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It is common knowledge now that Holly Holm defeated the seemingly invincible Ronda Rousey by vicious head kick knockout. This massive upset made headlines in every major and minor news outlet in the past week, and has been considered by some the Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas of MMA and the greatest moment in Albuquerque sports history. In a previous article I looked deeper into the illustrious boxing background of Holm and how it might not have been such a surprise that she upset the Olympic level judo possessed by Rousey. This will be a more detailed breakdown of the fight specifically, and what went right and wrong for both fighters.
Before the Fight
Rousey came into the weigh in and seemingly created drama with Holm out of nowhere, attempting to put her arm on the outside of Holm’s, which caused Holm’s fist to touch Rousey’s face, and Rousey responded by shoving Holm’s arm away. Rousey went on to insult Holm’s nice personality and actions to her face, to the crowd over the microphone and to the world over her instagram. Holm couldn’t have been much more calm in response to Rousey’s anger, joking that she just wanted to face off and have her drink. This may have been a mental victory for Holm, as her composure superseded that of Rousey’s, and composure is vital to implementing a successful game plan in a fight. During the walk outs, Holm was once again very calm, while Rousey was her usual level of intense, and after the referee said his usual words to both fighters, Rousey denied Holm a touch of gloves.
From the start of the fight, Holm was aware of Rousey’s movements and seemed to know the strikes that Rousey was going to throw far before they came, being able to land precise jabs, right hooks and left straights from the southpaw stance that were largely unanswered by Rousey. Holm was able to engage her hips with the majority of her left straight punches, which can exponentially increase the power of the punch. Holm landing an impressive 71% of her significant strikes, hitting Ronda with 38 of her 53 strikes thrown, and since missed punches often take more energy to reset from when compared to punches landed, Holm wasted little energy with her strikes. Holm used the rear leg oblique kick well on several occasions in the first round when Rousey attempted to rush in, effectively keeping her at bay while hurting Rousey’s front leg and restricting her ability to move effectively down the line. The restricted motion from Rousey caused more punches to land, and those punches that landed to Rousey’s head ended up splitting open her lip by the end of the first round. Rousey was hurt and tired from taking shots and being unable to give her own, and in the second round Holm landed with an 84% accuracy rate, a number hard to match in any combat sport.
It is hard to say much about Rousey’s striking accuracy, because she connected with only 26% of her strikes, landing 17 of 65 significant strikes. Rousey threw wild looping left hands and overhand rights that rarely landed, wasting energy with many of her blows that had fight-ending intentions. In her past fights, Rousey hasn’t needed to be accurate because it didn’t take many punches to land to hurt an opponent, or close the distance enough to clinch and initiate a judo throw, in this fight Rousey wasn’t able to get close enough to Holm to land many clean shots.
Holm isn’t an incredibly powerful striker, but her pinpoint accuracy does damage after the shots accumulate. Clean and precise punches can do more damage than sloppy, more powerful punches, and that is what makes Holm so successful with her striking. Holm kept calm and waited until the perfect moment to land the most powerful strike of the fight, and that was the head kick that ended the fight in the second round.
Rousey couldn’t rely on anything but a punchers chance and the ability to force a clinch on the feet, and put a lot of power behind the shots that she threw early in the first round, many of them missing and causing her to use more energy to reset after the misses. Rousey did land some punches, but overall her striking game was a wasted effort. The biggest moment of hope that Rousey had in the fight on the feet came just beyond 4 minutes into the first round when Rousey landed a left hook that hit Holm and had her wobbled briefly, but Holm grabbed a clinch, took Rousey down and stood back up to stop more power punches from following the lone left hook.
Holm didn’t want to grapple and largely succeeded at that goal, going to the ground twice. Holm initiated 4 clinches and succumbed to 4 clinches from Rousey, but from those clinches she was only forced to the ground on one occasion, when a sloppy judo throw from Rousey put both fighters down, and in a scramble Holm avoided an armbar attempt and immediately stood up. Holm used the clinch to her advantage on one occasion as well, grabbing Rousey and slamming her down onto her back after eating a hard left hook, and once again immediately stood up after going to the ground.
Rousey has elite judo and for judo to be effective she needs to be close enough to her opponent to be able to control their posture and positioning. Rousey wasn’t able to close the distance for the majority of the fight, and in all but one of the clinches that she initiated Holm kept a rigid posture, utilizing the fence well to prevent being controlled by Rousey and rendering her efforts useless. Rousey was able to get close enough to use her hips enough to attempt a takedown once, and it was only completed when both fighters more or less tripped, leaving neither fighter in an immediately advantageous position.
When Holm went to the ground with Rousey and after a split second scramble ended up in almost the same position that Rousey used to submit Cat Zingano in 14 seconds, Holm stayed patient and pulled her arm out to thwart the submission attempt before she was in any real danger. The submission escape was brute rather than technical, but it didn’t matter as it took Holm out of danger and further lowered Rousey’s hopes of winning. This was the only submission attempt, and it wasn’t even close. Holm’s strategy worked too well to allow for Rousey to utilize her incredibly effective armbar.
Footwork and Strategy
Holm knew very well what Rousey planned to do despite having little footage to go off of in her recent fights, and that is finish the bout as quick as possible by rushing in, overwhelming her opponent and either getting a knockout or clinching and taking it to the ground for a quick armbar. Holm used her height and reach to fight long, staying where she can hit Rousey and have enough time to avoid a counter, and kept her lead foot outside of Rousey’s lead foot to be able to open her hips when throwing her straight left more readily, slip Rousey’s jab with a right hook of her own and utilize lateral movement to move out of the way of Rousey’s linear rushing attacks. Holm kept her movement going throughout the first round which frustrated Rousey, forced her to use energy and only allowed her to do anything significant with 1 clinch. Holm wanted to make this a kickboxing match, succeeded in that almost perfectly, going to the ground only twice, and Rousey was nowhere near her level in kickboxing.
Rousey seemed to have a single plan and no backup in mind, and that was to rush forward with hard shots and clinch with Holm. When Holm used lateral movement, Rousey was unable to keep up with her. When Holm used her jab well, Rousey was unable to move in close, and Rousey looked like a fish out of water. Rousey kept trying to rush forward until she was too tired to do so effectively, and even then she continued to try until she was finished.
Cardio is simple to analyze, because it’s something that a fighter has or doesn’t have, and in this fight Holm had good cardio, and Rousey had poor cardio. Holm stayed calm and used clean, effective strikes that didn’t expend excessive energy. Rousey rushed in like a bull in a China shop, and when Holm moved out of the way like a matador, Rousey had to reset and try again. Rousey threw huge powerful punches that rarely landed, and had her so tired in the second round that she fell to the mat twice from missing punches.
Break Between Rounds
In the 60 second break between rounds, eerily similar advice was given to both fighters, and based on the one-sided beating that Rousey took in the first round, that does not make her coaching staff look good. Holm was told to keep doing what she was doing, the right hook landed well, the left straight snapped Rousey’s head back, and the jab controlled the distance well. Rousey’s corner told her she was doing well and winning the first round, this is a blatant lie and it does no good for a fighter to be lied to in this position. When a fighter is behind, they need to be aware of it so that they can adapt and improve. Rousey’s corner also told her that the left straight was the only threat that Holm possessed against her, when in reality the lead right hook landed well on Rousey’s face and slipper right over her jab.
The Second Round and The Finish
The second round saw Holm employ the same strategy with less resistance, as Rousey was exhausted from her missed haymakers and unsuccessful attempts to clinch with Holm. Rousey was moving slower and wasn’t able to get out of the way of many punches, while Holm looked no different than she did at the first bell. The beginning of the end started when Rousey missed a huge looping and labored left hook that Holm saw coming from a mile away, and the momentum of the missed blow caused a tired Rousey to fall to one knee before having to pop back up and change directions to face Holm again. Rousey made the same mistake again early in the round, and Holm stayed close to Rousey when she again stumbled to a knee, and Holm timed a perfect left head kick to Rousey’s chin as she stood back up. The kick turned the lights out immediately, causing Rousey’s eyes to close and her body to stiffen up before hitting the ground, and a single punch followed by 2 hammerfists landed before the fight was stopped. Holm wanted to make sure Rousey was out, but didn’t need to and the ref arguably should have stopped the fight immediately following the head kick based on how Rousey fell and didn’t move upon hitting the ground. Rousey woke back up and threw up her arms as if she were attempting to grapple still, repeating that she was fine and it took a number of people to hold her still and let her know repeatedly what happened until Rousey realized what had just occurred. Meanwhile, Holm was elated, celebrating in disbelief before showing concern for her semi-conscious foe, and celebrating again once she was sure that Rousey was alright.
Was this the biggest upset in MMA? Will Rousey return to form? Did Rousey take Holm serious? Is Holm in another league? Fights are supposed to answer the question of whether opponent A or B is a better fighter, but in this bout the notion that Holm is a league above Rousey raises a multitude of questions. Only a rematch will be able to answer those questions definitively.