Holly Holm's upset over Ronda Rousey may be biggest in combat sports history

Now that the dust has settled and we are somewhat back to our senses after Holly Holm shocked the world Saturday night with a scintillating second-round knockout of the seemingly indestructible Ronda Rousey at UFC 193, it’s time to put into perspective how big of an upset this was in the history of combat sports.

Let’s be clear: regardless of whatever revisionist history takes place over the next several months in which some will suggest they were confident Holm would win, it was hard to find anyone on fight night who thought Holm would even make it out of the first round.

But Holm did the unthinkable and completely dismantled Rousey en route to a knockout that will be remembered for years to come. So how does this upset stack up to the biggest stunners in combat sports histoy?

Chris Weidman's KO of Anderson Silva in 2013 was a stunner, but it's not more shocking than Holm-Rousey. (Getty)
Chris Weidman's KO of Anderson Silva in 2013 was a stunner, but it's not more shocking than Holm-Rousey. (Getty)

It is certainly the biggest in MMA history. And if you really dig deep into the short history of mixed martial arts, it’s difficult to deny it. Many will point to Chris Weidman’s second-round knockout of Anderson Silva at UFC 162 in July 2013. However, many MMA pundits thought Weidman could win as soon as the fight was announced. After Chael Sonnen grounded Silva for five rounds at UFC 117 in 2010, there were concerns about how Silva would fare against a young, strong talent like Weidman. The knockout was still a shock, but not everyone counted Weidman out.

Holm’s win is also a bigger upset than Matt Serra’s shocking first-round TKO of Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69 in 2007, Fabricio Werdum’s submission of the unbreakable Fedor Emelianenko at Strikeforce in 2010, or T.J. Dillashaw’s outright annihilation of Renan Barao at UFC 173 in 2014. None of the aforementioned upsets had been against a dominant force that was stuffing victories inside of a 15-second Instagram video. St-Pierre had yet to become arguably the most dominant in the history of the welterweight division; Barao had a remarkable win streak but wasn’t considered as menacing as Rousey; and Fedor appeared to be unstoppable, but there were always questions about how he would match up against UFC heavyweights.

Rousey’s reign of terror was distinctly different than anything we had seen in mixed martial arts.

Entering the fight with Holm, Rousey had not been tested in the Octagon (or any MMA platform) to that point. She was 12-0 with every win coming by stoppage (11 in the first round), and she had never lost a round. Her meteoric rise was Tyson-esque. But even Mike Tyson had gone the distance against a few higher-caliber fighters. Rousey was like a superhero among mere mortals. Her skill level appeared to be far superior than her bantamweight peers, and she showed improvement every time she stepped into the cage. The talent gap appeared to be as wide as the Pacific Ocean, and in a sport in which there are many ways to lose, Rousey found even more ways to win.

There have been parallels drawn between Tyson and Rousey, and for the most part, they were spot on. Obviously, the two share little outside of their respective sports, but their swift destruction of opponents and rise into popular culture bear striking similarities.

It’s why it can be argued that Rousey losing to Holm was as significant of an upset as James “Buster” Douglas’ flattening of Tyson in 1990 in Tokyo, which many consider to be the biggest upset in any sport, although boxing has a had number of major upsets.

Michael Spinks topping Larry Holmes in 1985, Randy Turpin pulling the rug from under “Sugar” Ray Robinson in 1951, and Roberto Duran’s inexplicable loss to Kirkland Laing in 1982 immediately come to mind. However, all three of those upsets went the distance. Tyson’s 10th-round TKO loss to a journeyman was a true David and Goliath story, but as we’ve learned since, Tyson was ill-prepared for the bout and his life was already in turmoil.

Buster Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990. (AP)
Buster Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990. (AP)

Rousey, on the other hand, was focused and prepared to fight Saturday night.

Holm’s upset victory is on par with Douglas’, but it may more closely resemble Evander Holyfield’s 11th-round TKO of Tyson in 1996. For one, Holm is no journeywoman. She has yet to taste defeat inside of the cage and presented a unique challenge for Rousey. Holm simply didn’t look spectacular in UFC wins over Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau. She was simply up against a monster that had transcended the sport. Nobody would dare bet against that.

But, like Holyfield, her skills wouldn’t be outright discredited even though some questioned her age. Holm is the same age as Holyfield was when he beat Tyson (34). To add to the significance, Rousey’s Ring Magazine cover and ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on Holyfield’s upset of Tyson were both released in the days before the fight.

Where Holm matches Holyfield is in how beautifully executed their respective victories were. There was no lucky punch. This was a perfectly implemented game plan that exposed an opponent’s weaknesses. Like Tyson-Holyfield, it only took a few minutes to realize Rousey was in over her head and had no Plan B.

Holm’s knockout of Rousey was pure theater and might be remembered as the biggest upset in combat sports history. But only time will tell.