This Saturday night (Feb. 23, 2013), Strikeforce Women's Bantamweight Champion-turned Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Women's Bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey, will take on Liz Carmouche in the UFC 157 main event, which takes place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Carmouche began her professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career in a big way, winning six straight fights, including two under the now-defunct Strikeforce umbrella. Back then, Strikeforce needed a sacrificial lamb for then-champion Marloes Coenen; however, "GirlRilla" nearly ruined those plans, smashing "Rumina" for three rounds before getting caught in a triangle in the fourth frame. A
Even though Carmouche lost, the impressive performance solidified her as one of the top female fighters in the world.
Carmouche comes into her fight against "Rowdy" this weekend riding a two-fight win streak, facing her most dangerous opponent to date.
Does she have the skills to usurp Rousey's throne and emerge as the new face of female MMA?
Let's find out:
Carmouche is a very incomplete striker, but makes up for it with blind aggression and determination. When she fights better strikers, it's not uncommon to see her lunge forward, eating hard shots to land a few of her own.
"GirlRilla" throws many kicks for a wrestling specialist. She mostly goes to the legs, but often incorporates a body kick into her assault. While developing new weapons is always a good thing, she really needs to work on her technique if she wants to throw kicks as often as she does. That's because she neither sets them up properly nor keeps her hands up, meaning her kicks are very easy to counter with straight punches.
Though she has some power when she throws, Carmouche's boxing game is incomplete. She seems to avoid straight punches, preferring to leap in and throw a pair of hooks. Some fighters can make this style of striking work, but Carmouche doesn't throw long enough combinations or have the array of strikes to make it very dangerous. The good news is that she has only been fighting professionally for three years, so she has plenty of time to work on it, and does seem to improve between every fight.
Carmouche's dirty boxing game is very respectable. "GirlRilla" routinely grinds her opponent into the fence and then marks her up with quick punches to the head and body. She also throws knees to the legs very often with the intent of fatiguing her opponent and eventually scoring a takedown.
While Carmouche does keep her hands up before she strikes, once she starts to throw, her hands often drop. This -- combined with a dearth of head movement -- is a very bad habit. And skilled strikers have -- and will continue to -- capitalize on it until she fixes it.
By far the best aspect of her MMA game, Carmouche is one of the best female wrestlers in the sport. She really grinds her opponent, getting her weak and tired, before dragging her down to the canvas.
"GirlRilla" often uses her brute strength and solid understanding of head position to push her opponent up against the fence. From there, she will attack with close range strikes before attempting an outside trip. If that first trip doesn't work, she'll follow it up with another.
Sometimes, she'll even go for a hip toss, a Rousey hallmark.
Carmouche also has a solid double leg takedown. Again, she normally attempts the double leg when her opponent's back is against the cage. Once she gets in deep, she'll drag her hips down and away, before pulling her into the center of the cage so that she can't wall walk. Carmouche also likes to catch leg kicks and finish with a trip takedown.
Once she has her opponent down, Carmouche is very good at controlling her. "GirlRilla's" formidable strength greatly helps her maintain solid top pressure. However, her ground-and-pound is rather weak. She doesn't use her hips when she attacks with ground-and-pound, which limits her power.
The prime example of both these facets of her game is her championship fight with Coenen. She would take the Golden Glory-trained fighter down and keep her there, but her lack of damaging ground-and-pound eventually cost her the fight, as "Rumina" was able to throw up submission attempts without fear.
Carmouche's top game is very solid. She is adept at slicing through both full- and half-guard, which is an important skill for any ground fighter. While she prefers to whittle away at her opponents with ground-and-pound, she does attempt submissions when they are given to her.
Against skilled striker Kaitlin Young, Carmouche was getting picked apart in the first round before turning it around in the second by catching a kick and tripping Young to the mat. When Young tried to get back to her feet, Carmouche hopped on her back and quickly locked in the rear naked choke. While not an incredibly difficult technique, it's good that Carmouche recognized the opportunity and was confident enough to attempt it.
Carmouche has some solid submission defense. Mostly because of solid posture from the guard, "GirlRilla" shuts down almost all of her opponents submission attempts (the notable exception being Coenen's triangle). Against Rousey, submission defense is incredibly important and Carmouche will need to drill it constantly.
Carmouche is possibly the strongest fighter in women's MMA. She frequently muscles her opponents around in the clinch or on the ground -- it is a major factor in each of her wins. Without it, her takedowns would lose quite a bit of their impact.
Indeed, without the threat of her powerful takedowns, "GirlRilla" would be a sitting duck on the feet. Instead, she is able to make her opponent hesitate with power punches before overpowering her and dragging her down to the mat.
Most competitors in women's MMA are incredibly flexible and/or very fast, but Carmouche goes against the grain, attempting to overpower her opponent instead. This makes her a dangerous opponent for anyone and something Rousey hasn't faced yet.
Best chance for success
Carmouche is a major underdog going into this fight and for good reason. To beat Rousey, she's going to have work a perfect gameplan. The most important thing Carmouche can do isn't actually in the fight. Her training camp should have focused on avoiding armbar situations at all costs, not getting out of them.
It doesn't matter how much training she's done to get out of an armbar -- if Rousey locks one in, she's trapped and the fight is over.
Another key for Carmouche here will be to drag this fight into the championship rounds. Rousey has never been out of the first, so even if her cardio is excellent, it will be a new and worrying experience for the Judo specialist. If she can drag the champion into late rounds, she might be able to overwhelm her or, at a minimum, momentarily shake her confidence.
"GirlRilla" needs to avoid the positions where she can be caught in an armbar. Do her absolute best to run from the clinch, and if she can't escape from the clinch, pull guard! Desperate times call for desperate measures. And its impossible to armbar someone while inside their guard. I see no danger in squeezing "Rowdy" and hoping for the referee to call for a stand up, which is much safer than letting her toss Carmouche directly into one of her favored positions.
Once Carmouche gets it into the late rounds, it's time to step up her attack. She needs to really put her weight behind her hooks, as well as kicks to the leg and body, which will slow down Rousey if her cardio doesn't. If she does take down Rousey, it is of utmost importance to avoid her full guard. Again, nobody every got trapped in an armbar from half guard ... yet.
Does Carmouche have the skills to take out Rousey or will the reigning queen of women's MMA take another arm home with her to California?