By Karim Zidan
UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey appeared on Good Morning America on Thursday. Broadcast via satellite, the sharply dressed undefeated bantamweight champion revealed that she would face Holly Holm at UFC 195 on Jan. 2. While the co-anchors accepted the breaking news and moved onto another topic of discussion, pundits and enthusiasts questioned the UFC's decision to fast track Holm -- a former boxing champ -- to a title shot.
Just a week prior to Rousey's emphatic KO victory against Bethe Correia at UFC 190, the promotion's president, Dana White, announced that the women's bantamweight champion would face longtime rival Miesha Tate in a trilogy fight at an event to be determined. Many groaned at the prospect of a third matchup between the two competitors, as Rousey had forced Tate into submission twice previously -- once to claim the Strikeforce title (the win that kindled her momentous rise to stardom), and a second time to retain her UFC title nearly two years later. Few wanted to witness a third such fight, as it would have done little other than showcase a repetitive, unhealthy beating. Nothing new to see there.
Yet while a rematch against Tate was not exactly the creative matchmaking that fans hoped for, it was a somewhat understandable decision on the UFC's part. Apart from Rousey, Tate is easily the most marketable fighter in the division. She is one of the few UFC fighters -- male or female -- to have more than one million likes on Facebook and is a notable force on social media. A rematch between the two arch-nemeses may not appease the hardcore group of UFC fans, but it could quench the thirst of casual fans attracted to the sheer magnitude of the Rousey phenomenon.
Nevertheless, when it came time to make an official decision regarding who Rousey would face this January, the UFC opted to go with a fresh challenger -- one who had not lost handily to Rousey on two separate occasions. It was a sudden switch, as Tate was not even informed about her title shot snub until the announcement about Holm was made. Her manager quickly expressed his shock and disappointment with the UFC's change of heart, as well as the way it went about handling the broken promise.
"I want to know the reasons behind [the decision]," Tate's manager, Josh Jones, told MMAFighting.com. "To not even be given a heads-up is very disappointing. She doesn't even know yet. She is going to be absolutely shocked."
The series of events that unfolded Thursday bring to light the UFC's indecision with regard to how it should handle the promotion's biggest star. On one hand, to keep Tate in the picture for a third fight would have likely boosted PPV sales, as well as stall for time until a more legitimate challenger comes along. It is not a matter of waiting for a fighter who could defeat Rousey, but one who could bridge the gap between realistic and unexpected challengers -- one who could be marketed as a convincing competitor with the physical tools to challenge the undefeated judoka.
What's the deal with Holm, exactly? Well, the 33-year-old is a former boxer and 19-time world champion in three weight classes. She compiled a professional boxing record of 33-2-3, which included nine knockouts. Yet for all her experience in boxing, she remains an MMA novice, far from ready for the elite skill set that Rousey will bring forth in their 2016 bout.
Holm has put together an undefeated 9-0 streak since she first dabbled in MMA. Throughout her days on the regional circuit, she dazzled fans with her superior striking and nuanced game plan -- patient, painful, strategic. Under the tutelage of the coaches at Jackson's MMA, one of the top gyms in the sport, her style has slowly evolved from boxing-centric to an MMA approach, equipping her to handle the grappling aspect involved with her new sport. In a division full of average fighters, Holm's championship credentials make her one of the more marketable fighters at 135 pounds. This prolonged negotiations with the UFC when it first approached her, and a lucrative figure was eventually agreed upon before Holm debuted at UFC 184 in February.
What was supposed to be her coming out party became the fight that nearly derailed her road to a title shot. In a lackluster performance against her first opponent in the octagon, Raquel Pennington, Holm barely edged out a victory and only narrowly escaped her first defeat. She returned with a far more solid performance in her second outing last month, beating Marion Reneau by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 71, though this was equally unimpressive in terms of warranting a title shot. Holm's patient style bored many fight fans, who did not appreciate her lack of killer instinct. The fight was booed in its entirety.
However, this has not stopped the UFC from rearranging their ducks from their neat, Tate-based row. After all, Holm remains a decorated striker with the resume to fool casual audiences into believing that her last fight was competitive at this stage of her career. In fact, even Rousey was happy to sell Holm as her toughest opponent to date based solely on the former boxer's experience.
"She is the most decorated striker we have in all of mixed martial arts," Rousey said of Holm on GMA. "Definitely my biggest challenge to date. She's the best striker I've ever fought, and striking is something I learned much later in my career."
Ultimately, if the UFC was able to profit off a Rousey-Correia fight, where the title challenger was positioned as a threat because she had beaten two of Rousey's personal friends, they will have little trouble selling a bout against a decorated boxing champion. It is a marketable fight, yet one that could have exceeded expectations had it been held off for another year while Holm developed her MMA-specific skill set. Instead, the UFC will play host to another quick Rousey victory, and another touted challenger will be remembered as nothing more than a victim -- a number to the left of the 0 in Rousey's remarkable record.
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Karim Zidan was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. After immigrating to Canada to complete his education, Karim started his own Mixed Martial Arts website [The Flying Knee MMA], which he operated for three years. He now works as an associate editor for BloodyElbow.com, a contributor to SBNation.com and Sports on Earth, and the lead writer for SteveGtennis.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZidanSports.