If Ronda Rousey had a trophy case, it would be a gruesome sight to see. It would feature a row of mangled, disembodied arms, arranged in grim testimony to the armbar submission skills she began learning from her Judoka mother at an age when other teenage girls were preoccupied with pretty boys and pop music. After this weekend's championship bout against the former Strikeforce Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate, the trophy case acquired a new addition: Miesha's arm, displayed in all its bloody, broken glory as a testament to Judo's lethal power.
I had argued that Judo was a complete grappling art, imbuing its practitioners with effective and advanced takedown and submission skills, a fact that rendered Miesha's wrestling style largely redundant in the mixed martial artist's arsenal. This combined with Ronda's extensive high-level competitive experience- which some pundits irrationally discounted- made her victory inevitable. After three spectacular Judo takedowns and two vicious submission attempts within five minutes, the debate was conclusively settled- at least for those open to accepting reality.
However, the devastating triumph begs the intriguing question: was Ronda truly invincible? Even accepting and fully factoring in her formidable skills arsenal, was victory inevitable for her? And what does the answer to this mean for her future opponents, the most likely of which is Sarah Kaufman? I think that like with all fighters, Ronda's strengths and background contained the seeds for her potential defeat. I knew Miesha Tate could not exploit these, but someone else could have. So objectively assessing Ronda's strengths and weaknesses, how could she have been defeated?
Since Ronda's strengths are now obvious, let's focus on her weaknesses. The first of these is her striking defence. Ronda spent almost her entire competitive career in a sport in which it was illegal to strike your opponent. As such she has not fully developed the reflexes necessary to apply footwork, parrying, blocking or slipping to avoid being hit. This was painfully obvious as Miesha was able to punch her in the face almost at will, literally knocking her backwards:
The converse of course, is that Ronda is not yet an accomplished striker. Knowing this, she plays to her strengths, quickly closing the striking gap against her opponents to enter her comfort zone, the clinch. The results thereafter are almost routine: spectacular takedowns followed by the dreaded technique no can defend.
A third possible weakness is in cardiovascular endurance. Judo matches tend to place relatively little anaerobic stress on competitors. The typical pace of a Judo match involves the practitioners tentatively feeling each other out and staying out of each others' grasp for extended period of time, interspersed by brief periods of frantic and violent action. Explosive speed, agility and strength are thus developed. Cardiovascular endurance, not so much.
Taking these as a whole, the approriate strategy for defeating Ronda Rousey becomes crsytal clear. It is also immediately obvious that Miesha Tate did the exact opposite of what she should have done, thereby sealing her defeat. The most memorable model for how to defeat Ronda Rousey was the very same tactic that Carlos Condit controversially employed in defeating Nick Diaz: the frustratingly effective though much derided stick-and-move strategy.
Above all, Keep your distance: If you don't close the gap with Ronda, she cannot throw you to the ground and have her way with you. If you don't grapple with her, she cannot rip your arm off. This should have been the simple assumption underpinning Miesha's strategy. And adding in Ronda's relatively weak striking defense, the tactics Miesha should have employed within this broad strategy are:
- Retreat, don't advance. Miesha should have hung back, and used nimble footwork to dance around Ronda, staying frustratingly out of reach. Backpedaling, bouncing and side stepping while forcing Ronda to attack would have ensured she remained safe from the lethal clinch while frustrating Ronda and extending the duration of the fight. Instead, having allowed Ronda to get into her head, Miesha foolishly rushed in with a barrage of punches, a tactic which, due to its forward momentum, is virtually guaranteed to result in a clinch and takedown. This grave tactical error happened at least twice:
- Apply straight stopping techniques. Whenever Ronda closed the gap, Miesha should have kept her at bay with straight side and front kicks to the legs and mid-section. Ronda would have found these hard to defend against, and they would have kept her outside the range at which she could grapple Miesha. Straight jabs to the face followed by a quick retreat should also have been used to score points while frustrating Ronda. Her weak defence would have made this a very viable strategy.
- Use wrestling only to escape and stand back up. Even with this stick-and-move strategy, there is a chance that Ronda might still have achieved a clinch and takedown. When these happened, Miesha should have used her wrestling skill for one purpose and one purpose only: getting up, fleeing the scene and resuming dancing just out of reach. Instead, she twice tried to aggressively gain control and a possible submission from the back, hoping to out-grapple the master grappler.
Had she adopted my recommended strategy, the likely result would have been that Miesha slowly accrued a lead in striking points, while Ronda slowly became frustrated and possibly even tired. By the second or third round, her explosive speed and power would have subsided, making her less dangerous. This would have made the tactic even more effective: a slow, tiring fighter is relatively easy to jog away from and is vulnerable to low, straight kicks and stiff jabs. A decision win could have been eked out.
Would this have won Miesha many fans? Probably not. She would probably have invited the same hailstorm of scorn and opprobrium that Carlos Condit endured for 'running away' from the Nick Diaz juggernaut. But like Condit, she would have survived the onslaught, smartly stayed out of the reach of the weapons that could destroy her, and patiently accrued the points that would have earned her the victory.
Sarah Kaufman, take note. Failure to do so could cost you an arm and a leg.