Holly Holm’s Victory is the Greatest Upset In MMA & Combat Sports History – Historical Context for Ronda Rousey’s First Loss at UFC 193

How do we evaluate what just happened at UFC 193 tonight? It’s very difficult and right now a hundred scribes are penning columns about Ronda’s camp and the distractions of her mother, her film career and any number of other things. Ronda was the one to transcend the sport, to be the UFC’s version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Holm was to be another scalp on her crown. Everything was set up for her, too, as Ronda was supposed to win here and disappear until UFC 200 for the big money showdown with Cris “Cyborg” Justino.

This was the UFC’s biggest show ever, in a proper stadium overseas, with the distinction of being one where the two top fights all contained women’s titles. The UFC has come a long way in a short amount of time in terms of gender equity and there was a statement to be made at UFC 193. But something crazy happened.

Ronda lost. Not only did she lose … she was destroyed in every facet of the game by someone that was a historic underdog going in.

We just saw the MMA world’s equivalent of Max Schmeling vs. Joe Louis meshed with the upset power of Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson. This is the biggest upset in MMA history and in the team picture for greatest upset in combat sports history. No hyperbole is needed and the violent dethroning of the most dominant fighter in women’s MMA history in short order is even bigger than Matt Serra’s destruction of Georges St. Pierre. Unfortunately all the elements were there going in … we just overlooked them because of how profoundly dominant she had been to this point.

Rousey had only gone past the first round once in her career, so incredibly more athletic and dynamic than her opponents that she really didn’t have to develop her boxing game. We could joke that she needed a couple weeks to get in shape and that was it; she was so far ahead of the pack. Everyone else was getting ready to compete in the post Rousey world, when she didn’t want to fight anymore to try her hand at becoming a movie star. She wasn’t at a great camp but she didn’t need to be, either. She was an Olympic medalist in a sport where most of the Top 10 women in the world at 135 have negligible athletic bonafides at best.

Ronda was so far ahead of the field that she didn’t really need to do much, it seems.

It was curious when Joe Rogan would hype her on his podcast as the best striker in the game, and in promotional material as a once in human history type of athlete. It was typical Zuffa hyperbole, of course, but it made sense. We spoke of Rousey’s dominance not just in MMA but in sport as a whole. She wasn’t just as dominant as Jon Jones … she was as dominant as Serena Williams and Tiger Woods. When all is said and done the lead up to the fight Rousey’s failings and distractions will be the story that gets relied upon to tell the tale, especially if she comes back to reclaim her throne.

Ultimately this is a tale of the fall of Ronda Rousey, not the rise of Holly Holm. It’s unfair, too, because Holm fought the perfect fight on the biggest stage of her career.

Much like Buster Douglas’s upset of Tyson was more about the fall from grace of the former champion and not the perfect performance from the challenger we need to give credit where credit is due to “The Preacher’s Daughter.” She fought the perfect fight and while she might not be able to beat Rousey twice … she just needed to do it once. Holly Holm came in and fought the absolute perfect fight against Rousey. She came in with a game plan, maintaining distance and taking advantage of Ronda Rousey’s undeveloped boxing game to light her up. The one thing that was noticeable throughout the opening round was that Holm had a game plan developed over a long period of time beforehand. One only has to read Jack Slack’s deconstruction of ending Rousey’s reign to realize that similar minds were brewing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the run up to the fight.

Holm maintained her composure, developed over years of fighting at the highest level, and kept to the plan they worked hard. Rousey’s cardio, largely untested over a career of quick finishes, came back to haunt her as Holm outworked her into exhaustion before the head kick knockout with ease. Everything that Ronda had been able to cover up with elite athleticism over the years came back to haunt her against someone who did everything perfectly inside the cage to stifle her.

Where Ronda goes from here will determine her ultimate legacy in MMA. She could do what Gina Carano did and abandon MMA entirely for the world of movies, an easier life on the body. She most likely has an immediate rematch waiting to happen, of course, and UFC 200 would be the perfect place for it. But that is for tomorrow.

Tonight … tonight we saw something profoundly historical.

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