That was quite a statement


The last thing that I expected to see when I woke up this morning was that Ronda Rousey just got her ass beat by a challenger for her bantamweight title. But that, as it happens, is precisely what took place yesterday.

Skip the first two minutes, it's just boring nonsense backed by a terrible electronica track. The real fun begins the moment the two women step into the Octagon:


I don't normally pay any attention to women's MMA- or to female sports in general, for that matter. I have trained and currently train with women on a regular basis, and as much as I like the girls that I spar with, I find them useful in general for one thing: getting in a bit of a breather between sparring with taller, stronger, faster, harder-hitting and far more skillful men.

Therefore I cannot say I have any sympathy for Ms. Rousey. She's a bit younger than me, but she lacks all sense of humility and has gotten to where she is in very large part because of her very big mouth. It would appear that, in Holly Holm, her mouth met an opponent (and more specifically, an opponent's fist) that it couldn't match. She does not conduct herself according to the martial code, which states very plainly that ALL opponents are worthy of respect, regardless of size, gender, or skill level- and that the most merciful way to handle an overmatched opponent is to dispatch him or her as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

What interested me most about the fight- at least, based on what I have seen of it, anyway- is the stark differences between the two women in terms of their striking.

Watch Holly Holm's footwork. It is a thing of beauty to behold- a classical (southpaw) boxer striking stance combined with a remarkable lightness of foot that makes it possible for this rather tall woman to strike from most angles. (Not all, though; both the orthodox and southpaw boxing stances have some real limitations when it comes to defending against strikes from all sides, which is why some really good natural strikers and counter-punchers can, and do, switch between stances as required.)

(On a side note- there is a very funny section in Jonathan Gotschall's book, The Professor in the Cage, where he writes about the reasons why fighters with orthodox stances- i.e. the vast majority of boxers- absolutely hate fighting lefties. As the head coach at the MMA gym where Mr. Gotschall trains says, "all southpaws should be drowned at birth". And judging by the way Ronda Rousey absolutely got her (oversized) arse handed to her, I think he may have a point. Hell, I hate fighting against lefties, and I'm not even very good.)

Pay particularly close attention to that beautiful slip-and-weave that comes up late in the highlights reel- right about at the 2:55 mark. As Ms. Rousey throws a particularly clumsy punch, Ms. Holm sees it coming miles away and simply ducks and bobs out of the way; Ms. Rousey, already exhausted after absorbing considerable punishment during the first round, practically collapses to one knee and drops her hands. Meanwhile, Ms. Holm looks almost completely unruffled.

And then, of course, there is that beautiful head kick that Ms. Holm sets up after getting behind Ms. Rousey and then turning her around. That was clinical, and a truly spectacular display of skill from a woman who has clearly worked hard on her striking game.

After watching those highlights, my opinion of women's MMA generally remains unchanged; I see it largely as a waste of time. However, I am more than willing to make a specific exception in the case of one Holly Holm, who has proven to be worthy of both respect and admiration for the way she conducted herself in the biggest fight of her career and the biggest upset seen since Anderson Silva lost his title to Chris Weidman.

That comparison is not, by the way, a facile one. Mr. Weidman was considered to be a long shot by most punters when he was given a title shot against "The Spider"- yet, MMA pros who had trained and sparred with him knew full well that he was the real deal. Georges St. Pierre said as much when he pointed out that Mr. Weidman's strengths were perfectly designed to exploit Mr. Silva's flaws- and that is precisely what happened at UFC 162. Mr. Weidman simply neutralised Mr. Silva's much-feared striking skills- and Mr. Silva, in his cosmic arrogance, spent the entire fight dancing around his opponent. He paid the price for it by getting his clock cleaned, and by losing his title.

Something similar happened here with Ms. Rousey. She didn't respect her opponent, and she paid a terrible price for it- her aura of invincibility is shattered, her goal of retiring undefeated forever denied, and her greatly overhyped appeal as some sort of female "role model" is now exposed for the world to see.

It is important to bring in some perspective to understand how and where she went wrong. I spar, using hands and legs, roughly three times a week, and I can tell you from (rather painful) personal experience that when you're up against someone with superior boxing skills, reach, and footwork, and you simply insist on walking into everything that he (or in this case, she) throws, then you've only got yourself to blame. And indeed, that is precisely what took place.

Look at Ms. Rousey's footwork. It is virtually non-existent. There is no attempt to defend against Ms. Holm's vicious jab left cross. Ms. Rousey's hands barely move to provide protection against the blows coming her way. There is no attempt to do anything other than move forward.

The head of my school, who is himself a supremely talented martial artist who has cross-trained extensively in boxing, muay thai, jiu jitsu, and a number of other arts, keeps telling us very plainly: you can stand up and bang all you like when you're wearing massive 14oz boxing gloves and a mouthguard and a groin cup, but take off the hand wraps and the gloves and the protection, and then try to fight that way, and you'll realise just how stupid such an approach is.

Ms. Rousey found out exactly why it is such a bad idea to just move forward with no defensive strategy against a highly skilled striker last night. If she is smart, she will learn the lesson and improve. If she is not, she will be beaten, again, and very badly, the next time she steps into the Octagon with Ms. Holm.

Two other important issues come to mind when looking at the fight itself.

First, I have stated in the past that when you match up a grappler against a striker, most of the time, the grappler wins. There was some rather lively discussion over at Vox's blog on this subject following Ms. Rousey's defeat, and Vox himself has asserted that the notion that grapplers generally win against strikers is more theory than fact. He does have a point; if you put someone who has only ever grappled against someone who has only ever done stand-up striking, there are indeed ways for the stand-up guy to avoid getting taken down and knocked out.

It just isn't as easy as most people think.

The equation becomes considerably more complicated when you are up against skilled grapplers who are also trained in striking. That's when things become significantly harder to predict. Generally speaking, though, in a one-on-one fight in a setting like the Octagon, a skilled grappler who can absorb damage and stay out of the way of really heavy blows, can wear down and outmanoeuvre his opponent to great effect- see for example what Chris Weidman did to Vitor Belfort in his last title fight.

Second, one is forced to ask: how is it that a relatively low-ranking contender in the women's bantamweight division was able to succeed, when higher-ranked challengers like Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano, Miesha Tate, and Bethe Correia failed so miserably?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that Ms. Rousey got arrogant and started to believe her own hype machine. But there is, I think, more to this than meets the eye- literally.

Ms. Rousey's "off-season" weight is reputed to be somewhere around 155lbs, while her fighting weight is 135lbs at weigh-ins. Now, my school has several amateur MMA fighters training in a separate camp to the main business, and the head of my school coaches those guys- one of whom is a current muay thai title-holder in the 125lb division and will get a title shot for the 125lb MMA title in December, and another who is now a contender for an MMA title fight next weekend. The same man pointed out a few months back that, compared to Ms. Rousey, the rest of the division simply doesn't carry around that kind of bulk, and therefore muscle mass, in the off-season. They simply don't have the physical strength and speed to compete with someone like Ms. Rousey.

And indeed, looking back at Ms. Rousey's utter demolition of Alexis Davis, I'd say there is a lot of truth to that statement. Those 20lbs of muscle and weight do make a huge difference.

Hell, Cristiano "Cyborg" Justino walks around apparently at 175lbs. (Granted, she also looks like a man- sounds like one too, actually.) Again, that differential in size and weight does result in a significant difference in strength too.

I have no idea what Holly Holm's off-season weight is. But, given the speed and footwork that she showed off in her demolition of the champion, I'd say she rarely, if ever, lets herself get out of shape.

All in all, the results of last night's fight were quite fascinating to see. If nothing else, women's MMA suddenly got a whole lot more interesting.

Comments

  1. Sometimes, you're the windshield. Sometimes, you're the bug. I've been sick of hearing both *about* Rousey AND her mouth for quite some time. Though I haven't the slightest interest in watching any type of sports, I just have grown weary of all the memes of Rousey, her blustering, as well as all the man-boys bleating on about how 'hot' she may or may not be.

    A bit of comeuppance, I believe, might be good for Rousey. Welcome to the Man's World, Rousey: where you simply have no choice but to get your ass handed to you once in a while to become a better man... or woman, as the case may be.

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    1. I just have grown weary of all the memes of Rousey, her blustering, as well as all the man-boys bleating on about how 'hot' she may or may not be

      Funny thing, that- every single person I spoke to at my school yesterday expressed similar sentiments. Rousey just got too big for her britches (literally, given what she looked like during the fight itself), and proceeded to get KTFO by a far superior striker with vastly better footwork and movement.

      A bit of comeuppance, I believe, might be good for Rousey

      Absolutely. She needed a serious serving of humble pie, and she got it- in the form of Holly Holm's foot in her windpipe. She now has basically two options: find a new coach who won't BS her about her terrible striking, footwork, and movement in her stand-up game, or retire and take up acting full-time.

      Personally, I would prefer the latter; Rousey believed her own hype machine before, and there is no reason to think that if she comes back, she won't make the same mistake again.

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    2. I suppose Stallone could give her a role in The Expendables VIII: Incontinence be Damned.

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