Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ronda Rousey: Making Sense Of An Enigma

UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey will be facing Former WBF Boxing Champion Holly Holm, January 2, 2016, at UFC 195 in Las Vegas.  This announcement comes as a surprise since UFC President Dana White had stated weeks ago that Rousey’s next opponent would be former Strikeforce Women’s Champion Miesha Tate.  Tate, who is on a four fight winning streak, has faced Rousey twice before and is the only woman to take a fight last beyond the first round (UFC 168) versus Ronda.

Rousey will be defending her title for the eighth time at UFC 195 and she had dominated her competition over that time.  With a career record of 12 wins and 0 losses, many claim Ronda Rousey is the greatest Women’s MMA fighter on the planet.  This claim is disputed though, by Christine “Cyborg” Santos-Justino, the current Invicta FC Women’s Featherweight Champion.  “Cyborg” has not lost a fight since 2005 and has talked publicly about fighting Rousey in the UFC.  Since UFC parent company, Zuffa, also owns Invicta FC, there is nothing legally or contractually holding this match up from happening.

What is holding the fight back is the lack of agreement on the when and how to make the matchup happen.  “Cyborg” has fought at 145 lbs for most of her career and UFC President Dana White has said that she needs to cut down to 135 lbs to fight Rousey.  This issue has put the potential women’s “Superfight” on the back burner. It doesn’t help that Rousey has no willingness to make an attempt at compromise, saying the fight “should” happen at 135lbs.

While Rousey is a great fighter, the “Dog and Pony Show” from her and the UFC is getting old.  Almost every opponent for Rousey is billed as “the most dangerous opponent yet” and Rousey typically talks about how hard she is preparing for the fight knowing how she must be ready for anything.  Then fight night comes along and she dominates, walking away with her title again and again.  This is by no means a disparagement of her opponents, who all are talented in their own right.  Top tier MMA fighters such as Cat Zingano, Miesha Tate, Liz Carmouche, and Sara McMann all presented unique challenges for Rousey, but no one has yet to figure out the enigma that is Rousey in the octagon.

While it is true Holly Holm is a dangerous fighter, what makes her such an underdog against Rousey is the same as most of Rousey’s opponents over the years: Rousey is a former Olympic Silver Medalist, Holm is not.  Yes, Holly Holm has won six different boxing championships during her pro career as a fighter, but she has never faced a fighter of Rousey’s pedigree.  The truth is, very few women’s MMA fighters ever have seen anyone like Rousey until now.

What makes Rousey great isn’t her undefeated record; instead it is how she got to this point and what sustains her.  She is not motivated like most athletes, because most athletes could never compete in the Olympics.  In order to be an Olympic athlete, that individual must work their way up the ladder of competition for years, preparing for the chance to be able to go to Olympic Trials.  At the Olympic Trials the athlete must compete for the chance to represent their country at an elite competition that is hosted every four years.  Once chosen, that athlete then goes to the Olympics and has to compete against the best every nation has to offer, all who have spent many years preparing themselves for that moment.  In that moment, all those years of preparation can either prepare that athlete for victory, or compromise them, leading to defeat.

Rousey won the Bronze Medal in Judo at the 2008 Olympics. Judo is a Martial Art discipline that is equally a demonstration of mental chess match as executing physical technique. Most of the women who comprise the professional MMA landscape have Wrestling, Boxing, Muay Thai or Kickboxing as their fight game foundation.  These four fighting disciplines test mental toughness while requiring physical endurance and fluid execution of technique.  Fighters with years practicing these disciplines faced issues decades ago when Royce Gracie won 11 straight fights utilizing a Martial Art discipline similar to Judo: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  Like Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is as much of a mental competition because both involve the manipulation of the opponents’ momentum, joints, and offensive mentality.  Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are counter-offensive disciplines based in strategic defense.  When you have a fighter who has been trained for years to take advantage of opponent’s aggression and weaknesses, that fighter has a built in advantage in competition against fighters are not trained with the same mentality.

Like Ronda Rousey, Royce Gracie seemed invincible early on, even when he was in trouble in a fight, he would find a way to walk away with a victory.  But will history view Rousey as they do Royce Gracie twenty-two years later, as a legendary pioneer yet as a fighter who was outpaced by competition that evolved their game plans?  The greatest difference between Ronda and Royce is that she has worked tirelessly to improve the weak areas in her fight game instead of being overly dependent on her strengths. Rousey on many occasions said her goal is to finish her career undefeated, whether that happens or not only time will reveal.

Is Holly Holm the most dangerous opponent Rousey has ever faced?  The argument can be made since Holm has competed as a professional fighter for 10-plus years and has won multiple titles.  This championship fight at UFC 195 is the classic “Striker versus Grappler” matchup, but both fighters are working with coaches who are skilled at the all-around Mixed Martial Arts game plan.  The fighter who comes into the matchup most prepared to handle their opponent’s strengths and can execute properly, that fighter will walk away with the UFC belt.  Rousey’s “legend” only grows with each win, but it is her background as an Olympic Judo fighter that has laid the foundation for her excellence in the UFC Octagon.

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