“Yeah, but…” is an MMA fan’s favorite phrase. “Fighter X has great standup, BUT he can’t grapple.” Fans are almost hard-wired to look for a fighter’s holes, almost to the point of completely overlooking where the fighter is strong. Ronda Rousey is an elite judoka, who had (up until UFC 170), taken every single one of her opponents down and submitted them with an armbar. After all of those victories, fans said “yeah, but what if she can’t take the girl down – she has no striking skills!?” On February 22, Rousey showed that not only has her striking come a long way, but that her takedown skills can stand up against the best grapplers in the world.
Rousey squared off against Sara McMann, who won a silver medal in wrestling in the 2004 Olympics. Conventional thinking held that McMann’s wrestling pedigree would allow her to keep the fight standing, forcing Rousey to test her striking skills. This excellent breakdown of each fighter’s takedown skills showed that McMann, just like Rousey, likes to bully her opponents into the cage where she could use her superior strength and technique to get the takedown.
When two fighters have such similarities in terms of style, something has to give. In this case, the fighter who could get her opponent’s back to the cage seemed to have a huge advantage. At UFC 170, that fighter was Ronda Rousey. The fight started quickly, as do all Rousey fights, with McMann taking the center of the cage and throwing hard strikes, a few of which caught Rousey. Rousey momentarily backed up, only to work her way into the clinch and pinning McMann’s back to the cage. The fight was all Rousey from there.
Rousey did a great job of forcing McMann into a completely defensive posture, working for takedowns and throwing knees to McMann’s body when she defended the takedown. McMann tried to work her way off the cage, but Rousey’s whizzer was too strong and her technique too solid to let McMann go. Soon enough, Rousey caught McMann with a knee to the body that seemed to hurt the wrestler and followed with another perfectly placed knee that caught McMann in the liver. McMann dropped to the mat and referee Herb Dean stepped in to wave off the contest.
Many fans booed the seemingly quick stoppage, but replays showed that McMann was clearly stunned and not able to defend herself. Rousey was standing over her, ready to throw strikes against her defenseless opponent. Letting the fight go at that point would have amounted to needless damage. Dean had already let one fighter, TJ Waldburger, take unnecessary punishment earlier in the evening and did not want to let it happen again.
The “yeah, but” that Rousey fans have pointed to so far is her seeming lack of striking skills. However, Rousey is showing that she is improving with every fight. She is a smart enough fighter to know how to use her takedown skills to put her in a strong position to strike. Great fighters work to fight where they know they have the advantage and let their skills take over from there. “Yeah, but” Cyborg is saying she is going to drop to 135. Rousey will be ready. Count on it.