Holly Holm is the superior fighter, but does that make Ronda Rousey a fraud?

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

In February, Ronda Rousey is set to begin filming a remake of the movie "Road House." She'll reprise Patrick Swayze's role of Dalton, the I-want-you-to-be-nice-until-it's-time-to-not-be-nice bouncer.

It is precisely the kind of thing that her critics are howling about in the wake of her knockout defeat to Holly Holm Saturday for the UFC bantamweight title. Does she want to be an actress or a fighter? Is she real or an overhyped fraud?

Is she just the real-life version of another cinematic classic character, the business-minded Apollo Creed walking straight into Holm's unknown underdog who didn't know it was a damn show? Or maybe she was a distracted Mike Tyson to Holm's Buster Douglas?

Let's relax on all of that.

It isn't fair to Rousey. It isn't fair to Holm. It isn't accurate enough (there may be elements of truth, but just elements), let alone placed properly in perspective.

There is no doubt Rousey made her enemies across the years. She embraced celebrity and chased cash. She played the heel. She flaunted her looks. She went for weigh-in antics. She said ridiculous things, like how she was unbeatable, or could whip Floyd Mayweather – good for look-at-me publicity but little else.

Holly Holm defeats Ronda Rousey by knockout. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Holly Holm defeats Ronda Rousey by knockout. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

She might have even failed to take the fight as seriously as she should have – she certainly looked winded just seconds in.

That doesn't mean all of the criticism raining down on her, all the revisionist history to fit a narrative, is fair.

Ronda Rousey is both a pioneering mixed martial artist and a great mixed martial artist, and her defeat was a two-pronged result of being that two-pronged figure.

Start with this: By the Vegas books this was a monster upset, but in reality it wasn't.

Holly Holm wasn't Rocky Balboa. She wasn't Buster Douglas. She didn't knock Rousey out at 59 seconds of the second round because she had more heart or desperation, or simply because Rousey didn't bother training.

Holly Holm completely dominated the fight because she was a far superior fighter with a far superior game plan. She probably still will be if they fight 10 times.

Rousey had no answer for Holm's size, speed, boxing skills or athletic ability. None. From the open bell, when it was apparent Holm could fire off straight lefts into Ronda's face almost at will, it was clear this was a different class of fighter.

Rousey knew it. Panic swept across her quickly reddening face and possibly busted nose. If Rousey, bolstered by arrogance or ignorance, entered the fight thinking she could out-strike Holm, she quickly understood she needed a quick arm bar or she was doomed.

She began chasing a faster person around the Octagon. When she got her sole take-down, she went immediately for her favorite submission move only to have the well-trained Holm muscle out. Another time, Holm, like a matador, sidestepped a charging Rousey leaving the champ to clumsily crash to the mat.

In the meantime, Holm never stopped peppering Ronda's face with her fist.

This wasn't an upset, a lesser fighter rising up to steal victory. This was the evolution of the sport in real time.

This was the future landing on top of the very champion who gave women's MMA so much life and legitimacy and money that it attracted the very kind of athlete who wouldn't have bothered with it five years ago.

This is why handicapping a sport that is this new is so fraught with problems. There was no way to accurately judge how good Holly Holm was because her fairly recent ability to truly apply herself in the presence of world-class trainers meant she was capable of huge jumps in ability almost overnight.

Holm was a former boxing champion who switched to MMA in 2011, but fought just seven times in nearly four years, all of them in minor-league promotions. This wasn't always a full-time, full-bore pursuit. Even still, she was at it as long as Rousey.

In 2013, however, Rousey, through force of personality, all but made UFC president Dana White let women fight in his promotion because even he could see the dollars she could deliver.

Rousey was by far the best of the best. She was the most skilled, the roughest, the toughest, the meanest and the most prepared because of her Olympic judo background and killer arm bar. She was an excellent athlete. She pushed to finish fights. She could intimidate opponents. She dominated the fledgling UFC women's division. She became the promotion's No. 1 attraction.

She was also dealing with a shallow pool of challengers. It doesn't take away from her accomplishments or her ability – this isn't to underplay her brilliance. Reality is reality, though. She was winning in 30 seconds or less.

That said, once women's MMA became a big-time deal, here came more budding fighters, and the ones who had dabbled in it now had a reason to fully commit.

Now, you had Holm, this boxing champ, former soccer player and superb athlete who just happened to hail from the suburbs of Albuquerque, N.M., where she met a guy named Mike Winkeljohn at an aerobics class. Winkeljohn, along with Greg Jackson, run a gym there and are arguably the two best MMA coaches in the world.

Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey at 59 seconds of the second round. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey at 59 seconds of the second round. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

A match was made. A champion was developed, slowly, and then as the sport exploded, quickly. She won in February. She won in July. By Saturday, fresh off an elite camp, she was a beast. Presumably, she only gets better. It's all so new.

This happened in men's mixed martial arts, too. It started with a cult following and slowly attracted better and better fighters. Most of the guys who would win fights on say UFC 30 – many of whom trained part time – were out of their league by UFC 80 and, in turn, those guys were out of their league by the time world-class athletes such as Jon Jones started flocking to the sport.

That's what happened to Rousey. Holm is women's MMA 2.0.

Which doesn't mean 1.0 was a fraud.

Rousey, to her fault, didn't see it coming. She didn't switch to a better trainer and a more significant camp. She didn't round out her game in time as well as she thought. She didn't change strategy; it was still attack, attack, attack. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but this was a disastrous attempt.

The result is the product of a young sport where talent is flooding in and, for once, women have the time and access to the best training available.

It's why the better fighter won convincingly on Saturday.

No need to mock Ronda Rousey for that. All it does is insult Holly Holm.

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