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Is it Ok to feel more remorse for the fallen champion than excitement for the new victor?! Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey was an epic battle of the year that embarrassingly left the former champion knocked out cold in the middle of the ring in the 2nd round. But what led to the fall of the most renowned champion in female combat sports? She’s the type of fighter that prides herself on beating competitors at their own game, but her greatest strength of being able to intimidate and beat fighters with their own fighting style seemed to serve as her kryptonite as the seemingly invincible champion was beat in one of the most strategic mental chess matches in the history of combat sports.

Consider the history of each of the championship bouts that Ronda had to defend her title. In every title fight the odds were in favor of Ronda, and by natural means the contender attempted to intimidate her by aggressively trash talking to get into her head. To their fault that approach seemingly did nothing more than fuel the preparation, skill, and finesse that Ronda used in the ring, and resulted in her beating the last three opponents she faced in a combined time of 64 seconds. Ronda remained quiet, poised, and focused on following her corner’s game-plan to dominate her opponents…

Now comes the tale of Holly Holm to take on the Bantamweight UFC champion. Everything about the build-up to this fight was everything but typical for what we’ve seen in Ronda’s previous championship battles. There was no trash talking from the contender, there was only a quiet storm brewing between the two fighters until they came face-to-face at the weigh-in, which exposed who the favored fighter would be based on who released the lightning bolt of emotion first, and Ronda took the bait.

The strategy of the contender’s corner was reminiscent to that of the great Muhammad Ali. In his prime, every one of his fights had some element of psychological prowess behind it to get in the head of his opponents and use their greatest strength against them. When you have an opponent that is skilled, strong, and intelligent on the mat, you don’t attempt to overpower them physically, you find a way to overpower them mentally. Even the strongest mind has an entry point of weakness, and the best modern example of psychological defeat was renewed in the Rousey vs. Holm fight.

“If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate them.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The weigh-in of this fight exposed the moment that Ronda seemed to lose control of her emotions and fall victim to the same trash talking strategy that her failed contenders used against her. Holly knew that she had to approach this championship fight differently than every other contender had in the past. Holly focused on her own game-plan, using mental skills such as visualization and motivation to fuel her workouts and train relentlessly to have the best opportunity to be successful in this fight. Holly remained focused on the opportunity of a championship and what she needed to accomplish, rather than wasting energy on her opponent during pre-fight interviews. This was evident from the onset of the fight when Holly remained poised and committed to her strategy; even averting an early takedown and submission attempt by Rousey to keep the fight from going to the mat. Ronda appeared to no longer have control of her emotions during the 1st and 2nd Round as she chased Holly around the mat only to get struck repeatedly in the face, and she never truly appeared to think about her actions. The lack of control over her emotions drove her to this overly aggressive state that gave Holly ALL of the control during the fight. And as the 2nd Round unfolded, Holly was finally able to capitalize on the vulnerable state that Ronda created, and just like that…a new champion takes the belt!

Listening to the collection of interviews by Holly, it’s amazing to hear about the confidence with which she entered this fight and the training that she did to prepare. While many would say this was luck, or even a fluke, it can be argued that this was truly a calculated and earned victory for a world class champion whose physical and mental preparation was on full display.

Competing with emotion and passion is a great resource to have, but we must remain in control of those emotions to have them effectively influence our performance. We have to have the discipline to tame our emotions no matter the circumstances. Once your discipline is surrendered, it is only a matter of time before defeat catches up to you. Discipline is the most profound characteristic of a championship team, athlete, or coach, but as seen in this title fight, when your discipline is challenged will you retain enough to convert that energy into strength or surrender it to the opposition…?

Holly, Bomaye

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