Holly Holm: A puncher’s chance

The hype and million dollar marketing campaign surrounding Ronda Rousey’s next fight could easily convince you that the UFC women’s bantamweight champion is in for the toughest test of her career.

Billed as a “revolution” by the promotion, Rousey’s bout against Holly Holm will headline UFC 193 at the 53 359-capacity Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.

The fight has been styled as a clash of two trailblazers in women’s combat sports; with advertisements showing dramatized reconstructions of Rousey’s journey from troubled child and judoka to mixed martial arts champion and Holm’s perilous path to the summit of women’s boxing.

While it is certainly “revolutionary” for two women’s fights to headline a card (Joanna Jedrzejczyk will also defend her strawweight title against Valerie Letourneau in the second-last event), especially a card expected to shatter attendance and gate-takings records, don’t be surprised if the reigning queen crushes this revolution as quickly as she did the previous coups d'état.

However, that’s not to say that Rousey is unbeatable (no fighter was, is, or ever will be) or that the challenger is incapable of shocking the champion.

Holm held 13 world titles in three different weight divisions during her career as a professional boxer and, although these should be taken with a liberal pinch of salt, her boxer background should have provided her with some of the skills necessary to finally dethrone the woman described as the most dominant athlete in combat sports history.

Avoid the clinch

It’s no secret that Rousey relies heavily on her judo background inside the cage, yet somehow her opponents are unable to avoid being thrown and either submitted or finished with strikes.

Unlike the most dominant take takedown artists in the men’s divisions, Rousey doesn’t ground her opponents by shooting for a double or single leg. Instead she charges forward, wraps around her opponent’s upper body and uses hip throw variations.

The key to avoiding this is to manage distance correctly by circling away from Rousey, instead of backing up or attempting to stop her with punches.

Although this is (obviously) easier said than done, Holm’s boxing experience should, theoretically at least, mean she is adept at avoiding an onrushing opponent by stepping to the side.

A puncher’s chance

Rousey’s constant forward-charging also often leaves her vulnerable to eating clean shots. While her previous opponents have been unable to take advantage, Holm’s boxing pedigree again means that she could capitalize.

While Holm may not be able to knock-out the champion, who has shown a decent chin, landing several clean blows early on in addition to avoiding the clinch successfully could convince Rousey to approach her hunt for takedowns more conservatively.  This, in turn, would instantly transform the fight into a much more interesting contest. 

Turn the tables

Once Rousey is forced to fall back on plan B, Holm can drive home her advantage and pile on points by winning a few takedowns of her own.

The Albuquerque native may not be known for her wrestling abilities, but few mixed martial artists make it very far without being able to score or defend a standard double-leg.

If Holm does shoot on Rousey, it is imperative that she either passes Rousey’s guard to mitigate the chance of a submission or disengage and reestablish distance quickly if she is unsuccessful.

Drag her into deep water

Rousey’s dominance means that she has only ever gone beyond the first round once and only lasted longer than 70 seconds thrice in her 12 professional fights.

Thought there have been few reasons to suspect the champion may not have the gas tank required to sustain the frenetic pace she sets in the first minute, making Rousey fight into the third, fourth or fifth rounds will at least take her somewhat out of her comfort zone and into unchartered territory.

Holm, by contrast, has regularly gone the distance in her fights and consistently displayed championship-level stamina. This could be one area where she holds a distinct advantage.

Stick to the strategy

Whether Holm decides to employ these tactics or a completely different game plan, her ability to execute that plan under pressure will ultimately be the decisive factor.

The 34-year-old is trained by some of the most astute coaches in mixed martial arts at Jackson Wink MMA, along with world class fighters such as Andrei Arlovski, Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, Cub Swanson and John Dodson.

When she steps into the octagon on Saturday, Holm will know Rousey’s strengths and weaknesses, have a clearly defined strategy in mind and supreme confidence in her own abilities. However, that may not be enough to stop the champion.

Liam Moses