Martial Myths: Rousey vs Holm

UFC 193: Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm - Revolution.
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The myth which UfC 193 unintentionally shattered was the invincibility of Ronda Rousey. Most intelligent individuals who study martial arts understand that no one is truly unbeatable. But given her reputation as the most dominant champion in modern combat sports history and MMA’s most celebrated figure, it was difficult for many fans to believe that the challenger Holly Holm wouldn’t go down in ignominious defeat like all of Rousey’s past opponents, regardless of her credentials. Exacerbating the mystique was the hype surrounding Rousey’s drastically improved boxing technique.

The fight however confirmed what every critic has said about Rousey’s stand-up: she’s a sloppy fighter with plenty of holes in her striking game. They’ve been easy to overlook because no one had exhibited the skill-set necessary to exploit them or the discipline required to counter Rousey’s trademark aggression. That was until she literally ran right into Holm’s fists. Virtually all of Rousey’s attempts to bum rush Holm resulted in her receiving a clean shot to the face. Things only got worse for Rousey because she was unable to cut off the cage. By the end of the 1st round, it was clear that her camp had not supplied Rousey with the proper tools to either beat Holm on the feet or to trap the superior striker on the ground.

But the fight also marks a step forward for WMMA. Historically, boxers have fared poorly in grappler vs. striker matchups, and while MMA itself has moved away from such strict “style vs. style” calculations, Rousey is something of a throwback to the days when pure grappling would dominate the cage. The playbook to beat that kind of fighter already exists, so it was only a matter of time until someone would implement it. Which is what Holm successfully accomplished at Melbourne on a Sunday afternoon. Holm defeated Rousey not just because she was the better boxer, she was the better all-around athlete that day. Her defensive grappling was sound. Most significantly, her upset victory was absolutely convincing. Holm just made the division a lot more interesting.

None of this changes what Rousey has already done for the sport, in raising the profile of women athletes, or her achievements as a breakout star. But as with many other celebrities, the hype accompanying her ascent was setting her up for the inevitable fall. And it doesn’t help when someone might have even started believing in their own hype. It’s certainly nowhere near the end of the Ronda Rousey brand. She’ll need to develop those missing tools if she intends to take the title back from Holm. But the loss of her invincibility opens up some new possibilities. No matter who she faces next, any successful comeback will be marketed as the redemptive arc of a grander narrative. Though whatever happens, fans now have their permanent reminder that Rousey is as human and as fallible as anyone.