How quickly can things change in the world of mixed martial arts? Leading up to the fight the only question was how long Holly Holm would last against Ronda Rousey. It was a fair question, considering Rousey’s last three opponents combined did not last two minutes. Saturday evening Holm shocked the world with the same magnitude as Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson in 1990. In order to understand how the impossible became possible we must remember what brought Rousey to this level.
Since Rousey’s second victory over Miesha Tate on December 28, 2013, her stardom has soared to unfathomable heights. Tate became Rousey’s first UFC opponent to challenge her beyond the first round. It was Rousey’s first taste of adversity in the octagon until just under the first minute of the third round, when she forced Tate into submission via the arm bar, as she did in their first match, and has done to opponents since her career began in 2011.
Make no mistake, Ronda Rousey the celebrity was born. These past two years have been a whirlwind — rampant first round knockouts, talk show appearances, movie roles — they have all catapulted her to not only the face of the sport, but as an athlete of our generation. Joe Rogan and the UFC brass repeatedly call Rousey, ‘not a once in a lifetime athlete, but a once EVER athlete.’
So how does this larger than life superstar get so thoroughly dominated and dismantled by Holly Holm, a 20-1 underdog?
1) We let our imagination take the best of us. We all ignored the fact Rousey was not the only undefeated fighter in the octagon on Saturday evening. Holm was 9-0 and also a master kickboxer. Six of her opponents had been KO’d by punches or kicks (Rousey became the seventh). Holm holds a total of 19 boxing world titles. Her decorated boxing career includes 33 wins (9 knockouts) to just 2 losses. She is by far the best boxer in the sport. As they always say in the fight game, styles make fights. The defensive style in which Holm keeps separation from opponents was the key formula to dethroning the champ. This style led to underwhelming victories in her previous two fights, but was perfectly suited for Rousey’s bull-rush style. Holm conserved energy, created space, and picked her apart with head shots.
2) Rousey tried to win at Holm’s game. There is no female on the planet who can grapple with Rousey in the octagon. Rousey trained harder at boxing for this match than all others previously. In October, she went on record stating how she wants to become a household name in boxing and the WWE after her time in the UFC. Could the Judoka master dominate another sport the way she has with the mixed martial arts world? Reverse the role. What would people think if Holly Holm said she could win a Judo world championship? Boxing and judo are two completely different forms of combat. It is unreasonable for Rousey to believe months of boxing could put her skill-set on the level of Holm. Holm’s takedown defense gave us a taste of how good Rousey’s boxing really is at this time.
3) Hollywood got to her. We all understand sports are entertainment and entertainment is a business. Rousey embraces the role as face of the sport and her responsibility to get as many eyeballs on the product as possible. However, it is evident that the endless media attention finally created an image bigger than the person. The attention Rousey saw for her last fight at UFC 190, defeating Bethe Correia in Brazil in 34 seconds was instrumental for what we saw leading to this match with Holm. Weeks leading up to the fight Rousey was hosting SportsCenter, appearing on late night television, and feuding with Floyd Mayweather on Twitter. The bottom line is that whatever the media would feed she would consume. On Saturday night we learned our goddess is human.
Time will tell if this was a speed bump on the #RouseyRevolution or if this is beginning of a new era for UFC women. The good news is that the inevitable rematch should answer all questions. The bad news is how long we could wait for Rousey to get back into the octagon. If Rousey fought to grapple this could have been an entirely different fight. I still love you ROWDY RONDA ROUSEY and we all have to love what the future has in store for the sport.