Ronda Rousey (12-1) was already unconscious as challenger Holly Holm's final three punches landed to her jaw, as perfunctory as they were brutal. But, in this case, you can forgive referee Herb Dean for his glacial reaction time at UFC 193 on Saturday night. Officials are only human—and Dean, like the rest of us, needed time to pick his jaw up off the floor before he could possibly move in to stop the fight.
Rousey, after all, was no mere champion. She was the most dominant fighter in MMA history. In human history, if announcer Joe Rogan was to be believed in the pre-fight hype. No opponent had ever survived to hear a judge's decision. In every fight, save for one, foes didn't even last long enough to hear the bell announcing the second round.
When Holm (10-0) managed a whole minute with the champion, she entered an elite club. When she sent Rousey crashing to the mat with a left high kick, she entered immortality.
A Holm win, despite the overwhelming odds, was always in the realm of possibility. If there was a fighter on the UFC roster with the tools to beat Rousey, it was Holm. Mobile, strong, battle-tested and disciplined, she had the building blocks to drag Rousey into deep waters and pull off the miracle.
But even those of us who saw a path to victory for Holm never imagined an ending quite so emphatic. A decision seemed more likely, with Holm's hand being raised only after 25 minutes of careful fighting. How Rousey would handle frustration—her ability to navigate an opponent who would make things difficult at every turn—was an open question entering the fight.
Who knew her every answer would be dead wrong?
As expected, Holm stayed off the center line, moved laterally and forced Rousey to chase. Holm landed her first one-two in the first 30 seconds, and the momentum never truly shifted.
Holm's game plan required Rousey to pursue relentlessly, and the former champion seemed happy to oblige, often bouncing or even running after her, the boxer's shuffle immediately forgotten. As expected, despite proclamations of her boxing prowess, Rousey didn't have the ring craft to corner Holm. And, as expected, the fighters ended up in the clinch anyway.
Holm, like so many before her, wound up on the mat in Rousey's world. As she had nine times before, Rousey scrambled quickly for the armbar that had cemented her fame. It was only then that Holm went off script, defending sharply, standing smartly and even landing a punch to the mush for good measure.
Rousey may have suspected she was in trouble before that moment. Afterward, she knew it. But she never recovered.
By the end of the first round, Rousey's mouth and nose were bleeding, her ego was in tatters, and her eyes betrayed defeat, even as coach Edmond Tarverdyan attempted to bolster her spirits with the ludicrous proclamation that she had Holm right where she wanted her.
Thirty seconds into the second round, Rousey's flailing momentum sent her crashing to the mat. Moments later, she was unconscious on her back.
There have been other paradigm-shifting fights in UFC history. But there's never been a champion fighter who looked nearly as helpless as Rousey did against Holm. While the challenger stuck to her game plan like it was handed down by the MMA gods, Rousey seemed to have no plan at all.
"We didn’t want to be there for her counter," Holm told Fox Sports after the fight. "She has knockout power. I didn’t want to make that a habit getting hit by the counter. We needed to move and be precise. She hit me a few times. She has the power, but you have to be in range. I wanted to go forward in a smart way. I didn’t want her to bum-rush me to the cage. The game plan we had worked out great.”
If Rousey had worked on cutting off the cage against a mobile opponent, it wasn't immediately obvious. Instead, she devolved to instinct, winging haymakers that never had a prayer of landing. When forced to dig deep for the first time, she showed she had no second gear. By the end, after less than six minutes of competition, she was heaving for breath, waiting for the inevitable.
Like Tyson, Rousey ran through lesser opponents with startling violence. Like Tyson, she established a fearsome reputation both in and out of the cage. And, like Tyson, like all bullies, she folded up at the first sign of resistance. When things got hard, Rousey didn't have the fortitude to see things through.
It's easy, in retrospect, to see Rousey's fall coming. Chaos reigned, in both her personal and professional lives. There will be a tendency to make that the story of this fight. To do so would be a grave disservice to Holm, who deserves better. Rousey didn't beat herself. Holm dominated, both mentally and physically.
What happens next will decide how we tell the Ronda Rousey story. Like Tyson, Rousey's legend was built on her own perceived invulnerability. Many fans, and many of her opponents if we're being honest, never thought for a moment she could lose. Rousey may have even believed that herself.
What happens now, when her fallibility has been so brutally exposed, not just to the world but to herself? The legend of Ronda Rousey is dead. She's now a mere mortal, beatable like everyone else. And that's okay.
No matter what Rousey believes, a champion's greatness isn't predicated on perfection. Everyone stumbles. True champions get off the mat and get better.
Tyson never could. Can Rousey?
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.