Fight your fight.
In the days leading up to Holly Holm’s MMA career-defining fight against UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, Holm’s September 2005 victory as a boxer over women’s ring pioneer Christy Martin has been referenced. Few believed Holm had a chance against Martin, yet the Albuquerquean won easily.
Far more instructive, I believe, is Holm’s December 2011 loss by knockout to French boxer Anne Sophie Mathis.
That night, for perhaps the only time in her combat sports career, Holm failed to follow the fight plan formulated by her longtime trainer Mike Winkeljohn.
Almost from the opening bell, Holm chose to trade at close range with Mathis — women’s boxing’s reigning knockout artist. For the first four rounds, Holm’s faster hands gave her the advantage.
In the fifth round, Mathis’ heavier hands found their mark. An inside uppercut sent Holm back to her corner dazed and hurt.
“She got me,” she told Winkeljohn.
The rest of the fight was a slaughter. A crushing Mathis right hand ended it in the seventh.
That was then, this is now. That was boxing, this is MMA. But, to have a chance against Rousey, Holm must resist the sort of reverse intimidation — ‘I’m not afraid of you, just watch me’ — that was her downfall that night against Mathis at Route 66 Casino Hotel.
As intimidating as Mathis was, Rousey is more so.
Cat Zingano wanted to show the world she wasn’t intimidated, even though she was.
Holm was in Los Angeles, making her UFC debut with a victory by split decision over Raquel Pennington, when Zingano charged Rousey like a crazed bull in the night’s main event.
You don’t want to charge an Olympic judo bronze medalist like a crazed bull. Zingano was arm-barred and submitted in a matter of 14 seconds.
In August, Brazil’s Bethe Correia went after Rousey with flying fists, far more recklessly than Holm had with Mathis. Rousey, deadly on the ground but no one-trick pony, punched out the Brazilian in 34 seconds.
Rousey’s coach, Edvard Tarverdyan, has claimed Rousey is a better boxer than Holm — despite Holm’s multiple titles and 11 years of experience in the ring. That’s highly doubtful, but it’s quite possible that Rousey is the harder puncher.
That’s just one more reason Holm must follow Winkeljohn’s fight plan religiously.
Exactly what is that fight plan? Winkeljohn has not shared that information with me. But, having covered 21 Holm fights — boxing and MMA — I expect caution will not be thrown to the wind.
Holm typically is a slow starter. Her lateral movement in the early rounds has frustrated opponents and sometimes made her the object of derision from fans and commentators.
She can’t afford to care.
In June 2012, Holm faced Mathis in a rematch at Route 66. Using her superior movement and faster hands, she picked the Frenchwoman apart. When Mathis managed to close the distance, Holm tied her up.
After the fight, Mathis’ trainer was furious at Holm’s tactics. It didn’t matter; the Albuquerque southpaw had executed the fight plan and won by a clear-cut unanimous decision.
Am I saying Holm should ride the bicycle for five rounds against Rousey? No. Could she win that way? No.
Gradually, she must assert herself. Pop the jab, bloody Rousey’s nose. Be judicious with kicks early, careful not to have a leg caught and dragged to the ground. Become more aggressive, but by no means reckless, with strikes as the fight progresses.
When the inevitable clinches come, Rousey will find she’s never faced anyone with Holm’s strength and takedown defense.
And if it goes to the ground?
Well … don’t let that happen.