The Anatomy of an Upset

 The Denver Nuggets defeating the Seattle Supersonics, Foreman coming back to win the Heavyweight championship (“of the world” *Michael Buffer voice*) at the age of 45, and Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson.

What do all three have in common?

They were instances where the ‘David’ beat the ‘Goliath’. Where the ‘common man’ had something to cheer for. These were moments were an individual or a team shocked the world and etched their names in sports’ history. Therefore, it gives me great joy to write that on Saturday November 14th, 2015 at around 11:50 Eastern Time, a “shock the world” moment happened.

Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey in the second round, with a beautiful had kick, to win the UFC Women’s bantamweight championship of the world.

The world was shocked by this upset. People all across the globe asked “what was wrong with Ronda Rousey?” People were saying she got too cocky. Other people pointed to Rousey looking a little out of shape. I even heard people make the argument that Rousey’s mind was not in the fight. While that may or may not be true, I will make the argument that nothing was wrong with Ronda Rousey and that Holly Holm was not given enough credit by the masses.

Fans, experts, pundits and fighters did not give Holly Holm a shot, and that includes myself (Although I expected Holm to put up a respectable fight). While this is justified because Ronda Rousey was probably the most dominant fighter in the UFC at the time, we failed to realize how good Holly Holm actually is. No one thought to consider Holly Holm’s tendencies, her resume, her training schedule, and her fight plan.

Ronda Rousey in all her glory had a tough matchup to begin with. Mix that in with her game plan in response to Holm’s game plan, and Holly Holm won that fight before the fight even started.

Now before people say I am suffering from recency bias, let me explain.

 Flashback to Rousey vs. Tate 2. I gave Miesha Tate no shot. Rousey’s grappling was and still is second to none in the division and her pad work was quite impressive -- by quite impressive I mean she looked like she had been boxing her whole life. While Tate lost in the third round by armbar, something was surprising to me. The few times Miesha Tate stood up with Rousey, Tate was actually getting the better of most of the exchanges. It was not the greatest advantage Tate had, but she was definitely having success standing in the pocket with Ronda Rousey.

This was weird because, when Ronda Rousey was working with the pads, leading up to the fight, she seemed to be super-saiyan level fast with her hands. Yet when it came to the fight, Rousey was not able to let her hands go the way I thought she would. While I have seen this before with other fighters, I did not expect that in this case.

This was a classic case of a fighter’s pad work not translating into the actual fight.

This happens all the time with boxers and martial artists starting out because they forget to apply what they learn during training into fight situations. It could be the fighter who will lean back without planting his back foot in the right spot for balance. It could the technical striker who will throw looping punches when the fight starts. It could even be the experience fighter who will forget the all-important lesson of changing levels when striking.

 I truly believed that Rousey was doing this, until Rousey knocked out Correia in the blink of an eye.; however, I think I got caught up by the result and not how the result happened. If you watch the fight, which could probably have been posted on Instagram in its entirety, one will realize that Rousey did not dodge any punches or throw a whole lot of technical combos. She basically walked through Correia’s punches and threw a couple looping power punches. In other words, once again Rousey did not apply her training with her pads in actual fight situations.

 What does this have to do with Rousey’s fight with Holly Holm?” I hear you ask.

Well leading up to the fight, all the footage coming from Ronda Rousey’s training camp suggested that Rousey was going to attempt to strike with Holm. That’s when I first gave Holly Holm more of chance in my head.

People forget that Holly Holm, before entering the UFC, was regarded as a female striking wizard. In many circles of the fight world the name Holly Holm is mentioned with respect. That’s because Holly Holm, before entering the UFC, was a world champion boxer with a record of 33-2-3, and was regarded as one of the best female welterweight boxers in the World. Not only that but, in her short stint as a kick-boxer, she showed promise.

One of the things I personally liked about Holly Holm was that she was able to mix punches and kicks in her attack well.

Side note: Holly wasn’t perfect and her chin is suspect. Granted she was heavier as a boxer so the power she had to take was higher, but trust me, if one can land something clean on Holm, one might be able to knock her out. Also her punching mechanics are a tad off but that is just my opinion

 Add to the equation that Holm is taller and longer than Rousey, and Rousey had the disadvantage in the stand-up game. While this was known to many experts, they did not know by how much. Some guessed a little, some guessed a lot, but Holm had the advantage in striking on paper.  

This was dismissed though, because many thought this was going to be completely negated by Rousey taking Holm to the mat. I was in that boat at first, but my mind quickly changed when I realized that Rousey was actually going to try to strike with her. I still thought Rousey was still going to turn this into a mixed martial arts fight at some point and take it to the mat. Style wise Rousey would still win if she just used her grappling with her striking.

The problem is the fight came. Suddenly Rousey not only forgot to apply her pad work to fight once again, but her game plan was terrible. Usually the smaller fighter’s key to success against a taller opponent, if they are going to strike, is to sustain pressure, chin down, cut off room and change levels with their strikes. Rousey only did one of these things and that was apply pressure, however, her pressure was quite predictable and Holly Holm was not disrupted by this in the least.

Not only that but, the chin was up (along with hands being down), Holm was able to move around the cage, and Rousey rarely attempted to hit the body. This allowed Holly Holm to sit on one punch, which was Rousey’s right cross, and then counter it (with a left) followed by Holm scurrying out of Rousey’s range.

In other words, Rousey allowed Holm the ability to cheat. Mix that in with Rousey only attempting two takedowns, both were “judo style”, which doesn’t take away the worry of kicks being caught, and once again Holly Holm was allowed to cheat by throwing kicks behind her punches.

This meant that Holm, to quote a wise man “opened up the clip” usually throwing a combination of punches and kicks at will, without having to worry about her legs being caught.

What was puzzling for me is that Rousey after catching a first round schooling session, did not adjust her game plan. To me, this was a huge corner error. While Edmond Tarverdyan did say “watch out the for left” he was very positive. Not only that but he failed to mention that Rousey’s bread and butter is her judo and submissions, not her boxing. She is a good boxer, but an even better grappler. Actually that is an understatement, Rousey is the best grappler in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division. So something along the lines of “please, in all that is good and holy, hands up, chin down and oh yeah, take her down now!!!!” would have been more accurate.

In any case Tarverdyan did not say that, and Rousey sure enough got knocked out throwing a wild right hook, which was easily countered. Game, set, match, Holm wins all because Rousey decided to strike with Holm instead of being smart and taking her down.

“But wait…” I hear the reader in my head “what about the times Rousey was in the clinch. She was unsuccessful with her trademark throw.”

That is true she was unsuccessful with what she wanted and wow reader, you are very smart.

It should be said that Rousey actually did clinch a lot, but she was definitely not looking for a throw. While Rousey and Holm were in the clinch for a chunk in the fight, Rousey mostly used it to close distance. Here’s how I know, often times during the fight Rousey would grab Holm’s head and arm. What Rousey usually does, to set up her throw, in step by step order is this:

  • Right or left arm would get an underhook.
  • She would put that arm around her opponent back, usually pulling the opponent towards her.
  • Hand of the underhook arm would be placed on the opponent’s hip
  • Other arm gets an overhook
  • Rousey proceeds to throw opponent.

If you do not believe me, watch the fight with Holm, then watch Rousey’s other fights. In any case, Rousey only attempted this two times. The first time nearly resulted in an armbar submission victory at that point, but Holm pulled her arm away. The second time actually resulted in Holm taking Rousey down, but Holm stuck to her game plan and immediately rose back up.

Now the UFC might record more or less takedown attempts, but that is what the Fan-I lab and myself saw. Here’s the point, the first attempt was executed nearly perfectly. Even the second attempt was on its way to being another takedown, but Rousey lost the underhook on an arm and then holly was able to lift Rousey. 

Whenever Rousey got a hold of Holm, in the clinch, Holm pulled away for dear life. This means two things: first Rousey could have exposed this more but for some reason her and her coach decided not to, that is something I have already dwelled on. Two and more interestingly, Holm’s disadvantage in a weird way became her advantage. Holm knew she was going to lose if she grappled with Rousey, which made Holm very non-committal to action up against the cage, in the clinch and even when she herself scored a takedown.

This was a breath of fresh air for me and one of the reasons why I loved Holm’s performance. Aside from moving well and disguising her kicks inside her punches, she did not put herself in bad positions.

 This is in stark contrast to Rousey vs Tate. Tate is a good grappler, so she felt no danger grappling with Rousey, however that was stupid of her and she lost.

Cat Zingano faced Rousey and made the same stupid mistake of trying to grapple with Rousey and she lost in under 15 seconds.

Nothing infuriates me more than when Rousey’s opponents try to grapple with her. One would think that the fighter next up would watch Rousey’s film, learn from the last opponent’s mistake and not try to grapple Rousey.

My temper was calmed when realizing that most of the female fighters at bantamweight had a grappling base. Whether it was jujitsu, wrestling etc. many women in the division were grapplers first, so their first instinct is to take the fight to the ground. It's not their advantage against Rousey, because Rousey is an amazing grappler with incredible strength, thus, Rousey’s opponents would not only lose their fight but their pride as well. Holm on the other hand, is one dimensional, she is a striker.

Side note #2: Now before I get the “Holm Wrestles too” comment, I realize she has been working on that part of her game but she almost never takes someone down. Her career takedown attempt average before the fight was literally at 0.5. The argument I will listen to is her takedown defense. At 5’8 her takedown defense is 100 %. For a taller person (in the division) to have that kind of takedown defense is impressive.  In my opinion, it is not because of her wrestling but because she avoids those situations like the plague.

 This is usually a bad thing. As a mixed martial artist, one has to be multi-dimensional to prepare for every contingency. However, in Holm’s case she tried her hardest to avoid a grappling situation with Rousey. This, in my mind, is where Holly Holm succeeded where others (with the exception of Correia) had failed. Other fighters tried to out grapple Rousey, Holm avoided that element of MMA almost entirely. This was not done because Holly is a good grappler but because she knows herself and has the confidence to use preventative measures like circling and movement to avoid the situations where she needs to use grappling.

This in a weird way was Holm using her disadvantage and turning it into an advantage. Knowing her strengths and weaknesses was important in her victory.

With this glowing reception of Holly Holm, it should be said that Rousey was definitely off. Her game plan was terrible, she looked out of breath, and she did not want to grapple. With that being said, she was still intense, trash talking, and had the same demeanor. In any case, it will be interesting to see how Rousey comes back from this defeat. For now it is time to be invested in the new Champion. Her name is Holly Holm and she is “the Preachers daughter”.


Michael Asiffo

Michael Asiffo is currently a student at York University. He is a lover of almost all sports and enjoys the essence of fandom towards sports. His love for sports arose as a young child watching the Toronto Raptors in the Vince Carter era and has been following the 4 major north American leagues since (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB).As the creator of the Weekend Warriors, Asiffo's goal is to always allow the average fan to smile at the lighter side at sports but he will also have dark conversations about certain elements of sports as well.

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