It was Ronda Rousey’s Buster Douglas moment. Those who watched it were stunned. Those who read about it the next morning did a double take. And more than a few people were wondering where it leaves her career.
In 1990, Mike Tyson was also unbeaten and had the same aura of invincibility as Rousey. Like her, he put opponents away rapidly and with ease. But on Feb. 10 in Tokyo he faced the little-known Douglas as a 40-1 favorite and was knocked out in one of sports’ biggest upsets.
Rousey’s fight also took place on the other side of the world, on Sunday in Melbourne, and the result was also shocking. Holly Holm, ranked just eighth in their weight class and underwhelming in her two previous UFC fights, knocked Rousey out in the second round.
Rousey started the fight on the attack, perhaps looking for another quick win. But she found herself chasing Holm around the Octagon, all the time taking hard punches and kicks. She struggled to get Holm on the ground, thanks in part to Holm’s superior reach. Even when Rousey began to apply her signature armbar, Holm eluded it and continued the barrage. A nasty kick to the head finished Rousey off.
Like Douglas, who held his own for 10 rounds with Tyson, Holm did not win on a fluky blow. She was the comfortable winner of the first round. Andrew Richardson, the analyst for SB Nation, wrote: “Holm fought perfectly. She circled away from Rousey’s bull rushes expertly and repeatedly countered while doing so, which frustrated Rousey and caused her to fade quickly. Even when Rousey did slow down, Holm remained composed and picked her opportunities, which resulted in the brutal head kick knockout.”
Holm, 34, was 33-2-3 as a boxer, holding WBA, WBC and numerous other titles. She then transitioned to mixed martial arts, where her record improved to 10-0 with the Rousey win.
In the past, boxers like Holm have not fared well in MMA, compared with wrestlers and judokas, like Rousey. This had prompted numerous commentators, and Rousey herself, to suggest that she could beat even a top male boxer like Floyd Mayweather in the cage or a street fight. But it turned out a top boxer who fought intelligently, like Holm, was more than a match for her.
Many analysts faulted Rousey for fighting with overconfidence, engaging with Holm with punches rather than focusing on going for a takedown.
But Rousey’s trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan, disagreed. “Ronda is smart enough to take the fight where she is best at and today she did,” he told ESPN. “Holly stopped an attempt on an armbar and stopped some of the takedowns. She did a good job.”
Rousey had also spent a lot of time before the fight talking about taking a break and forging a career in Hollywood. (She has appeared in the films “Expendables 3,” “Furious 7” and “Entourage.”) It is certainly possible that mentally her edge was dulled at least a little.
What’s next for Rousey? At 28, she is young for the Octagon. The median age of a UFC champ is currently 31, and only two champions are younger than Rousey. The UFC president, Dana White, suggested immediately that a rematch would be in the offing. Rousey had turned into the UFC’s most marketable star, male or female, and it is in everyone’s interest to keep her front and center.
Rousey was taken to a hospital to be checked after the fight and did not make a postfight statement. But in a brief post on Instagram on Monday, she wrote, “I’m going to take a little bit of time, but I’ll be back.”
Bookmakers rank Rousey as the favorite in a rematch, though by about 3-2, not the 10-1 or 12-1 she was favored over Holm the first time. There is every reason to think Rousey will regain her belt, perhaps soon.
But Tyson may provide a cautionary tale. Before the Douglas fight, he was 37-0 with a series of brutal signature wins. Though he did reclaim his title eventually, the post-Douglas era mostly featured losses to fighters like Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis and wins over bums.
Rousey will need to rethink her tactics and rediscover her motivation. She will win again, and may even be the best again. But she will never again be invincible.