Holly Holm and a History of Strikers Smashing Grapplers in the UFC

Fightland Blog

By James Goyder

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Holly Holm’s six-minute demolition of Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 last weekend is perhaps the finest example in history of a high level striker using their standup to systematically pick apart an elite grappler. However it is far from the first time that an MMA fighter largely dependent on their ground game or takedowns has been exposed by someone with a striking background.

The UFC was founded in 1993 in order to offer fighters from different background the opportunity to test their skillsets against one another. More specifically, the project’s aim was to give the Gracie family a platform to showcase their BJJ against opponents from the worlds of Kung Fu, Kickboxing, Karate and western boxing.

As a result fans were treated to the bizarre sight of a man in a gi going up against an opponent wearing just one boxing glove. Royce Gracie would famously go on to submit three opponents, including the aforementioned Art Jimmerson in his odd attire, to win the tournament. But in the 22 years that have elapsed since the UFC was founded wrestlers and grapplers haven’t had it all their own way.

The sport has evolved since 1993 and the days when one-dimensional fighters got to compete in the Octagon are long gone. There are a handful of outstanding athletes in the sport such as Georges St Pierre and Jon Jones who excel at absolutely everything. But with most mixed martial artists it is easy to identify one obvious area of strength.

Holm and Rousey both fall firmly into the latter category. It’s no secret what either does best, and the boxer’s beatdown of the Judoka in Melbourne was just the latest in the long line of impressive UFC performance by strikers against grapplers. Here, in chronological order, are some of the others:

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Chuck Liddell vs Randy Couture 2, UFC 52, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, April 16th, 2005

Chuck Liddell wrestled at a decent level in college but barely attempted a single takedown in his entire UFC career. ‘The Iceman’ came from a kickboxing background and was renowned for his striking, whereas Randy Couture was a two-time NCAA Division One runner up who had also been an alternate on the US Olympic Greco Roman Wrestling team.

The first time they fought, in 2003, Couture had taken Liddell down repeatedly before finishing him with first round ground and pound. The rematch took place a week after the TUF Finale and an unprecedented PPV audience of 280,000 tuned in to see the two coaches from the show fight for the vacant light heavyweight title.

In the first fight Couture, who boxed a little during his army days, actually had some success catching Liddell with straight punches. Normal order was resumed in the rematch as the wrestler rushed wildly towards the striker and was promptly put on his backside with a perfectly timed counter right hand.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Chuck Liddell vs Tito Ortiz 2, UFC 66, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, December 30th, 2006

The era in which Chuck Liddell was many people’s pick as pound for pound king has come to be regarded as something of a golden age for MMA. The career of ‘The Iceman’ would come to be defined by his performances against two legendary opponents, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz.

Ortiz’ career has been on the wane ever since but at the tail end of 2006 he was a huge deal. ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ was riding a five fight win streak which had seen him beat Patrick Cote, Victor Belfort, Forrest Griffin and Ken Shamrock (twice) and he also had a stint coaching TUF Season 3.

Ortiz was known for his ground and pound but in the first fight Liddell had destroyed him with his signature wide, looping punches. The rematch was a much more prestigious affair, it generated over a million PPV purchases, but the outcome was the same with the striker dominating the wrestler before capitalizing on a failed third round takedown attempt to finish the fight with some ground and pound of his own.

Photo by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC

Lyoto Machida vs Randy Couture UFC 129, Rodgers Centre, Toronto, April 30th, 2011

Lyoto Machida brought a breath of fresh air into the UFC because he was one of very few fighters to have a distinct traditional martial arts based style. His stance, footwork and selection of strikes all screamed ‘Karate’ but after winning his first eight fights in the Octagon he was coming off back-to-back losses going into this 2011 bout with Randy Couture.

By contrast Couture had won three straight fights but his career would come to an abrupt end at UFC 129. The wrestler tried and failed to take the karateka to the ground in the opening round and, in the second stanza, Machida landed a strike that is still being talked about to this day.

Machida, a southpaw by trade, shuffled his feet to quickly switch stance and then launched a flying push kick that connected clean with Couture’s jaw. Known in Karate as ‘the crane kick’ this was a beautiful display of striking technique that ended the career of one of the most effective wrestlers of the era.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Overeem vs Lesnar, UFC 141, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, December 30th, 2011   

The previous year Alistair Overeem has won the K-1 World Grand Prix, the single greatest honor available to a heavyweight kickboxer in 2011. In one of the most blatant examples of a ‘striker vs grappler’ matchup in recent UFC history he was matched with former NCAA Division One wrestling champion (and four time WWE champion) Brock Lesnar.

This fight headlined the UFC’s traditional end of year PPV card and was eagerly anticipated because Lesnar was the biggest star in the sport at the time but had been out of action for over a year with diverticulitis. To what extent the American had fully recovered from that disease would be a subject of much discussion in the aftermath of this fight but the finish left no room for debate.

Overeem had landed a number of knees to Lesnar’s midsection and they probably had a cumulative effect but it was a kick to the liver which effectively ended the contest. Once the Dutchman’s left shin had slammed into right side of the WWE veterans body the contest was effectively over and Overeem’s K-1 had trumped Lesnar’s wrestling emphatically.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Aldo vs Mendes 1, UFC 142, HSBC Arena, Rio De Janeiro, Jan 14th, 2012

Jose Aldo has a black belt in BJJ but his greatest strength is his striking and he prefers to stay on his feet, landing less than one takedown every 15 minutes on average according to Fight Metric. Chad Mendes by contrast comes from a wrestling background and has competed at an NCAA Division One level.

It was Aldo’s first ever opportunity to fight for the UFC in Brazil and his title defense against Mendes was the main event of UFC 142 in Rio De Janeiro. Since that night the American has scored a few KOs of his own but at the time he was coming off four straight decision wins and this was widely regarded as being as straightforward ‘wrestler vs striker’ affair.

As anticipated, Mendes shot for takedown after takedown but when he succeeded in getting Aldo down the champion popped straight back up. Then, with seconds remaining in the opening round, the Brazilian shook off a rear waist lock and, as the two men separated, planted his left knee firmly in the face of the challenger to score his first ever KO win inside the Octagon.


Check out these related stories:

How Holly Holm Killed Queen Ronda Rousey

Balancing the Books of UFC 193

UFC 193 Quick Results: Rousey Goes Down