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UFC on Fox 20: Holm vs. Shevchenko Sober Play by Play - No Rhythm, No Reward for Holly

Holly Holm lost a fairly lopsided decision to Valentina Shevchenko at UFC on Fox 20. And she managed it by failing to establish rhythm; a concept not near as abstract as it sounds.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Author's Note: I promise to be more diligent with these from now on. Just saying.

For the most part, analysts and fans alike joined the same chorus of "damn...Holm vs. Shevchenko will be prizefighting Ambien". Much to everyone's surprise, it will never be mentioned in the same breath as Renzo vs. Ohara. Or Silva vs. Leites. Or Stallone vs. Van Damme.

A quick round of applause for Shevchenko: she has a skillset and style that is hard to make look good, but that's precisely what she does. Rewatching the fight, it became clear that there was too much stylistic intertia between both women for them to play their natural games (a suspicion I alluded to in our breakdown). Holm adjusted to this clash of styles. And she paid for it.

Round 1

4:40 The opening minute of the bout has a predictable hook, with Holm establishing her long, or outside rhythm. Despite the outcome, Holm is advanced for MMA when it comes to footwork. The general rule for out fighter movement is that you shuffle forward and back in intervals. If you're always on the outside the way Holm is, these forward to back, and back to forward movements allow you to control for your resets when pressuring, and/or defending.

4:26 Nothing has happened except for distance games when Shevchenko lands a nice right leg kick to the inside of Holm's right thigh. It's a natural point of attack against someone controlling distance the way Holm does.

Shevchenko sticks another strike into Holm's thigh, and both start slowly closing the distance on one another. Holm lands a few oblique kicks in the interim.

3:26 Holm comes in aggressively with an oblique kick and gets countered by Shevchenko's right hook. The reason Holm gets countered is because she's slow to reset. Shevchenko follows it up with an outside leg kick, and then a stiff right hand jab. At this point Holm has ditched the outside rhythm she ostensibly established early on.

3:09 Holm comes in with a short left (almost a feint) and follows it up with a right cross that drops Shevchenko. It's nice sequential movement by Holm who recognized that Shevchenko isn't an Edmond coached Ronda Rousey.

2:43 Shevchenko has already recovered. She uses her outside leg to land right inside of Holm's right thigh.

The following minute is more technical exercise. Shevchenko is looking for the right hook while Holm is attempting some classic, and some not so classic kick traffic.

1:49 Holm's first real attempt at a proper jab. She doubles on it, but they miss. Holm resets and then looks to close the distance, but Shevchenko counters with a jab.

1:20 Holm tries to close the distance with a left hand. Shevchenko uses Holm's momentum to clinch up with her and immediately scores a trip takedown. Holm is able to use her strength to get right back, however.

Notes and Observations

Even though Holm scores a knockdown, the round was all Shevchenko. Holm begins with promise, establishing her long rhythm that would made the fight look drastically different if she had stuck with it. Instead she ditches her out fighter movement in favor of a more midrange, aggressive strategy.

Round 2

It becomes clear from the outset that Holm really isn't going back to her out rhythm movements. She's maintaining distance, but flat footed. Jackson and Co. want Holm to counter Shevchenko's right hook, perhaps explaining Holm's stance. Rogan emphasizes this point, noting about Shevchenko's right hook:

She's going to that well a few too many times. If they can anticipate it, they can anticipate the counter.

This is a classic case of "not understanding the cause". Sure, more people drown on days when more ice cream is consumed, but the explanation isn't the ice cream. It's the environment that exists when more ice cream is consumed: hotter days lead to more swimming, which increases the odds of drowning. Attacking a counter is a nominal contradiction in terms, but calling Valentina's right hook "predictable" strips her interaction with Holm completely of context.

4:03 Sweet axe kick attempted by Shevchenko. It misses, but it's cool and sometimes cool stuff doesn't need justification.

At this point Holm is still feinting her way through the round. Both women are trying to find the right range to attempt their strengths. Holm's weakness is already being exposed, but it's being exposed against one of the cleanest counter fighters in modern MMA. And no, I am not speaking to the quality of Shevchenko's status; just the quality of her mechanics.

3:22 Holm attempts a high kick with her outside leg and Shevchenko follows it up by punishing her lead leg.

3:12 Holm steps in (too closely) with a straight left, right cross combination. The punches don't land. I'm assuming she's still looking to "counter" Shevchenko's counter right hook, but Holm's issue is mechanical. She's throwing them before getting inside rather than getting inside first. Elite fighters know the difference. Inside fighting requires different movement, and tactics. Head movement, weaving techniques, and lateral transitions are the earmarks of pocket pugilism. But Holm is just keeping her head straight up and moving forward with zero awareness.

Shevchenko capitalizes on this by ducking and initiating a clinch. Holm actually gets the better of these clinch exchanges. Nothing dramatic, but she scores with knees to the thigh often.

2:29 Holm comes in feinting a right cross, left combination, and gets pistol whipped with a counter right hook.

2:19 Awesome exchange if we're talking sheer aesthetics. Holm reaches in for an overhand left, and Shevchenko nearly counters with a spinning backfist.

1:36 The first sequence of this clip captures this exchange.

The Grabaka Hitman is on point. The issue here isn't Shevchenko's predictability. It's Holm's predictability. The other problems are foundational.

1:19 Shevchenko attempts a combination that misses, but punctuates the combo with an inside leg kick. A lot of attempted strikes between the two without much landing. Holm lands a nice leg kick towards the end, with Shevchenko countering with a leg kick of her own into a missed spinning backfist. They're wonderful exchanges, and the only time Holm really has the opportunity to threaten.

Notes and Observations

Holm doesn't commit to many of her strikes. Holm's intention is to stay on the outside. But because she's predictably unwilling to engage in the pocket, it's easy for Shevchenko to fearlessly counter and press. After all, what punch does she have to worry about when Holm is in the pocket? A jab? Overhand left? An uppercut? If they exist, they're in need of some Zapruder film.

Round 3

4:42 Holm attempts another kick and Shevchenko counters with (dat) right hook.

The other component to this fight is Shevchenko's leg kicking. While she's not exactly Edson Barboza, they land clean, and her kicks keep Holm from staying as comfortably outside as she wants.

4:00 Holm attempts a superman-ish punch, and nearly gets countered with a slick spinning backfist. Shevchenko is still finding a home for that counter right hook. Speaking of:

3:11 Shevchenko lands another beauty of a right hook. It happens because Holm is again wading in with predictable combinations and zero pocket movement or awareness. Holm is being a little more aggressive with her kicks, but eventually it gets caught and Shevchenko is able to get her down.

Holm gets back up but Shevchenko is again able to trip her back down. While Holm is strong enough to remain upright, she's not technical enough to avoid these scrambles with any consistency. As a result, the rest of the round is just Shevchenko laying on top of Holm.

Notes and Observations

Not much goes on on this round. The striking was technical, and swift but the ground exposed both of their flaws. Shevchenko simply has to be more active. I don't advocate hasty standups just because the fighter on bottom isn't in clear and present danger, but lack of activity is not something Shevchenko will be able to get away against more adept grapplers.

Round 4

4:30 Holm and Shevchenko exchange jabs.

Holm attempts some more distance kicks. At this point Holm still hasn't adjusted. She's again hanging around the midrange area, staying flat footed and with still no answer to Valentina's right hook because she hasn't addressed the right question: how do I effectively attack in the pocket if I go there?

3:44 Good combination by Shevchenko: right jab, straight left, followed up with an outside leg kick. Holm tries to move forward. She attempts a kick and nearly gets her head lopped off by a wheel kick counter (!). Exchanges like this, while highlighting Holm's deficiencies, also pronounce Valentina's wonderful timing.

Holm eventually finds a home for two solid leg kicks.

2:14 Holm is still trying hard to press forward. Shevchenko eventually lands a hard left leg kick. The two are dangerously close to bombing each other, but Holm's distance is keeping her from violently landing (or getting violently landed on).

It's anybody's fight right here, right now.

Not if you've been paying attention to any one of the 17 minutes that have passed Mike (to be fair, Goldberg had a rare moment of value when he commented on Barboza's spinning kick: "everytime I see him spin, I think of poor Terry Etim").

Holm grows more aggressive as the round goes on. However, she never really finds a home save for a sturdy body kick with a little over a minute left.

Notes and Observations

There's a concerted effort to be more aggressive by Holm, but it doesn't manifest in anything other than wasted movement. She has some success committing to a few leg kicks. But she's still beholden to trying to beat Shevchenko in the pocket, where neither her instincts nor technique support what she's trying to do.

Round 5

4:03 After some dancing and leg kicking by Holm, Shevchenko lands a left hand superman punch. Holm tries to reset by pumping a jab, but again, there's no sense of danger for Valentina by this point. The jab works by virtue of its routine, not its resort.

Holm actually finds a modest amount of success with the jab because she's finally developing somewhat of a routine. Shevchenko ends up countering with a straight left.

3:17 Holm wades in with an overhand left and gets countered by (dat) right hook. Holm tries to pressure some more, and Shevchenko keeps her at with an attempted wheel kick.

2:37 Holm is throwing low impact strikes to get inside, and Shevchenko nearly blasts Holm with another counter wheel kick.

1:30 Naturally prompting the invaluable "90 seconds to go in the fight" Goldbite. Holm throws a somewhat tepid combination, but this time she punctuates the combo with a quality leg kick. When Holm is aggressive with her strikes, and keeps it varied, she forces Shevchenko to semi-retreat.

0:52 Holm tries to go over the top and Valentina counters with the right hook. As the round comes to a close, there's a lot of fury, but not much sound.

Notes and Observations

First let's reflect on Holm's issues. Besides being unable to stick to the out fighter rhythm that was worked for her in the past, her biggest problem was generating offense in close. Words like "dynamic" and versatile" have lost their meaning in recent years. In part because fighters are more advanced, but also because we're so used to binary analysis. Hell, Buffer and Co. still introduce fighters as either "strikers" or "grapplers".

Anyway, there are two types of versatility: proactive versatility, and reactive versatility. Holm's reactive versatility was exposed, first and foremost. When countered, Holm displayed zero access to branching techniques that could have either limited Shevchenko's output, or pressured her outright. Holm sort of caught on late in the fight, coming in with leg kicks, body kicks, and the odd jab to offset Shevchenko's inside rhythm. But it was too little too late.

Holm's other issue was Shevchenko herself. Valentina did a great job of weaving inside, keeping her head off the center line, and playing to the strengths of her inside rhythm, which Holm was all too willing to participate in.

Holm's got a tough road ahead. Bouncing back from two losses will be that much more difficult given the pressure to perform in her next bout. For Shevchenko, five rounds will be a boon to her game. Just think about it: there was no doubt about this win, and I thought it was technically dominant. Yet we probably would have seen some wonky scorecards given the knockdown in round 1 in a three round bout. Shevchenko is on the right path. I'd love to see a Nunes rematch, personally. Still, Valentina needs to keep improving In the Woman's Upside Down Division.