Saturday, 28 November 2015

UFC 193 Breakdown - Queenslayer Edition

In the lead-up to UFC 193, it was all about Ronda Rousey. Even Miesha Tate received a comparable amount of attention to the challenger, Holly Holm, amid complaints that she had been screwed out of a title shot by the UFC. Few gave Holly much of a chance, even fewer expected her to win. But Holly Holm stepped into the Octagon on Saturday - calm, composed, and in stark contrast to Rousey's erratic intensity - and executed six minutes of impeccable tactical and strategic fighting. Rousey had the power to end the fight at any given moment, either with a strike or a submission. Holly would have to fight the near perfect fight to deny Ronda her strengths and implement her own, and that's exactly what she did.
When facing a mobile opponent intent on keeping her back off the cage, it's imperative to cut off the cage and avoid chasing. Short steps, advancing diagonally forward to take away space little by little as the circling opponent gives it. Moving and attacking on a straight line leaves wide gaps to either side that the opponent can sneak out of with your momentum committed forward. Ronda was doing this fairly well in the beginning of the fight, but after Holly tagged her with a combo she lost her composure, abandoned her lateral movement, and began charging in straight lines.

Holm used linear kicks to maintain distance and keep Rousey off her. Linear kicks travel in a straight line and impede forward motion. In the same way it's impossible to circle through a round kick, it's impossible to charge through a straight kick. The oblique kick attacks an opponent's lead leg and punishes them for committing weight to it - perfect against a fighter like Rousey who generates punching power almost solely from her lead leg. Holm would lift her knee up and stomp on Rousey's thigh as she stepped forward onto her lead leg, knocking her off balance and halting her advance.

In her previous MMA fights, Holm's hands have looked rather weak due to the way she used them. She would throw her hands up mostly as feints, or press forward with a shifting punch combo that had little power in order to run her opponents into a kick. This worked because her opponents were so cautious of the champion boxer's hand that they would run backwards every time she flashed them. Rousey, however, doesn't take a single step backwards unless forced to. This allowed Holly to sit down on her punches and play the matador, letting Rousey skewer herself onto them with her own aggression. Holm repeatedly punished Rousey's aggression by stepping her lead leg outside of Rousey's and blasting her with a straight or an elbow. As she realized Rousey had no way to defend against it - no head movement, distance control, or guard - she began using it more often and doubling up on it. She also made use of a check hook while pivoting off to counter Rousey and keep her back off the cage.

Holm's main goal was to pivot away from Rousey as she charges, but she wasn't able to do that at all times. When she found herself with her back near the cage and Ronda wasn't over-committing, Holm would close the distance with a strike, before bringing her forearms in tight so Rousey couldn't wrap her head or catch an under/overhook, and shove her away. When Rousey was able to close the distance, Holm would create a barrier between Ronda's head and her body by crossfacing or keeping her elbows/forearms in the path of Rousey's head.

Here Rousey was able to secure the clinch but Holm shoves her away, then pushes her head down and pivots away from her rush, knocking her off balance and leaving her open for a kick.

Holm's ability to navigate the clinch was an important aspect in her victory. Successfully pot-shotting and pivoting away whenever Ronda closed in on her was never a reasonable goal - when your opponent is so intent on forcing the clinch that she'll attempt to charge through whatever you throw at her, you will need to fight out of it at some point. And Holly was prepared to do just that.

1 - Holm slips the straight and lands a check hook while pivoting away.
2 - Holm's hand lingers on Rousey's neck a little too long and she grabs it. Notice how Holm has her left forearm across her face, preventing Rousey from wrapping her head on that side.
3 - Rousey pivots on her right foot and turns the hand to the inside, securing a Russian tie and wrapping the head with her left arm. Holm crossfaces with her left arm and begins pivoting away.
4 - Rousey follows Holm and lets go of the right arm to punch. As Ronda winds up for a right hook, Holly pushes her crossface deep into Ronda's neck, straightening her up, and ducks out underneath her collar tie.

Holly Holm exposed the holes in Rousey's footwork and showed that she has very few tools to cut off a circling opponent. Rousey did, however, have success with a leaping hook as Holm circled toward her lead hand.
Rousey rocks Holm with the leaping hook as she recovers from a leg kick. She keeps all her weight on her lead leg as she throws it and uses the rotation of her shoulders to turn the hook over, reducing its power. If she had sunk her hips down, transferred her weight to her right leg as she threw, and powered it with the rotation of her hips as her weight fell onto her right foot, she very well may have been able to finish Holm. This is a consistent problem in Rousey's punching form. In her excitement, Rousey lunges in with a right hand that appears borderline untrained. Holm easily ducks in on her hips, and Rousey wraps the head and controls the bicep, before stepping in for a head/arm throw. Holm steps in, pressing her hips tight to Rousey's, straightens her back, breaking Rousey's control of her posture, and takes Ronda down, before backing out immediately.

Ronda steps into the head/arm throw, but Holm sinks her hips down and rides it out. Rousey trips out her left leg, but she lands only having weak control of the head/arm and is in danger of Holm slipping out to her back. Rousey comes up on her toes and points her hips toward the ceiling, stepping over Holm's back in search of an armbar. Ever conscious, Holm immediately retracts the arm around Rousey's back and holds it tight to her head, keeping her head tucked so Rousey can't insert her left leg. Rousey grabs Holm's right leg to try and flip her over, but she is unable to isolate the arm and Holm pulls out of danger. This was a desperation armbar attempted from a position without sufficient control, but Holm still showed impressive composure in defending and waiting til the right moment to pull out.

The finish comes as Holm retreats diagonally, drawing Rousey into a straight left. Holm steps into the clinch before pushing Rousey away, and Rousey falls down. Holm steps into her as she stands up and pushes off, before throwing a headkick that lands clean while Rousey is still trying to regain her balance.

The main advantage Holm held over Rousey was her tactical intelligence and preparedness. Rousey did not come into this fight prepared for an opponent that was able to pivot around her rushes, circle away, and survive the grappling. There was very little lateral movement, which made it easy for Holm to keep her on the end of linear kicks. Very few tools to limit Holm's ability to circle freely - Rousey has spoken about her refusal to throw kicks in the past and it came back to haunt her here. A few well-placed leg kicks or hooks to the body would likely have been able to halt Holm's circling and keep her in place long enough for Ronda to get on her. As soon as Holm started hitting her, Ronda lost her cool and started chasing wildly.

In contrast, Holm came prepared to fight an opponent that wouldn't respect her strikes. She came prepared to fight an opponent that would push past her strikes, who would clinch with her. One who would take her down and attempt to armbar her. She made Rousey respect her hands and even had her taking backwards steps. She forced her way out of the clinch and got herself up off the ground. She didn't lose her composure when Rousey pressured her.

A clear disparity in coaching played into the disparity in preparedness. Jackson and Winkeljohn constructed the perfect gameplan and Holm followed it to a tee. Jackson is widely known as a master strategist and the team has a lot of experience gameplanning for fights like this. In fact, they constructed nearly the exact same gameplan for Michelle Waterson in her fight against Angela Magana - the linear kicks, countering forward motion, pivoting out after attacking, and keeping the arms in tight to deny control positions in the clinch were all present in both fights.

Edmond Tarverdyan has trained Rousey for years and she's still unable to take her head off-line when she punches or cut off the cage effectively, and she still struggles to transfer weight properly into her punches. Rousey seemed to have been given no tools to deal with Holm's lateral movement except for the leaping hook and cage-cutting footwork that she quickly abandoned. After she spent the first round getting taken apart, Edmond told Rousey she was doing "beautiful work" and advised her to feint and keep her hands up. There was nothing to address any of the reasons Rousey was losing the fight - no corrections to her footwork, no mention of tools to counter the lateral movement. Just empty assurances before sending her back out to fight in a position no better than the one in which she arrived at the corner.

At the post fight press conference, Dana and Holm both seemed eager at the prospect of a rematch. Holm and Jackson-Winkeljohn will come to that rematch prepared for Ronda Rousey, but Rousey may be better off finding a new team if she wants to come prepared for Holly Holm. If Rousey goes out and fights the same fight, perhaps with more aggression, she will likely lose the same way. A few choice adjustments to her game, however, will produce an interesting and competitive matchup. Ronda Rousey has the kind of intense focus and drive that makes people get good at things very quickly - if she places that focus in the right areas, the rematch between these two will be a great fight.

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