In the coming days, perhaps even weeks, MMA fans will get a deluge of breakdowns. Some if it will be thoughtful with respect with tactics. Some if it will be obvious*. Some of it will be thoughtful about the nature of invulnerability. Some of it will involve the cadence of Kung Fu because Eugene Robinson. And some of it will inexplicably involve Donald Trump because these things happen in MMA.
These are all worthwhile takes. But sometimes all of that beautiful language doesn’t contextualize a fight. Sometimes the meaning is hiding in plain sight. Ronda Rousey’s loss wasn’t a fall from grace. Ronda’s loss was an absence of grace. Let’s break this sucker down, shall we?
Ronda doesn’t touch gloves, to the delight in retrospect of Lady Gaga.
4:46 Rousey closes the distance against Holly with a very sloppy left hook right hand combination. Holm immediately circles to her right to reset.
4:38 Rousey again rushes in with a very open left hook. One of the things Rousey does that leaves her open constantly is not just her footwork. It’s the way she’s coming in with her left hook. I’m assuming it’s not a money punch by design; by not planting her feet for maximum velocity, she’s free to use it for other means, like tying Holm up, and more quickly using her body to get inside the clinch. The obvious problem with this strategy is that you’re severely open to getting countered.
4:33 Right away Holm has figured this plan of attack out. The moment Rousey paws with her left hand, Holm sifts a straight left to Ronda’s mush. Not just a left, but a straight left-right hook-overhand left combination. The overhand lands beautifully, torquing Ronda’s head like a Pez dispenser. Again Holm swivels out à la Jose Aldo and resets.
4:26 Ronda comes in with another left hook-right hand combination. Holm probably could have countered, but she simply sidesteps the combination completely. Ronda comes in with another left hook-right combination, partially landing the right hand this time.
4:16 Being the skilled striker she is, Holm immediately goes for the oblique kick as Ronda comes in. It’s a good strike in this situation because it’s low risk; Ronda can’t just catch it on reaction like a leg or head kick and it stymies her momentum. It also forces Ronda far back enough to miss her predictable right hand.
4:05 At this point, Ronda’s gameplan has been scouted, printed, and xeroxed in everyone’s head except Ronda and Edmund. Can you guess how Ronda pressures Holly? A left hook. And then a right….wait…we seem to be experiencing technical difficulties. Rousey doesn’t throw the right hand this time because Holly interrupts her with a right hook.
3:59 I’m assuming Ronda’s brain finally turns on the strategy cassette. She finally enters the pocket beginning with a right hand into a left hook.
3:40 Ronda finally closes the distance and presses Holly against the fence. This is small but crucial moment. Rousey has the underhook on Holly’s right arm, but Holly keeps her body perpendicular to Ronda’s. This means she can more readily push away, or off if Ronda releases her grip at any time. Not only does she successfully push Rousey forward, but as she spins away, Holm lands a left kick to the body, and an overhand left hand.
“Edmond Tarverdyan says he has very much confidence in Ronda’s ability to box,” says Mike Goldberg.
I’ll talk more about Edmond in a bit, but this is a real indictment on his coaching aptitude; you want fighters to have a certain level of comfort in areas they don’t otherwise specialize in. But when you fuse that confidence into an actual part of the strategy, you’ve screwed up.
3:06 Rousey comes in with, yes, another left hook. Holm counters with a right hook.
2:54 Rousey again comes in with a left hook, but barely even gets it off because Holm counters with a right hook. This is just downright embarrassing.
2:48 Rousey doesn’t even come in with a punch before Holm proactively enters the pocket with a straight left elbow that lands flush.
2:43 Holm resets, but Ronda catches her, grabs an underhook, and Holly immediately attempts back control. This is an important sequence because it highlights Holm’s preparation of Ronda’s grappling. Rousey gets the trip, but she’s not a position for top control. Rousey looks for that reverse armbar à la Cat Zingano, and Holm keeps her calm.
“Watch out. For. Your arm!” notes the inimitable Mike Goldberg.
2:19 After they reset on the feet, Holm is already looking to proactively counter. Rousey inches forward, and Holm immediately chambers an oblique kick.
1:47 Holm lands a right hook as Ronda tries to enter the pocket. Rousey gets a pretty good grip of Holm’s arm, but Holly breaks free. During a very unique sequence, and right before Holm lands a brutal straight left, Goldberg takes the time to note that Rousey was on the cover of the “Bible of boxing”. Brian Stann can’t take Goldberg’s job soon enough.
1:18 Holm doesn’t even care about Rousey’s strategy at this point. She punctures Ronda with a brutal straight left.
1:09 Another brutal straight left from Holm before Ronda can close the distance.
1:03 Another straight left to Ronda’s grill. Part of what made this fight so lopsided is that Holm doesn’t just sit back and counter. She has Ronda backing up at this point.
0:48 Holm with a bodylock takedown! As our own Connor Ruebusch notes:
When you’re fighting a pressure fighter, you can’t just backpedal. You have to be able to close the distance and grapple on your own terms.
— Connor Ruebusch (@BoxingBusch) November 15, 2015
0:32 Ronda sloppily chasing after Holm trying to land strikes.
0:21 Ok so you’re probably sick of me doing what everyone else does, which is give Mike Goldberg crap, but I can’t help but document this bizarre exchange between Goldberg and Rogan. Rousey ties up Holm’s arm and gets in close, looking to set up a takedown.
“It takes a lot of energy to be a rockstar,” says Goldberg.
“Getting punched in the face has nothing to do with being a rock star!” shouts Rogan’s basal ganglia. Rogan sounds exactly like us when we lament Goldberg’s commentary.
In Between Rounds; a Word on Edmond
A lot has been said about Edmond. Much of it is completely valid; he has no track record to speak of, and the fighters under his tutelage are trending down. His recent comments about Holm not winning the striking battle is just the burning Hindenburg dropped on this dead horse. But his advice is actually much worse than how you remember it. To note, here’s the exchange in full:
“Beautiful! Stay nice and patient and relax. Let’s rinse that mouth. Don’t swallow it. Beautiful work! Listen. All she wants to do is catch you with that left hand and come on top with that hook. We’re feinting. We’re keeping both hands up!”
Everyone gets hung up on the “beautiful work” line. This isn’t a big deal. Fighters respond differently to different situations. In a prizefight where sometimes the only thing you can hear is the sound of your adrenaline pumping, technical advice isn’t always the best. Sometimes you just need the reassurance that things aren’t as bad as they seem. Whatever the case, that’s not the problem here.
The problem here is that Edmond has completely misdiagnosed the problem. Holly isn’t just catching Ronda with a left hand. The entire first half of the round hinged entirely on Holm’s ability to counter with the right hook. Holly doesn’t start coming in with the left until the last minute of the round.
This may sound nit-picky, but all of Holm’s efficiency has relied solely on the difference in approach between these two punches. Edmund should either be telling Rousey how to adjust her own attack, or identifying Holm’s. He spectacularly does neither. Yes, it’s probably harder to see some of these things without the benefit of replay, but then again I don’t make a living training professional athletes, sketching fight strategies for a living.
In our Toe to Toe Preview I said this about Holm’s gameplan:
“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.”
I didn’t pick Holly, but this was the story of the round.
4:45 Holm slips a straight left through Ronda’s guard as she wades in. She later follows it up with a pretty good side kick to the face.
4:31 Ronda gets hit with another left as she leaves her head open trying to enter with a left hook.
4:27 This happens:
4:18 Holm with another straight left.
4:10 Holm with another. Except this time, Rousey falls over, partially from exhaustion. As she picks herself Pinocchio style, Holm lands a brutal kick across Rousey’s jaw, and the rest is history.
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) November 15, 2015
Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm wasn’t just about bad coaching. Bad coaching simply didn’t help. In truth, Holm executed a strong gameplan to perfection. Her size made it more difficult for Rousey to bully her way onto the ground, and her athleticism meant Rousey didn’t have many options when Plan A failed.
Rousey got worked because her flaws were laid bare. Lack of head movement, awful entries, predictable offense, you name it. It doesn’t mean she’s any less elite; it just means her vulnerabilities are more pronounced when her plan of attack can be redirected. The next step is learning how to adjust. Ronda’s already been tapped for a rematch. I think it’s a bad idea because the stakes are unnecessarily high; if Ronda lost again, money for a trilogy would be lost, her brand would be tarnished, and with her foot in the Hollywood door already, the incentive to step away would increase.
Rousey is a special fighter. But so is the still developing Holm. Ronda has had five fights in a 21 month span. She’d be wise to move forward by catching her breath first.
*But no less thoughtful. Good work Roy!
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