Ronda Rousey's dominance of female MMA has been remarkable. Arguably the most marketable female athlete in the world, the former Olympian judoka and UFC champion had won her last three matches all by first round stoppage - a grand total of 64 total seconds of action against hapless, intimidated opponents with no game plan, no counter for Rousey's aggression, brutal throws, submission game and brawling.
Holly Holm was supposed to be more fodder for a once-in-a-lifetime fighter that fans watched to admire ruthless demolitions rather than enjoy a contest. The closest thing to prime Mike Tyson Aura we've seen. It wasn't a question of victory. It was how the victim would fall. Until Buster Douglas reminded everyone about the realities of a smallish heavyweight losing his edge along with his head movement. Holyfield and Lewis added the post-prison term exclamation points. The fight game doesn't tolerate slipping.
Unlike Mike Tyson, Rousey wasn't beaten by degrading work habits and a terrible corner magnifying once hidden weaknesses meeting an in-shape, focused Buster Douglas that never had and would never exist again.
Rousey fell victim to a simple numbers game and the increasing popularity of the female sport she created and elevated into a profitable enterprise.
A battle-tested Rousey was dominating a nascent niche female sport undergoing a rapid evolution - comparable to the first male UFC matches 20 years ago. Rousey's more apt comparison is Royce Gracie - not in style, but in evolutionary precedent - a skilled, experienced fighter accessing knowledge no one else possessed, destroying a shallow field that didn't know a triangle from a kimura. Fighting 1.0. Today, a prime Royce Gracie couldn't beat a Top 20 UFC fighter in his own weight class, much less all comers at any weight. The game changed that quickly. Knowledge disseminated, participation swelled and bullshido declined from dominating martial arts to becoming something we laugh at now on Youtube.
The 34 year old Holm came to MMA in four years ago looking for opportunity and a payday, a relative unknown from the boxing world with seemingly inflated credentials. Vegas and MMA fight analysts failed to notice that she was a far more fluid athlete than Rousey with better size, dexterity and vastly superior technical striking ability. While Rousey's take downs from the clinch are nearly unstoppable, Holm's camp (Greg Jackson) noticed Rousey can't initiate take downs from distance like an elite wrestler can. Her clinch requires opponent consent. This now seems obvious in retrospect. Except no one else seemed to notice. Holm's trainers believed in their fighter and gameplan enough to win six figures on the fight.
It took Holm's introduction of reality for analysts to understand what should have been blindingly obvious: Rousey's stand-up, while improving, is primitive. It's more Toughman contestant than pro fighter. Against Holm, it looked crude and sloppy. Fighting 1.0.
Holm exhibited skillful striking, frustrated Rousey with simple footwork and movement, bloodied her with jabs, elbow strikes and straight punches right down the pipe, entered into and retreated out of the pocket at will, and methodically wore down and then KOd an exhausted, confused and increasingly panicked Rousey with a flawless head kick after stunning her with a crisp lead left. A textbook exposure of a fighter with fewer dimensions than we'd imagined.
The UFC has a new champion and women's MMA is about to enter a new frontier. Rousey is far from done, but she'd better evolve. The former greatest female fighter ever elevated the female MMA game. Now she'd better catch up to what she created.