September 2015: Can Holly Holm be the Hype-Check challenger for the merciless juggernaut that is Ronda Rousey?
I think she has a chance. There’s a precedent for this in the UFC, when a dominant champion seems to be tearing through a weight-class only to get hype-checked by a seemingly innocuous challenger:
- Matt Serra knocked out George St. Pierre (who used to be a fighter, I swear it) at UFC 69 to win the welterweight title. Serra was just supposed to be another can for the GSP train to eat and discard, but the french-canadian champ looked like he was going through the motions, and a shot to the chin put him down, and put the belt around a chubby, undersized Long Island native’s waist. St. Pierre would get the belt back, and pummel Serra in their rematch at UFC 83, but Serra is still the only loss he suffered while holding the welterweight title.
- This one wasn’t for a title, but when Mauricio “Shogun” Rua made the move to the UFC from Pride FC, he was supposed to roll through the light heavyweight division and get a shot at then-champion Rampage Jackson. The problem was he had to go through Forrest Griffin to get there. Griffin made a statement for all UFC fighters, and started his own climb to the top of the division by slapping on a rear naked choke at the end of the third round. Rua looked unprepared to take on the hard-charging Griffin, and got stung for his overconfidence. His UFC career never quite matched the success he had in Pride.
- Back in March, Anthony Pettis had a lot going for him: He was the first UFC athlete on a Wheaties box, won the lightweight title by being the only person on the planet (at the time) who could beat Benson Henderson, and had defended the title against a game Gilbert Melendez three months earlier. Then he ran into Rafael Dos Anjos, who pushed him around the cage for 25 minutes, busted his eye, and won a unanimous decision to take the lightweight title. Pettis didn’t look cocky, but he did look human. Time will tell if this was a hype-check, or a changing of the guard.
Ronda Rousey may have more going on than any of the aforementioned upsetees (It’s a term). She’s thinking about starring in her own autobiographical movie, is waging a futile but entertaining war of words with Floyd Mayweather, and can’t get away from the speculation about a super-fight with Cyborg Justino in the future. Rather than throw Miesha Tate back into the meat grinder to see if she can last 60 seconds this time, the UFC decided to make Holly Holm, a relative MMA unknown, the next victim while we all wait for Cyborg to figure out the right diet plan to make 135 lbs.
But, in my humble opinion, Holm isn’t just another victim, to paraphrase a pro wrestling legend. She’s a hunter herself, just with different stripes. She might be the most decorated boxer and kick-boxer in the UFC (man or woman) and is undeniably the female fighter with the best boxing pedigree in the sport. Her boxing record of 33 wins (9 KOs, 23 decisions), 2 losses, and 3 draws is incredible on its own, and coupled with 18 championships in 3 weight classes, its downright stellar. She also won an amateur kickboxing title in 2001, and has a litany of other awards for her boxing achievements.
Her young MMA career is less extensive but just as impressive, with 9 wins (6 KOs, 3 decisions) and no losses spread across several different promotions, with two decision wins against UFC competition.
It’s the reading between the lines of each win, adding up the sum of her career, and seeing her fighting style that has me (and several others with way more knowledge than me) smelling an upset. Holm is dangerous with her hands and her feet, as some of her MMA knockouts came from head kicks, leg kicks, and body kicks. She’s also patient, as evidenced by the decision-heavy boxing record. If she was a berserker-rage type boxer, Rousey would chew her up, lock in an armbar, and spit her out, probably in less than a minute. But Holly Holm is a stalker, content to pick and chose her strikes, keeping her range extended with her feet, and then moving in for the kill when she smells blood.
Rousey has been improving her striking game, evidenced by two very quick TKOs in her last three fights. Against Correia her striking looked good but still technically a bit shaky. Hands were dropped, people. I saw. If she gets Holm on the ground, it’s probably a done deal. But Judo (Rousey’s main discipline), especially in a sans-gi, skin-heavy environment like the UFC, does require getting up-close and personal to a clinch position before initiating a throw. Holm has the experience and skill to keep Ronda out of range, and the striking finesse to punish her if she does get in close. And The Preacher’s Daughter (Holm’s rather wordy nickname) is not someone Rousey wants to stand with.
With some headlines and articles intimating fans are getting bored with shelling out the money for a Pya-Per-View then watching Ronda Rousey win in less than a minute, and professional athletes like Lolo Jones stating they could make the magic 60-second mark, you might be tempted to turn away from UFC 193 in two months. Hell, if the fight lasts 14 seconds, you can catch nearly the whole thing on ESPN the next week. This fight, at the very least, will be worth the money. It won’t be over in 30 seconds. It won’t be over in the first round. These are my bold predictions.
At least I can’t be wrong for two months.