This Saturday, UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey defends her belt against someone she insists is a completely different, more difficult challenge than anyone she’s ever faced.
That woman, of course, is former boxing world champion Holly Holm.
"This one is going to be a much longer fight," Rousey recently told Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show." Considering that she’s finished her past three opponents in a minute and four seconds combined, even a three-minute fight would qualify for "much longer," at this point.
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By that measure, just about any opponent likely would provide the champion with a longer contest. What Rousey seems to be suggesting is two-fold, however.
First, that the technical striker Holm is going to use her good lateral movement to stay away from Rousey for as long as possible, drawing out the bout.
"I feel like she’s going to try to keep distance," Rousey said. "Keep far away from me and get me frustrated."
Holm’s MMA outings thus far give us every reason to believe that. In her first two UFC fights, she’s engaged only selectively and was not afraid to get on her bike and ride out the clock if she didn’t see low-risk openings that she liked.
Rousey’s first point is that Holm probably won’t press the action this Saturday in Melbourne. We’re with her on that.
However, Rousey’s second point seems to suggest that she herself won’t look to press the action, and that claim may be a bit less credible.
"She’s the type of fighter you have to be very, very patient with," Rousey said of Holm.
If we’re talking about a mental state, sure. If she gets frustrated by Holm’s elusiveness, gets too rowdy and begins chasing her with her hands down and chin up, off balance, the way Rousey did in her last fight against Bethe Correia, she stands a good chance of getting clipped.
Unlike most MMA fighters, Holm is good at cutting angles on her feet. Opponents charging at her in a wide-open fashion, even Rousey, will get touched up with punches and kicks.
So, no doubt Rousey wants to keep her mind calm, but her body had better move with a sense of urgency. If Rousey isn’t across the cage from Holm, she needs to be in the striker’s face.
Rousey has very fast hands and knees, but she likely doesn’t yet have the striking acumen to sit on the outside patiently and figure out Holm. If she attempts that, that’s where Holm will pick up on her mistakes and have a chance to pick her apart with punches and kicks.
Also, Rousey isn’t a patient fighter — she’s trained to go for the kill, and that’s an attitude that suits her grappling strengths. It doesn’t seem in Rousey’s DNA to "out-patient" Holm, who likely would be content to wait out a point-fighting five rounds, unlike Rousey’s previous opponents.
Perhaps more than with any other opponent she’s fought, Rousey needs to storm Holm out the gate and get to the clinch. Rousey has a good chin when she’s on the attack.
So, if Holm is able to land a shot or two as Rousey comes in, the champ probably will survive and then be in position to make Holm pay for them. Rousey pointed out in the interview that Holm has a 100 percent takedown defense in her MMA fights.
Even if that’s true, it is pretty much irrelevent, as Holm never faced anyone with anything near the takedown ability of Rousey. If the champ gets ahold of the boxer, she will put her down.
Once on the mat, we have no particular reason to believe that Holm will survive there, or be able to get up. Rousey has faced fantastic submission grapplers already and finished all of them quickly.
Rousey is probably too smart to not know all of this — that her best chance to beat Holm is to waste no time getting in her face — so why then might she be sending out messages to the contrary? I’m guessing misdirection has something to do with it.
A basic principle of battle has always been to "mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy," as Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote. Rousey always has marched forward aggressively for just about every second of every fight.
By feigning some level of fear of Holm, the judoka potentially can throw off Holm’s expectations. There’s no guarantee that such a tactic would work against an experienced combatant like Holm, but if there’s even a small chance that she could be lulled into a false expectation of a slower-paced fight, the misdirection from Rousey leading up to Saturday’s fight will have paid off.
Surprise is one of battle’s greatest weapons, and wars are sometimes won in inches. At this high level of MMA, sometimes it is the smallest advantages that make the biggest differences.