Holly Holm did it. Just about everybody in the MMA world counted her out--and a good number of the ones saying they didn't are probably lying. Ronda Rousey was the invincible champion, the unbeatable queen of MMA. But not anymore.
It's hard to think of a single thing that Holm did wrong. Her execution of her gameplan was completely flawless, from the first second of the fight to the stunning last. In part one of this breakdown, we looked at Holm's excellent combination of lateral movement and well-timed punches, as well as the surprising takedown with which she put Rousey on her back. Today, we're going to examine one of the more subtle aspects of Holm's strategy, and then the least subtle moment of the entire fight--the knockout.
Many were surprised at just how rudimentary Ronda Rousey's striking looked. Worse than rudimentary, in fact, because there is no rudiment more essential than the jab, and Rousey's was notably absent. Quite early into the bout, the champion seemed focused on landing either a lead left hook, or a lead right. Normally she has a very active jab, and it could have helped her to set up these strikes--but Holm slyly took it away. Here's how.
1. Holm and Rousey square off.
2. Rousey feints and steps forward, and Holm steps back.
3. Now Rousey looks to commit on a jab, and Holm extends her hand to catch it, meeting Ronda's knuckles with her open palm.
4. Again, Holm steps back and Ronda prepares to pump that jab again.
5. This time Holly catches the jab without even having to move her hand.
This might seem like a small, inconsequential sequence, but that's exactly why it was so effective on Holm's part. Like many great out-fighters and counter punchers, Holm has a knack for reducing the volume of her more aggressive opponents. She gets them to throw around the same number of punches as her, which makes it easier for her to time and counter them.
In this case, Holm was so determined to catch Rousey's jab early in the bout, that Ronda actually ended up catching it for her. By the end of the first round, she was actually aiming for Holm's hand without realizing it. By the start of the second . . .
1. Holm steps back, drawing Rousey in.
2. Immediately Rousey steps forward and shoots a stiff jab right into the stationary palm of Holm.
3. Holm is easily able to circle away and reset.
4. 20 seconds and one embarrassing slip later, Rousey is once again standing in front of Holm, contemplating how to get inside.
5. This time Holm prompts the catch, showing Rousey her palm and letting the champion hit it.
6. As Rousey barrels forward, her second jab is once again aimed for the lead hand of Holm.
7. She does make one final attempt to hit Holm's head with her jab, but can't find the target.
8. This leaves her standing on the edge of range, unsure of how to cover the distance.
9. At which point Holm nails her with a lead left.
By obstructing Rousey's jab early and often, Holm conditioned her opponent to aim for that hand. This allowed Holm to focus on Rousey's other punches, namely the straight right and left hook, freeing her to focus on just a few defensive reactions. More importantly, though, it kept Rousey at a range where Holm had the distinct advantage.
A jab need not land to be effective, but it must be correctly targeted. Normally, Rousey's pumping left would have allowed her to close the distance by obstructing Holm's vision, hiding her attempts to enter the pocket. With Rousey's fist hovering in her face, Holm would have struggled to time and target her counters, and Rousey could have set up any number of attacks from mid-range.
A consistent jab would have also helped Ronda to measure the distance for these attacks. In fact, Holm's constant catching gave Rousey a deliberately false impression of the distance between herself and the challenger. Note how, in Frame 6 above, Holm's right hand is about six inches in front of her own face when Rousey hits it with her jab. In the following frame, Rousey attempts to bypass this defensive line, but her punch falls well short of Holm's face. That's because Rousey's only reliable measuring stick, her jab, has given her false information. Only able to touch Holm's extended hand, Rousey can't judge how far she needs to move before attacking her head. It feels as if Holm's chin should be there on the end of her fist, but it's not. Frustrating.
With little tricks like this Holm turned Rousey, an inexperienced (and, it has to be sad, poorly trained) striker into an utterly one-dimensional one. And shortly after that last sequence, she used one little kick to turn Rousey, a champion, into just another famous fighter.
This was it. With one kick Holly Holm turned the MMA world upside down, ending the undefeated streak of MMA's biggest star. Even as she was dominating the fight, it didn't seem possible that Holm could actually beat Rousey, not to mention knock her unconscious. She went ahead and did it anyway.
1. Rousey comes forward (not behind a jab).
2. As Ronda plants her lead foot and prepares to attack, Holm times her with a laser-straight left hand.
3. Holm quickly frames, keeping a strong inside position with her arms and preventing Rousey from tying her up in the clinch.
4. After rebuffing her grips, Holm shoves Rousey back . . .
5. . . . and Ronda suddenly realizes that she is hurt, wobbling off balance and falling to the ground.
6. Immediately Holm steps in and gets her hands on Rousey's back.
7. As Rousey stands and struggles to turn around, Holm gives her a little shove with both hands, getting her feet into position and off-balancing Rousey.
8. At which point she lays her shin right across Rousey's neck, knocking her out.
9. The violent end of an era.
There are so many things right with this sequence that I don't know where to start.
First, Holm began the exchange with a left hand, thrown and landed with perfect timing just as Rousey was about to commit to some attack of her own. The moment Rousey committed her weigh to her front foot, Holm's left hand was right there to meet her. Next, Holm stayed composed and technical in her efforts to fight of Rousey's clinch which, had she managed to tie Holm up, might have completely changed the course of the fight. Holm kept her elbows in tight, used her forearms and palms to frame, keeping Rousey from closing the distance and finishing her grips, and then quickly shoved her back when she was unable to secure a position.
At this point, Rousey was hurt. I have no doubt that a few more straight lefts would have prompted a stoppage within the next couple minutes of the fight, but Holm was interested in a more succinct finish. The best part of this kick isn't actually the kick itself--though it is one of the best Holm has ever thrown. It's Holm's use of her hands to prepare for the kick that stands out. Firstly, note how quickly Holm puts her hands on Rousey's back as she struggles to stand up. It's clear that Holm was thinking about the head kick the moment Rousey stumbled away and gave her the angle, but she wisely decides to bide her time and create the circumstances for a perfect knockout blow. By getting her hands on Rousey, she can exert some control over how Rousey moves. Ronda can't turn around and rush into a clinch or wild combination so long as Holm is posted on her back. When Holm shoves her right as she begins to turn around, she forces Rousey to focus entirely on her own balance. Rousey is so caught up in staying upright that both hands stray far from her chin, leaving her wide open for the kick. Holm's hand contact also allows her to measure the distance. Standing much closer than she normally would for a head kick, Holm adjusts the trajectory of her strike to catch Rousey perfectly with her shin, shoving her into the sweet spot even as she winds up the finishing blow.
It was, without a doubt, the greatest moment of Holm's contact sports career. With careful preparation and hard work, this former professional boxer executed a perfect strategy as perfectly as possible, and created the upset of the decade in the process.
The Queen is dead. Long live the Preacher's Daughter.
For more on Rousey vs Holm and the way that training and preparation affected the outcome of the fight, check out this week's episode of Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching.