Esther Lin, Showtime
While it's Ronda Rousey's armbar that gets all the attention and makes all the headlines, it's actually her ability to take the fight where she wants it that makes those finishes possible. No one has yet been able to resist her throws and takedowns with any regularity. Beyond that, the main element in Rousey's success is her fearlessness. She is willing to do what is necessary to get into a clinch, knowing full well that a takedown is likely to follow, and the end is probably an eventuality.
In taking down Miesha Tate three times during her Strikeforce bantamweight title win in March, she proved that even the best wrestlers will struggle to stay off their backs against her. But she also proved that she could overcome adversity, as Tate was able to take her back on one occasion and had top position on another. Rousey has also had most of this success as a relative rookie in the cage, as she won the belt within one year of her professional debut.
All those things add up to forecast a brilliant future for Rousey (5-0), who is still just 25 years old and learning many of the fine points of the game. As she's grown in stature, it's afforded her opportunities to better her training, spending time with Team Cesar Gracie members like the Diaz brothers, striking coach Richard Perez and renowned retired female boxer Lucia Rijker.
Because of that, it's entirely realistic to think that Rousey will continue to look better each time out. And that makes her a tall order for anyone, even a former champion like Sarah Kaufman.
Kaufman (15-1) is a far more finished mixed martial arts product at this stage of her career than Rousey. Although at 26, she's only one year older than Rousey, she's been training in MMA for almost a decade, and has fought professionally for six years. She's an excellent striker, a competent wrestler, and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt. There is no glaring hole in her game.
How then, is she a massive underdog, as odds everywhere suggest?
Well, for one thing, not a single fighter has managed to stay off the mat with Rousey for even a minute, and there's nothing to suggest that Kaufman will be the first. Even Tate, who was a decorated high school wrestler in Washington, winning the state championship, found herself on her back within 10 seconds of the opening bell.
According to FightMetric, Kaufman has successfully stopped 86 percent of the takedowns against her in seven Strikeforce bouts. That's a very strong number, but she's also never faced anyone with credentials like Rousey, a bronze-medal winning judo Olympian in 2008. Tate, for example, took Kaufman down twice in their fight in May 2009. So did Roxanne Modafferi. And in fact, despite that gaudy defensive percentage, Kaufman has been taken down by opponents in four straight fights, and in six of her last seven. That means that persistence against her has paid off, and Rousey is nothing if not persistent.
Kaufman largely prefers to do her work from distance, using her technical footwork and combinations off her lead jab to batter opponents. She does it to the tune of a 44 percent accuracy rate, a fairly high number for a standup-heavy fighter. She is without question the most accomplished striker Rousey has yet to face. But Kaufman also has a tendency to punch her way into clinches. She did it multiple times in her last fight against Alexis Davis, and that kind of tactic that has a strong probability of backfiring against Rousey.
Of course, Kaufman is also a cerebral fighter, so she knows this. How she adjusts her approach is a big key to how she performs. There should be a premium on her footwork and circling out of clinch range. The jab should be heavily featured along with low kicks. Sometimes, fighters go in with plans to do something very specific but eventually resort to what they do best.
This could well be one of those fights, mainly because Rousey fights like a bully, which is generally a good attribute because it puts your opponent on the defensive. It also means that for her, at some point in time, a clinch is inevitable. It will be impossible to avoid for five rounds. And in that position, Rousey has no peer. She is physically strong and technically superior to anyone in her division there. At some point, she will take Kaufman down. And then what? Tate showed that it's possible to escape the armbar once, maybe even twice, but even when you know it's coming, Rousey's tenacity, power and speed in application make it the equivalent of swimming against a riptide. At some point, you are likely to drown.
Kaufman recently said that Rousey's armbar is not unstoppable. To date, it's been nothing but. It will take a ground wizard with technique and strength to survive multiple attempts, and I don't think Kaufman can match Rousey in grappling over the long haul. Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman ends with the same old song, Rousey by armbar.
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