Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women's bantamweight queen, Ronda Rousey, is set to scrap with power puncher, Cat Zingano, at UFC 184 this Saturday night (Feb. 28, 2015) inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Rousey is unquestionably one of the most dominant fighters in the sport's history. Competition level aside, Rousey has obliterated each opponent willing to step inside the cage with her, usually in just a couple of minutes.
Still, there are downsides to that. Namely, Rousey is running out of quality opposition. Most of the division has already fallen to her Judo or rapidly-improving striking, and she will take on one of the few legitimate challengers remaining this Saturday.
Let's take a closer look at Rousey's skill set to see if she's ready for "Alpha Cat."
While Rousey was fairly raw on her feet for her first couple UFC title fights, her boxing has come along quite nicely. Under the tutelage of Edmond Tarverdyan, Rousey has developed her striking far enough to knockout consecutive top contenders.
Still, Rousey's core game is her Judo assault. Unfortunately for her opponent, Rousey is well-aware of that fact, which is why the most improved aspect of her game is undoubtedly her ability to close the distance and move into the clinch without absorbing unnecessary shots.
Rather than simply rush forward and hope for the best, Rousey now enters the clinch with head movement or set ups. For example, Rousey used a nice right hand directly into the clinch -- a classic Fedor technique -- in her second bout with Miesha Tate.
Additionally, Rousey's punches are much sharper and smoother than before. She's putting together combinations well, though she still doesn't get her head off the center line much of the time.
In particular, Rousey's straight right hand has become quite effective. It cut straight through Tate's looping hooks a number of times, and Rousey badly rocked Alexis Davis inside the first 10 seconds of their bout.
Finally, Rousey's clinch striking has shown major improvements. At first, she utilized many small punches and hard elbows in order to distract her opponent before landing a takedown. She took it a step farther against Sara McMann, as she planned specifically for the wrestler's bent over posture, which she attacked with a sharp knee to the liver.
Rousey is still not the best defensive fighter. When she pushes forward with punches, she commonly leaves her head straight up, leaving her vulnerable to counters. It's getting a bit better, but Rousey is still a fairly easy fighter to punch.
At least before she tosses her opponent through the air.
Rousey, an Olympic bronze medalist in Judo, completes a vast majority of her takedowns inside the clinch. Rousey is incredibly aggressive with a huge number of techniques, allowing her to expertly chain together takedowns at a very high pace.
Once Rousey gets her hands on her opponent, she seamlessly transitions between inside and outside trips, hip tosses, Russian arm drags, and ankle picks. It's actually fairly common for Rousey to miss her first takedown attempt, only to move into another move and finish the next maneuver.
However, it's also pretty common for Rousey's opponent to make it very easy for her. Either by rushing forward in an attempt to land a big punch or hastily retreating away from the clinch, her opponent gets herself completely off-balance before Rousey is even in contact. From there, Rousey just has to pick a throw that requires either a push or pull, depending on which direction her opponent is moving.
"Cupcake" showed this in both of their fights, getting thrown through the air when she charged forward but doing much better when the grappling slowed down.
Momentum is an important part of landing a takedown, especially in Judo. If her opponent remains composed, meaning she doesn't panic and let up an easy takedown, then Rousey's job has become much more difficult. In that situation, Rousey has to rely on her transitional ability, which luckily, is pretty incredible.
In her second bout with Miesha Tate, Rousey showed much improved ground strikes. Much like her clinch work, Rousey mixed quick, constant punches with harder elbow strikes. By constantly working her opponent, Rousey created openings to pass guard and look for her armbar.
Rousey rarely has to prove her takedown defense -- her opponent is usually fleeing from any grappling exchanges -- but she showed against Miesha Tate that it's pretty sound. Outside of a single takedown early on, each of Tate's double leg attempts landed her in a hip toss.
Obviously, breaking down Ronda Rousey's armbars is a must. In addition to the submission skills that came with her Judo background, Rousey has trained with Cesar Gracie's gym and its excellent submission fighters for quite some time.
Rousey is a very intelligent fighter; she doesn't rely solely on her physical gifts or incredible technique. A majority of her throws land her directly into positions from which she can attack with her armbar. Usually, that's side control with an overhook. Most fighters will use that underhook in an attempt to stand, which feeds directly into Rousey's armbar.
Should Rousey not directly fall into the armbar set up, she'll immediately begin working her way into mount. Rousey cuts her knee through any type of guard her opponent and then will look to slide into the mount. While doing this, Rousey keeps heavy pressure on her opponents upper body throughout.
While transitioning through dominant positions, it's fairly common for her opponent to give up her back in an attempt to stand or escape the constant ground strikes. From there, Rousey's raw aggression shines through, as she immediately jumps on her opponent's arm.
The average fighter usually loses top position when trying for this armbar, but Rousey instead hooks a leg and rolls her opponent into the standard armbar position.
Like all parts of her armbar game, Rousey's approach to breaking the grip is technical and quick. Instead of pulling through the elbow, which is fairly easy to defend even with a strength disadvantage, she wraps her arms around the wrist. The wrist is much weaker than the elbow joint, meaning it's easier to break the grip from there. What's more, the wrist can get twisted on its own and cause pain, a further incentive to release the grip.
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.
In order to use this grip, it's important that the attack fighter controls her opponent long enough to set it up. Rousey controls her opponent by squeezing her thighs together, gripping her opponent's arm by the tricep/shoulder joint. To increase the pressure, she crosses her ankles, which ensures Rousey has a tight squeeze with her thighs but makes it easier for her opponent to roll up.
Rousey is more than prepared for that situation.
First, Rousey will attempt to simply rip through her opponent's grip with pure force. If that fails, she'll reach under her opponent's 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 to break the grip once more. Since she's so excellent with her squeeze, Rousey is unconcerned that her opponent may momentarily roll into top position. She's able to get back to top position easily, and she's willing to go through this cycle as often as necessary.
In her most recent battle with Tate, Rousey brought out some non-armbar related jiu-jitsu. After Tate's sole takedown, Rousey pushed Tate's arm through her legs and managed to lock up a triangle. Though Tate's hand position prevented a finish, it didn't stop Rousey from battering Tate within the hold.
Defensively, Rousey appears to be in complete control on the mat. However, as mentioned, she commonly uses Judo throws that give up an underhook when she lands. Usually, that leads to an armbar for "Rowdy," but it can also allow her opponent to escape out the back door. Both Tate and Liz Carmouche managed to secure Rousey's back briefly, though Rousey showed excellent defense from there. Still, it's a risky part of Rousey's game, and one that's unlikely to change.
Best chance for success
This is not the fight for Rousey to demonstrate her improved striking. Zingano is a powerful striker and slow starter, so Rousey should look to eliminate any chance of her opponent's victory by taking her out early.
To do that, Rousey should act like she intends to strike. If ZIngano sees that Rousey is throwing punches early rather than looking for takedowns, she'll likely want to capitalize on that. When Zingano punches, she commonly gets a bit off-balance as she strikes.
Against Rousey, that will lead to an easy takedown. The first time Zingano commits to a punch, Rousey should look to slip down and grab a clinch. Before Zingano can recover her balance, Rousey can begin her takedown chain.
Once Rousey brings her opponent to the floor, it's all over.
Will Ronda Rousey continue to dominate her opposition, or can Cat Zingano pull off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history?