Every once in a while, a mixed martial artist becomes so dominant with a technique, it becomes their calling card. There have been several examples of this over time. For example, in the early days it was Tito Ortiz by ground and pound. In the early-to-mid 2000s, it was Mirko Cro Cop's left high kick. And currently, it's Ronda Rousey by armbar.
In eight combined professional and amateur fights, Rousey has won by the same submission move every time, and always in the first round. None was more impactful than her last, which came against Miesha Tate in a win that earned Rousey the Strikeforce bantamweight championship.
The victory certainly put all of women's MMA on notice that the technique was going to be difficult to defend even for the very best of competition.
The next fighter tasked with attempting to avoid and potentially defend the seemingly sure-thing is Sarah Kaufman, a former champion in her own right that has only lost a single time in a 16-fight career.
Of course, as it turns out, that one loss was due to armbar submission, a fact that will certainly embolden the Rousey supporters.
In preparation for the champion's specialty, Kaufman has spent time training with mixed martial artist and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Sheila Bird, with a focus on working out of bad situations. The hope is that the continued repetitions will ingrain in her the proper escape routes should the time come to use them during the August 18 matchup. And while no fighter has yet escaped the Rousey trap for long, Kaufman says there is nothing magical about the technique.
"I don't think it’s unstoppable," she said during a Wednesday media call for Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman. "It's one technique that can be used from multiple different angles. Ronda's clearly put a lot of work with the judo into the fast transitions, but it doesn't make me nervous. It's something that could happen but it's also something I’m prepared for.
"It’s an armbar," she continued. "People can have a mystique behind someone because they have the same submission over and over again. It does create an aura of kind of, 'Oh, she's won every fight by the same thing.' And I did the same thing when I had eight knockouts in a row. You do have that mystique and someone has to break it, and that's what I'm prepared to do."
Meanwhile, while Kaufman has taken extra time to prepare for Rousey's strength, the inverse holds true as well. For this camp, Rousey has worked with Richard Perez, the striking coach best known for his work with the Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate. In addition, she has trained with Lucia Rijker, a noted striker who many believe was boxing's best all-time female talent. During her ring career, she went 17-0 with 14 knockouts, and she also had a 37-0 kickboxing record.
Ironically, UFC president Dana White recently wondered if Rousey would be relegated to a similar fate as Rijker, whose career stalled out largely due to the problems of finding suitable opponents for her.
So far, it seems Rousey isn't in danger of that. She's been on a media blitz over recent months that rivals anything any male MMA champion has done. From being on the cover of ESPN The Magazine to hosting TMZ to appearances on late-night talk shows, Rousey has invaded the mainstream media. But those commitments have been scaled back as much as possible in recent weeks. The obligations of fight promotion are still there, but they take a backseat to sharpening her skills.
"Now, I'm more focused on retaining the title than basking in having it," Rousey said. "So the last few weeks haven’t been about sitting back and enjoying myself; it’s been about preparing myself and being as formidable a force as possible on the 18th."
If that is the case, Kaufman, like those who have come before her, will have her hands full. To win, she will no doubt have to avoid what so far has been unavoidable. After all, "Rousey by armbar" has its own aura for a reason.