Rousey’s armbar parade and the state of women’s MMA

As I’ve bragged repeatedly, perhaps because I’m so rarely ahead of the curve on such on things, I was touting Ronda Rousey as a future MMA star even before the 2008 Olympics. She was a badass, she was quotable, and she won a lot of her judo bouts by armbar — a good way of winning MMA fights.

So why am I a little concerned upon waking up this morning (no, I didn’t get a chance to see the fight — glad to see full highlights available) to see that Rousey has taken the Strikeforce title — again by armbar, again in the first round?

Perhaps it’s because I was impressed with Miesha Tate when I interviewed her for espnW. She’s a terrific spokeswoman for her sport. But honestly, I had a few misgivings before chatting with Tate.

Maybe because I don’t like bullies and brash attitudes. I’ll stand by my distaste for Chael Sonnen’s entire approach to the sport. I frankly don’t want to see Sonnen fight Anderson Silva again.

But beyond that, it’s a concern about the state of women’s MMA, a young sport within a young sport.

Think back to boxer James Toney fighting Randy Couture. Toney seemed to think his boxing skills, along with a brief introduction to the other aspects of the sport, would be sufficient for competing in the Octagon. A few boxing scribes turned up in Boston eager to heap dirt upon mixed martial arts, and the “no cheering on press row” ideal went out the window. When Couture wisely used a mix of mixed martial arts skills — a wrestling takedown, a jiu-jitsu finish and the MMA-specific skill of ground-and-pound — to subdue Toney, the crowd released a roar that was equal parts excitement, validation and relief.

To be fair, Rousey isn’t James Toney. Her MMA career has been brief, but she has still worked her way up a ladder. A judo base is also a lot better preparation for MMA than a boxing base — once she gets in a clinch or takes the fight to the ground, she’s in her element.

A better comparison might be Brock Lesnar, who fought for the UFC heavyweight title with a 2-1 record, beating no one of consequence. Like Rousey, Lesnar was a tough, powerful athlete with a grappling base. Even in his loss to Frank Mir, he showed a good set of MMA skills, adding ground-and-pound to his wrestling before showing his inexperience and falling into a submission.

Yet Lesnar’s rapid rise also pointed to a weak division of UFC heavyweights. The heavyweight class isn’t the deepest in MMA, and the UFC at the time was lacking a lot of the world’s best.

So what does Rousey’s rapid rise tell us about the state of women’s MMA?

Michael David Smith takes the half-full view. And he’s right that Rousey’s next fight could be a more compelling test than Tate was. Tate tried swarming Rousey with punches and kicks early, but she’s not a standout striker, and Compustrike only counted eight strikes that landed in 4:27 of fight time. By comparison, Sarah Kaufman landed 141 standing arm strikes – not just leg kicks and ground strikes that are easier to accumulate — in her win over Alexis Davis, even though Davis put her on the ground most of round 3 and wound up outstriking her in the total numbers. (Yes, I really wish I had seen that fight, and it’s a pity Strikeforce/Showtime didn’t put it on the main card.)

Maybe Kaufman will fill the Cain Velasquez role, beating the new champion in a standup battle, or at least the Shane Carwin role, taking it to the champion and forcing a comeback win. Then again, if Kaufman couldn’t keep Davis from taking her down even after punishing her for two rounds, can she keep Rousey at bay?

Like Lesnar (and unlike Toney), Rousey has built nicely on her grappling base, and she finally got a chance to show more of her skills against Tate. Rousey’s previous bouts hadn’t lasted more than a minute, and she was never put in any danger. Rousey had to work for this one. Tate at least got in a few punches and even got on her back at one point. She also got out of Rousey’s first armbar attempt. Rousey even showed off some ground-and-pound skills. Tate held on until her arm reached this gruesome point. (Warning: Not kidding about “gruesome.”)

So we can’t complain too much about her worthiness as a champion, even if she talked her way into the title shot. She’s a terrific fighter. And she’s exciting — fellow fighters lit up Twitter last night to gush about what they had seen.

Perhaps she’ll be the first of a new wave. Already, fellow Olympic-bred badass Sara McMann is blazing a trail through MMA. Men’s MMA evolved when elite wrestlers like Couture and Dan Henderson embraced the new sport. Maybe Rousey, McMann and company can do the same thing.

But just as MMA fans fondly recall the men’s trailblazers, even those who wouldn’t be competitive in the modern era, we should remember the people who fought before fighting was cool. And perhaps a few old-school fans will be rooting for Kaufman to win one for the old guard and teach these new folks some humility.

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15 Responses to Rousey’s armbar parade and the state of women’s MMA

  1. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    Tate is diva. Rousey us a SAVAGE. I thought Rousey had this fight won before the introductions, if not at the weigh in. They introduced Rousey and she was all business, taking her bad attitude straight idown the runway nto the cage. In contrast, after Tate was introduced,she simoly stood at the entrance to the arena with her belt over shoulder and a nervous smile on her face – basking in her glory, I suppose. Sickening.

    After the fight, they put the camera on Sarah Kaufman. The clueless announcers thought that Kaufman looked eager to fight for the title. In my mind, Kaufman looked somewhere between nervous and terrified after the Rousey fight. If you believe that 90% of MMA is mental, then it looks to me that Rousey has already won her fight against Kaufman.

  2. Beau Dure says:

    I’m asking others if Kaufman seemed scared. She wouldn’t have any reason to be. She’s a better striker than Tate. She had just endured a bloodbath against Davis.

    If she’s worried about something painful, she can just tap before Tate did.

    Tate’s no diva. Did you read my story about her?

  3. Pingback: Ranting about rivalries and respect | Popdose

  4. Greg says:

    Kaufman didn’t seem at all afraid to me. Kaufman is generally more reserved and humble than the average fighter, even the average female fighter. She doesn’t mug for the camera or go all Chael Sonnen in interviews. Unfortunately, some people take that as being timid. Kaufman, as should any intelligent fighter, is probably wary of Rousey’s judo skills and submission acumen, but in no way has she ever indicated that she would be afraid of fighting her. It always kills me to hear people who choose to make their living getting punched and kicked by trained athletes get called cowards.

    And for Jeff and others who thought Tate was intimidated, did they not see Tate come right at Rousey with fists flying, or see Tate escape an armbar long after 99% of fighters would have tapped out. Rousey basically had to rip her arm off to get her to tap. I wasn’t the biggest Tate fan before the fight, but I gained a lot of respect for her afterwards. Hopefully Rousey will stop with all the “I’m not sorry about her arm” bravado because, like Rousey, Tate does this because she loves it and it puts food on the table. Never take glee in potentially taking away someone’s livelihood.

  5. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    No one ever said Tate wasnt tough – too tough and proud for her own good. However, if you don’t think she’s a diva, what do you call someone who, upon being called into the ring, just stands there smiling with the belt draped over her shoulder for a FULL THIRTY SECONDS? I call that a diva. Did you see the loss on the womens faces while waiting for the fight to begin? I did. Three times. During her trip into the cage and her ridiculously long wait for Tate to stop preening and get down to business, Rowdy Ronda looked like she was ready to rip sometimes face of. Tate looked nervous, at best. That doesn’t make Tate a coward; her fight strategy rly to bum rush the less experienced striker and win the fight with strikes. She implemented that strategy, which failed. Tate has publicly declared that she is concerned with things other than simply winning, such as promoting and growing the sport. Rosy is single kindly concerned with three things only: beating ass, winning, and being the best in the world. This reminds me a lot of Tito Ortiz (Tate) and Chuck Liddell (Rousey). Ortiz was concerned with lots of non fight related crap like making sure he got paid and blazing a trail for fighters to have more leverage in the future with regard to getting paid. Liddell wanted only to kick ass and was willing to do it for free.

  6. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    Sorry about the ridiculous auto correct courtesy of my tablet. Hopefully you can decode most of my gibberish. Here is an answer key: loss =looks rip someones face of = rip someones face off strategy rly to=strategy was clearly to Rosy=Rousey single kindly=single mindedly

  7. Beau Dure says:

    But if you’ve seen or heard Rousey’s interviews and so forth, she certainly talks about a lot more than wanting to fight. She’s the one making a big effort to trade on her sex appeal. She was certainly the instigator in the trash talk leading up to the fight.

    Look at it from Tate’s perspective. You live in a trailer with your boyfriend and another aspiring fighter, parked outside the gym. You fight for scraps on tiny fight cards with ineffective oversight. You finally get a belt and some recognition. Then along comes Ms. “I Have Four Fights And Fans Love My Badass Blonde Attitude, Give Me The Belt.”

    Tate was pretty pissed off. You have to view it from that perspective.

    And look — I’ve talked with her! Twice, 3-4 years apart. She is definitely not a diva.

  8. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    Justified or not, Tate was concerned about the wrong stuff before this fight.  According to my extremely scientific study (i.e. a SWAG), when asked their opinion on an opponent’s worthiness, 9 out of 10 successful fighters reply: “I don’t care who they put in front of me.  I can beat anyone”.  Instead, Tate (justified or not) took that opportunity to whine about her matchup instead.  If anything, she should be delighted to face a supposedly inferior opponent and retain her belt.

    If you believe what Rousey said (and I’m not sure I do), then all of her pre fight BS was a tactic designed to knock Tate off her game.  It is evident that this strategy worked to masterful perfection.  

    At least Kaufman was a bit more subtle in her criticism of the now champion, never mentioning Rousey by name.  Kaufman smartly responded to questions regarding Rousey’s worthiness by saying “I have earned a title shot” rather than demeaning Rousey.  She was a bit more provocative post fight: “Americans like to talk.  Canadians like to fight” but still smartly never calls Rousey out by name.  At least Kaufman’s post fight interview (which I just heard this morning) belied what looked like a timid appearance in the post fight video coverage.  Plus, Kaufman had a legitimate beef.  She was being denied something.  As the champ, Tate had no reason to whine. Just beat up whoever they put in front of you, check her name off the list, and move on.  Any inferior or unworthy opponents they put in front of you are only doing you a favor anyway.  

    Tate’s press conference antics seemed planned and forced.  Instead of simply being a badass, it was like she had some sort of pre press conference strategy like this:  “hmm…how can I make myself look like a badass?  Ah!  I know I’ll get in Rousey’s face.  Yeah, that’s the ticket”.  Now clearly any woman who can win the men’s state wrestling title is no physical slouch, but I think she lost the Rousey pre fight mental game BIG TIME.  

    Watch the 5 minutes before the fight again.  Aside from some brief low fives on her expeditious trip to the ring, Rousey was 100% business.  Just look at her face.  Her eyes tell me that she was ready to rip someone’s face off.  Even if Dominick Cruz somehow made a wrong turn and stepped into the cage, Rousey looked ready to go.  Hell, she looked ready to kick Heidi Androl’s ass during the pre fight interview.  She had me scared and I was 100′s of miles away at the time. Rousey did all of her talking and other BS days before the fight, not in the cage.  Once she was in the cage, Rousey was a perfect example of focus.  She barely even acknowledged the crown when Jimmy Lennon announced her.

    Whether she *is* a diva or not, Tate looked and behaved like a diva and continued her antics right up until the bell rang instead of focusing on the task at hand.  What’s up with preening in front of the camera with your belt for half a minute before getting down to business?!??  Her face told me that she was soaking it all in, almost as if someone had given her some (bad) advice like: “Don’t forget you’re the champion.  You’ve arrived.  So very few people ever accomplish what you have done.  Make sure you enjoy this rare experience.  Don’t get so wrapped up in the fight that you forget to savor the experience of walking into that cage as the reigning champion.”. Thanks “Mom”.  I’ll take my advice from “Dad” instead: “Get serious.  Focus.  You can enjoy the moment AFTER you win.”.  On her way to the cage she showed off her belt, then pranced around the cage and chatted with her corner some more once she got in.  She continued to play to the crowd right through introductions. 

    Just listen to their own words before the fight.  Rousey was fighting for her dad who said she could be the best in the world.  Tate on the other hand relished the “crowd cheering” when she win her title fight.  It appears to me that one fighter is a bit more interested in fame than the other.

    Speaking of poor strategy, Tate declared that she knew how to keep her emotions in check and that her pre fight antics were designed to get Rousey wound up and make Rousey over zealous and a little crazy to start the fight so that she could capitalize on that.  When the bell rang, it was Tate herself that got a little crazy, recklessly rushing across the ring.  Her reward?  Immediately getting taken down, followed shortly by a dislocated elbow (which she survived – hey, nobody can question her toughness).  Way to use that experience and composure, Miesha.  She’s lucky she’s not a man because I’ve seen many a man recklessly rush across the ring directly into a KO inducing right hand.  

    Post fight, Rousey didn’t even smile for about a minute and mugged for the cameras for all of about 2 seconds.  ALL BUSINESS.  Rousey might be full of crap in the press room, but in the cage she is single mindedly focused.  

    In closing, Mr Dure I’m SURE it was just a typo when you mentioned giving the belt to Rousey.  She may have been given a SHOT at the belt, but she TOOK that belt, with prejudice.

  9. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    Since you brough up Chael Sonnen, I feel compelled to address that as well. He’s a punk and a joke. How his last coma-inducing bout has earned him #1 contender status and a title shot is beyond me. I guess when you look at the motley crew which makes up the UFC Middleweight division he’s the least bad of the lot. Silva is going to erase Sonnen. If Okami hadn’t lost his focus for about 30 seconds in his last fight, I would have been much more willing to support him for a title shot over Sonnen; but it really doesn’t matter. I’m only the 3,614th person to say this, but it bears repeating. No one in Middleweight can touch Anderson Silva right now.

    Maybe one of the Light Heavyweights will get sick of being beaten up by “Bones” and give Silva a run for his money. I certainly don’t see any of the current welterweights moving up (Although I would pay to watch Silva decapitate Carlos Condit – I hate that guy. He who punches and runs away lives to fight another day, wins the decision, and has the most BORING FIGHTS EVER).

    I look forward to your next comment and/or post. I love a vigorous debate. I should have been a lawyer.

    –JT

  10. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    A revision of the above. Since Koscheck can’t beat GSP, I could see him trying to bulk up to 185 after he loses to Johnny Hendricks, but I don’t think Kos can contend for the title at 185. Johnny Hendricks is my favorite fighter in all of MMA. I love that guy and hope he gets to face GSP after he dismisses Condit.

    Given my man-love for the submission artists, it shouldn’t surprise you tht the guy I would most like to see get a chance at 185 is Palhares. Maybe after Sonnen loses to Silva (again) Polhares can add Sonnen’s leg to his collection and earn a shot at the title himself. Just like a powerful striker always has a “puncher’s chance”, submission artists like Palhares and Rousey will always have a “submitter’s chance” to beat anybody.

    –JT

  11. Beau Dure says:

    I just don’t see what you’re seeing with Tate. She was complaining about Rousey getting the title shot out of loyalty to the way things are usually (but not always) done in the fight game — you fight your way up the ladder and THEN earn your shot.

    And no, she’s not chasing fame. She would rather have fought Sarah Kaufman without all the hoopla.

    Everyone has a different approach getting to the cage. Rampage has always done the howl and stare — back when he was a good focused fighter and today when he’s all over the place. Tom Lawlor’s walkouts are legendary. Then look at Japan, where Mayhem Miller’s classic entrances weren’t that unusual. I really don’t think you can read much into that.

    If Silva’s healthy, he should take care of Sonnen. And I do like Palhares’ fights, too.

  12. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    If you don’t see a mental breakdown on behalf of Tate, how do you explain the following 2 quotes from Miesha Tate?

    Before the fight: “I think I have a lot more experience so I know how to keep my emotions in check and stay smart and I’m hoping that maybe she will go out there and gets [sic] over zealous and gets a little crazy and then I’ll be able to capitalize on that as well.”

    Note the exact strategy: Let Rousey get over zealous.

    After the fight: “I really didn’t like her so I wanted to come out here and come out hard. Got a little over zealous. She caught the arm. I gotta give her respect.”

    Strategy: Bait opponent into getting over zealous.
    Result : Got too caught up in the pre fight BS and instead was over zealous herself. Oops.

    If that’s not a fatal mental error then what is it?

  13. Beau Dure says:

    Oh, I’m not saying I don’t see a mental breakdown, or at least mental errors. I do think Rousey got into her head. But I don’t consider that being a diva.

  14. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    Most of Tate’s pre-fight behavior is well within the realm of acceptability. The thing I can’t get over is the 30 seconds of preening with the belt over her shoulder that she did at the entrance to the arena after her name was announced. I can see only three possible explanations for this behavior:

    1) She was acting like a diva.

    2) She was following some of “mom’s” horrible advice. Um, mom, the time to take it all in and enjoy it is with your kids at the zoo, not when you’re about to step into the cage with a very angry person who is intent on separating you from one of your arms.

    3) This was part of an overall strategy to get Rousey off her game so that she would be over zealous. I’ll just pose there for as long as I can while my opponent, who is chomping at the bit to get going, fumes. Then I’ll take my sweet time getting to the ring. By the time we actually make it to the opening bell, she’ll be so anxious to tear my head off that she will be over aggressive and make a mistake. See above for how that strategy worked out.

    Using my impressive (flawed) skills of scientific reasoning, I can conclude that there is a 33% chance that Miesha Tate is a diva :)

  15. Jeff Timmerberg says:

    Frankly, the 30 seconds of posing with the belt before deciding to grace the cage with her presence reminds me of something our dear friend, Mr Humility, Chael Sonnen would do.

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