Holm’s road to her bout with Rousey after winning her first title isn’t nearly as long nor storied as Rousey’s was, but was impressive nonetheless. Holm got signed to the UFC with the hype behind her that she would one day be a threat to Rousey.
Holm won her first fight over Raquel Pennington by way of split decision in a bout where Holm looked to be suffering from the jitters frequently associated with entry into the big leagues of the UFC. Holm showed improvement in her next fight against Marion Reneau, looking considerably more calm and precise, coming close to finishing Reneau with kicks near the end of a dominant unanimous decision victory.
Miesha Tate was initially promised a trilogy bout against Rousey after going on a 4 fight winning streak since her last loss to Rousey, but Dana White went back on his promise stating that no one wanted to see a third bout after Tate lost twice, and that Holm would get a shot at the belt next.
Holm seemed to be up against an unstoppable force of nature that steamrolls opponents, but anyone in the fight game knows that everyone can be beaten. Rousey respectfully honored Holm during the promotion of the fight, touting Holm as the best striker that she has ever faced and claiming that she will still be able to avoid the striking of Holm and submit her.
Holm stayed humble and calm leading up to the fight despite Rousey’s attempts to get in Holm’s head at the weigh ins, shoving Holm before yelling insults at her, restating them over the microphone and posting them on Instagram. Holm wasn’t fazed at the tactic whether it was a deliberate attempt to get in her head, or Rousey losing her temper after the weight cut where fighters go through notoriously volatile moods.
The decades of experience, combined 20 professional MMA fights and the more recent brief scuffle at weigh ins all led up to a very relaxed Holm walking into the octagon and a consistently tense Rousey making her entrance after. Rousey denied Holm a touch of gloves before the start of the fight, what may have been a mistake in retrospect, because it appears that Rousey’s lack of humility going into this fight came back to bite her.
From the start Holm controlled distance, landed shots on Rousey and stopped the clinch, allowing only 1 takedown and avoiding the armbar attempt easily before taking Rousey down. A tired and seemingly hopeless Rousey was exhausted by the end of the first round, had absorbed more punishment than ever before.
At the start of the second round, after slipping with 2 poorly thrown punches, Holm landed a picture perfect head kick and put Rousey’s lights out, earning the massive upset knockout 59 seconds into the round.
Rousey was the best female fighter in history going into this bout, many people, including herself, predicted that she would retire undefeated, and Holm made her look like an amateur before turning her lights out. Holm has the striking to take on anyone in the division, and Rousey has to go back to the drawing board in a big way to more or less learn how to box, starting with the basics and pick up enough to understand and combat Holm’s footwork and movement in their eventual rematch.
Rousey has the ability to bounce back and become an all time great if she digs deep, recognizes her flaws and corrects them. If Rousey isn’t able to accept that she needs to improve a great amount on the feet and take Holm more serious in their rematch, she will not be able to regain her belt and will go down as another fallen champion. Rousey has been a very emotional fighter and person who tends to start very fast in fights, get into the heads of her opponents as they get into her head and has a self-belief that may challenge her ability to be humble enough to see her mistakes.
Only time will tell, but at the end of the day if the rematch gets booked, which it almost certainly will, and if it takes place at UFC 200, which it likely will, July 9, 2016 will go down as the biggest fight in MMA history without a doubt.