In mixed martial arts, it seems, underdogs, even the big ones, have a better chance at the upset than they do in boxing. Maybe that's not true. I am but a simple casual fan of the M.M.A. these days, someone who doesn't watch quite as closely as I did in prior years, even as UFC becomes the greatest global phenomenon since, like, the Bible, or whatever.
Holly Holm is a professional boxer. She is also now a professional mixed martial artist. Whatever one could say about the PR push behind the arguably exaggerated popularity of MMA or hotness of UFC's brand, women's MMA has become more popular than women's boxing has ever been in the United States. That comes down largely to marketing -- UFC is excellent at marketing, and boxing in the last 25 years, not so much, other than for the biggest events.
Ronda Rousey is the real key, though. A compelling and dominant athlete, Rousey is also a real star for the sport, period, and not just a star for women's MMA. She has become something more, as she has branched out with bad acting gigs that draw attention simply because it's her doing them, and are forgiven for mediocre (at best) quality because, well, she's not an actor, but she is Ronda Rousey. Nobody gives Mike Tyson guff for his line delivery in The Hangover, after all. She inspires people to do things, rather than do no things. She misunderstands lube, and everyone cares only because she is Ronda Rousey: Famous Fighter.
Rousey's presence inspires, really. She is a special athlete-personality, perhaps particularly for women's sports, and certainly for women's combat sports, where there have been few if any true stars in American culture. Laila Ali became sorta famous mostly because her last name was Ali. Ronda Rousey has become famous because she messes people up, and if you mess up enough people, you get noticed. She defeats opponents with flair and fury, and the more a rival talks trash, the more determined she seems to be to shut them up.
Holly Holm is next. A world boxing champion at 140, 147, and 154 pounds, Holm established herself as one of the premier women's boxers of her generation. A 5'8" southpaw nicknamed "The Preacher's Daughter," there was little more for the Albuquerque native to do in boxing. MMA presented a new challenge after a career boxing record of 33-2-3 (9 KO) from 2002-13.
Holm actually had her first pro MMA fight in 2011, but it wasn't until 2013 that she became more serious about it. She debuted in Bellator that year, and fought twice for Legacy Fighting Championship (LFC). This past February, she made her way to UFC, where she beat Raquel Pennington at UFC 184 in a split decision, and Marion Reneau at UFC Fight Night 71 in July, a unanimous decision.
Holm has an overall record of 9-0 in MMA, six of her wins coming by KO/TKO, and the other three by decision. Against better opposition in UFC, she has gone three-round limits twice, and never seemed in any position to score a stoppage win. Whether or not that's relevant for Saturday's fight with Rousey is not for me to say -- it's probably not, but there are people who know more about MMA and fighting styles and all that who could tell you better.
The thing that wonder, being a boxing fan first, is whether or not anyone can come from boxing to MMA and be a credible threat to the best fighter in the world in any weight class within just a couple of years, largely spent fighting mediocre opponents.
But another question might be, is there really anyone out there who could prepare Holm for Ronda Rousey? Is there really anyone out there at 135 pounds who can prepare anyone for Ronda Rousey? Rowdy Ronda seems to be playing on another level at this point, one that mere mortals like Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano, Alexis Davis and Bethe Correia, simply cannot reach.
So while Holm could probably have stood a better chance with more seasoning, how much better? And is it really worth spending the time getting there instead of just cashing in when this fight may be at its most marketable?
Holm is 34 years old, so she's no spring chicken. And any steps up the ladder against tougher opponents in order to prove her status as a contender risked defeat, and defeat might have been the end for Holm. And as far as having big fight experience in boxing goes, the reality is that nothing at Albuquerque venues like Route 66 Casino, Isleta Casino & Resort, or the Hard Rock have compared to the bright lights of a UFC event. Her fights with Pennington and Reneau in UFC have been, in many ways, by far the biggest of her entire fighting career.
Rousey (12-0, 3 KO/TKO, 9 SUB) has been on this stage repeatedly already. She's headlined two Strikeforce cards and four UFC events, and her two other UFC fights came on undercards for big fights at UFC 168 and 175, where she was a sort of co-headlining fighter in a real sense, not just in the way that a fight second from the top gets called "co-main event."
It's hard to imagine Holm winning this fight unless Ronda Rousey does something incredibly stupid, like attempting to do absolutely nothing but box with Holm. Holly's never been a big puncher, but she's a well-schooled boxer, and a better pure boxer than Rousey. That is the entire list of her advantages, though. Holm has some good kicking ability, but nothing Rousey hasn't seen before. She cannot go to the mat with Ronda.
The other option, other than Rousey being uncharacteristically dumb or passing out from a flu bug or something, is a miracle shot. That might even be the best hope that Holm has in this fight. A perfectly placed and timed strike can end any fight in MMA or boxing. Even if it's not a single shot KO right on the button, it can change the course of a fight and open up possibilities that otherwise would not have existed, causing a fighter to unravel in moments.
Can Holm do that? Sure, she can. Will she? In the words of Gorilla Monsoon, "Highly ... unlikely"
For all the talk that UFC doesn't do things the way boxing does, this is very much a boxing fight -- it's a lot of hype for what amounts to a serious mismatch. Andre Berto could have knocked out Floyd Mayweather, too. Chris Algieri could have landed the perfect punch against Manny Pacquiao. Alex Leapai could have rocked Wladimir Klitschko with one haymaker that sent the champ reeling and vulnerable to follow-up punishment, ending the fight. But those things obviously did not happen. All of those fights played out as anticipated.
The good thing is that if this fight plays out as anticipated, it's not going to last 36 minutes. The one upset Holm might be able to achieve is seeing the one-minute mark of the fight, something that Davis (16 seconds), Zingano (14 seconds), and Correia (34 seconds) have all failed to do in Rousey's last three bouts. Sara McMann made it 1:06 in February 2014. Maybe that should be the goal.
There is reason to watch this fight, but it's little to do with Holly Holm. It's really just about seeing a special athlete in her prime dominate. Holm is just here to be the victim of Rousey's rampage through the sport, a footnote in later years when we look back on Ronda's career.
"Rousey followed that victory by demolishing former pro boxing champion Holly Holm..."