How far can Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey's star rise? I'd offer as far as Jon Jones if she's allowed time to develop, can get the appropriate amount and right kinds of fights, and continues to win. That last part is crucial since she faces her toughest challenge to date in challenger Sarah Kaufman. While Kaufman doesn't have the floor skills of Miesha Tate, she is an adept boxer in MMA contexts. Given Rousey's particular weakness standing, that could make for a very interesting title fight.
Can Rousey continue her momentum through the bantamweight division into MMA super stardom? Will 'Jacare' defeat Brunson to earn a rematch with middleweight champion Luke Rockhold? I try to answer these questions with my predictions for Rousey vs. Kaufman.
Where: Valley View Casino Center, San Diego, Calif.
When: Saturday, the four-fight Showtime Extreme card starts at 8 p.m. ET, the five-fight Showtime card starts at 10.
Predictions for the five-fight television card airing on Showtime below.
There is a case to be made Kaufman is being unfairly overlooked here. Yes, her lone loss came by submission to Marloes Coenen, but that's hardly an indictment. It was also a learning process and I suspect if given the option, she won't be hanging out in Rousey's guard (granted, she may not get the option to leave). The issue is really whether Kaufman can use her striking (which does lack serious reach) to hurt Rousey and at a minimum keep her at distance. Rousey has incredible skills, but her distance closing to clinch is not much more advanced than what her natural instincts tell her to do. I've yet to see her jab her way into it.
Tate was able to land on Rousey with surprising ease even if Rousey shut it down quickly by clinching and throwing. What I know is once Rousey locks up with Kaufman, I suspect she's a goner. I respect Kaufman's takedown defense greatly, but Rousey is a completely different animal. For me, this fight comes down to how Rousey closes the distance and whether she takes abuse along the way or is even successful. I think she'll find a way to get it done, but it's by no means a foregone conclusion.
Bowling might make this interesting early. He's got blinding power, aggression and the piss and vinegar of youth coursing through his veins. Saffeidine, however, is a better fighter all things being equal. There might be a few tense moments in the first round and it's not out of the question that Bowling could put him away. But the safer bet is the fighter with more skills. In the end, skills win fights.
Brunson is extremely talented and despite lacking veteran experience, has the tools to be something special. He's a physically dominant athlete with punching power, a wrestling background and a quick learning curve. Facing Jacare, however, is by far his toughest fight to date. My sense about this is Brunson is clearly capable of rising to the occasion, especially if he can stop Souza's takedowns. I'm betting over time he won't be able to, but I'd also say the odds on this fight are completely out of whack. This is much more competitive than folks are suggesting.
What worries me about Sayers is that win or lose he's never been out of the first round. That is now and will always be a red flag in a fighter's career. It can mean good things, too, but also implies shortcomings or not enough opportunities. The issue is whether Anthony Smith is the guy to take advantage of this. I have my doubts. Smith seems to struggle with more seasoned, high-level opposition. He's still young and has time to develop his skills, but for now the fire power of Sayers should get the job done.
I'll admit I'm a little surprised this made the main card over Miesha Tate vs. Julie Kedzie, but what can you do? As for Cook and St. Preux, I'm going to go with the former University of Tennessee Volunteer. Preux had a tough outing against Gegard Mousasi in December of 2011, but I believe he's the better athlete and superior puncher to Cook. St. Preux also has still developing offensive wrestling skills to boot, which often leads to rather ferocious ground and pound. St. Preux has a tendency to not adhere to game plans the longer fights go, but I don't know if Cook is really the guy to drag this out late.
Pick: St. Preux