Ronda Rousey is a multi-million dollar fighting conglomerate, breaking arms, kicking butt and pummeling faces for your viewing pleasure.
She’s the greatest at what she does, and she’s only getting better. Her coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, insists with a straight face that the UFC women’s bantamweight champion hasn’t hit her peak yet.
She fights (and wins, of course) more often than any other UFC star. When she’s not fighting for real, she’s play-fighting in movies or writing books or talking about fighting on late-night talk shows with Kimmel, Fallon and Conan, or appearing in various states of undress in magazines or hawking fast-food breakfast or any of a million other things.
She makes more in endorsement money than any of the UFC’s other women make from fighting, and she has become a widely quoted authority on everything from sex (take it slow, she says) and body image (don’t ever call her fat) to video games and super heroes.
A crowd of more than 70,000 will fill Melbourne, Australia’s Etihad Stadium beyond capacity Saturday, while a pay-per-view audience that likely will exceed one million will watch her defend her title in the main event of UFC 193 against former boxing champion Holly Holm.
Rousey, of course, is a massive favorite, 18-1 in some spots, and few are giving Holm, 34, a serious shot to win.
Holm is only in her third UFC fight and is seen by many as a lamb being led to slaughter.
The polar opposite of Rousey in many ways, Holm is soft-spoken and private, and it’s impossible to imagine her joking about her sex life on national radio with Howard Stern. But she shares one very significant trait with her more famous opponent:
Holm has an absolute belief in herself and her ability to win, despite the odds, despite the doubters and against perhaps the greatest active female athlete in the world.
“I don’t mind you saying I’m a huge underdog, because I am a huge underdog,” Holm said. “But the odds have nothing to do with how I’ll perform. I wouldn’t have taken the fight if I didn’t think I was ready or didn’t believe I could win.”
The next professional fighter who says he or she can’t win will be the first, so that’s no revelation. But to understand why Holm is convinced that she’s days away from her biggest victory, you have to understand her most significant failure.
Holm is 9-0 in MMA, but was 33-2-3 during an 11-year boxing career that saw her win world titles at super lightweight, welterweight and super welterweight. Add to that a 2-1 pro kickboxing record and Holm, with 44 wins and three draws in 50 fights, clearly knows how to win.
The fight, though, that may make the most difference against Rousey may be one in which she lost.
On Dec. 2, 2011, at the Route 66 Casino in her hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., Holm met Anne Sophie Mathis for the vacant IBA and WBAN welterweight titles.
After a good start, Holm took a frightful beating in the latter half of the fight and was viciously knocked out in the seventh round.
The defeat ended the 23-0-1 run she’d been on and eroded the aura of invincibility that she’d developed.
There was talk of taking a tune-up bout or two to allow her to get back into the swing of things and boost her confidence after such a devastating defeat.
PODCAST: Kevin Iole breaks down the Ronda Rousey-Holly Holm fight
Holm, though, insisted on a rematch with Mathis.
“Taking that rematch did a ton for me,” Holm told Yahoo Sports. “It was a life-changing experience.”
It takes a special kind of person to rebound from a violent, devastating loss like the one Holm suffered and call for a rematch against the same person.
But Holm was a winner, and one loss wasn’t going to change her view of who she was or the confidence earned from a decade’s worth of victories over some of the greatest female boxers in the world.
“I really had to dig deep, because everyone was doubting me and thinking I was making a terrible mistake,” Holm said of her June 15, 2012, rematch with Mathis.
It was a different Holm in the second fight. She boxed, used her length and lateral movement to confound Mathis and repeatedly beat her to the punch.
She won the 10-round bout and the IBA and WBAN welterweight titles by scores of 99-91, 97-93 and 96-94.
She’d proven a point, not only to the skeptics but to herself.
“You hear the doubters and the critics and they wondered what I was doing,” she said. “But I believed in what I could do. I had to say to myself, ‘OK, no one is fighting for me and I’m the one who will control what happens in there and no one else.’ If I’d lost the second time, all the critics would have said, ‘I told you so.’ But you know what?
“I would have lost sleep for the rest of my life if I didn’t give myself a chance. I was very passionate about it. I went into a situation where the odds were against me and no one expected me to win.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
It’s that faith that makes her believe she can defeat the seemingly invincible Rousey, whose cage time in 12 pro fights is 25 minutes, 36 seconds, or four minutes, 24 seconds less than Holm’s cage time in her two prior UFC bouts.
Holm took the bout after UFC president Dana White changed his mind and decided not to give it to Miesha Tate, whom he originally promised would get the shot after a win over Jessica Eye.
White said he chose Holm because he felt more people would be interested in seeing how Rousey would fare against a former boxing champion than they would against Tate, whom Rousey’s already beaten twice.
There is a school of thought, though, that after UFC officials saw Holm’s first two bouts, they were concerned she’d lose before she would get to Rousey. In order to preserve the matchup between the two unbeaten fighters, they gave her the fight sooner than they otherwise might have, the thinking goes.
White denies that strongly, but Holm said it doesn’t matter even if it is true.
It takes a unique person to not only climb into the cage with Rousey, whose technique, athletic ability and physical strength have turned her into a worldwide phenomenon, but to walk in there 100 percent confident that she’ll come out with the belt around her waist.
Buster Douglas was a 42-1 underdog to Mike Tyson in 1990 when he won the boxing heavyweight title.
“And here we are, what, 20-something years later, and people still talk about that fight,” Holm said. “You can never accomplish anything truly great if you don’t take a big risk and challenge yourself. It’s a risk, because Ronda really is a great fighter. You can’t get away from that. She’s great and I understand it.
“But I have every intention of winning. And let’s be honest, that’s why people watch sports. If everyone knew what was going to happen, there would be no reason to watch. But what makes sports so awesome is you can’t measure what is inside of someone and you can’t tell the future.”
Holm knows her future will be crazy if she wins, given it will be the biggest upset in UFC history, based on the odds, if she pulls it off.
Though Rousey said she doesn’t believe Holm can handle the pressure of being the champion, Holm just laughs it off.
“There are going to be a lot of interviews and a lot of people who want my time, and I get that,” she said. “But if reporters are looking to talk to me the day after the fight, that’s what I want, isn’t it? That means I’ve won. And I’ll talk all day, believe me. I’ll be happy to do that.”
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