Eras usually end in pieces, crumbling away with the erosion of time. Sometimes it happens over years, but sometimes they are compressed until pressure shatters them. Yet we often feel as though we were caught by surprise due to a failure to see the cracks.
In hindsight, in time, maybe there will be something we can point to in order to understand the demise of Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 on Saturday. Maybe. All we know right now is that the myth is no more. Rousey is no longer unbeatable or unbeaten. Instead, she was dominated, crushed and then rendered unconscious.
There will be no Cris Cyborg superfight. The "Greatest of All Time" labels will go back in their holsters. The Queen is Dead.
Holly Holm, a historic underdog, knocked Rousey out at the 59-second mark of the second round. The result recalled other past stunners, like Matt Serra knocking out Georges St-Pierre. But the thing to know is that it was no fluke. It wasn't a lucky strike that was said with a prayer.
Holm ran the show from beginning to end. Rousey had no defense for her straight left, and Holm's footwork often left Rousey swinging back at air. By the time it was over, Holm had out-landed Rousey 38-17 in significant strikes. But it wasn't just the punches and kicks. Holm had all the answers. Rousey took her down, and Holm easily escaped Rousey's one and only armbar attempt.
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Ronda Rousey: hit by career-high 38 significant strikes; her 1st 10 UFC/Strikeforce fights, was hit by total of 64 such strikes @FightMetric2015-11-15 06:38:36
Holm was brilliant in her execution, mastering the timing of Rousey's entries with precision strikes and using her aggressiveness against her. It was a master class in finesse over power.
The end came after Holm landed yet another left hand that briefly sent Rousey to the mat. As she returned to her feet, Holm smashed a kick off her chin. Rousey was unconscious before she hit the mat. With a few cursory punches before the stoppage, the reign was over, sending gasps through the Etihad Stadium crowd and a jolt through the sports world.
"I'm trying to take it in, but it's crazy," Holm said moments after it ended.
The whole event was supposed to be a Rousey coronation. Largely on the strength of her star power, the UFC drew a huge crowd in Melbourne, Australia, estimated to be just under 60,000, according to Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
That alone showed how far women's MMA had come. It was less than three years ago when women graced the Octagon for the first time. From the beginning, UFC President Dana White didn't hide the impetus for it all, saying that he wasn't so much in the women's MMA business as he was in the Ronda Rousey business.
Just 995 days from then until now, and the Rousey business has not simply been great; it's elevated the entire MMA business. Looking out at the spectacle of UFC 193, those throngs filling a stadium halfway around the world, there was no way to deny Rousey's power.
The event was a box-office grand slam for the UFC. Prior to the event, White told Los Angeles Times reporter Lance Pugmire that it was trending at over 1 million pay-per-view buys, a number that has only been reached seven times in mixed martial arts history. Pugmire reported the live gate to be $6.77 million, which means the PPV and event gate revenue combined would easily eclipse $50 million.
Still, the lead-up to UFC 193 was likely the most stressful period Rousey has had since turning pro. She juggled multiple major media appearances, signed new movie deals, released a book and faced down controversies, one stemming from her mother's comments denigrating her head coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, and another based upon her relationship with Travis Browne, a UFC fighter accused of domestic abuse by a former partner.
As a result, for the first time we saw Rousey appear to be affected by the maelstrom around her. Angered by some questions, she hung up on a conference call and then cut off a reporter mid-question during a media scrum. And in her weigh-in faceoff with Holm, she seemed to start something out of nothing.
What was the purpose of that? Maybe she needed to find a reason to pump herself up. Maybe she needed to create some tension to focus herself. Only she knows the reason, but whatever it was, it did not work.
"I've never been on that side of weigh-in before," Holm said in an interview on Fox Sports 2 afterward. "I thought, 'Oh, she's really getting into it.' I feel there's a lot of emotion in Ronda I haven't seen before, but that doesn't mean I have a victory, I still have to work for it. But I did feel like I had a little edge because of it."
Maybe. But mostly, Holm was just better. Rousey couldn't bully her, couldn't hold her down and most definitely couldn't outstrike her. In the end, there was nothing more Rousey could think to do than walk forward into Holm's power until she couldn't walk anymore. The Queen went down on her shield. The end was not pretty, but it was noble.
But maybe it was pretty, at least for Holm, who stood stunned over Rousey after referee Herb Dean pulled her off. She has won championships before but nothing like this. Not with the world watching. While much has been made of Rousey's credentials (she was a former Olympic judo bronze medalist), Holm was not short of her own past success. She is now the first athlete ever to win major world titles in both boxing and MMA.
Maybe she was the one meant for the top this whole time. Ten fights, unbeaten and the head of the biggest name in the sport on her mantel. That's a good start to a career. A pretty good way to end the Rousey business.
The UFC must now evolve and move forward. It is a new era. It is Holm's turn to take the crown and run with it, but also to feel the pressure that seems to cascade on champions and adds an extra degree of difficulty to their careers. Can she handle it, or will the pressure crush her too? Who knows? On a night like Saturday, we realize how little we see until it's too late. We realize this is why we watch—to see greatness in the most unexpected moments.