At UFC 193 this past weekend, Holly Holm defeated Ronda Rousey with a head kick knockout at just under one minute into the second round. When the moment came, I was not surprised. I had just spent the previous five minutes watching Holly systematically dismantle Ronda in the first round. Holly’s approach to the fight didn’t surprise me, either. It was exactly what I and others how outlined as her best chance at beating the champ.
But I found that when I sat with it for a moment and really thought about it, I was completely perplexed. Not because every news outlet, Hollywood star, and commentator had insisted that Ronda Rousey was this truly transcendent, untouchable athlete. But because I knew the 11 women she had beaten before. I knew how talented and how capable they were, and she had dispatched of all of them like it was nothing.
So I searched everywhere. I read all the articles I could find. I listened to every analyst’s word on the subject. I clicked all the link-bait ridiculousness that followed this fight. I searched for the answer that I insisted lived somewhere outside my small comprehension of this situation. And, I came to this conclusion:
My immediate reaction that Ronda Rousey wasn’t necessarily herself that night is most likely true. Her mother did not attend the fight, as she usually does. The entire fight week I found her to be vacant, strange, and something I’ve only ever associated with a fighter just being plain burnt out.
But more importantly, Holly Holm and her camp’s strategy were something neither I nor the former champ were prepared for. Ronda Rousey was by no means some bumbling foe. There were things she executed very well in this match. If this fight would have taken in place in January like originally scheduled, we may have seen a slightly different fight. But after doing the research, I feel confident the outcome would have still been the same.
Everyone that has faced Ronda up to this point has been obsessed with this idea of how to exploit the holes in her game. But surviving Ronda and dominating Ronda are two totally different objectives. And, this is where my surface level comprehension of what I witnessed stops. This is where I had to go search for answers.
You see, Holly’s camp didn’t just arm her with the tools to take advantage of Ronda’s weaknesses. They gave her the tools to turn the things that Ronda does well against her. They attacked both Ronda’s natural advantages and disadvantages and broke this athlete’s entire game. Some of the key elements included:
Staying active in the clinch: Using small movements of the feet to keep Holly’s hips away. Holly making space with her forearm not allowing Ronda to properly get her shoulders close enough to grab the head for a throw.
Setting a footwork pattern: Circling the cage and then abruptly stepping directly backwards to lure Ronda in and firing off strikes as Ronda predictably charged forward.
Targeted counter punching: Using Holly’s south paw left straight counter punch in response to the left hook Ronda typically uses to set up head grabs.
They lured the “world’s most dangerous woman” into a corner and took her out. And, I literally mean lured. Holly’s footwork was not built to just evade Ronda, it was to built to lure her into a specific type of behavior that they then took advantage of. Holly’s team turned Ronda’s previously super-effective aggression against her. It was a trap. The whole fight was a trap. I can’t even begin to articulate the level of props we should give to the intelligence of this plan.
I also can’t state enough that Holly’s flawless ability to execute this plan was absolutely critical to it being such a success. This was years upon years of finely crafted skill. Holly Holm’s ability to carry out their strategy along with her physical strength and athletic aptitude is what lead to such a dominant performance.
The outcome of this fight wasn’t luck. It wasn’t coincidence. This was the finely crafted and executed plan of a world champion.
In 2011, I had filmed a Greg Jackson seminar. I went back and watched the tape. I realized he told me back then what was the key to dismantling any fighter. I’ll leave you with what I learned from Greg four years ago:
“Combat is that at it’s core; it’s a rhythm. The manipulation of that rhythm is what makes you an artist, just like a musician or anyone else that manipulates rhythm. If you guys just come in and think in terms of technique and you don’t understand the rhythm that underlies that, you’re only going to get so far. The two very important things to remember underlying are rhythm and causality. Establish a pattern. Establish a rhythm. Get expectation high and then break that. A lot of times we’re dealing with predictability or unpredictability in a dynamical system. You want to achieve a position where they can only do a few things and, no matter what they do, we’re ready for them.” — Greg Jackson
Kristin Usry created Women's MMA Roundup in September 2008 launching a video series exclusively covering professional female fighters. She oversees production and hosts the studio shows. Kristin has contributed to FighterGirls, WomenTalkSports, and MiddleEasy. She is also a member of the Women's MMA Press Association that holds the annual WMMA Awards.