Ground Breaking: Holly Holm and the Ultimate Upset

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

A record breaking event with two headline bouts garnering massive cultural significance, UFC 193 could not have happened without the meteoric rise of former unbeaten bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey.

The Olympic bronze medalist broke new ground in terms of media coverage in the lead up to the event. A feminist icon in terms of sport, such is the demand and interest in ‘Rowdy’ that The Ring, boxing’s most respected publication, put the American starlet on the cover this month’s edition sporting UFC gloves—quite a feat considering the relationship between MMA and the sweet science. To add to that, Rousey was announced as the cover athlete for UFC’s upcoming video game collaboration with EA Sports. The overwhelming consensus assumed that it would be another victory for the champion.

Rousey had been a destroyer at the helm of the division—a bracket that would not exist had it not been for the starlet. Until last weekend, she looked like she was on a different planet to her fellow 135ers. Meisha Tate had been the only woman to take her out of the first round and her last four opponents had been collectively dispatched in a little over two minutes. Holly Holm was certainly brought in to specifically challenge Rousey given her adolescent start in boxing, similar to Rousey’s in judo, but based on her two UFC outing before the Melbourne show it didn’t seem likely that she would dethrone the champion.

Don’t get me wrong, her decision wins over Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau were not awful, but Holm was no fan favorite after them. After such excitement when she signed on the dotted line with UFC, Holm’s defensive performances didn’t bowl the MMA world over. In an appearance on The MMA Hour, Ariel Helwani questioned an emotional Holm about her failure to harness the fans’ support, something she clearly had issues with up until her trip to Australia.

When she was announced as the next challenger to Rousey’s title there were two overwhelming fields of thought on the issue—the first being that she shouldn’t have been given the opportunity over Meisha Tate, the second suggested it would be good for Rousey to get some fresh meat considering that she might not hang around the sport forever.

Such was the confidence that Rousey would get the job done that UFC were looking outside of her performance to see how she could impact other peoples’ careers. The night was meant to be a huge launch pad for Joanna Jedrzejczyk and strawweight division with the help of the Rousey rub, but what happened in the main event has undoubtedly overshadowed everything else that happened on the card that night.

For the first time, Rousey was up against an opponent with a massive advantage in a specific area, which of course was Holm’s boxing. A small amount of people believed that if Holm would be able to maintain the distance she would be able to win another decision. However, the way in which the contest unfolded was so one sided and so devastating that it adds to it being one the biggest upset in UFC history.

In front of the record-breaking crowd, the seemingly unstoppable Rousey launched herself at Holm from the word go. Within thirty seconds, the first of Holm’s sharp left hands had connected, a weapon that would prove critical in Rousey’s undoing.

The champion managed to clinch with Holm after eating another solid left hand. When the two hit the ground, Rousey looked to isolate and arm for her patented submission, but Holm simply popped out and got back to her feet. Holm’s delicate footwork continued to stifle Rousey’s attempt at tying her up, and the left hand continued to connect on the champion as she charged forward looking to strike her way into a clinch. A left hand landed with 1.20 seconds left in the first and despite Rousey staying in pursuit of Holm, she stumbled as she made a beeline for her opponent. Then came another power shot from southpaw, sending Rousey’s mouthpiece onto the canvas. Inside the last minute, Holm made another massive statement as she took the judoka to the canvas, albeit briefly. One of Rousey’s cleanest shot came after the bell, another massive indication of how badly she was doing in the opening round.

Frantically looking to make an impression on the bout, Rousey leaped into a left hook 30 seconds into round two. Completely overcommitting to the point that she came down on her lead knee, the writing was on the wall and all over Rousey’s face when she got back to her feet. Another left straight sent Rousey down, she got back to her feet facing the wrong direction and as she turned around to meet Holm, instead she was greeted by a head kick. Three more shots to the grounded champion and the whole MMA world was turned on its head.

When considering the biggest upset of all time, the MMA community often point Matt Serra’s knockout of Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69. A bout considered ‘The Upset of the Decade’, there is no denying that shock that the win left in its wake. However, the fact that the bout was GSP’s first title defense doesn’t put it on the same scale as Rousey’s loss given her utter domination at bantamweight with six title defenses before her meeting with Holm.

Another bout that’s often referenced in terms of big upsets is Chris Weidman’s dethroning of Anderson Silva. Even immediately after the middleweight championship bout, people pointed to Silva’s clowning as one of the major factors in his downfall. The champion was also 38 years of age at the time of his meeting with Weidman, a number that is beyond the sell by date of the majority of combat sports athletes.

The reaction to the Rousey vs. Holm bout has been somewhat of a phenomenon in itself. Fighters and even some media members are celebrating Rousey’s downfall. There are plenty of people pointing to her not touching gloves before the bout, her very public tirade after the skirmish she shared with Holm at the event’s weigh in and her shot after the bell in round one as reasons why Rousey deserved to lose.

Edmond Tarverdyan, Rousey’s head coach, is fielding some serious criticism too, but it certainly isn’t his fault that his athlete is not as good at boxing as a multiple world champion of the sport. However, there is no denying that there could have been a Plan B for the champion other than punching her way into a clinch against a pugilist as decorated as Holm. That being said, as a boxing coach, Tarverdyan cannot be expected to know much about shooting a double leg. To add to that, Tarverdyan offered little advice to Rousey in between the first and second rounds, in fact he told her that her effort had been “beautiful” despite her clearly losing the round.

There is no denying that there wouldn’t have been even half the people in the Ethihad Stadium last weekend if Rousey wasn’t the major selling point of the card. The fans that went to the event were there to see another spectacle from the champion at the groundbreaking event for women’s sport and the UFC in general. The Rousey factor broke new ground when it came to media coverage, everybody wanted a piece of the unbeaten sensation.

However, whether they will still be clamoring for a piece of Rousey when she returns remains to be seen. Certainly, with Holm having stolen her utterly invincible billing, you would expect there to be a lot less limelight and fanfare around ‘Rowdy’ the next time she takes to the Octagon. 


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How Holly Holm Killed Queen Ronda Rousey

Balancing the Books of UFC 193

UFC 193 Quick Results: Rousey Goes Down