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The Need for Guerilla Warfare in the Cage: Why Holly Holm Beat Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.

Holly Holm's well-timed high kick, which finished a stunned Ronda Rousey.

Holly Holm’s well-timed high kick, which finished a stunned Ronda Rousey.

Well, I’m glad I’m not a betting man, because I would have lost a lot of money last Saturday at UFC 193. I would have put all my money on Ronda Rousey beating Holly Holm via superior clinch work, takedowns, and ground control. Holm certainly prepared well, as she negated almost all of that. But looking back on things, Holm’s victory shouldn’t be too surprising (hindsight is always funny that way). In my last blog, I gave Holm a bit of a puncher’s chance, but I should have given her far more. That’s because she didn’t win solely by superior striking. She won via superior guerilla warfare in the cage – adapting her tactics, exploiting Rousey’s faults, and imposing her will from all angles. Fights are won or lost due to specific reasons, and here are three very important reasons that sealed Rousey’s fate.

#1. Rousey fought like a starving challenger, not a champion.

“Fight like a champion” is a cliché that means many things to many people, but it usually denotes fighting with high and consistent aggression. And while there’s a time for that, there are also times when such an approach will get you knocked out or tapped out.

Rousey stalked and hunted down Holm for much of the fight, and this fed perfectly into Holm’s powerful hit-and-run strategy. From cageside, Joe Rogan even said that “Ronda needs to be careful not to chase TOO much.” The situation should have been reversed. Rousey was the champion with something to defend, and Holm was the challenger with something to prove. Aggression and offense are all well and good, but there are times to fight defensively. It’s a well-discerned mixture of those two approaches that truly defines champion-level tactics.

#2. Rousey used Judo during times when wrestling was the better option.

I love Judo, especially love Karo Parisyan’s MMA-tailored Judo (which is a lot like Rousey’s). It wins fights, looks amazing, conserves energy, and lands you in superior attacking positions. However, there are times in fighting and in life when the thing you’re best at is not the thing that best applies to the problem at hand.

Holm’s standup grappling defense was unexpectedly amazing. During Rousey’s clinch work, Holm did a good job of tucking in her elbows and re-positioning her hips. Holm’s defense against Rousey’s throws and trips, amazing as they were, left her open for single legs, double legs, and head-snaps, especially against the cage. So while I’m not saying that wrestling would have won Rousey the day 100%, I do believe that Rousey would have been wise to put more Randy Couture in her game.

#3. Rousey didn’t pull guard.

I could catch flak for this, but Rousey could have done better if she had aggressively pulled guard (preferably closed guard) on Holm. I’m not saying that it’s best to pull closed guard in MMA. But when your opponent’s striking is miles ahead of yours, and when your opponent can negate your Olympic-level Judo, and then when that opponent can take YOU down instead, then pulling a secure closed guard is a viable option.

This strategy can and does work. Kron Gracie pulled closed guard in his MMA debut and used it to win via armbar. Shinya Aoki’s jiu-jitsu is so sharp that he can simply sit down in front of his opponent in the cage, and Nick Diaz is confident enough in his guard that he was willing to lie down and looking like he was lounging on the beach during his fight with Anderson Silva. Big Nog even used the halfguard effectively against Tim Sylvia at UFC 81. But I think the most impressive example of resorting to the bottom position in MMA has to be Ryo Chonan’s flying scissor heel hook win against Anderson Silva. After getting beaten up for most of their fight, Ryo’s under-popularized comeback must be seen to be believed, and fortunately you can watch it here (the submission is at the 20-minute mark):

It’s difficult to give post-fight advice without looking like an armchair critic. I don’t do MMA, and if I did, I bet that my coaches would be able to write articles like this about my own style and faults. Nevertheless, Holm downright out-classed Rousey, and she has a superior, flexible strategy to thank for that. It’d be wise for every striker, grappler, or MMA fighter to learn from this.

JJ Mike


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