By now I’m sure you’ve seen it; the kick heard round the world. In less than two rounds Holly Holm executed the roundhouse kick that shattered Ronda Rousey’s jaw and her unblemished record. It was shocking and unbelievable to watch how Holm’s speed, precision and power took out the face of women’s MMA and the UFC. Early on in the bout you could tell that the normally confident and in control Rousey was frazzled and unable to assert her usual dominance, but no one (except maybe Holm and her support team) thought that Rousey losing the first round would be indicative of the entire fight. Most expected Rousey to bounce back and end the fight like she had so many times before, victoriously. But Ms. Holm had another ending in mind, one that had her hand being raised at the end of the fight. Holm was relentless in her pursuit of that ending and it paid off, she got the upset. She handed Rousey her first loss and claimed the UFC bantamweight title. While Holm’s upset victory might not have paid off for Rousey or the many who bet in Rousey’s favor, it certainly paid off for Holm and women’s MMA as a whole.
Every athlete, professional or otherwise, strives for excellence. No one gives their blood, sweat and tears to lose or to be mediocre. Athletes train to be unbeatable. Unfortunately, few can say that their careers survive without experiencing the agony of defeat. That so many are destined to experience losses does not stop anyone from striving for perfection however. Practice after practice and game after game athletes try to outwork and play their opponents, hoping for victory. It’s a beautiful thing to witness how the will to win drives competitions.
Unsurprisingly, fans usually want the same level of performance from their favorite athletes and teams. They want their girl(s) to win every time, preferably in dominating manner. That’s why so many people love Geno Auriemma and the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team, they are proven winners. And that’s the same reason that so many love Ronda Rousey. Until this weekend, she was an undefeated champion who got unquestionable wins. She owned the UFC and her fans loved her for it. Many tuned in fight after fight to see, not if, but how Rousey would win, and the UFC made plenty of money off it.
But just like there are fans of proven winners, there are also fans of underdogs and rivalries. For many fans, what makes sports so attractive is that on any given day any player or team has the potential to win. Yes, undefeated careers and seasons are great, but many people watch and attend sporting events because they want genuine competition. They want to see the last second buzzer-beater from the team that wasn’t supposed to win. They want to see two rivals battle it out year after year for bragging rights. Fans want to know that they don’t exactly know who’s going to come out on top. That’s why the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is so successful. That possibility (and strong likelihood) of seeing a Cinderella story keeps arenas packed year after year.
So that’s why Holm’s victory was so important for the women’s MMA market. It will help draw in the fans who like and believe in parity in sports. For all the Rousey and UConn fans there are many others who want to see a new champion. Until Holm’s victory, parity seemed to be some far off ideal in women’s MMA and the UFC. There was Rousey and then there was everyone else. For many that dynamic was a bit boring and kept them disinterested. Holm and her astonishing victory give hope to fans of legitimate competition. Seeing the queen fall will draw in many who want to see a genuine rivalry develop between two well-trained, talented athletes. Sports fans love Rousey but now they will have someone else to root for, Holly Holm. Beyond the fans, Holm’s victory makes the belt seem attainable. Her upset will inspire more fighters to chase after it and will bring more viewers in to watch new athletes in their pursuit for greatness. All of this is better for women’s MMA. Sure the UFC may have to come up with some new marketing strategies and may need to invest more money into talent other than Rousey’s, but that’s all great for the sport. The upset will draw in more fans willing to spend time and money to see a good fight. While Rousey’s jaw, pride and record might be sore right now, that’s a beating the women’s MMA and the UFC needed to take in order to attract a larger fan base and encourage new talent. So congratulations and thank you Holly Holm, lots of fans can’t wait to see what’s next for you and women’s MMA.