Tears in the octagon. So many were shed, so many others held in by a state of shock.
Holly Holm cried her face red as she ran circles inside the cage late Saturday night, looking for someone to share the moment with, a moment that just couldn’t be real, could it? The UFC 193 main event had just ended suddenly and stunningly, and Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, was rocking to the festive clamor of a record crowd of 56,214 who’ll all forever tell the world They Were There When.
When? When Ronda Rousey lay silent and still on the canvas, her aura of invulnerability smashed to bits around her.
After a bloodied, glazed-over Rousey was attended to by medical personnel and her cornermen, she was helped to her feet just in time to hear Bruce Buffer bellow “… and NEW, undisputed UFC bantamweight champion of the world!” Rousey stood there at the center of the octagon, her head bowed, with referee Herb Dean standing between her and Holm, holding one of each fighter’s hands in each of his. Then, for the first time in Rousey’s 13-fight MMA career, the arm the referee raised was not hers.
Rousey looked like she was about to break into tears, but what spilled out of her was nothing but a vacant stare. She’d just been felled by a ferocious head-kick knockout 59 seconds into Round 2 of a fight that she improbably never seemed to be in. Holm was solid from the moment the women first engaged, while Rousey was betrayed by holes in her game that never before had been seen.
In the space of six minutes, Holm went from no-chance underdog to sky’s-the-limit champion. Rousey went from superhuman to defenseless, her standup game picked apart and revealing a Plan B that involved awkward bull rushes that were unable to come to grips with her matador challenger. The winner cried her way through post-fight interview after interview, through hugs with her coaches, her husband, and her preacher father right there in the reverberating octagon, and through the long, glorious walk through a gauntlet of fan adoration on the way to her dressing room. If the loser cried, she did so in the semi-privacy of an ambulance on the way to the hospital, a sad ending to her reign.
No one should shed a tear for the sport, though.
Sure, the invincibility plot line of The Ronda Rousey Show now needs to go to rewrite, and the UFC no longer can simply book Ronda vs. Warm Body and lazily wait for the cash to flow in. But suddenly the women’s bantamweight division has come alive with game-changing possibilities. Think heavyweight boxing post-Buster Douglas. Think the PGA Tour after Tiger crashed his Escalade.
Holm’s victory was the biggest upset in MMA history not because she lacks the credentials of elite fighter but because in her two previous UFC bouts we’d seen barely a trace of what had won her multiple world championships during a 33-2-3 boxing career. Even more so, the magnitude of this shocking result has to do with what Rousey had done to everyone who’d come before. She had finished her 12 previous opponents, all but one of them in the first round, eight in the very first minute. Her three most recent defenses had lasted 16, 14, and 34 seconds. Oddsmakers favored “Rowdy Ronda” by anywhere from 8-1 to 15-1.
If the fight had gone the way the pundits (including this typist) predicted, what would we have been left with? Calls for an elusive showdown between Rousey and the brawny Cris “Cyborg” Justino would have intensified. Maybe Miesha Tate finally would have gotten her third Wile Coyote shot. Or perhaps next in line would have been Amanda Nunes and another case of double-digit odds.
Instead, the 135-pound division is wide open. All those vanquished by Rousey -- Tate, Cat Zingano, Sarah Kaufman, Alexis Davis -- now have Holm in their crosshairs. Toss Cyborg and Nunes into that mix. Or put any of those women in with a humbled Rousey. So many juxtapositions.
And if, as UFC president Dana White confirmed afterward is most likely, a Holm vs. Rousey II is booked, that also would change the narrative. A second win by “The Preacher’s Daughter” would establish her as a dominant champion, just as Chris Weidman’s sequel triumph over Anderson Silva put him on solid ground. And even if Rousey were to recapture the belt, she will never be what she was. Remember what Mike Tyson looked like after Buster? What Brock Lesnar looked like after being exposed as one-dimensional by Cain Velasquez? The same challengers Rousey has seen before would walk in the cage for a redo with renewed confidence. Tthey’ve seen what they’ve seen. And Rousey has lived through it.
All of women’s MMA got a boost on Saturday night, really. In the co-main event, Joanna Jedrzejczyk retained her strawweight belt, but it wasn’t easy. Her challenger, Valerie Letourneau, was an even heavier underdog than Holm, but she got the better of the champ early on and pushed her the whole way. Of course, “Joanna Champion” hasn’t been the domineering force that Rousey has -- this was just the second title defense for the Pole, to seven for the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo -- but she’d beat up her last two opponents pretty brutally. She was on a roll. This fight slowed her hype train a wee bit, as emboldened challengers wait at the station to climb aboard.
So you might say that on an unprecedented night for women’s MMA -- the main and co-main event of a card with the biggest attendance in UFC history and pay-per-view sales expected to be around a million -- the sport came up big, erasing an uneven, even predictable past and opening a future of delicious possibilities.
Greatest Upsets In Sports History
Holly Holm defeats Ronda Rousey (2015)
Prior to UFC 193, Ronda Rousey seemed unstoppable. Her past three fights lasted 34, 16, and 14 seconds and she became a superstar outside the Octagon. But she was no match for former champion boxer and underdog Holly Holm, who knocked her out in the second round after a vicious kick to the neck.
Roberta Vinci defeats Serena Williams (2015)
Serena Williams was attempting to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to complete the calendar Grand Slam. The No. 1 ranked player in the world lost to unseeded Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals 2–6, 6–4, 6–4. It was the first Grand Slam in her last five appearances that Williams had lost.
Robin Soderling defeats Rafael Nadal (2009)
For 31 matches, dating to his debut on May 23, 2005, Nadal never truly was challenged, much less defeated, at the French Open, allowing him to win four consecutive titles and close in on becoming the first player in history with five in a row. Until the fourth round of the 2009 French Open, when the 23rd-seeded Soderling, a 24-year-old from Sweden who never had won so much as a third-round match at any major tournament before this one, defeated Nadal 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-2). Soderling finished with 61 winners, 28 more than Nadal.
New York Giants defeat New England Patriots (2008)
One of the biggest underdogs in Super Bowl history, the New York Giants made some history of their own in Super Bowl 42, upsetting the previously undefeated New England Patriots with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the clincher with 35 seconds left in the game. The victory capped an improbable run of 11 straight road victories by the Giants, including four straight in the playoffs.
Appalachian State defeats Michigan (2007)
Ranked No. 5 entering the season, Michigan had national-championship aspirations. But Appalachian State had different plans. Led by dynamic QB Armanti Edwards and speedy WR Dexter Jackson, the Mountaineers became the first Division I-AA team to beat a ranked Division I-A team, defeating the Wolverines 34-32.
Golden State Warriors defeat Dallas Mavericks (2007)
Pick a storyline, this series had it all. Golden State becoming the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 in a seven-game series. Coach Don Nelson getting revenge on his former team and bitter enemy, Mavs owner Mark Cuban. The Warriors winning their first playoff series in 16 seasons. Baron Davis, on a gimpy hamstring, pulling a Willis Reed to score 20 points in the Game 6 clincher.
New England Patriots defeat St. Louis Rams (2002)
While St. Louis piled up 427 yards of offense, the 14-point favorites held only one lead (3-0) and the Patriots' dynasty was born as Tom Brady set up Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard, game-winning field goal in Super Bowl 36.
Rulon Gardner defeats Alexander Karelin (2000)
Karelin, the three-time defending champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, had never lost in international competition and was on a 13-year winning streak. Gardner, an Olympic novice, wasn't even expected to contend for a medal. But the 29-year-old from Wyoming stunned the Russian 1-0 in overtime of the 286-pound final.
Denver Nuggets defeat Seattle Supersonics (1994)
Though they barely finished over .500 (42-40), the Nuggets, fueled by Dikembe Mutombo, defeated top-seeded Seattle in overtime of Game 5 to win the series. It was the first time in history that an eighth seed defeated a No. 1. Seattle, led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, was plagued by Mutombo, whose 31 blocks set a record for a five-game series.
Cincinnati Reds sweep Oakland A's (1990)
Talk of a dynasty followed the Athletics into the 1990 World Series. The Reds ended that notion by sweeping Oakland and outscoring the A's 22-8.
Buster Douglas KO's Mike Tyson (1990)
A 42-1 underdog against unbeaten ''Iron Mike," Buster Douglas scored a knockout in the 10th round and the undisputed heavyweight title.
Villanova defeats Georgetown (1985)
In the upset of all upsets, No. 8-seeded Villanova shot an astonishing 78.6 percent for the game to shock the top-seeded Hoyas, 66-64, and end Georgetown's hopes of a repeat.
N.C. State defeats Houston (1983)
Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma hit a defensive wall against N.C. State. The Cougars converted just one dunk in the game, while the Wolfpack had two — the most famous coming when Lorenzo Charles tossed in a Dereck Whittenburg air ball at the buzzer to beat Houston 54-52.
Chaminade defeats Virginia (1982)
Tiny Chaminade (enrollment: 800) pulled off what's considered the most stunning upset in college basketball history with a 77-72 victory over Ralph Sampson's top-ranked Virginia team in the Maui Invitational.
U.S. hockey team defeats USSR (1980)
In the Miracle on Ice, a scrappy bunch of U.S. amateur and collegiate players knocked off the favored Soviets 4-3 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
New York Mets defeat Baltimore Orioles (1969)
The Orioles led Game 5 of the '69 World Series 3-0 when Mets manager Gil Hodges proved that a pitch thrown by Baltimore's Dave McNally had hit Cleon Jones in the foot. Hodges showed the umpire that there was shoe polish on the ball. Donn Clendenon, pictured left, followed with a crucial two-run home run in the Mets' 5-3 victory that clinched the Series.
New York Jets defeat Baltimore Colts (1969)
It was the first game to officially carry the ''Super Bowl'' moniker, but it will forever be remembered for ''The Guarantee'' as Joe Namath, QB of the heavy underdog Jets said, ''We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it.'' The Jets won 16-7.
Pittsburgh Pirates defeat New York Yankees (1960)
The Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27 in the 1960 World Series but lost on Bill Mazeroski's one-out homer off Ralph Terry in the ninth inning of Game 7 at Forbes Field.
U.S. soccer team defeats England (1950)
The United States' improbable 1-0 victory over England in the World Cup — thanks to Joe Gaetjens' 37th-minute header — has become known as the "Miracle on Grass." That may be an understatement, considering the English were considered the "Kings of Football" and the Americans had lost their previous seven international matches by the combined score of 45-2.
Upset defeats Man o' War (1919)
Man o' War started 21 races in his illustrious career but lost just once — to 100-to-1 longshot Upset in the Sanford Memorial at Saratoga.