On a Sunday afternoon in November, Holly Holm shocked the world when she knocked out the undefeated, undisputed UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Don Rowe was in Melbourne to watch the fight – here he discusses both the bout and the subsequent social media storm.
On Tuesday morning Ronda Rousey left Melbourne Airport hidden behind dark sunglasses and under a hood. Head down, she cradled a purple pillow against her chest and leaned into her partner, UFC heavyweight Travis Browne. They walked slowly. She favored her left leg. Behind a curtain of hair her mouth was swollen and red. I alone watched them go.
Two days ago she was the baddest woman on the planet, an unstoppable force with a perfect professional record and an aura of invincibility that transcended the sport of MMA. Even Stuff.co.nz got on the hype train, covering Rousey’s opinions on sexual lubricants and presidential candidates with a voyeurism usually reserved for the likes of Kim Kardashian and the Prime Minister’s children.
But today, to hear some people say it, Ronda Rousey was a fraud from the start; a one-dimensional grappler crushing opponents more suited to Les Mills body combat than a cage fight. In an increasingly saturated market, the UFC manufactured a Barbie Doll champion with a sob story and a chip on her shoulder, fed her a few sacrificial lambs and gave birth to a star – or so the theory goes.
In truth, that’s a reductive approach. While it’s certainly hard to argue that Rousey was anything approaching competitive on Sunday afternoon, thrashed in every facet of the fight and left unconscious with a mouth full of her own blood, the causes of her demise aren’t as simple as “she was never any good anyway”.
Holly Holm is an 18-time world boxing champ with several kickboxing titles and an undefeated 10-0 mixed martial arts record. Her coaches, Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn, are renowned as master strategists, and have coached pound-for-pound greats such as Georges St Pierre and Jon Jones to several UFC championship belts. In comparison, Rousey’s coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, filed for bankruptcy just a week out from the fight, and – besides Rousey – has trained virtually nobody of any note. On Sunday, Holm’s ability as a striker, combined with a masterful stick-and-move strategy, resulted in one of the finest technical performances ever displayed in a title fight.
Ronda Rousey is an Olympic judo bronze medalist. Her goal is to work into a clinch, grab her opponent by the head and throw them to the floor before chasing a submission. “Death, taxes and Ronda Rousey by armbar,” has been the story of her career so far. Holm, well aware of Rousey’s skillset, fought on the outside from the opening bell, slamming Rousey with straight left punches from southpaw as she all but sprinted after her. By chasing Holm, Rousey forced herself onto the punches, significantly increasing their impact and wearing herself out in the process.
Between rounds, Tarverdyan told a bruised and bleeding Rousey she was looking ‘beautiful’, and that all Holm had was her left hand. Unfortunately for Rousey, Tarverdyan didn’t have any advice on how to actually avoid the left, and urged his fighter to increase the same pressure that had her getting skewered in the first place.
If anyone was exposed as a fraud at UFC 193, it was Tarverdyan – the fucking guy actually believes Rousey was getting the better of the stand up even three days after the fight. As legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach said just this morning “[Holm] came out as a leftie and a southpaw and Rousey had no idea how to deal with that. It was embarrassing a little bit. No one ever taught her anything about boxing.”
Shortly into the second round Holm landed the now infamous headkick which sent Rousey to the floor and bandana-wearing weirdos like Peter FitzSimons into an apoplectic fury, aghast at the notion that sovereign adults might choose to participate in such a sport. More disturbing than the knockout, however, was the online reaction.
The social media schadenfreude was instantly at fever pitch. A strange sense of glee, heretofore reserved for the toppling of genocidal tyrants, was everywhere. It was as if each and every mouth breather with a cellphone had been personally vindicated by Holm’s performance (which was completely unanticipated by even the best analysts). Even Donald Trump, near universally derided as quite the piece of shit, felt the need to stick the boot into Ronda Rousey, tweeting his joy at her defeat.
There are a number of reasons for this. For a start, Ronda Rousey is a woman. Worse, she’s a brash, outspoken and entirely unapologetic woman competing at the highest level of a male-dominated sport. There’s a significant population out there who seem to think she deserved to be knocked out based on this alone. “That’s what happens when you’re arrogant,” they say, ignoring the fact that Rousey’s personality was as much a factor in her meteoric rise to stardom (and the accompanying opportunities for women’s MMA) as her fighting ability.
Further, the Ronda Rousey hype train was more like one of those magnetic bullets from Japan than a chugging Hogwarts Express. Never before has a fighter with such limited opposition been praised so highly. UFC commentator Joe Rogan called her the Mike Tyson of MMA, a once-in-a-lifetime athlete and the best female martial artist to ever live. Boxing’s Ring Magazine put her on the cover (an ironically sad move in hindsight). ESPN even voted her female athlete of the year over Serena Williams, a four time Olympic gold medalist fresh off an astounding four straight major victories. When Rousey lost, as she inevitably would, it was the ultimate “See!” moment for everyone who thought the hype had gone too far.
For others, sadly, the only thing better than seeing a celebrated champion win is watching them lose – brought back to reality with a crash deserved of anyone with the gall to aspire for greatness. Vintage Tall Poppy stuff.
Ronda Rousey arrived in Los Angeles yesterday with the same purple pillow. This time it covered her face. The media which hailed her as divine just last week now feasted on her grief like a cackling hyena in the bloody entrails of a dead beast. Rousey was piled into a black SUV and left the scrum at LAX. She can run from the media, but she can’t run from the defeat. It will never go away, It’s significance is far too great in the history of this young sport.
As for the frothing savages determined to make the fight a statement of Rousey’s entire career, the expose of a fraud and a serving of cool justice, Carlos Condit, a top welterweight in the UFC, said it best – the only person with the right to boast right now is Holly Holm, and she isn’t.
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