The Impossible Task: Meet the Fighter Who Could Beat UFC Champion Ronda Rousey

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterAugust 2, 2015

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The latest chapter in the Ronda Rousey story took just 34 seconds, a furious blitz ending in a right hand to the temple that turned poor Bethe Correia's lights out. For pay-per-view buyers, that's $1.76 per glorious second for the pleasure of watching Rousey dispose of yet another overmatched foe in high definition.

While 34 seconds may seem like a blink of an eye in a bout scheduled to go 25 minutes, in Rousey's world, it was a relative eternity. After all, her last two fights lasted a mere 30 seconds—combined.

"She's the most badass woman anyone has ever seen," UFC president Dana White told Fox's Ariel Helwani. White is known to speak a language all his own, one made up entirely of hyperbole, invective and swears. But here, at least, he seems prescient. 

Beating Ronda Rousey is no easy task. She dispatched Olympic wrestler Sara McMann in just over a minute. Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Alexis Davis didn't even manage that much success—she got knocked out in just 16 seconds. Slugger Sarah Kaufman did a bit better than that, lasting almost an entire minute before tapping out to an armbar.

That's essentially every MMA archetype, the best example of each in the women's bantamweight division, disposed of like they were little more than children. Scariest of all, at least for prospective foes, is the indisputable fact Rousey is only getting better.

Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports
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"She's going to continue to be a problem for everyone because it'll be a pick-your-poison scenario," UFC on Fox commentator Kenny Florian said after the fight. "If you respect the hands, you get thrown down. If you don't, you'll get punched. This is years and years of competing at an elite level. She's looking to finish her opponent the second the bell rings. ...

... "Ronda just finds a new way to win each time. This fight will add more value to her training in the future. She'll pick out mistakes and get better with her striking and get even more dangerous. She knows she can submit you, and now she can use her striking and develop that more, and get even better. There's no one in the division who can offer competition."

What Rousey does, she does very well. She's a next-level athlete, strong and fast and hyper-aggressive. Her game is built around the clinch, an area of expertise she spent years perfecting en route to two Olympic Games representing the United States in judo. When she puts hands on you, it's all over.

Even when Rousey is intent on using her hands, as she was here against a light-punching opponent who was practically tailor-made for trying out new techniques, her clinch still informs everything. The flurry that finished Correia, after all, came immediately after the challenger was tossed ignominiously on her rump.

But as former Bleacher Report analyst Jack Slack explained in a great piece on Fightland, that result is not an inevitability:

There was nothing to stop any of Rousey's opponents from circling away from her. Rousey didn't methodically work them toward the fence, cutting off the cage and taking away space each time, all while staying down behind her guard. No, Rousey rushed them on a straight line. Boxing 101: step off line and circle away from the edge of the ring.

And if you do get close to the corner, you fake to go one way and you change directions. Really basic, but game-changing stuff.

Correia fought like she had read Slack's breakdown—and was determined to do everything exactly wrong. She stood right in front of Rousey as she charged, refusing to move offline and doing what every startled deer does when the lioness attacks. She stood her ground and threw her right hand. 

That, of course, is exactly what Rousey wants. She knows she's going to get hit charging in. She accepts it as a cost of doing business. If you plant your feet to unleash a haymaker, Rousey has won already. Whether you land that punch or not, the clinch will follow. And then Rousey will toss you to the ground as she did Correia. Trying to outslug Rousey seems like the smart play. It's not.

Beating Rousey won't be a matter of brute strength and aggression. She has the market cornered on those attributes. It won't come by improving your clinch game and working hard on your bottom game. That merely delays things. She's spent a lifetime mastering those elements—a three-month training camp won't be enough.

Taking her bantamweight title will come down to discipline, distance and bravado. Killing the queen won't be the result of mindless brawling. It will happen when a fighter stares down the charging bull and simply, elegantly, steps gently to the side and watches her pass by.

Right now, it seems like Rousey is head and shoulders above all competition. But there is a fighter lurking who might just have the particular skill set required to do the impossible. While Miesha Tate steps into the cage for a third time against the champion, a dark horse bides her time.

Holly Holm awaits.

Hardcore fans have been tracking Holm's development carefully since her MMA debut in 2011. Twice Ring Magazine's Female Boxer of the Year, Holm was a constant presence on the New Mexico fight scene, drawing thousands of fans to a variety of tiny casinos along Route 66 to watch her work. In 2013, she officially put boxing in her rearview mirror to concentrate on MMA full time.

Holm, despite making her UFC debut a little more than five months ago, has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about a potential Rousey fight.

"Ronda has been incredible and she's run through everyone without it being too much of a competition," Holm told Yahoo's Kevin Iole. "She can clinch and toss you to the ground and then armbar you in two seconds. But if you don't get close enough, you can't hit her. You have to be able to put together a game plan to get past that."

Ironically, it's the very traits that would serve her well in a Rousey fight that have caused many to label Holm a disappointment in her initial UFC forays. Holm's ability to control the distance with her footwork and strong kicking game is often misinterpreted. The style many people call "too cautious" or "lacking killer instinct" is the very formula needed to throw Rousey off her game.

This patience, science and discipline, things some fans consider to be "boring," compose a strategy that seems almost perfectly designed to lure a charging Rousey into trouble. Rousey's complete lack of nuance and propensity to throw her punches like a drunken sailor on a one-day pass could create opportunities for Holly to angle off her front leg and launch quick counters, racking up points and possibly putting Ronda into a defensive frame of mind.

For all her success in the cage, we've never once seen Rousey deal with a fighter engaging from distance. No one has forced her to, instead accepting Rousey's rules and all but inviting themselves into her clinch.

Holm's long-range kicks will be key.
Holm's long-range kicks will be key.Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Holm's coach, Greg Jackson, is one of the most tactical thinkers in MMA. He would have her steeled to fight that instinct. Holm, despite her boxing pedigree, does her best work from farther out. Her legs are long and fast enough to fire off front and side kicks to the ribs to slow down the champ's forward momentum or to feint and capitalize on her opponent's response.

The keys for Holm, and ultimately for every striker looking to challenge Rousey, will be her ability to avoid the clinch and to survive when she is put on her back, something that seems likely to happen several times over the course of a 25-minute title fight.

Holm has been surprisingly adept in this area, using strong counterwrestling to escape danger. She's big and very strong. In the fight game, all too often, that's enough to get the job done.

When she's threatened, she doesn't just defend the takedown—she angles out to remove herself from the situation as soon as possible. Her ground game remains a bit of a mystery. When she does hit the mat, Holm's strategy is focused on getting up rather than playing jiu-jitsu on the ground.

That we don't know much about her mat work, despite it being the obvious route to victory against her, is a huge compliment to both Holm and her coaches. A smart fighter minimizes their weaknesses. It's that kind of fight IQ that would give Holm a fighting chance against Rousey.

There's no question, should the two fight, that Holm would go into the bout as a significant underdog. And rightfully so. Rousey's reputation is well-deserved, and she's proved her mettle under fire. But Holm, at the very least, would have a blueprint in place for success. She'd have a chance, if only a slim one.

Against Ronda Rousey, that's the highest of compliments.

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.


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