UFC 193 Ronda Rousey v Holly Holm – legit fight or human sacrifice?

Ever since Holly Holm announced her transition to full time MMA, I have been very excited about a potential Ronda Rousey matchup. Holm is multiple time world champion boxer and is the best credentialed striker to legitimately compete in the Octagon (James Toney, I am looking at you). This makes for an interesting foil for Rousey’s only identified area of averageness – her striking defence.

It is easy to see how Rousey’s base and drive have taken her to the top of her sport. Simply, while her judo is world class (specifically her adaption of judo to fit the MMA context) the holes in her boxing game have been fairly evident. While she has proven power in her hands (see the starching of Bethe Correia or the mauling of Sara McMann) she tends to get hit more than she should.

The official Fightmetric figures bear this out. The average Striking Defence percentage for ranked fighters in the UFC Women’s Bantamweight division is 57%, while Rousey’s is 52%. More telling is her ranking within the ranked fighters for defence – only 10th of 16. In contrast to these figures stands Holm, with a defence at 69%, good enough for 2nd. The strikes absorbed per minute analysis looks even bleaker for Ronda –

Strikes Minutes SPM
Ronda Rousey 64 23:22 2.74
Holly Holm 46 30 1.53

Rousey’s saving grace so far is that while she gets hit proportionately more per strike attempt, and decisively per minute, her ability to close ground quickly and control the clinch means her opponents don’t have long to capitalise.  The unicorn of the Women’s Bantamweight division seems to be a fighter who could stop all of Rousey’s many and varied takedowns, manage the distance between them – would then POSSIBLY be able to exploit this one small hole (a job apparently akin to destroying the first Death Star).

If anyone can achieve the impossible and wear the mantle (or unicorn horn?) you would have to assume that fighter would be a world class striker, right? But enough comparison of direct fight stats, there will be time and blog posts enough for that later.

Much has been made of Holm’s supposed lack of top class MMA credentials in the leadup to UFC 193. I wanted to take a deeper look at the respective careers of the two fighters to break down their undefeated records. Is Holm’s vaunted unblemished record a match for Rousey’s? Or has Holm been thrown to the deep end before her time?

To do this I started with the age old analysis of combined Win/Loss records of their opponents. Note – for Rousey I included Miesha Tate twice, with her record as it stood before both fights.

Win Loss Win %
Ronda Rousey 101 16 86.3%
Holly Holm 41 27 60.3%

As you can see above, Rousey’s opponents have a phenomenal average win percentage. While this alone is impressive, what does that mean about the respective quality of their opponents careers?

To answer this question I used a couple of techniques. While a fighter with positive results over a relatively small pool of opponents may have a great win/loss percentage, fighters with a longer career give greater insight into their true relative value. Adding in average fights produces the following result –

Win Loss Fights Win %
Ronda Rousey 101 16 9.8 86.3%
Holly Holm 41 27 7.6 60.3%

As the table above demonstrates, the average number of fights for the opponents of both fighters is both reasonably high, underlining the raw win/loss figures. Again, Rousey wins points for the proven legitimacy of her opponents.

I then went through each fighters records on Sherdog.com to try and gain an understanding of the quality of their careers up to the point they faced either Rousey or Holm. The results are even more emphatic. Not being an expert in WMMA I tried looking at each fighter’s career to pick out fights which occurred within a major organisation** or against a recognizable (to me) top level fighter.

To my eyes, these fights indicate a fighter that has risen to the top echelons of the sport. As at the date of the matchup only one of Rousey’s opponents had never had a major fight – Charmaine Tweet on debut. That is a whopping 92% of her opponents. On the flip side only 5 of Holm’s opponents had a major fight, rounding out at 56%. When looking at their performances in major fights these are the totals –

Major Win Major Loss Major Fights AVG Major Win %
Ronda Rousey 47 15 5.6 75.8%
Holly Holm 9 15 4.8 37.5%

In all, Ronda Rousey has clearly faced opponents of a much higher calibre. They have proven fight records across longer careers and against better fighters than those faced by Holly Holm’s opponents. Rousey was thrown in the deep end right from the very beginning, while Holm’s career has been carefully stage managed by the wizards of Albuquerque – Jackson & Winkeljohn.

For mine I am a little disappointed that Holm has been given the title shot too soon. Her most legitimate MMA bouts have been her two most recent, and they were hardly going to set the world on fire. Racquel Pennington is a .500 fighter (admittedly against good opposition) and Marion Reneau, while having an impressive record, is at the beginning of her career and unproven in the deep waters. I would have preferred to see how Holm would go against a world class wrestler, like Sara McMann, before feeding her directly to WMMA’s apex predator.

The real sporting matchup would have been Rousey v Tate 3, as Meisha Tate has already given Rousey the toughest fight of her career and has been destroying other failed challengers ever since. The UFC understandably, and wisely given the context, decided to go in another direction.

The main asset of the UFC is their contracted fighters. More specifically it is the individual star power of the fighters, or stock, that must be carefully managed. Brock Lesnar was such a massive success for the UFC, not just because plenty of wrestling fans paid good money to see how he went, but also because his monstrous size and athleticism paid dividends in results. When he lost his title to Cain Velasquez, the UFC managed to both keep his stock more or less in tact while raising Velasquez into clearly premature GOAT conversations.

Currently, Rousey’s stock is incredibly high – as a fighter she has enormous stock with MMA fans who can appreciate the immense quality of her work, and as a public figure her profile has grown in leaps and bounds due to her aggressive self promotion. This leaves the UFC in a strange place. To ensure their asset maintains it’s value to both fight fans and the general public, they need to ensure she is fed with respectable challengers while also ensuring that if she does somehow lose some of her stock it can be transferred to her vanquisher.

Holly Holm gives the UFC the marketing angle they require, the world class striker v world class grappler narrative that still has power in the general fight buying public. It also parlays some of Rousey’s stock neatly into a marketable and fresh face on the off chance Holly can pull of the unthinkable, whereas if Tate was to win there would be a potentially messy narrative – Rousey’s stock is sullied, while Tate would never quite be able to get past the previous two dominating losses. No real upside for the UFC.

While you can only defeat the fighters placed in front of you, Rousey has proven herself in ways that Holm cannot approach at this stage of her career. Have the wizards left Holm’s seasoning too late? Or will she shock the world at UFC 193?

**Major organisations for WMMA are a little bit difficult to identify compared to that of the men. Looking at organisations with an apparent large number of recognizable top level fighters the list I settled on was –

Jungle fight

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Easing into my mid 30's, writing just crept up on me. I had to put something out there - no matter what. So here we are! I live in Canberra, Australia and work in statistical IT systems development and support and am a proud father of two

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