Ronda Rousey lost to Holly Holm at UFC 193 on Saturday. Let that sink in for a second. Rousey, the biggest star in the sport, the pound-for-pound top name in women's MMA, the movie star, the woman who seemed destined to retire undefeated, lost. Lost by vicious second-round knockout, no less.
Shocking. Absolutely shocking.
Many, many words will be written about what this upset means for the sport, and many words will be written about how, for better or worse, this event turned all of combat sports upside down. That isn't what this article is about, though. This article is here to explain how this all happened.
By the end of the first minute, it was clear that the UFC 193 main event wasn't going to be a standard Rousey fight.
Traditionally, Rousey's matches follow a simple, logical progression. Rousey moves forward. Rousey clinches opponent. Rousey throws opponent. Rousey wins.
Sure, a few anomalies didn't follow this pattern—Rousey knocked out Bethe Correia too quickly without clinching and repeatedly kneed Sara McMann in the sternum instead of throwing her—but the idea is the same. Rousey has always, always been able to get her arms around an opponent and finish the fight shortly thereafter...until she met Holm.
When Rousey moved forward, The Preacher's Daughter consistently moved out of the way and kept Rousey at arm's (or balled left hand's) length. Keep in mind, that isn't as simple as it sounds.
Avoiding the clinch is a difficult feat in both MMA and boxing. If a fighter blocks, lands or whiffs a punch, they're in the clinch. If they end up with their back to the cage or ring? If their opponent wants it, they're in the clinch. If they throw a kick that's not perfectly set up, guess where they wind up? That's right, the clinch.
Holm, though, didn't let that happen.
It came as no surprise that Rousey charged forward in the early goings, pressing the action and throwing looping punches in an effort to tie up Holm. What did come as a surprise was Holm's ability to consistently tag Rousey and get out of Dodge before she could answer.
Holm's southpaw stance and strong footwork were the keys to this fight. Every time Rousey would get within range, Holm would either pop her with a stiff jab or use her lead hand to deflect Rousey's, setting up a left hand down the pipe. And each and every time, Holm would circle away, forcing Rousey to reset before attempting to re-engage.
Now, this wasn't unexpected. Circling away from an opponent is probably Chapter 2 of Boxing for Dummies (Chapter 1 being "What is Boxing?"), and while most mixed martial artists are in the sweet science's remedial classes, Holm is a boxer by trade. This was part of the logical progression of the fight, but Rousey seemed woefully unprepared for this development.
The counter to Holm's approach is to maintain the center of the cage and cut her off as she tries to circle out. For Rousey, this would contain Holm to a small section of the cage, preventing her from dancing away and most likely leading to the clinch, leading to a throw, leading to an armbar.
Rousey, though, didn't make any adjustments despite coming up on the short end of every exchange. Needless to say, Holm was more than content to rinse and repeat, and eventually, one of those left hands spun Rousey in place, and was followed up with a fight-ending head kick.
While this was a poor performance by Rousey, don't get all that excited about the Holly Holm Era. As stated, Rousey is at her best in the clinch, and it's almost impossible to stay out of it forever, even for someone as savvy as Rousey. On two separate occasions in the first round, Rousey grabbed hold of Holm and looked for a takedown (succeeding once, before unwisely going for "submission" instead of "position"). On one other occasion, she visibly rocked Holm with a punch.
There are, most certainly, alternate universes where Rousey is still the champion and the immediate future for the UFC doesn't look so bleak. This is not one of those universes, though. This is the universe where Holm approached Rousey in the perfect way and, with a little luck, managed to pull off the greatest upset in MMA history.