Upsets may be the greatest thing in sports. Those moments when an underdog shocks a favorite are all the better the bigger the underdog and more seemingly unbeatable the favorite.
The best of these upsets can become defining moments in the story of a sport. Take, for example, Buster Douglas’ shocking upset of Mike Tyson. It’s a moment when the story of Tyson, and ultimately of heavyweight boxing, changed course.
Something similar happened in the November 2015 clash between former champion boxer Holly Holm and “the most dominant athlete alive,” former Olympic silver medalist in Judo and UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
Rousey had a perfect 12-0 record when entering the UFC 193 fight with Holm. Only one woman (Miesha Tate) had even survived the first round against Rousey.
In fact, Tyson had become the perfect comparison for Rousey. People were spending $60 on pay-per-view broadcasts to see Rousey dispatch of foes in brutal, embarrassingly quick fashion.
In the four fights prior to facing Holm, Rousey’s record looked like this:
- UFC 170 – Knocked out Sarah McMann in 66 seconds
- UFC 175 – Knocked out Alexis Davis in 16 seconds
- UFC 184 – Submitted Cat Zingano in 14 seconds
- UFC 190 – Knocked out Bethe Correia in 34 seconds
Those four fights combined to last 2 minutes 10 seconds, or less than half of one round. And to be clear, these opponents were not cannon fodder — they were legitimate, high-end opposition.
This explains why, despite Holm’s status as a legitimate boxing champion who had made a successful transition to MMA and was 9-0 entering the fight, Rousey was a more than -700 favorite (with some sites having her as high as -1650) when the fight started.
Before her fight with Correia, Sports Illustrated had declared Rousey the “World’s Most Dominant Athlete.”
Along with that came discussions of how she’d fare against equally sized men in MMA — and also how a potential fight with boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather would go down. Mayweather and Rousey were seemingly happy to keep their names in headlines while a subset of combat sports fans engaged in the latest meaningless debate.
It was Rousey, in fact, who got women into the UFC Octagon. UFC President Dana White famously responded flatly “no” when asked if women would ever fight in the UFC, but Rousey’s dominant performances in Strikeforce and her clear marketability got him to change his tune and promote Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 as the first fight featuring women in UFC history.
White also stated in no uncertain terms Rousey was the reason women were in the cage and his decision to embrace the fact could change at any time because this was “the Ronda Rousey Show.”
Instead, Rousey’s dominance and starpower led the UFC to add on new weight classes and build up the divisions.
While Rousey became a breakout star, she was also the force behind changing the sport as a whole.
Holm’s nickname “The Preacher’s Daughter” is, of course, based on her background. She’d competed in kickboxing before eventually becoming one of the biggest stars in women’s boxing. But women in boxing, even the ultra-elite, are never afforded the kind of celebrity someone like Rousey was able to achieve.
Moving to MMA, she’d found plenty of success early in her career, scoring knockout finishes in all but one of her pro bouts before entering the Octagon, but she was a more methodical worker than the intense and flashy Rousey.
In fact, while Rousey’s record was littered with quick, first-round finishes, the earliest one of Holm’s fights has ever ended was almost one minute into the second round.
Perhaps that’s the reason a $100 bet on Holm to beat Rousey would pay off $700.
At the weigh-in for the fight, Rousey charged at Holm for the stare-down and things briefly turned physical.
The confrontation led Rousey to tell Holm she’d “get it” at the fight and that she “saw through” Holm’s “sweet” persona.
The striking early on was relatively even and Rousey did manage to take the fight to the ground, leading the crowd to think an armbar ending was imminent, but Holm escaped before starting to take over in the striking.
Holm effectively used angles and footwork to confound Rousey, busting her up, drawing blood from her mouth and seemingly exhausting her before shockingly scoring her own takedown before getting back up — almost as though she wanted to prove to the champ she could do whatever she wanted.
“I’m trying to take it in, but it’s crazy,” Holm said following her win. “Getting in here, I had so much love and support. I felt like, how can I not do this with all that love. I had the best coaching, from standup to grappling to wrestling.”
“Everything that we worked on presented itself in the fight. I haven’t spent this much time in the gym in my life,” she continued. “Everything we worked on happened tonight.”
Holm rode the celebrity wave for a bit, but lost the title to Miesha Tate in her next fight. Rousey would fight one more time, suffering a knockout loss to Amanda Nunes before retiring from competition.
Despite a 2-4 record since defeating Rousey, Holm is now set to face Nunes in an effort to recapture the bantamweight championship at UFC 239 on July 6.
The oddsmakers think it’ll be a long night for Holm against the champ.
But that’s not the first time those words have been written.