Single sentence summary:
Phil: The boxer who can't punch very hard tries to walk her only path to victory, a.k.a. winning the most boring, divisive gameplan in the history of the sport.
David: Road House star seeks to make title challenger an Expendable.
"Rowdy" Ronda Rousey
Holly "The Preacher's Daughter" Holm
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Ronda Rousey. She's that famous girl, she is. Armbars people a lot, she does. Sometimes punches ‘em in the face, yep. Seen her in those films, have you?
David: You said it Yoda man. The great thing about Rousey is that her appeal isn't just confined to what she does in the ring. As someone who writes previews all the time, there's a utilitarian need for me to talk about a fighter's extracurricular activities when all else has been repeated, recycled, and regurgitated. Sure I could talk about Rousey's ascent in the UFC, but everyone knows the story. Not everyone knows who her favorite character from Road House is, on the other hand?
Phil: Holly Holm has forged out a really good boxing career by being incredibly tough and determined while simultaneously having a chronic lack of power. With a few notable speedbumps like her nauseating loss to Anne Sophie Mathis (something which Mike Winkeljohn should still feel guilty for), she made her way to becoming "the best women's boxer in the world." It's something which has primed her for a showdown with Rousey since years back. That she hasn't quite lived up to the hype has been something that most of us who bothered actually watching her fights could have predicted.
David: At best you could argue that she has lived up to her hype in terms of status. But a deluge of violence she is not or has ever been. The reason to be thankful for Holm, besides the fact that all Rousey fodder is entertaining fodder, is that she hasn't buckled over the criticism. She maintains the same, specific rhythm on the feet she's had throughout her career. This won't be the Miesha Tate fight where Tate kept making strategic error after strategic error. And Holm damn sure won't be able to say "well I didn't expect Rickson, I mean Ronda, to armbar me" or something. Not that any of her opponents would ever say such a thing...oh...nevermind.
What are the stakes?
Phil: If Holm wins this, she knocks the UFC's biggest star (perhaps and probably its biggest star ever) off her perch, and simultaneously achieves one of the biggest upsets in MMA history.
David: The stakes for Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm couldn't be much higher. A Rousey win just means a re(rematch) with Miesha Tate, which is a nice fight but it's also the kind of bout that Dana is willing to postpone in favor of another Expendables sequel, or a Stop or My Mom Will Shoot remake.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Holm does not want but needs this fight to be at distance. Any time she is locked up with the champ she is in immediate peril of being smashed. She needs to move backwards, pivot and maintain distance better than she ever has in a career based on those attributes. Her main problem is going to be landing offense: she's much, much better at kicking range than she is at punching range, as her money punch (the left straight) tends to off-balance her. Thus, she tends to flash it to discourage opponents coming in, but at the ranges where she can actually land it it oddly becomes much more of a risk.
David: Well, to aggressively crib from Connor's Gaps in the Armor article, close quarter combat is actually acceptable for Holm as long as Holm considers reactive takedowns. You can't hunt a bear by running away. You've gotta be all Anthony Hopkins on that mother. What one woman can do, another can do!
Granted, no woman has yet to defeat her but you get my garbled point. People rightfully give Tate a lot of flack for her gameplan against Rousey. Tate's execution was filth. But her philosophy was sound; you can't be afraid to engage otherwise you're at a tactical disadvantage prima facie. Holm has to be able to react, know when that reaction is being countered or anticipated, and then needs to disengage.
What makes it hard for Holm in this situation is the lack of power in her punches. However, kicks allow her to maintain the kind of range most fighters can't manage. Normally this is an easy opportunity for grapplers, but Rousey isn't the blast double kind of grappler. She charges forward with strikes, initiates a clinch, and then dumps you on your head. The necessity of steps (because Rousey isn't fluid when it comes to footwork) means Holm will have time to reset. This is all easier said then done, but there's a blueprint here that can be conceivably sketched.
Phil: Obviously Rousey wants the fight in close. In recent years, her boxing has improved - she no longer simply abandons her stance and starts marching in, but she still tends to follow opponents rather than cutting them off. In part this is because she is quite so pathologically aggressive- she can't help but take the straightest line to her prey. I'm interested to see if we see any developments in her game which have been custom-made for Holm. Personally if I was training Rousey I'd be telling her to kick Holm's leg as Holm moves away. It's a relatively easy target to hit on a constantly backwards-moving opponent, and it serves to slow them down.
David: The aggression is what makes her the perfect killing machine. Unlike Rich Franklin. It suits her all too well precisely because it hides what she's just not good at. I agree that her striking is anything but what he's been comically cracked up to be, but there's no question she's intelligent about how she uses it. By roaring past her limitations, it gives opponents the illusion that she has none.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Bethe Correia is not a good athlete. Her pre-fight warm-up before the Rousey fight is legend. She's not fast, or strong... but while committed to defense, she still managed to land several punches on Rousey before giving up, planting her feet, and getting annihilated.
David: Come on Phil! I thought you were above these armchair tangible details, turning a laughable, barely coherent pre-fight warmup into a full blown hot take???
I'm sort of kidding. I do think even the most oddball moments can reveal important info, but I do find it amusing that so far a lot of criticism of both women has come from random exo-octagon training gifs, like Rousey's goofy looking shadow boxing.
Phil: Not so much an X-factor, but I'd like to address one thought which is the idea that Holm needs to last "five rounds" or 25 minutes- this tends to be running the concept that if Rousey can't finish Holm early, then she'll have the same chance to win every frame. I'm less sure, for one simple reason: hyper-aggressive fighters like Rousey always take a ton of damage when they get figured out. It's in their nature - they'll throw themselves into the line of fire again and again, until they're badly hurt. Think Cain Velasquez, Michael Chandler. In the unlikely event that Holm is still alive at the start of round 5, expect Rousey to be wearing it, pillow fists and all.
David: Nailed it. "He's a boy who's never lost a battle. He'll risk anything at any time because he doesn't know enough to be afraid" and so forth. Do barely sincere weigh in scuffles count?
ROUSEY vs HOLM!!! pic.twitter.com/EVtHt5rfPx— Dana White (@danawhite) November 14, 2015
Phil: Can Holm win? Sure. Odds out of line? Think so. However, she needs to fight the perfect fight. MMA is such a fundamentally chaotic sport, and none of the opportunities for chaos favor Holm. If she gets accidentally eye-poked, or slips, or something weird happens to her, she's toast, and the same just isn't true of Rousey. In the end, five minutes is a pretty long time. Ronda Rousey by submission, round 1.
David: I feel like I've been forced into the Skip Bayless role. I do think Holm has the athleticism and strength to avoid the early blitz. I also think Rousey will get hit early and think twice about how much she needs to respect Holm. Holly doesn't need to land a big fish dance punch for Rousey to respect her; she just needs to get touched. I see this fight being far more strategic and drawn out than anyone could possibly envision, so I'll go with something atypical. And because I think Rousey wants to expand on her weapons of finishing choice. Ronda Rousey by Rear Naked Choke, Round 4.