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How did Holly Holm beat the UFC’s biggest star?

Holm Rousey
Photo Courtesy of AP

The entire world seems to think that Holly Holm never existed before UFC announced that she was going to be the next stop on Ronda Rousey’s train to the promised land.

That’s why Holm was such a huge underdog despite being, by far, the most talented opponent Rousey had ever faced. She had more years of experience than Rousey had fights, and a skill set that her opponent had never faced and couldn’t match.

In the build up to the fight, though, all of that was lost under the UFC’s hype for their unbeatable champion. It worked, because by fight time, no one thought Holm had a chance.

Unfortunately for Rousey, that included her and her training staff. That’s why, while Holm knew every move that the champion was going to make, the seemingly invincible Rousey looked lost as she ate left hands until getting knocked out.

Rousey’s plan was the same one she’d been using since breaking onto the scene – rush her opponent, get a takedown, lock on an armbar and wait for the tap. She tried that, and got a left hand in the mouth. It was time for Plan B, but Rousey didn’t have one. She was reduced to looking for an opening for a takedown, and the only thing that she was finding was more left hands in her face. The one time she did get Holm to the mat, she was back on her feet in seconds.

The rest of the fight was fought standing up, where Rousey looked like a judoka with very little experience and Holm looked like … well, that was the problem. The question that no one seemed to be able to answer was “Who is Holly Holm and how is she beating our Ronda to a pulp?”

Photo Courtesy of AP

Photo Courtesy of AP

The answer to that question turned out to be the reason that the UFC bantamweight title is now around the waist of a 34-year-old from New Mexico.

What no one seemed to notice as fight time approached was that Holly Holm wasn’t another graduate of a reality show or someone who had taken some judo lessons and spent 30 minutes a day in front of a heavy bag before getting a title shot from Dana White. She was one of the best female boxers of the 21st century.

Between 2002-13, Holm went 33-2-3 as a boxer, winning world titles at 140, 147 and 154 pounds. At one point, during a stretch where she went 23-0-1, she held all three titles at the same time. Christy Martin? Holm beat her in a lopsided unanimous decision. Mia St. John? Another easy decision.

Mary Jo Sanders – the daughter of NFL Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders and one of the best female fighters of the last decade – was the one fighter who gave Holm a tough fight in her undefeated streak. Holm won a close, unanimous decision in their first fight, and they fought to a draw on Sanders’ home turf in the rematch at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Sanders retired after that fight, but Holm kept rolling until getting knocked out by Anne Sophie Mathis in 2011. Holm won a unanimous decision in a rematch in June 2012, and then turned her attention to MMA. By the time she had fought Rousey, she was 9-0 with seven knockouts – most of them coming from the kicks she had learned as an amateur kickboxer.

Fast forward to Saturday in Melbourne, Australia and UFC 193. Ronda Rousey is now in what has become a boxing match with a woman who has almost as many rounds of experience in the ring as Miguel Cotto or Canelo Alvarez. If that sounds like an unfair fight, it was. By the second round – only the second time Rousey had had to fight that long – she was stumbling around and reduced to trying to trade punches with Holm. Another left hand spun her around, and she turned into a picture-perfect high kick.

Photo Courtesy of AP

Photo Courtesy of AP

That was the end of Rousey’s run as a champion, and until someone comes around with a better plan, the beginning of Holm’s rule as UFC’s queen. Can Rousey win in a rematch? It’s possible – if she manages to get an armbar onto Holm, it will be over – but Holm is going to spend every minute in the gym preparing for Rousey’s limited repertoire, while Rousey is going to have to try to learn boxing and kickboxing from scratch.

If she devotes herself full time to that task, she’s going to have a hard time finding a way past Holm. If she wants to continue being an actress and flirting with the WWE, she’s not going get her title back until Holm goes into retirement.

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