Note: This is a Crunch Time column I wrote for this week’s issue of the Cheney Free Press.
One thing I’ve heard UFC commentator and comedian Joe Rogan say is “anything can happen in mixed martial arts.” I’ve also heard from several fighters I’ve interviewed over the years are that even the best athletes experience defeat at some point in their careers.
MMA fans learned this first-hand last Saturday after “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holly Holm defeated “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey to win the UFC women’s bantamweight championship. Many are calling Holm’s win over Rousey the biggest upset in not only mixed martial arts, but all of combat sports. She also made history by becoming the first fighter to win world championships in boxing and mixed martial arts.
Rousey came into the fight as the unbeatable opponent, with an unblemished record of 12-0 prior to the fight, six successful title defenses – three in the last nine months – and the best grappling of any fighter in the women’s 135-pound division. Although Holm had a 9-0 record and an extensive boxing background – a 33-2-3 record and a plethora of world championships – fans and critics considered P.D. an unworthy contender for Rousey. And why shouldn’t they? Holm’s grappling and takedown defense has improved since she transitioned to MMA but it’s nowhere as efficient as Rousey or her previous opponents. Prior to fighting Rousey, Holm’s octagon run consisted of back-to-back decision wins.
Rousey opened at -300, making her a 3-1 odds favorite, with Holm as a +250 underdog, according to Best Fight Odds. Those numbers shifted with money coming in on Holm’s side – dropping Rousey to as low as about a -140.
I’ll admit that I counted Holm out, believing that Rousey’s judo, aggressiveness, strength and preparation would be the keys that would result in the champion finishing Holm quickly like she had many of her previous opponents.
But Rousey’s aggressiveness seemed to work against her. Holm out maneuvered her while landing many strikes on Rousey in the first round. Holm’s strength seemed to match her opponent’s as she escaped from a couple of submission attempts. As for preparation, Holm executed a seemingly perfect game plan in getting Rousey to chase her. In the second round Holm landed a vicious head kick that sent the champion to the canvas. Rousey later went to the hospital for a busted lip.
Holm’s win was a shock to many, but big upsets in mixed martial arts are more common than we think.
There have been several upsets in MMA prior to Holm’s win over Rousey. In 2007, Matt Serra shocked the world when he finished Georges St-Pierre in three minutes to win the UFC welterweight championship. Chris Weidman ushered in a new era for the UFC’s middleweight division after he defeated Anderson Silva to win the belt, snapping Silva’s 16-fight winning streak. Last year T.J. Dillashaw beat Renan Barao to win the bantamweight belt, becoming the first man to defeat Barao since the latter’s first fight in 2005.
Boxing fans will remember when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson in the 10th round to win The Ring, World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation heavyweight championships. Douglas entered the contest as a 42-1 underdog.
UFC President Dana White intimated that Rousey will get a rematch against Holm, who agreed to defend her newly won championship against the former titleholder. Rousey released a statement on her Instagram account, thanking everyone for their love and support.
“I appreciated the concerns about my health, but I’m fine,” Rousey wrote. “As I mentioned before, I am going to take a little bit of time, but I’ll be back.”
While the annals of combat sports history are filled with upsets, fighters like Weidman and Dillashaw who are still the champions in their respected weight divisions, will continue to carry that momentum throughout their careers.
Then again, Serra lost the welterweight title back to St-Pierre in their rematch while Douglas dropped his championships to Evander Holyfield in his first title defense.
As for Holm, she’s already considered the underdog in the rematch with Rousey despite coming in as the champion. Who knows, maybe lighting will strike twice and The Preacher’s Daughter will add the second loss to Rousey’s MMA resume.