Rousey, the charismatic, tough-talking bantamweight championship fighter, was knocked down in the biggest upset in mixed martial arts history during Sunday’s match in Melbourne, Australia, which shattered UFC’s attendance records.
Were Rousey awake, she might have spat blood in Holm’s face.
Indeed, we know enough about Rousey’s scrappy fighting style and ruthlessness both in and out of the Octogon to imagine she’d have acted differently had she just clinched such a monumental victory. She is beloved as much for her pitbull persona as she is for being a ferocious MMA fighter.
MMA fans love that she’s unfiltered during interviews with the press (in 2012, she called Kim Kardashian a bad role model for young women because “all she’s known for [is] sucking someone’s dick,” referring to the reality star’s sex tape with Ray J).
They love that she’s refused to join the feminist chorus calling for equal pay in women’s sports.
Just three weeks ago, Rousey was characteristically blunt when an Australian reporter asked how she felt about the supposed gender pay gap in women’s sports, particularly women’s soccer in Australia.
“I’m the highest paid fighter not because [the sport] wanted something nice for the ladies,” she drawled, raising one eyebrow provocatively. “They do it because I bring in the highest numbers. I think the money that [female athletes] make should be proportionate to how much they bring in.”
She’s taken the same position in the past when asked if she thought it unfair that her salary paled in comparison to Floyd Mayweather’s. “I’m extremely comfortable and happy,” she replied with a condescending smile.
She’d expect to make as much money as Mayweather if she fought as often as he did, but “I can’t expect it to be equal yet,” she said. “I have to put in more time.”
Since then, she has bragged to TMZ that she makes more money than Mayweather does “per second.”
Neither Rousey nor UFC will disclose specifics, though UFC spokesperson Dave Sholler recently told Fortune that she’s “currently making more in UFC compensation than any other current champion. Rousey has balked at suggestions that MMA is sexist (“I’m the biggest draw in the sport, how is that anti-woman?”)
She also raised eyebrows in left-leaning political circles last year after insisting that transgender women’s fighter Fallon Fox, who had gender reassignment surgery at age 30, has an unfair advantage against other women fighters. “She can try hormones, chop her pecker off, but it’s still the same bone structure a man has,” Rousey said.
In contrast to Rousey, UFC’s new reigning champion has been described as “sweet.” Former UFC fighter Rashad Evans congratulated Holm on Fox after the match and told her “it couldn’t have happened to a sweeter, more deserving person.” She graciously returned the compliment: “You are so sweet, thank you.”
She broke down in tears several times during the interview, attributing most of her success to her coaches and her team.
Holm, whose nickname is “the preacher’s daughter” (her father is a preacher for the Church of Christ in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico), spoke of feeling “so happy and blessed,” and especially grateful for the unwavering support of her husband and family.
She expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with Rolling Stone that ran on Monday.
“I’m very blessed to still be in the town I was born and raised in, and I have a lot of great friends and family around me.” When she isn’t training, she enjoys sewing, woodworking, and painting. “Sometimes before training I just go meet up with some friends and have some coffee and just chew on the fat and talk about whatever.”
Holm is the good girl—the Nancy Kerrigan of mixed martial arts.
Meanwhile, Rousey’s churlish outburst at Holm days before the fight, calling her opponent a “fake ass cheapshotting fake respect fake humility bitch” during the weigh-in, was reminiscent of Tonya Harding, Kerrigan’s rival.
Rousey, it seemed, was coming unhinged. But Holm remained poised through the end of the fight.
As the woman who beat Rousey, Holm now faces a barrage of media attention and sponsorship opportunities. But it’s unlikely that she’ll take Rousey’s place in a sport that prefers the gritty Tonya Harding archetype to the “sweet” Nancy Kerrigan one.
“In fighting, some people become breakout stars and most don’t,” Dave Meltzer, a longtime journalist covering mixed martial arts and professional wrestling, wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “Even if Holm wins again, it will be very difficult for her to have Rousey’s level of drawing power. There is a charisma difference.”
Even if she wins in a rematch against Rousey and “becomes the star of the division, she won’t have the level of mainstream focus and interest that Rousey’s fights had,” he added.
UFC President Dana White was as bowled over by Holm’s victory as everyone else was, praising her fighting skills in an interview with Fox. But he also praised Rousey as “the mentally strongest person that I’ve ever met.”
We can expect that she will be back before too long, and expect that she will come out swinging before the rematch—angrier, stronger, and eager to emotionally and physically dismantle anyone who gets in her way.