For the past year or so, UFC president Dana White has pushed that Ronda Rousey was the female Mike Tyson.
And there were plenty of similarities. Both were known for quick and decisive wins, and the belief that many of their opponents were intimidated and had mentally lost before the match started. The other similarity in quick one-sided wins were the questions on whether the audience would tire of buying the pay-per-views because they didn't get long enough entertainment time for the price. But in both cases, the quicker wins just led to pay-per-view numbers rising.
You can add another similarity to the list. They both went into foreign countries -- Tyson to Japan a quarter-century ago, Rousey to Australia -- and faced a contender considered by many to be unworthy, in a match considered going in almost a one-sided joke.
The term Buster Douglas became a part of pop culture on Feb. 11, 1990 when, as a 42-to-1 underdog, he knocked out Tyson to win the world heavyweight boxing title at the Tokyo Dome. At the time, Tyson was thought by the public to be invincible, similar to how many viewed Rousey prior to Saturday.
Holly Holm on Saturday night became this generation's Buster Douglas, but hopes not to end up that way. Douglas ended up being known for his one big night and nothing else. He dropped the title to Evander Holyfield via third-round knockout on Oct. 25, 1990, in his first title defense. He never had another win over a major name fighter the rest of his career. The loss didn't ruin Tyson at all, who remained a gigantic pay-per-view draw until 2002.
Holm's win will go down as not just the biggest upset in UFC history, but probably as its most memorable fight in its 22-year history. Rousey had become the biggest celebrity ever created by UFC. She was the first UFC fighter to not just transcend the sport, but to transcend sports. She was a symbolic generational hero for many women, and parlayed UFC to major movie roles and endorsements that no other fighter has ever been able to attain.
On a night with college football, the title change, for the first time ever, was covered as the biggest sports story of the night, and will likely be nominated as one of the biggest sports upsets of the year if not, the generation.
Before the fight, the questions asked weren't if Holm would win, but if she could last one minute before losing.
Yet the fight itself made everyone thinking the fight would be another so fast you can't blink finish by Rousey look foolish. Stylistically, Holm made it look like everyone was a fool to think anything other than what happened should have happened. It wasn't just an upset, it was as one-sided as a champion matador facing a mindless bull. And at times, the fight actually looked close to a bullfight.
The irony is that days before the fight, the odds on Rousey winning had risen to 22-to-1, the most one-sided for a title fight in UFC history. But after weigh-ins, when Rousey and Holm nearly got into it, there was a flood of late betting on the challenger, although the odds never fell below 10-to-1 for Rousey (Holm's winning by the end paid as low at +750 because of all the late betting) in most Las Vegas locations.
In most cases, the betting was likely not people expecting Holm to win, just thinking that in a fight, there is always the chance of a fluke and the odds were so long it was worth the risk.
And the fight looked nothing like a fluke.
In the modern UFC, the two biggest upsets were the April 7, 2007, UFC welterweight title win by Matt Serra over Georges St-Pierre, and the May 24, 2014, bantamweight title win by T.J. Dillashaw over Renan Barao. Both had odds of 8-to-1 in favor of the defending champion.
With St-Pierre vs. Serra, Serra caught St-Pierre with a big punch early and St-Pierre never recovered, taking more shots until starting to tap just as it was stopped in the first round. But St-Pierre won a one-sided rematch a year later. With hindsight, St-Pierre said that he fell victim to pressure, and the reality is, in a fight with a big puncher, there is always the chance of the punch landing right. But it was really just a big punch landing and the second fight was nothing like the first.
Dillashaw vs. Barao was a different story. That fight was a combination of people greatly underestimating Dillashaw, and overestimating Barao. Dillashaw only got the title shot because Raphael Assuncao, who had beaten him in a close fight, was injured. Barao had gone 33 fights and nine years since his only career loss, and there was talk of him as the best all-around fighter in the sport.
But that fight was no fluke or lucky punch. Dillashaw controlled the entire fight before getting a fifth-round finish. Then, he proved it a second time, in even more devastating fashion, winning the rematch this past July 25th, in just as one-sided a fight.
Because it wasn't one big blow that caused the finish, as opposed to one fighter clearly being superior on the first night, it is Dillashaw vs. Barao that far more greatly resembles Holm's win over Rousey.
Dillashaw vs. Barao wasn't nearly as high profile a fight as either St-Pierre vs Serra or Rousey vs. Holm. Even though it's recent, it's largely forgotten when it comes to the biggest championship upsets in UFC history. Until Saturday,St-Pierre vs. Serra was almost always remembered as the biggest shock in modern UFC history. St-Pierre was viewed as untouchable at the time, having twice handily beaten Matt Hughes, who had preceded him as the most dominant fighter in UFC.
Serra only got a title shot as a gimmick, based on winning a season of The Ultimate Fighter, and he barely squeaked by Chris Lytle in a close decision to win the finale. Many would compare Holm barely getting past Raquel Pennington as a similar reason to think she had no shot with Rousey.
Another huge upset at the time, but not remembered at the level of St-Pierre vs. Serra, due to future history, was Randy Couture's heavyweight title win over Tim Sylvia on March 3, 2007. Couture was 42 years old, and had retired after being knocked out by Chuck Liddell in a light heavyweight title fight 13 months earlier. His getting a title shot was largely a promotional gimmick, as Sylvia was not a good draw as heavyweight champion, and Couture and Liddell were the two most popular fighters in the company at the time. Since UFC got such limited media coverage, there wasn't the criticism of that type of fight as there would be today.
But Couture, thought to have little chance standing against his much-taller foe, knocked Sylvia down right away and dominated him for five rounds, both wrestling and standing. Sylvia wasn't viewed as untouchable, nor even a better fighter than Couture. It was more the feeling Couture was too old and too small to face a 6-foot-8 fighter who had given most foes fits due to his reach.
Again, looking back, this wasn't a fluke. Couture not only controlled the entire fight, but retained his title and continued to headline UFC shows for the next four years. Sylvia ended up losing three of his next four fights, and spent the rest of his career after that working on smaller shows.
Perhaps the other big upset, and in some ways the closest historical equivalent to Saturday's fight, was the July 27, 1997, fight between heavyweight champion Mark Coleman and Maurice Smith.
Coleman, a world class wrestler who placed as high as second in the world championships and competed at the Olympic level, had destroyed everyone in his path and had looked almost unbeatable. Coleman's pedigree in another sport at the highest level was similar to Rousey. At the time, Coleman was 6-0 in UFC, finishing some of the era's top stars like Don Frye, Dan Severn and Gary Goodridge.
Smith came into the fight with a 5-7 record (although at least one of those listed losses, to Akira Maeda, was a pro wrestling match in Japan listed as a real fight). He only got a title shot because he had won the heavyweight title with the Extreme Fighting promotion, a UFC rival at the time on pay-per-view. So this was made only because it would be a champion vs. champion battle.
The similarities were Coleman looking untouchable, being the specialist in taking people down and finishing them, although not nearly as artistically as Rousey. Smith was a kickboxing world champion, similar to Holm as a boxing world champion, but the idea was that grapplers ruled in UFC.
Like with Rousey-Holm, it was a case of smarter game planning. Smith saw a weakness in conditioning, so he didn't fight the takedown, and tried to get Coleman to empty his gas tank while defending on the bottom. Because most UFC fights were short in that era, conditioning to go the distance didn't play as much a part in the training with most fighters whose goals were quick finishes. When Coleman got tired and the fight ended up standing, Smith took him apart. Smith didn't get the climactic finish, but even in winning a decision, it was historically significant as the first time a striker ever won a UFC championship.
But in hindsight, wrestlers coming out strong against strikers, but getting tired from working so hard early, and then faltering late has been part of UFC ever since.
Where Coleman vs. Smith is also similar is that in 1997, MMA (and it wouldn't even be called MMA for two more years) was a primitive sport. Women's MMA, on the big stage, while more than four years old, is still very early in its evolution. Smith didn't have a good record going in, unlike Holm, although he faced more skilled fighters than Holm by that point. While Smith was a UFC champion, he ended his career with a 14-14 record.
If and when a rematch between Rousey and Holm takes place, we'll probably learn which historical upset this really comes closest to. Such a fight, if it takes place at UFC 200 as hinted at, could easily be the biggest fight in UFC history. And after that second fight, exactly what historical upset this most closely resembles will be made more clear.
Despite the one-sided nature and conclusive finish, early Las Vegas odds for a rematch show Rousey as a -250 favorite.
The bookmakers took a bath on Saturday, more than for any fight in UFC history. It was a combination of the upset, and the high odds. Rousey fights had never attracted big betting numbers in the past.
A Las Vegas Review-Journal story quoted Tony Miller, the book director at the Golden Nugget Casino, saying, "We got killed on it. It was so lopsided with all underdog money."
"Everything we won on college football, we gave back on that fight."
Jay Kornegay, the Westgate sports book director, said that most sports books in Las Vegas were crushed, and that the fight drew more betting than an average NFL game, the first time ever for a Rousey fight.
ESPN reported that the MGM Grand Sports books lost six-figures, stating that for every bet on Rousey, there were 50 for Holm.
But there's no need to cry for them, as reports were the sports books had their most profitable Sunday of the fall with the NFL the next day.
Although Rousey fights in the past with Miesha Tate, Cat Zingano and Bethe Correia garnered huge amounts of attention and pay-per-view buys, typically her fights did not attract the level of betting that most major boxing matches or the top tier UFC fans attracted. In the past, the long odds saw bettors shy away from betting on her, but the odds weren't so long people would bet on a lark thinking the underdog might come in. Until this weekend.