Learning From the Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm Fight

Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard that former world champion boxer Holly Holm brutally stopped Ronda Rousey in their UFC 193 bout. Holm dominated from start to finish with brilliant footwork, timing, and accuracy. To no surprise, her victory has quickly become one of the most talked about fights in recent history. Social media has been on fire since the knockout. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with one meme after another. Yet, while many fans have poked fun at Rousey’s defeat, I believe there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the fight.

The Life of a Champion

It’s worth noting that Rousey and Holm are both world class female athletes. I’m certainly not writing this entry to throw Ronda Rousey under the bus. She’s already accomplished more than most will ever dream of achieving. I’m also not writing this article to compare boxing to MMA. The two sports are separate and unique. What they share however are fighters who are disciplined and hungry to succeed. With that in mind, I believe there is a lesson to be learned from this fight that’s beneficial to all combat athletes.

For starters, I admittedly don’t follow the mixed martial arts as close as boxing. As a boxing coach, I watch MMA on occasion, but I’m not a die-hard fan. Therefore, I haven’t followed each step of Rousey’s career. I have seen several of her fights though and heard some of her recent interviews. One example can be seen below.

It’s the beginning of the interview that really stands out to me. It is almost as if Rousey believed that she could just show up and automatically win. Her tone and comments extend beyond confidence. It sounds more like she was caught up in her own hype.

Now compare her comments with the wisdom provided by former world champion Bernard Hopkins. Pay particular attention to the discussion that begins at around the 50 second mark.

As stated by Bernard,

“Don’t get caught up in this bullshit that goes on with success…”

That single line highlights the difference between Hopkins and so many other champions. He never got caught up in his own hype. He knew that he wasn’t the most talented fighter in the world, but he wasn’t going to let anyone outwork him. Hopkins was always prepared for any opponent and style. He never took anything for granted. Success did not change his approach. He always lived and trained like a Spartan, and that’s largely why he was able to fight professionally for over 25 years.

One of the biggest mistakes that a fighter can make is to forget what it took to make it to the top. The hard work doesn’t end once you become champion. In some ways, you could say that’s when the hard work really begins. Now everyone is gunning for you. To stay on top, you need to work just as hard as you did to get there.

Unfortunately, many fighters are ruined by their own success. They forget their roots and the hard work that came before anyone knew their name. As Marvin Hagler used to say, it’s tough getting up to run in the morning when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas in a four post bed.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sharing these videos to take away from Holly Holm’s performance (highlights here). I’m actually much more familiar with her than Ronda Rousey. Holm was a dominant boxing champion for many years before transitioning to MMA. I’m not surprised by her victory and I’m happy that she is finally getting the attention she deserves.

With that said, there’s still a lesson to be learned from this fight. I don’t know if the best Ronda Rousey would ever beat Holly Holm, but there’s no denying that Rousey’s success went to her head. Aspiring fighters should pay attention and learn from her mistake. There’s always another fighter out there who doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve done. When you face that type of opponent, you can’t rely on past success to deliver a future victory. You need to prepare for every fight as if your life depended on it.

Once you’ve lost that hunger and discipline, it’s only a matter of time before another hungry lion comes to take what’s his or hers.

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  1. I don’t have Facebook so I can’t comment below. One thing that I think needs to be said though is Ronda’s lack of a plan. Her thinking she could strike with Holm is all the proof you need that she was caught up in the hype. No one in their right mind would think it’s a good idea to try and box with a boxing champ.

  2. I’m no expert on either boxing or MMA, but I’m a fan of Rousey and now of Holm. They’re extraordinary athletes.

    My thought upon seeing the replay “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” I’m not sure who said it first, not me, but that’s what I read on Rousey’s face. Holm can really stick a punch!

  3. Ross, I’ve been an admirer of yours for years. I appreciate your passion for the game and your exploration of building unbreakable warriors.

    I would like to pose a question that is perhaps rhetorical and maybe more of a comment. But I’d like to get your take nonetheless. I’d like to steer the conversation over a bit. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Rhonda trained perfectly for this fight, was in great shape and has impeccable habits year-round. Let’s also assume that as her star has risen, she’s never slept on her training and remained focused.

    And yet, let’s further assume that you are by not necessarily wrong in what you said. You saw something that in hindsight foretold her demise. She didn’t respect her opponent. She seemed too full of herself. Almost delusional. And she got her comeuppance something fiece.

    So we’re talking about someone who worked hard and didn’t slip exactly, but may have begun reading her press clippings, buying into the hype, and all that jazz. (In reality, we can’t extract Holm from the equation, but for the sake of argument and the point I’m trying to get to, let’s do that.)

    So then what are we talking about here, specifically? Aren’t we talking about her mindset? The work was put in but the head wasn’t in the right place. And it’s all gotta be flowing–mind, body and soul–for a fighter at the championship level. So if how is being un-Hopkins-like? Can you pinpoint it or define it?

    Is it the reality of making yourself famous and rich circa 2015? Is it that she’s prostituting her brand too much, allowing herself to get pulled in to many directions? Is it that it that it’s not enough to eat, sleep and train. You’ve gotta lay low when the work is done, and recover in every sense of the word? She lives in what must be chaos, mad pressure and obligations…did it all catch up with her? Was she un-Hagler/un-Hopkins-like in that they always behaved liked fighters first, second and third? Stayed Spartan. Whereas you can’t be that no matter how hard you try if you’re squeezing in training between photo shoots, interviews, book signings, etc…?

    Lets talk about Ego. You didn’t like the things she said during that press interview she gave at her gym, but Rhonda has always been cocky, brash, talking smack AND utterly dismissive of her opponents. And as the fight nears, she gets more punky and aggressive. Check out any of her her weigh-ins and her stare downs. The question I have, is there anything wrong with that?

    It’s a bit like like dogging Roy Jones for dropping his hands or being unorthodox or thinking he had an S on his chest. Well, it worked pretty well for his first 49 fights as a pro! Prince Naseem had a little bit of attitude, too. does the fact Barerra spanked nullify the amazing things he did, or suggest he should have kept it on the humble and stuck with the basics? It made him rich and it also seemed to work for him and Roy and Ali and all the rest. Now we got Conor McGregor doing his thing, talking that good shit, arrogant as all get out. And they’re all just taking a page from “The Greatest”, Mr. Ali, who took a page from another pretty decent fighter in Jack Johnson.

    So what are we seeing, what are we indicting in her, other than the fact she faced a bad style from a bad lady who could do things the others couldn’t? I am asking b/c I would love to hear your take, as someone who spends his life around fighters and trying to mold them.

    A subset of this issue is simply the reality of development, or lack therof, that exists for a fighter once he or she reaches the UFC. Your development better have been pretty complete by the time you get the call. Rousey had a total of 7 fights in the UFC and 5 of them ended in a few seconds. that’s not a career. What’s that? Back in he day, that would like a busy couple months for a fighter!

    Anyway, I’ve rambled on. Let’s chop it up people.


    1. The Roy Jones comparison doesn’t work for me, as much of his style was built around fighting with his hands down, baiting opponents in, etc. That’s how Big Roy trained him. I’ve been to Big Roy’s home and he’s still building young guys the same way in his driveway. It is everything but conventional. If Roy boxed with a European style, he wouldn’t have been Roy. So while some people saw flash, I saw an effective style that suited his natural athleticism.

      As for a fighter prostituting themselves for fame and fortune, that’s a distraction IMO. As much as we’ve been fooled to believe otherwise, the fighter’s job is to fight. There have been many world champions who avoided the media during camp. They didn’t want anything to do with constant interviews, photo shoots, etc. You are only out there if you want to be. That’s where a good manager (and trainer) comes into play to dictate if and when the fighter is available to the media. It’s okay to say no. It’s particularly important to be selective when you are facing someone with so much more professional experience in a fight of this magnitude. Good managers are typically disliked by promoters for this exact reason.

      As for ego, much of the talk is done for marketing. That’s obvious. The greater problem is that much of this ego comes after only fighting in the UFC for 2 years. The fact that Rousey thought she could strike with a woman who boxed professionally for 11 years pretty much says all that needs to be said. And that’s where Hopkins was always unique IMO. He would never try to be slick against a slickster. He knew who he was, and what he could and couldn’t do. He never strayed from his strengths and was cognizant of his weaknesses. He always prepared specifically for the style in front of him. He was fanatical about his preparation, film study, strategy, etc. I remember talking to him in 2001 before Trinidad had even beat Joppy. He was already meticulously studying Trinidad. He was obsessive in his study and preparation and it showed in that fight. I was fortunate to sit ringside that night as he put on a clinic as a huge underdog. And he had already been world champion for SEVEN years at that point. It’s hard for many young fighters to comprehend how much discipline it takes to remain so committed after already being a champion for so long.

      Furthermore, I don’t view discipline as just being committed to train hard. It’s also important to be disciplined enough to commit to your style. Discipline also means studying EVERY last detail of your opponent so there aren’t surprises when the bell rings. So while there’s been talk and blame about Rousey’s camp not preparing adequately for Holm’s style, how does that happen? It’s not as if there wasn’t ample tape to study. How does a world class fighter not come in prepared for the style, unless the fighter thinks they can match up stylistically against it? And if they do, there’s really nothing else to be said.

      As for the physical training part, I didn’t see Rousey as an amateur, nor did I see her early HKFC and KOTC fights. I did see her in Strikeforce though and all of her UFC fights. When she fought Holm, I didn’t see a woman who was clearly in the best shape of her entire life. I have a hard time believing that anyone would suggest otherwise. And based on the magnitude of this fight, I don’t understand how that happens.

      Again, I’m not knocking Rousey, and I don’t know if she could ever beat Holm. Holm might just be the all around better fighter/athlete. I just have a hard time believing that even Rousey honestly feels that she was at her ABSOLUTE best when she fought Holm. Does she really believe that she prepared to the best of her ability (physically and strategically)? If not, why? When that happens to a fighter, it’s often the result of distractions, believing you are better than you are, disregarding your opponent’s strengths/abilities, etc.

      Regardless of whether it happened this time or not, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time these circumstances played out in a professional fight. Fighters like Bernard Hopkins only come around once in a lifetime. Just about EVERY fighter can learn something from him.

      1. Ross, Thanks a lot for taking the time to respond to my comments. Your comments really help me understand your point with greater clarity. I needed you to drop more science on the concept of Discipline, and how far-reaching it needs to be. You make a lot of sense in expaining how a guy like Hopkins is every bit the cerebral beats as he is/was a physical one.

        Not to change the point I gotta ask you. When I see video clips of your training, and the type of condition you stay in 365 days a year…you seem seem to possess the intensity and drive of any combat athlete. Is it hard to find athletes who match your drive and love of training? How rare is it it to find individual who truly go to the well day in and day out?

        1. @Zach – Most young guys are hungry. The tough part is getting them to keep that hunger once they start getting attention, media coverage, etc. Friends and family are often the biggest problem. It’s not intentional, but they are the ones who usually tell the fighter how great he is. I’ve seen family members refer to a fighter as “champ” when he only has 2 fights. That stuff drives me crazy. They are still pups. The last thing they need to be thinking is that they are already champions.

  4. Great to see some MMA coverage on here Ross would love to see more. I love watching the UFC, but I don’t enjoy watching the women fight at all. The whole game is continually improving but I would rather they put men and women on separate cards.

    I also wish Connor McGregor would tone it down a bit as well, even though I am looking forward to his fights and find him as an entertaining guy.

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