With the women's bantamweight title on the line, Strikeforce's fight card later tonight (March 3, 2012) from the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, brings some compelling mixed martial arts (MMA) match ups.
But, regrettably, Strikeforce's future -- and that of women's MMA -- is uncertain.
However, with Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey battling for the 135-pound championship, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White is expected to be in attendance, which means that like the rest of us, he can't wait to see these ladies fight.
There's smack talk, and then there's the torrent of abuse Rousey has heaped on Tate, along with a who's who of other name female fighters. Rousey, a 2008 bronze medalist in judo, seems to have an inherent understanding of self-promotion. Now that she's brought the noise, she needs to bring the ruckus. And with her impressive career thus far -- four wins, with the longest a mere 49 seconds -- she seems poised to usher in a new era of women's MMA, especially with Cristiane Santos' likely suspension after testing positive for steroids, and Gina Carano's exit from the sport altogether.
But, Tate has worked pretty hard herself to get the championship. With a gutty fourth-round submission of Marloes Coenen, Tate showed a blend of composure and commitment in a back-and-forth battle in July. Many great grapplers have been upended in MMA when striking or submissions come into the fray before their core skills can -- Kevin Jackson, for example -- and you get the feeling the prefight build up is going to either push Tate to a career-defining performance, or represents Rousey's attempt to get inside her head. Either way, this is a great fight for women's MMA between two very skilled athletes.
The bad blood only makes it that much more interesting to the casual viewer.
Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the Strikeforce title fight between Miesha Tate vs. Ronda Rousey:
Tate's striking and the ability to control the distance are critical in this fight, because if she ties up and clinches with Rousey, she's going to get tossed to the mat. Rousey, cutting down from 145 in previous bouts, is exceptionally strong with incredible core strength, typical of a world-class judo player. She'll upend you and practically be moving to advance into her next position while you're still heading to the floor, chaining submissions together expertly. The best tool to use against a superior tie-up artists is the cage, and Tate should gravitate there if Rousey can tie her up.
I'm not sure striking will be that big a factor in this bout. One drawback of women's MMA, at least in terms of viewer entertainment, is that most women don't have the kind of upper-body strength to uncork big punches like the men. As a result, standing exchanges are often damaging as much because of poor footwork and positioning as solid technique and striking power (yes, we know Santos is an example, which sort of proves the point retroactively, doesn't it?). That said, what Tate can do is work a good Brazilian jiu-jitsu game if she ends up on the bottom, using sweeps to reverse position or to return to her feet.
Rousey should have the stamina to go at least two or three rounds, but a five-round fight is a huge unknown. It's also a wild card if Tate can weather the early storm and go to work on Ronda, especially on the feet, and plant doubts in her head, which are especially fatiguing for a title challenger who's yet to go a full minute in a four-fight career.
When Cassius Clay challenged Sonny Liston, he talked so much smack to the baleful champ that reporters literally plotted routes to the nearest hospital from the Miami arena. But what Clay-nee-Muhammad Ali was really doing was a couple things: Getting inside Liston's head, and convincing himself that he was ready for the biggest stage of his career.
He wasn't talking to Liston. He was talking to himself.
I think that's a fairly accurate guess on Rousey's approach here, and her background as long-time judo player gives her some resolute toughness to back it up. Mentally, Rousey has some big hurdles to get over with her lack of distance fights, but so does Tate in the sense of this being her first title defense.
She was focused for her championship-winning effort for Coenen, and if she can make it through the first two rounds, I think she can take Rousey deep and outlast her for a late submission or decision win. But there are some athletes who just strike you with how they execute. That's precisely the reason I was high on Jon Jones early in his UFC career, and Rousey gives me that same feeling. She'll come up like gangbusters and take it to the mat, submitting Tate in a memorable, but ultimately one-sided battle that ends in the second round. And, hopefully, one that encourages White and the UFC to take a long look at women's MMA in some long-term capacity.
Rousey via submission
Be sure to join MMAmania.com later this evening for LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the Strikeforce main card action, which is slated to air at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime. The latest quick updates of the live action will begin to flow earlier than that around 8:00 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Showtime Extreme.
See you then!