You’ve seen the kick. We’ve all seen the kick. Left shin meets jaw/neck, and Ronda Rousey is out. It was a brutal, iconic moment, but it’s almost beside the point: Holly Holm was already beating Rousey, and beating her badly. She wasn’t just edging her out; it was total domination from start to finish.
When a fight is so completely one-sided—and in the opposite way you thought it would be—you’re left sitting there wondering how the hell you didn’t see it coming. And how didn’t Rousey?
I think she did, and that this was her downfall.
First, credit where it’s due, Holly Holm called it. “Ronda has never been hit hard enough to throw her off her game,” she told color man Joe Rogan. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do today.” And that’s exactly what happened. The first exchange, not 20 seconds into the fight, left Rousey with a welt under her right eye. Rousey’s eyes widened in what looked to me like surprise. The second exchange, just seconds later, left her with a red band that stretched from her left cheek all the way to her right and engulfed her nose, which was likely broken. From that moment until the end, Rousey was breathing through her mouth, and breathing hard.
It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that if the fight stayed on its feet that Holm would be heavily favored. But it did. Rousey has made a reputation for herself not just by beating everyone, but by beating them in a number of styles, and most recently, against Bethe Correia, she seemed to get extra pleasure from beating her opponent at her own game. You wanna brawl? Great, I’ll out-brawl you.
On the ground, Rousey is peerless, but from the jump it didn’t seem like Rousey was trying to take it there. It looked like she intended to slug it out with Holm, and that, as we now know, was a very bad idea. Bethe Correia could brawl, but Holly Holm is one of the most dominant champions in the history of women’s boxing, with devastating kicks and unequaled cardio to boot.
Yet it was more than two minutes before Rousey’s first attempt to take Holm down to the mat, and by then she was already hurt. Holm escaped and the fight would stay upright until the end, save one bodyslam Holm dealt to Rousey before letting her back up to take some more fists. And those fists, incidentally, were lightning quick, surgically precise, and hard as hell. By the end of the round Rousey was sloppy, exhausted, and seemingly punch-drunk. She looked lost at sea in her corner between rounds while her team tended to her wounds. In contrast, Holm sat calmly, drinking her own water, and listening to her trainer’s advice without a mark on her. She was 100 percent in control.
The problem with everybody telling you that you are unbeatable is that after a while you start to believe it, and once you believe it, every challenge is seen in a new light. A rival isn’t just someone trying to succeed on their own path, but a blasphemer. How fucking dare she think she can win? She needs to be put in her place.
This is speculation, of course, but I also think it’s what started the domino effect that brought Rousey down.
Rousey isn’t Floyd Mayweather, Jr. She doesn’t want to win on points. She doesn’t want to rely on one move (an armbar, say) to take everyone out. She wants to be known as the very best, and she doesn’t want to leave any room for doubt. And that, I believe, is why she kept the fight on its feet.
In the months leading up to the fight, Rousey had been asked again and again about Holm’s striking game. Holm is known for it. She was a champion for it. Whenever there was speculation that maaaybe Holm had a chance, it involved a stand-up fight. I think Rousey hated that. She doesn’t want to just be the best on the mat or the best in a clinch, she wants to be the best, period. She wanted to beat Holm where Holm was strongest. And somewhere, deep down, buried far below the accolades, the EA Sports cover, the WWE crossover, the natural charisma, and the abundant confidence, she was afraid that maybe she couldn’t. It’s the whole fear leads to anger leads to hatred thing, and we all know how that ends.
In the days leading up to the fight, Rousey’s demeanor seemed to change. The two fighters had generally been very respectful of each other leading up to the weigh-in, and there had hardly been any smack-talking. And then Rousey seemed to come a little bit unhinged. Most notably, at the weigh-in, Rousey charged over to Holm, stuck a fist in her face, and then lost her shit when Holm reciprocated, calling her a “Fake ass cheapshotting fake respect fake humility bitch … ”
This seemed to be a bit of a disconnect with reality, and it’s where the cracks started to show. Holm’s fists wouldn’t have been anywhere near Rousey’s face had Rousey not come at her, and it in no way seems that Holm intended to hit her. Moments after that incident you can hear Rousey’s voice quivering as she speaks to Joe Rogan. She was clearly rattled. In contrast, Holm, who had to speak even more quickly after the altercation seemed utterly calm and unshaken.
It was the first time we would see this dynamic: Holm looking like a seasoned veteran and Rousey looking like a challenger with something to prove. That should have been a big red flag.
By the time round two began, the fight was already over. Rousey came out of her corner looking slow. Her punches had no more snap to them. She was breathing heavily and struggling to keep her guard up. Her head barely moved, and Holm landed shot after hard shot. Rousey made a couple desperation moves, but Holm was quicker and able to avoid or defend everything. Then there was a slip, a boot to the head, and it was lights out.
In truth, it was hard to watch. It wasn’t just the swift violence dealt to someone you thought was invincible, it was the look in her eyes as she awoke and was being told what had happened. It was seeing someone who had built a life, a career, an empire, and a vision of herself as unstoppable and having that taken away in very convincing fashion. It was more than a little heartbreaking.
Holm, for her part, never seemed to waver. There was never any evidence of the whole “fake respect fake humility” thing she’d been accused of. She celebrated in the moment of victory and seconds later was down on her knee, trying to see if Rousey was okay. It didn’t seem condescending and it didn’t seem put on, it seemed genuine. In fact Holm’s own enjoyment of her win seemed tempered by the pain of Rousey’s loss.
Rousey had already planned on taking a break after this fight, and that’s just what she’s going to do. Anybody assuming this is the end of her career is just trying to stir up drama. That wouldn’t be any fun anyway. More likely, she will be back, and she will be pissed, but this time she’ll work through it in the gym. Expect to see a stronger, faster, and smarter Ronda Rousey. Expect her to be less weighed down by the distractions and the hype. Expect her to clinically, emotionlessly dismantle anyone who’s put in front of her before a rematch.
And expect the rematch to be incredible.
Brent Rose is a regular contributor to Gizmodo, Deadspin, and others. His current adventure is a year-long road-trip which you can keep up with at www.connectedstates.com. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Top photo via Youtube/UFC