MELBOURNE, Australia — No one is unbeatable in mixed martial arts. Not even Ronda Rousey.
Former world boxing champion Holly Holm (10-0) scored the biggest upset in the sport’s history Sunday, knocking out Rousey (12-1) with a left head kick in the second round to claim the bantamweight championship fight at UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium.
The fight, the first UFC event ever held in Melbourne, drew 56,214 fans and broke the promotion’s previous attendance record of 55,724 set at UFC 129 on April 30, 2011.
The shocking result came 59 seconds into the second round, after Rousey already had been stunned several times by Holm’s left hands. After Rousey ducked in desperately for a clinch, Holm broke off at an angle and landed a clean left head kick to the jawline that rendered Rousey unconscious. Referee Herb Dean stepped in immediately, as Rousey fell limp, arms extended, to the canvas.
UFC president Dana White said Rousey was taken to a Melbourne hospital after the fight because she suffered a knockout and to treat facial cuts. White said that Rousey was “devastated,” but OK physically.
Rousey’s representative said she did not have a concussion but would stay overnight in the hospital.
“I think for all the fans watching that love her and is a fan is heartbroken,” her trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan, told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “I’m just staying strong now next to Ronda. There are no words I can say right now how I feel. It’s just, gotta be strong next to Ronda. That’s how I feel.”
Rousey did not attend the postfight news conference.
“I don’t know, I’m trying to take it all in. This is crazy!” Holm said. “Getting in here, I just felt so much support — I thought, ‘How can I not do this with all this support?’ I had the best coaching, from stand-up to grappling to wrestling.
“I have to say, everything we worked on presented itself in the fight. Every grab she tried to get, on the cage — I have not spent this much time in the gym before any fight in my life.”
A former Olympic medalist in judo, Rousey was clearly willing to trade punches with Holm. She opened the fight throwing left hooks and straight rights and didn’t attempt her first takedown until nearly two minutes into the first round.
“The game plan was pressing,” Tarverdyan said. “We knew Holly Holm was going to keep the distance. So we had to feint and get inside and pressure the right way so we can get on the side of the cage. And we’ve talked about that and Holly Holm did a good job with moving today and stayed calm.
“I wouldn’t say in the striking game she was getting the best of Ronda, you know, but I have to watch it again. But we know this was not a striking match; we know that Ronda is smart enough to take the fight where she is best at and today she did. Holly stopped an attempt on an arm bar and stopped some of the takedowns. She did a good job.”
Holm handled Rousey’s boxing pressure beautifully. She started to find a home for the straight left early and went back to it time and again. Rousey’s face was reddened within the first exchanges and her striking defense went out the window as she became obsessed with keeping a high pace on Holm. Holm calmly circled away from the pressure and avoided eating a big shot. She allowed Rousey to graze her with a few right hands, but never appeared fazed by any of them.
Midway through the round, Rousey managed to drag Holm to the ground but did not do so with the same authority she traditionally has. The two fell awkwardly to the mat, where Rousey transitioned to her go-to armbar. Holm was never in serious danger, however, as she cleared the arm and quickly got back to her feet.
Facing real adversity for arguably the first time in her MMA career, Rousey’s response was more pressure in the second round. She stalked forward with her hands down, however, and nearly fell over after throwing a wild, ineffective haymaker. Holm remained patient through it all.
“Holly today fought a good fight,” Tarverdyan said. “Today she took the shots pretty well and she, ah, her takedown defense was good.”
Tarverdyan said Rousey will re-evaluate her next steps after some rest.
“[Ronda] apologized to me — and I told her that you are still the best and we’ll talk about what the plans are after she rests,” Tarverdyan said. “Certainly the girl needs rest. It’s not easy to deal with everything she has been dealing with. She needs time to rest and after she rests we’ll figure out what is best for her career.”
Holm, who trains out of Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico, becomes the second female bantamweight champion in UFC history, halting Rousey’s run of six consecutive title defenses. It is the seventh knockout win of Holm’s MMA career and is her quickest finish.
“A rematch makes a lot of sense,” White said. “I think the rematch is what people will want to see. It changes a lot of things — Cyborg [Cris Justino] fight, some other stuff we were working on. It’s one of those moments, these are the moments in fighting that make it so crazy and so fun. Tonight was one of those moments.”
Some critics have suggested that three fights in one year, in addition to many other distractions, would be too much for Rousey. But Tarverdyan said that did not play a role in Sunday’s loss.
“Ronda is born to fight,” he said. “Again, it is too much sometimes with everything else that happens but, three fights, she is a fighter. They want her to fight that fight; that’s why the UFC is as exciting as it gets because they’re fighters and nobody is just fighting on the time they want to — they have to be ready, and that’s about it.”
“She works hard and what she has done is very difficult to explain unless you witness it. The things she has done — no one can do them. She’ll come back stronger.”