What Challenger Brands Can Learn From Ronda Rousey’s Stunning Loss

It was the greatest upset in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history.

Rousey entered Saturday night’s fight as the bantamweight champion. She was undefeated – 12-0 with 9 arm-bar submissions. Her prior three fights had lasted 34, 14 and 16 seconds. (Those aren’t typos.)

By the end of the night, the belt belonged to Holm, about a 10-to-1 underdog before the fight began. Holm knocked out Rousey less than a minute into the second round with a vicious kick to the head. But Rousey was losing the fight badly before that.

What can challenger brands learn from this shocking upset?

1. Every strategy has a weakness.

And no leader is invulnerable. Rousey is a former judo Olympian who aggressively took the fight to her opponents. Her style, while quite often effective, was also not flawless.

Walmart is the biggest retailer in the history of the known universe. But they’ve been outflanked by Target (better design for a little more money) and Amazon (low price plus convenience). And if a consumer seeks service and style and is willing to pay for them, you’re much more likely to find her at a Nordstrom than a Walmart.

Successful strategy is about choosing to do a few things very well. So the market leader is also choosing NOT to do certain things. One of those things may represent your own path to victory.

2. Play the game you can win.

Forget the “level playing field.” Seriously, remove that phrase from your vocabulary.

You don’t want a level playing field. Strategically, you want to play the game that you and only you are best equipped to win.

Holm, a former champion boxer, kept the fight a stand-up affair, continually landing punches and wearing Rousey down. She was playing the game she could win.

As Rousey learned, attempting to trade punches with a stronger hitter is a strategic mistake. And Holm exemplified a basic strategic truth: Match your strengths against your competitor’s weaknesses, and you’re on one of the fastest paths to victory.

3. If you really want to win, prepare.

Holm had this to say after the fight: “She (Rousey) had a lot of things she was trying so I’m just glad I put in the practice… I couldn’t tell you how many times I cried in the gym leading up to this fight… There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears but it was all worth it.”

Holm’s words speak to an investment of time and heart – a preparing of the ground for her victory.

Most brands can learn from this. I’ve seen many, many “strategic plans” that were more like wish lists than a real intent to win. And that’s just the plan – we haven’t even gotten to the backbone needed for execution yet.

If you’re coming from the back of the pack, you’ll need clarity, purpose, discipline and consistency if you expect to win. You need both the plan and the execution.

So ask yourself today: Do you truly believe your current plan will result in victory? And if so, are you executing that plan with discipline and courage?

Congratulations to Holly Holm for coming to Saturday’s fight with a smart plan – and executing it flawlessly.

If you’re a challenger brand that needs a plan to win, we can help.  Contact us here to find out more.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2015 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.