The pronouncements about Ronda Rousey were loud and frequent. The UFC, Rousey’s very grateful and eager promoter, went so far as to frame the 28-year-old Californian a once in a humankind kind of fighter. No one. Like her. Had ever. Ever. Graced us with their presence.
And you know, Rousey was that good that it seemed plausible. SI declared Rousey the most dominant athlete on earth. On Sunday, approaching 5 p.m. in Melbourne, Australia, in front of a massive crowd that showed at the Etihad Stadium to watch the first UFC event in that city, everything changed.
Holly Holm, a kickboxer, champion boxer and unbeaten mixed martial artist, was supposed to be nothing more than Rousey’s next victim. Except Holm didn’t see it that way. And she didn’t fight that way. And she certainly didn’t win that way. She won by being better. Much better. Perfect actually.
And so there are thoughts to share now. Ones even Holm’s most ardent supporters couldn’t have imagined before a new champion was crowned in perhaps the most impressive title-taking win in UFC history.
1. Holm’s rigor wins out
Fighters say lots of things. Out of bravado, Rousey said more than most. On fight week, perhaps the most telling statement came when Rousey proclaimed not only couldn’t Holm find a knockout shot, no one could.
Well, that’s not how the human body works. Physiology is a fairly basic thing. Rattle the brain enough, stuff stops working pronto. Holm repeatedly jarred Rousey as the champion charged forward, relentless in pursuit of unbeaten perfection, a priceless legacy. From southpaw, Holm targeted precision lefts as Rousey stood in front of her. No head movement. No defense. The critics who claimed Rousey’s boxing fell well short of where it needed to be against a striker of Holm’s caliber were vindicated a couple minutes in. Underdog betters had to be going crazy as Holm peppered a woman who was pure viper. The mongoose didn’t show any sense of overconfidence.
Others might have rushed at Rousey in the moment she showed weakness.
Holm calmly stepped to a proper angle and conclusively ended it. One more left hand snapped Rousey’s jaw. The champion stood up straight, half-turned and exposed her right side. Holm stepped into the high kick. That was it. A pro finish by a woman who has been a pro fighter for her whole life. Simply said, Holm was perfect. No chin can stand up to that, it seems.
2. Where does Rousey go from here?
No mixed martial artist has produced more press than Ronda Rousey. She wiped the mat with everyone, carried an amplified air of invincibility and spoke her mind as she pleased. I’ve interviewed her. She’s a great interview. Everyone wanted to get close. All the attention. All the acting opportunities. All the marketers and media moguls and Hollywood producers wanted to touch Rousey.
They all wanted to because, generally speaking, Rousey’s expanding public interest was predicated on her greatness. Wasn’t it? On the notion that no one like her had ever existed. But now that we know she is not something other than human—a point many great fighters had already proved in the 22 years the Ultimate Fighting Championship has existed—how does Rousey respond?
Adversity is always a story. Rousey’s adversity in life is well documented. Now this would seem to be another chapter. She has proven herself willing and able to meet the challenge. Beat the challenge.
Will competition buffer or quell the sting of Holm’s victory in Melbourne? Will Rousey be bitten to work even harder. Fight even harder. Push even harder? Or will there be a shift?
3. UFC’s debut in Melbourne a hit
The Etihad Stadium in Melbourne proved to be a fantastic setting for the most attended event in UFC history, breaking the previous record of 55,724 at UFC 129. The combination of Rousey’s participation and UFC’s debut in Melbourne after a long fight to get sanctioned by the state produced the largest attendance for a fight in Australian history at 56,214 and tallied $9.5 million at the gate.
Stadium shows don’t just come along. That’s how UFC president Dana White responded when a fan asked this week if the next time UFC rolls into town they might try it at the 100,000 seat Melbourne Cricket Ground. White said if the Etihad was sold out for the Sunday morning extravaganza he’d come back next week. It’s obviously not so simple. In putting on an event of this scale, the UFC president said his company procured every LED light in Australia to build the grid of screens above the Octagon that allowed most of the people attendance to catch the action in the cage as it happened.
The UFC has long flirted with Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas, and other large venues. But the Melbourne card was, after 22 years of existence, only the promotion’s second mega-arena event. The first came four years ago in Toronto at the Rogers Centre, where fans established a UFC record $12 million gate as they saw Canadian great Georges St-Pierre defend his welterweight title.
The next one may come soon. If featherweight Conor McGregor takes the UFC featherweight title off Jose Aldo on Dec. 12 in Las Vegas, MMA promotion company Zuffa has promised the Irishman a return home to Dublin’s 90,000-plus seat Croke Park if local ordinances can be worked around.
But all talk of Croke Park should be left until after UFC 194. For as much as Conor McGregor believes he’s going to trash UFC featherweight Jose Aldo, nothing is guaranteed in MMA.
UFC 193 was good, and will be remembered for the stunning defeat Holm laid on Rousey, but it won’t live in my top five favorite stadium events in MMA history. For fun, they are Pride Final Conflict 2003 (a UFC/Pride collaboration that was easily the best set of fights on this list), attended by 67,450 at the Tokyo Dome. Pride Shockwave Dynamite! in 2002 at the Tokyo National Stadium saw 91,107 walk through the turnstiles. UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto was an incredible spectacle by Zuffa. The Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals at the Tokyo Dome on May 1, 2000 saw only 38,429 fans turn out but it was a historic event for several reasons. And as they tend to do, stadium events can be wacky. None more than Dynamite!! USA at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The co-promotion between Japanese and American competitors to the UFC drew 18,340 attendees, while only 3,674 paid to see Brock Lesnar make his MMA debut on a night with many memorable and forgettable moments.