This Saturday night (Feb. 22, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey will defend her belt for the second time in eight weeks when she faces Sara McMann in the main event of UFC 170 from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The mixed martial arts (MMA) bout comes in with a lot less hype and fanfare compared to Rousey's last fight, a much-ballyhooed rematch against arch rival Miesha Tate at UFC 168. "Rowdy" showed a new side of herself while coaching opposite Tate on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18, where her fiercely competitive nature seemed to lose her more fans than it gained.
Against the more soft-spoken McMann, Rousey's had much less of an opportunity to let her dark side emerge. But that doesn't mean she should be any less motivated to face McMann, because she may be facing her toughest challenge to date.
McMann is an undefeated Olympic silver medalist wrestler who was last seen demolishing Sheila Gaff in her promotional debut back at UFC 159. McMann may not have the sheer drawing power that media darling Tate does, but she could definitely be the far superior fighter.
This bout will mark the very first time two Olympic medalists will meet inside the Octagon, and they have flawless records to top it all off.
Set to shape the future of the still blossoming UFC women's bantamweight division, Rousey has a chance to cement herself as the biggest star in UFC after just one year under its banner. McMann, on the other hand, can shock the world by dethroning the dominant queen.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Rousey vs. McMann:
Record: 8-0 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Miesha Tate (UFC 168, Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey), Liz Carmouche (UFC 157)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Rousey continues to bulldoze her way through competition on the strength of her Olympic medal-winning Judo pedigree. All eight of her MMA foes have succumbed to her patented armbar.
Now, however, rumors have been swirling that Rousey's striking has begun to catch up to her all-world grappling skills. She's apparently been dropping professional boxing champions with body shots in training; if there's any truth to that, McMann could be in for a short night.
Fundamentally, Rousey is going to push forward with her strikes so she can reach her dominant area, the clinch. There's not a single woman fighting today who has been able to escape Rousey's varied throws, sweeps, and trips. But a high-level wrestler would most likely be given the best chance at accomplishing that task.
Wresting has often been considered kryptonite for judo practitioners, so Rousey needs to be on her toes against McMann. Like herself, McMann has been competing under pressure since a very young age, and she simply won't be put away with ease.
Regardless, Rousey maintains one of the most intense competitive fires in the sport. She refuses to be outdone and relishes the chance to prove herself against world-class competition time and again.
She has perhaps her biggest opportunity to do just that on Saturday night, and with a shot to become the UFC's grandest star, expect Rousey to come more in more than prepared in all areas of MMA.
Motivated to prove she's head and shoulders above the rest, Rousey will not stop until she's added a ninth arm to her growing collection. Everyone knows what's coming; they just haven't figured out a way to stop it.
McMann is next in line.
Record: 7-0 overall, 1-0 UFC
Key Wins: Sheila Gaff (UFC 159), Shayna Baszler (Invicta FC 2)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: McMann obviously has her work cut out for her at UFC 170. Despite also having an undefeated record, a lot of the pressure to remain spotless will be focused upon Rousey, so McMann has that dynamic working in her favor.
Much has been made of her Olympic silver medal in freestyle wrestling, and for good reason. McMann's grappling prowess has taken a back seat to Rousey's famed judo skills, but she's far from a novice.
She took silver in the 2011 Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) North American Championships and has three submission victories on her MMA resume.
It's probably going to be next to impossible to make it four against Rousey, but that doesn't mean McMann should give up attempting to gain dominant position on the ground. Rousey is going to make this an extremely tough fight regardless of where it takes place, so McMann needs to come in prepared for a dogfight.
If she wants to come out on top, there's no reason to deviate from what got her here. McMann's wrestling skill will be paramount in pushing the pace and looking for multiple takedowns.
Yes, McMann will herself in harm's way if she slams Rousey to the canvas. "Rowdy" has the ability to latch on her lethal armbar from the bottom as well as the top, but if McMann can maintain top control and score points with ground and pound, the tides could turn in her favor.
She isn't exactly known as a pure knockout striker with only one technical knockout victory on her record. At the risk of fighting a bit one-dimensionally, McMann probably should focus on getting a takedown early on to avoid too many heated exchanges with Rousey.
It's going to be a war, and all McMann can do is put forth the best MMA performance of her life.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that it's the latest showcase for the exploding star that Rousey has become. But, with "Rowdy" set to appear in several prominent movies roles, including "Entourage" and "Athena Project," this could be the last time we see her inside the cage for some time.
She made an incredibly fast turnaround to fight McMann, and that could be because she has to clear up a lot of time for her Hollywood endeavors.
If that's the case, she'll certainly be looking to leave a lasting impression.
McMann won't be the easiest mark to do that against, however. Of Rousey's opponents, McMann is far and away the most comparable to "Rowdy" in terms of the high-level competition experience. That's going to pay big dividends in Las Vegas, because McMann has the confidence and mental fortitude to beat any female fighter in the world.
One aspect of this fight that hasn't been talked about is the fact that Rousey was taken out of the first round for the first time in her rematch with Tate. While that may be clutching at straws in terms of criticism, many thought Tate implemented a foolish gameplan while doing so. McMann may look to take down Rousey as Tate did, but her wresting pedigree is quite the cut above that of "Cupcake."
With two world-class grapplers butting heads, this fight could largely be contested on the feet, and that should favor Rousey. McMann has all the skills to surprise; it's just incredibly tough to pick against Rousey right now.
Women's MMA is on fire with "Rowdy" at the forefront. All that could come crashing down this Saturday night, but it's going to take a masterful performance from McMann to walk out of Mandalay Bay with the belt.
With her popularity reaching an all-time high, Ronda Rousey will face her toughest test in Sara McMann. Will the Olympic silver medalist wrestler be able to fend off "Rowdy's" vaunted submission game, or will it be business as usual for the polarizing superstar?