How Miesha Tate Dethroned Holly Holm

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UFC 196 went down in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV on March 5, 2016. Those of you who watched UFC 196 this past Saturday night were treated to a number of jaw-dropping upsets. Including in the co-main event, where Miesha Tate–riding a four-fight win streak–toppled incumbent UFC champion Holly Holm. Holm was last seen in the octagon knocking out former division kingpin (or queen-pin, if you will) Ronda Rousey at UFC 193, back in November 2015. Based on her almost flawless victory over Rousey, oddsmakers had Tate as much as a -400 underdog against Holm.

In my last article, I discounted the importance of “MMA math,” where we compare opponents as if they are integers that are either greater than or less than one another. For example, Rousey defeated Tate in two title fights, both by armbar. And Holm knocked out Rousey with a head kick. Therefore, according to MMA math, Holm would ostensibly defeat Tate with ease. However, history shows us this kind of math is misleading because styles make fights, and fights are all about match-ups. I argued that Tate would be a much tougher match-up for Holm than Rousey. Largely due to her style of grappling and her efficacy in the scramble. I predicted that Tate would fight a much smarter fight than Rousey did, both due to her own style and her ability to adapt and learn from Rousey’s mistakes in Holm’s last fight. Unlike Rousey, I doubted Tate would charge straight forward with her attacks, opting to attack with more versatility and angles whilst mixing her striking with wrestling-based takedowns.

In judo, takedowns are typically initiated from the clinch, often by controlling the head and arm and connecting the hips to the hips of the opponent. Wrestling, however, has a greater variety of takedowns and set-ups, typically attacking one or both of the legs. Because the rules in judo don’t usually allow for much grappling once the match hits the ground, most judoka are less versed in scrambles and odd positions. Judoka are taught to immediately look for submissions after the takedown, otherwise they are stood back to their feet. In wrestling, combatants spend much more time on the ground, focusing on control and positional dominance. Because of these differences, wrestling is considered the best base for MMA, and translates well to learning jiu jitsu, as well as ground and pound.

Here, we will vivisect some of the technical aspects of the Holm vs Tate fight, and examine how Tate managed to usurp the throne from the athletic and dangerous Holm. Both fighters looked patient in the opening round, with Tate keeping her distance and staying outside the striking range of Holm. Tate used a lot of lateral movement, staying off the center line and away from Holm’s lead right hook and straight left. Tate did manage to catch one of Holm’s kicks and look for the takedown, landing a good punch off the break from the clinch. In the first round alone, it was obvious Tate had studied Holm’s tape and avoided rushing in and getting countered.

Tate increased the pressure in the second round, and landed a well-timed takedown early on. Holm looked for the butterfly sweep, but Tate wisely kept her hips far enough away to avoid being swept. This allowed her to pass Holm’s guard into side control, opting for positional control instead of opening up her ground and pound. Tate used good pressure passing to keep Holm’s shoulders pinned to the mat, occasionally landing a strong elbow to soften up her opponent.

It became clear from the jump that Holm was uncomfortable on the ground, lacking efficiency of movement and poor hip mobility. Tate opted to stay in half guard, alternating between pressure passing and short punches and elbows rather than passing Holm’s lazy half guard. Tate attacked the right arm of Holm, looking for an americana or kimura whenever Holm left openings.

Whenever Holm lifted her head off the mat, Tate cupped the back of her neck, controlling Holm’s spine and preventing her from escaping the position. As Tate began to land more hard shots on the ground, Holm appeared desperate and gave up her back. Tate sunk both hooks in and secured double under-hooks with her arms to flatten Holm out. Tate came extremely close to locking up a rear naked choke (RNC), and Holm was in constant danger of being submitted. The heart of a champion was on full display as Holm used a two-on-one control to pry Tate’s arm away from her neck, barely surviving the second round.

There was consternation in the corner of Holly Holm after what appeared to be a 10-8 round in favor of the challenger. Holm entered the third round extremely cautious, not fully committing to her punches in fear of being repeatedly taken down. Holm did throw a few kicks, but couldn’t land anything significant. The patented oblique kick of Jackson-Winkeljohn fighters was on full display, but didn’t faze Tate in the slightest.

Despite the obvious advantage on the feet, Holm looked hesitant to open up for fear of the takedown. On the ground, it was a completely different story, as Tate absolutely overwhelmed Holm with her crafty jiu jitsu. Holm did manage to stuff two takedown attempts, mostly because Tate failed to set them up and time them properly like she did in the second round.

In between the third and fourth rounds, coach Winkeljohn called for Holm to employ the oblique kick, telling her to “stomp that thigh.” Tate wisely kept her distance and timed her entry into the clinch, securing an over-under control with Holm against the cage. Holm reversed positions, landed a couple knees to the thigh, then disengaged. Tate continued to utilize unpredictable movement, staying outside the striking range and looking to enter the clinch whenever Holm attacked. Holm struggled to find her range, coming up short with punches and kicks. Midway through round four, Tate shot a poorly-timed takedown which was promptly stuffed by the champion. The fight looked evenly matched, with both fighters likely tied on the scorecards, making the fourth round a pivotal one. With fewer than 30 seconds Holm landed a counter right hand and then a left teep kick to the face of Tate. Holm continually went to the well with her side kick, keeping Tate at bay but failing to do much damage. The replay showed Holm landing several straight right hands. Neither fighter landed anything significant, though Holm looked to land a few more strikes, likely edging Tate in the fourth.

Going into the fifth round, Holm was most likely up by one point on the judges’ scorecards. Tate knew she needed a stoppage in the final frame, and commensurately came out swinging. Holm landed her patented counter straight left as Tate closed the distance, drilling Tate directly on the chin. One minute into the fifth round, Holm threw a combination of straight punches followed by a lead leg side kick, which landed flush to Tate’s body. The side kicks played a large role in keeping Tate at distance, and despite the fact that none of them appeared to hurt Tate, they pushed her back several feet upon landing, undoubtedly affecting the judges’ perception of the fight.

With the tide swinging in Holm’s favor, she knew she had to avoid any big risks to secure a victory and earn her first successful title defense. Tate had other plans in mind, however. Utilizing a shuffle-step reminiscent of TJ Dillashaw, Tate mixed up her rhythm, confusing the champion and setting up an entry to a takedown, one that would prove vital to her stunning upset of the Jackson-Winkeljohn protegé.

Rather than shooting on the legs and getting sprawled on, Tate ducked under Holm’s punches and grabbed a body lock, turning the corner and taking Holm’s back. Just as Luke Rockhold secured a body lock on Chris Weidman and spun him in a downward spiral to the canvas, Tate used a wrestling move called leg-riding to sink in her right hook, preventing Holm from standing back to her feet. Simultaneously, Tate snatched Holm’s neck and locked up a figure-four grip, looking for the rear-naked choke. Holm tried to shuck Tate off her back, but Tate tenaciously held on and kept her hips and shoulders pinned to her opponent with the vigor and voracity of a true MMA warrior.

The crowd erupted as Miesha Tate choked Holly Holm unconscious, earning a technical submission victory with fewer than two minutes left in a fight she was en route to losing. Hat’s off to Miesha Tate, who earned this title shot after four straight dominant victories over the division’s top competition. In her post-fight interview, Tate was classy and humble, crediting Holm for being a dangerous and calculated fighter. She stuck to her gameplan, stayed patient, and executed a perfect strategy to defeat the previously undefeated Holly Holm.

“You fought a gutsy, intelligent, strategic fight” proclaimed Joe Rogan, who congratulated Miesha Tate on a hard-fought and well-deserved victory.

Miesha Tate def. Holly Holm via Submission (RNC)

What do you think, folks? Who should Tate fight next? Would you like to see a rematch with Holly Holm? A rematch with Ronda Rousey? Or perhaps Julianna Pena and Amanda Nunes should fight for the next title shot.

The sport has never been more exciting than it is right now.

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