Holly Holm poses some interesting stylistic challenges for Ronda Rousey. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
For all the hyperbole surrounding UFC 193 on Saturday at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, the headliner represents about as compelling a women’s bantamweight bout as the Ultimate Fighting Championship can put together.
It is difficult to avoid the talking points of a female-anchored card breaking the all-time attendance record. Lost in the noise is a stylistic matchup that could possibly be the stiffest test to date for the Empress of MMA. Women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey was last seen in the Octagon in August, when she dispatched Bethe Correia with strikes in 34 seconds. It was her third straight win that took less than a minute, though it lasted longer than her previous two fights put together.
Holly Holm last fought two weeks before Rousey’s victory over Correia, scoring a solid decision victory over the streaking Marion Reneau in July. It was the second UFC fight for the former boxing champion, and while both of her Octagon bouts have reached the final bell, six of her previous seven professional fights ended in knockout or technical knockout. Her UFC opponents thus far have a combined 5-3 record -- a numerical indicator, if any was needed, that Rousey is a steep step up in competition for “The Preacher’s Daughter.”
Here is what the Tale of the Tape tells us:
Anthropometrically, there are only marginal differences between the two. Namely, Holm is an inch taller and has an extra inch of reach. This is likely not enough of a physical advantage to fundamentally alter the fight, but it does fall slightly into the challenger’s favor, especially given her southpaw stance and striking pedigree; the only southpaw Rousey has fought was Cat Zingano, and there were no striking exchanges in that fight to show us how “Rowdy” might deal with that difference.
When it comes to the clock, Rousey continues to buck conventional wisdom. Even though she has had eight more big-league fights than Holm, she has logged less time in the cage than her opponent; the analysis of this begins and ends at the respective finish rates of both women. Even with an extra round of action in the Octagon, it would be hard to consider Holm the more seasoned veteran, especially since she has struggled more against lesser competition.
It is also worth mentioning that both Rousey and Holm had storied careers before entering the MMA world in 2011. Starting in 2002, a 20-year-old Holm began her prolific boxing career that culminated in a 33-2-3 record and several world titles. A year earlier, Rousey started high-level judo competition at 14 years of age, which resulted in a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics. Though they took place in roughly the same time frame, these extra years of competition have most likely worn down Holm more than Rousey; she is not only the older combatant but has also been knocked out three times, twice in boxing and once in kickboxing. If there are to be any signs of slowing down in this fight, they will likely show in Holm’s performance.
Let us see what the striking numbers say:
Before we get into the specifics, two caveats must be mentioned. First, per-round statistics distort Rousey’s numbers a bit since all but one of her fights has ended within the first frame. Second, there are only official statistics for Holm’s two UFC fights, which leaves room for potential discrepancies. Still, we have plenty of good information with which to work.
At a glance, Rousey is the busier and more accurate striker. This is where the first caveat comes into play, however, since Rousey’s pace is almost certainly higher than it would be if she were to consistently fight past the first round. For instance, in her rematch with Miesha Tate, which ended shortly into the third round, Rousey averaged 18.2 significant strikes landed per round. Still, she is undeniably more accurate than Holm across the board. This has a lot to do with Rousey’s style, which is to walk square into close range and bully her way into the clinch: 43 percent of her strikes come at distance, 36 percent in the clinch and 21 percent to grounded opponents. This opens up the exchanges to high-accuracy inside strikes for Rousey, as well as her opponents. As a result, Rousey also tends to eat more punches than Holm. Of her total output, 79 percent of her strikes are aimed at the head, 13 percent to the body and eight percent to the legs.
Regardless of what a cursory glance at the statistics may say, there is no doubt that striking is where Holm will have her greatest chances at success. Her accuracy is low primarily because she is so busy. She throws almost twice as many strikes per minute as Rousey, and her overall game is predicated on that work rate. She maintains a frenetic pace that hinges on her ability to stay at a comfortable distance. Of all her strikes, 93 percent are from distance, with the clinch and ground strikes accounting for six percent and one percent, respectively. Although her range is much more lopsided than Rousey’s, Holm’s target tends to be more balanced, with 68 percent of her strikes aimed upstairs, 22 percent to the body and 10 percent to the legs. Holm’s ability to stay at a safe range, utilize her crisp boxing and avoid the clinch will determine how competitive she will be in the fight.
Then there is the grappling matchup:
It goes without saying that this is Rousey’s wheelhouse, regardless of her opponent. Her work on the inside is among the most potent, effective and devastating in all of mixed martial arts. Her takedowns are high-percentage, and since they come via hip tosses in the clinch, they consistently set her up in dominant positions to snatch up limbs or rain down unimpeded punches. Even when she finds herself in her opponents’ guards, she has shown deft passing ability. Every opponent that she has attempted to submit has eventually tapped. Her grappling game is a paragon of fluidity and flexibility, and she has never even remotely been in serious trouble on the mat.
Holm has mostly tried to avoid prolonged grappling exchanges in the UFC. She has only attempted a single takedown -- which was successful -- but that is hardly a measurement of her ability to take the fight to the ground. She shrugged off all five takedown attempts from Raquel Pennington, though it is worth mentioning that Pennington has only succeeded on 43 percent of her total takedown attempts. Ultimately, there are very few points of data to gauge Holm’s grappling ability, and it is safe to say she will likely try to keep it that way. Even if she is momentarily rocked on the feet, she would be best served to backpedal, rather than to tie up with the Olympic judoka.
The Final Word
Depending on where you look, Rousey will be somewhere between a -1600 and -2200 favorite, with Holm in the range of a +790 to +1305 underdog. No surprises there; it has thus far been embarrassingly foolish to bet against the incumbent champion. Stylistically, though, Holm does pose some problems, at least more so than Rousey’s recent victims. Holm’s length, size and striking ability could very well drag the bout into deeper waters than we are used to seeing Rousey in and may even allow her to steal some rounds. Still, it is hard to imagine a world where Rousey gets dethroned, and it will take a truly Herculean effort from Holm to stop “Rowdy” from notching her seventh straight UFC title defense.
Can Holm punch her way to the biggest upset since Matt Serra-Georges St. Pierre, or will her loss manifest into a louder echo to see Rousey fight Cristiane Justino?
Data for the analysis was provided by FightMetric. Eric Stinton performed all analysis. Stinton and Sherdog.com assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.