Once again, the female fighters stole the show on a Strikeforce Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio. Now we sort through the aftermath for the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between.
Biggest Winner: Ronda Rousey
Turns out she was ready for this level of competition after all. The outspoken Olympic medalist showed Tate that there’s more to this judo stuff than you can learn in just a couple months. Once the fight hit the floor, Rousey overpowered and outmaneuvered Tate with shocking ease. Even when Tate knew to look out for the armbar, she couldn’t stay out of it. That’s not to say there aren’t still some holes in Rousey’s game -- the way she seems to lead with her chin on the feet, for instance -- but anyone who can submit Tate that easily and that brutally is someone who’s going to give future challengers a lot of sleepless nights. She may have talked her way into this fight, but her performance proved she belongs. Now women’s MMA has the kind of brash champion it needs to shake things up. Up to this point, female fighters have tended to play it a little too nice outside the cage, possibly because they all felt themselves to be a part of the same struggle. Rousey just skipped to the front of the line by stepping on her predecessors’ backs, and now she might be hard to dislodge from that top spot. Things are getting interesting, in other words. Just in time, too.
Biggest Loser: Miesha Tate
First of all, how is her arm not broken? How is that even possible? Rousey had her arm looking like Olive Oyl in the old Popeye cartoons by the time she tapped, and you’re telling me that the bones in a human arm can withstand that? This changes everything I thought I knew about the human body, and I'm not sure I like that. It’s got to be a bummer for Tate to go down to the same submission that Rousey used on every other opponent, so I can understand her reluctance to tap to it. Still, it’s one thing to hold on if you’re working for an escape or trying to ride out the round. Tate was doing neither during that final armbar. She refused to tap out of pure stubbornness, which is kind of cool, I guess, but also very risky when you need a working arm just to stay employed. You can’t question Tate’s toughness after that fight, but maybe you can question whether she was adequately prepared for Rousey’s judo throws. Even if her arm isn’t actually broken, my guess is she might still get some doctor-mandated time off to think about where things went wrong.
Least Impressive in Victory: Josh Thomson
At least he gave us an honest appraisal of his own lackluster performance. "It was s--t," he said in his post-fight interview. Yeah, that pretty much nails it. He did what he had to do to get the decision over KJ Noons, but that’s all. He made things slightly better for himself by owning up to the boring monotony of the whole thing, kind of like how obese comedians have learned to make fun of their own girth just to beat other people to the punch. Trouble is, you can only take that out that so many times before people start to wonder why you don’t do something about it. Thomson blamed his training, which he said he’d altered just so he could finally get through a camp without getting injured. Apparently it didn’t leave him with enough gas in the tank to do much more than hold Noons down. There has to be a happy medium between not training hard enough and training so hard you can’t get out of bed in the morning. Plenty of other fighters seem to find it. Why can’t Thomson?
Most Surprising: Kazuo Misaki
Coming into this fight, I thought all Misaki had to offer was a head hard enough to take Paul Daley’s brain-scrambling punches. Turned out he had a lot more than that, and Daley had a lot less. Misaki earned that decision, and I think everyone but Daley (and one of the three judges) knew it. It just goes to show that sometimes you don’t need one spectacular attribute to win a fight. Sometimes toughness and technique is enough. Of course, it helps if your opponent tries to rely too much of a grappling game that just isn’t there.
Best Argument in Favor of a ‘Showtime Extreme’ Subscription: Sarah Kaufman vs. Alexis Davis
You could point out that it doesn’t make a ton of sense for what was essentially the number one contender bout to be relegated to the prelims when the title fight itself was slotted for the main event. And you’d be right. Maybe Strikeforce thought fans would rebel at the thought of two women’s fights on the main card, but the truth is Kaufman and Davis put on a much better show than any of the men’s fights on Saturday night. You’re telling me viewers wouldn’t have preferred to see Kaufman and Davis slugging it out rather than Thomson and Noons hugging it out? The bright side is, at least Strikeforce has found a way to televise its prelims so fans didn’t have to miss that scrap entirely. Good thing, too. Otherwise it might have been really baffling to keep showing a lumped up Kaufman smiling from cageside before the Rousey-Tate fight.
Most Depressing: Scott Smith
Maybe it’s the years and the beatings catching up with him, but Smith looked like a man who was just showing up to get a paycheck. He appeared neither physically prepared nor psychologically motivated, and he tapped quickly to a guillotine choke that he didn’t even try to escape. Maybe that’s a little too harsh. Maybe he had, as fighters so often do, a litany of reasons/excuses for not being in top form on Saturday night. But if you’re not going to try any harder than that once you’re in the cage, does it even matter? Smith got by on his punching power and his ability to take a beating for years. Maybe he did it for too long, or learned too many of the wrong lessons in the process. All I know for sure is that this is the wrong line of work for someone who’s just going through the motions.
Most Deserving of a Closer Look: Pat Healy
He’s been a background player for Strikeforce these last couple of years, but his win over Caros Fodor shows that he’s earned a bigger role. It’s his fourth consecutive victory in the promotion, and his second straight submission over a legitimate talent. Could it be that Healy has finally found his groove? It might be too early to tell, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him face tougher competition in some main card bouts in order to help us find out.
Most Bizarrely Enjoyable: Strikeforce’s Broadcast Trio
It used to be cloying. Then it got kind of fun. Then it got almost too fun to be professional, but now Mauro Ranallo, Pat Miletich, and Frank Shamrock have found their sweet spot. They know each other well enough to make the broadcasts seem effortless at times, and they might have finally gotten comfortable enough with another to make it seem like we’re just eavesdropping on three knowledgeable analysts, each of whom brings something different to the table. For instance, when Ranallo went to great pains to pin down the Japanese name for a particular throw, Miletich chimed in right on cue with exactly what many viewers were likely thinking: In America, we call that a hip toss, Mauro. Ranallo has wisely toned down the puns and the scripted schtick, so when he does pull out terms like "pulverized proboscis" it’s like we’re all in on the joke. When it’s time for serious analysis, there’s still nobody better than Miletich at capturing the complex with simple descriptions that even the novice can understand. It took a while, and no shortage of missteps, but this team is rapidly becoming one of my favorites.