It hasn't taken long for Ronda Rousey to become the biggest star in combat sports. One of the major components of her ever-growing mythos is her ability to finish her opponents in quick, clean fashion. The champion's fights last just long enough to fit into an Instagram video or a long GIF, which allows them to spread rapidly through the webs of social media.
To the mainstream audience that she's courted, Rousey is effectively invincible. That's largely her appeal as a fighter, though not necessarily of her draw as a media personality and entertainer.
Holly Holm is fully capable of shattering that veil of invincibility.
By that I don't mean that Holm is a serious threat to win the fight. The oddsmakers have pegged her as a 12:1 underdog, and that still might be generous. She isn't a powerful enough puncher to really hurt Rousey, she can't stuff the champion's takedowns for a full 25 minutes and she has little hope of surviving for long on the ground when it inevitably goes there.
What Holm can do, however, is frustrate Rousey for long stretches of time and turn the fight into a boring, low-volume game of keep-away.
For all of Rousey's improvements as a striker—and that progress is demonstrable and real—she remains a relative novice. Any talk of her going into professional boxing or speculation that she'll strike with Holm to prove a point is badly misguided. No matter how talented Rousey is, she can't make up for a decade-long gap in experience on the feet.
Holm is, by nature, an out-fighter. She excels at working on the fringes of striking distance, where her rangy, 5'8" frame, 69-inch reach and southpaw stance give her a great deal of space to throw straight punches and long kicks.
More importantly, Holm excels at circling, cutting angles and then picking her spot to sit down and throw a couple of punches before once again moving away. She's highly aware of where she is in the space of the cage, and how to keep herself out in the middle, rather than smashed up against the fence. Her foot speed is excellent, and it's difficult to keep up with her as she moves.
The former boxing champion has spent her entire career operating in spaces much smaller than the enormous, 750-square-foot UFC Octagon. Even the largest boxing ring is 625 square feet, and most of those in which Holm has fought have been much smaller, in the realm of 400 square feet. The Octagon gives her a great deal of space to operate and doesn't have the hard corners of a ring.
The combination of consistent lateral movement with the ability to throw strikes and then move away to avoid being trapped against the fence is what Holm needs to stay in this fight. It will be much harder for Rousey to grab onto a clinch in open space, where the former boxer can move at will, than in the restricted space against the fence.
Really, there's no other viable game plan for Holm to attempt to execute. She has smart, strategically minded coaches in Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn who have trained fighters for precisely this kind of matchup before. Remember Diaz-Condit? This is exactly the same scenario.
At no point in her career has Rousey shown the kind of precise and consistent footwork necessary to cut off the space of the cage, nor does she have the kind of active kicking game that makes opponents pay for trying to move laterally. Instead, she relies on her raw speed, athleticism and size to bring her into her preferred range, the pocket and the clinch.
None of Rousey's opponents to this point have had the combination of size, length, foot speed and technical footwork necessary to keep Rousey at a distance.
Holm possesses those characteristics in spades. The most likely scenario for this fight is one in which the relentlessly aggressive Rousey charges after the challenger like a maddened bull for several rounds, eating clean straight lefts and front kicks while the former boxer plays matador.
Eventually Rousey will grab ahold of Holm, work her knees and short punches in the clinch, follow with a takedown and then finish on the mat, probably with her signature armbar. The problem is that it will likely take a few ugly rounds before she finally gets there.
Those few ugly rounds are the problem. Holm has a bad habit of staying just a little too far out of range, which means she'll likely be hitting air with most of what she throws. Rousey won't be able to get close, and she too will probably be swinging at empty space and coming up short as she reaches forward to grab a clinch.
Rousey's reputation among casual fans is built on her ability to finish fights quickly and emphatically. If she spends two or three rounds flailing after a more experienced striker who refuses to be drawn into her wheelhouse, how much damage will that do to her profile? Will those fans tune in for another $60 Rousey fight after watching her look ineffectual and awkward for most of the fight?
That's the crux of the matter. When the experienced and skilled if not terribly dangerous Holm repeatedly sticks Rousey at range, and the champion grows more frustrated and fruitlessly aggressive, will the magic survive? Will people still want to pay to watch the phenomenon once the illusion of effortless invincibility has cracked?
This is a hypothetical scenario. It's entirely possible that Rousey's footwork has improved, and that her raw speed and aggression combined with a marginally more technical approach will bring her into her preferred range in the early going. If that's the case, then the Rousey mythos will live to fight another day.
If she hasn't improved those facets of her game, however, the results will be ugly. Holm can't really win the fight that way, but Rousey can lose more than just a lackluster, boring decision: She can lose her reputation and her fanbase.
Patrick Wyman is the Senior MMA Analyst for Bleacher Report. He can be found on Twitter.
Betting odds via Odds Shark.