By Peter Gleason
The legend of Ronda Rousey as an unstoppable force, impossible to either stop or silence, was broken by Holly Holm Saturday night in Melbourne, in an upset that flipped the world of women’s UFC on its head.
Holm was the underdog of all underdogs, dismissed and derided as yet another in a long line of Rousey victims in the lead-up to UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium.
Part of that was her own relative inexperience in the octagon, but most of it was down to the mystique of Rousey, who leapt into the public consciousness and her role as MMA’s biggest star in rapid time.
Rousey, always a woman in a hurry, was thrown off by Holm’s patience, spatial awareness and willingness to move out of harm’s way. By the end of the first round, Rousey’s face was scuffed and bloodied. Less than a minute into the second, her position as the queen of the fight game was.
It had been taken by Holm’s perfect mix of stealth, technique and raw power. The 35-year-old former world boxing and kickboxing champion, from Albuquerque, N.M., kept her foe at arm’s length with a series of punishing straight left elbows and punches.
The more she flitted out of Rousey’s reach, the more the champion became frustrated, and the more she tried to unleashed ferocious swings that quickly became ragged.
After Holm escaped from an attempt by Rousey to lock on her signature armbar at the midway point of the first round, you sensed that she might survive for a good length of time.
After Holm ducked under a looping hook, the momentum of which sent Rousey flying face-first into the cage, you sensed she could win.
The end came suddenly and brutally. Holm unleashed a crushing kick with her left to the side of Rousey’s head and neck. It was a knockout blow, and Rousey tumbled to the canvas like a stone. Holm homed in, delivering a pair of strikes to the face before referee Herb Dean correctly ended the contest.
Maybe we should have known better. Sports, especially one as unpredictable as this, have a habit of making apparent certainties seem anything but.
Holm tried to tell us. She said she had the game plan, the world title experience, the calm head and inner belief to shock the world. To be fair, many had said similar things before and ended up flat on their faces.
Holm chose her words carefully, but the ones she spoke she meant — and was able to back them up when it mattered.