Photo by Esther Lin for Showtime
MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC 157 headliner -- and the promotion's first-ever female bantamweight champion -- Ronda Rousey, who will make history this Saturday night (Feb. 16, 2013) in Anaheim, Calif., when she defends her 135-pound belt against Liz Carmouche win, lose or draw.
Former Olympic judoka and current women's Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight Champion, Ronda Rousey, will scrap with 135-pound No. 1 female contender Liz Carmouche this Saturday (Feb. 23, 2013) in the UFC 157 main event, a pay-per-view (PPV) show that is set to take place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
After winning a bronze medal in judo during the Beijing Olympics, Rousey transitioned into mixed martial arts (MMA) soon afterward. She went on to win her first three amateur fights -- all via first round armbar -- before turning pro and then winning her first two bouts, again, via armbar.
"Rowdy" followed it up with two more armbar victories under the Strikeforce banner, earning her a shot at newly-crowned champion, Miesha Tate. Against Tate, Rousey went past the one-minute mark for the first time in her career; however, the result was the same, twisting the arm of "Cupcake" until she had no choice but to tap.
Next, Rousey faced Sarah Kaufman in her first title defense. After another armbar victory in less than one minute, it was clear that Rousey was destined for greater things than the fading promotion could offer. And UFC President Dana White agreed, creating a women's bantamweight division and naming Rousey as its first-ever champion.
Does Rousey have the skills to continue dominating over top competition?
Let's take a closer look:
Rousey's entire professional career can be watched in approximately eight minutes and is quite an impressive display. However, Rousey spends most of those eight minutes twisting her opponents limbs in unpleasant ways, so there isn't a lot of striking on display.
Opening up with her jab, Rousey will aggressively push forward flashing punches the whole way. Mostly doubling or tripling her jab, Rousey will occasionally throw a straight right hand. Aside from a single leg kick against Tate(which was promptly countered by a hard punch), this is the entire striking history of her professional career.
In each of her fights, Rousey's striking's only purpose is to get her to the clinch. In that regard, it has worked perfectly. However, she will eventually face an opponent who can nullify her clinch assault and she'll have to stand up with them. If Rousey starts focusing on expanding her arsenal now, she'll be ready when that happens.
Defensively, Rousey shows some big flaws. She doesn't move her head or keep her hands high, which means there is basically nothing keeping her opponents from landing whenever they throw. Fortunately for her, she gets her opponent down before they can really capitalize on it, but it's still a major issue.
Another flaw in Rousey's guard is that she leads with her face. Rousey charges forward flashing an ineffective jab, which is followed closely by her face. In almost every fight, Rowsey eats a straight punch as she goes to latch onto her opponent. If Rousey moved her head as she advanced, or distracted her opponent with some serious strikes, than she wouldn't get hit nearly as much.
As is expected for an Olympick judoka, Rousey has a seriously nasty clinch assault. In order to get her famous armbar, she first has to yank her opponent to the mat, and she is slick enough to do so.
Rousey's most common way to drag her opponents to the mat is to grip her opponent and attack with a variety of chained clinch takedowns. Rousey seamlessly transitions between inside and outside trips, hip tosses, Russian arm drags, and ankle picks. Although her opponents know that she will try to take them down from the clinch, her wide spectrum of options still gives her the ability to keep her opponents guessing.
One of the biggest reasons that Rousey's clinch takedowns are so effective is that her opponents often are too aggressive in their movements. They either try to rush backwards or advance forward, going ballistic in fear of the takedown. This makes Rousey's takedowns come much easier. Rushing forward opens up easy hip tosses, while hastily retreating opens up trips; Rousey just has to leave her foot out for her opponent to trip on.
Momentum is a major factor in takedowns. When her opponents run away or charge forward, they are giving up any base and balance they have and essentially giving Rousey an easy takedown. If her opponent remains more composed, then Rousey has to get more creative. This is where the world class Judo of Rousey shines, as she'll completely manipulate how her opponent moves to set up a takedown by chaining her attacks.
An excellent example of Rousey's takedown chaining and understanding of momentum is her takedown on Julia Budd. After pinning Budd to the cage, Rousey attempts an inside trip on "The Jewel's" right leg before going for another inside trip on her left. Budd's balance holds up, so Rousey attempts a hip toss. Budd's only option is to lean backwards with all her might in the hopes that she can remain grounded. However, Rousey knows this, and masterfully hits the inside trip to the left leg that she attempted earlier. Since Budd was already leaning backwards, there was absolutely no way for her to stay standing.
If you have 40 seconds, I strongly recommend checking it out on YouTube -- it's an impressive takedown, followed by a brutal armbar.
In addition to her fourth dan Judo black belt, Rousey has been training at Cesar Gracie's gym, which has a host of excellent jiu-jitsu practitioners like Jake Shields and the Diaz brothers. While Rousey likely has a whole stockpile of submission attacks, so far the only one we've seen, the only one she's needed, is the armbar.
The first thing to note about Rousey's armbar is that she constantly puts herself in position to finish it. Almost all of her takedowns have her landing in side control, a position that has plenty of armbar options itself. Normally, Rousey will advance to mount immediately after the fight his the ground.
Once she mounts her opponent, she will throw tiny ground and pound strikes as fast as she can. This causes her opponent to do one of two things: either roll over and give up her back, or try to block Rousey's punches. If her opponent turtles, Rousey will dive onto an arm and finish. If her opponent attempts to block the punches, their arms are extended, and again, Rousey will snatch that arm and take it home.
This isn't by accident, all of Rousey's takedowns lead to her having control of her opponent's arms and landing in a dominant position. In fact, the "Rowdy" one said so herself in an interview with Esquire magazine.
"It's like I'm herding a person into a certain position. Say my endgame is an arm bar. I'm not gonna actually take you and put you there. What I'm going to do is convince you that it's a good idea to move in the direction I want you to go. And I'm going to keep on funneling you down until you've been narrowed to the option of tap or not."
Once Rousey has her opponent in an armbar, she does two things exceptionally well. Rousey's ability to break her opponents grip is second to none, and her ability to rotate under an opponent who is stacking her from guard.
There are many ways to break an opponent's grip, especially when finishing an armbar. The most common, and least efficient, is to simply pull as hard as possible. More often than not, this just gasses the attacker out and loosens up his attack.
Rousey, on the other hand, does it differently. Instead of pulling through the elbow, which is rather easy to defend, she wraps her arms around the wrist. Rather than pulling straight back, she leans to her side, which really allows her to extend her hips and create even more leverage. The most important part is her grip. Rousey threads her outside arm through her opponents and locks it in a rear naked choke grip, before yanking to the side, which really cranks the wrist and utterly destroys the grip when done right.
The other important aspect of Rousey's armbar is her ability to rotate from the bottom. Since her opponents know her plan, they invariably spend a lot of time practicing the defense. Because of this, a few of Rousey's armbar attempts from top position have ended with her on her back still attempting to finish the fight.
Most times, this is the part where the fighter pulls really hard, gasses themselves out, and then gets punched repeatedly from top position. Rather than attempt this tried and failed method, Rousey rotates out from under her opponent and flips them back to the bottom.
The first thing Rousey will do is test her opponent's grip. Once she is sure she cannot break it by force, she'll reach under her opponents opposite leg and spin outside their legs. From there her opponents cannot stack her up, and she likes to grab their leg and sweep them back to the top position armbar before attempting a finish.
Unfortunately, no .GIFs of Rousey hitting this rotation are available, although she does it multiple times to Kaufman, a fight that can be found on youtube. Instead, here's Vinny Magalhaes hitting the exact same movement.
Other than Rousey's armbar, there are a few important things about her ground game. Rousey has an excellent guard passing game, easily slipping through guards to get into her favorite position, mount. Even Miesha Tate, a fairly accomplished grappler, failed to hold Rousey in her full guard for more than a few seconds.
Rousey has also shown some impressive defensive grappling. When Tate took her back, Rousey kept her calm and slowly peeled Tate's hooks off before escaping back to her feet.
Rousey is one of the nastiest fighters in MMA, male or female. How many other fighters can claim that a third of their past opponents suffered a major dislocation because of their attacks? Rousey is merciless in her pursuit of the armbar and doesn't think twice about shredding ligaments, which makes her equal parts dangerous and terrifying.
When Ronda fights, she never stops attacking. She immediately charges forward and is attempting takedowns the second she can grasp her opponent. While her aggressiveness does leave her open to shots on the feet, it is completely beneficial once the fight hits the mat. Rousey's blistering assault is so quick that her opponents can defend it, they are too busy wondering how they ended up on their back and mounted in less than a minute.
There is a reason Rousey has won six fights in less than eight minutes. Most fighters are afraid to give up a dominant position like mount or back mount, but Rousey is bold enough to do it in every single fight. And, so far, it's worked perfectly.
Best chance for success
Rousey's game plan doesn't need to be particularly complicated for this fight. In all honestly, Carmouche is a bit outmatched and the odds reflect it, with Rousey as a 12-1 favorite. Rousey needs to do what she always does, rush forward, clinch and drag Carmouche down to the mat, and then wrench her arm until she taps or the ref stops it.
The only recommendation I have for Rousey is that she spend two or three minutes striking with "GirlRilla." She most likely doesn't have to, but it would be a good idea for her to get a little more comfortable standing and try some new moves out. Carmouche isn't a knockout artist, so it's not that big of a risk.
Plus, there's a certain Olympic wrestling silver medalist rising through the ranks that has the potential to shut down Rousey's takedown game, so getting a bit more experience in the kickboxing can only help her prepare.
Will Rousey destroy another elbow or will Carmouche overcome the odds and dethrone the new champion?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Carmouche be sure to click here.