Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Good luck finding anyone that shows conviction in picking Liz Carmouche to upset Ronda Rousey. The UFC women's bantamweight champion is an overwhelming 12-to-1 favorite in the UFC 157 headliner, with most expecting her to continue her streak of first-round armbars. I'll spare you the drama and tell you I'm among that group.
It all comes down to the fact that Rousey has the ability to strip away various elements of the fight game, forcing her opponent to defend the takedown, and then, the arm bar. And she'll repeat that process as many times as necessary until she gets the tap.
Time and again, we've seen Rousey (6-0) punch or otherwise earn her way into a clinch and force her way into a position which favors her years of practice and world-level experience. There may but a handful of names in women's MMA who can deal with that position, and we haven't found one yet.
There isn't a whole lot of evidence to suggest that Carmouche (8-2) is that person. The biggest strike I see against Carmouche is that the clinch is actually a position she likes and actively works for. It has worked well in most of her fights. She is strong and has a low center of gravity, so she has done well working her opponent against the fence, for instance. It's something she did against Marloes Coenen in a fight in which she nearly pulled off a stunning upset. It's a tactic she uses often.
Against Rousey, that is going to fail nearly all of the time. The reason is that Rousey has trained those positions her entire life, and against the very best the world has to offer. Unless she has an injury that limits her movement and affects her base, she is always going to win those fights within the fight. Her balance and sense of space are without peer in women's MMA.
When she fought Miesha Tate, for instance, Tate charged forward and got inside against Rousey, getting an underhook with her weight underneath Rousey. Tate, who has a background in wrestling, looked to have the angle on a takedown. But as she drove forward, the calm Rousey shifted her feet and tripped her off-balance opponent to the mat. As we know, Tate didn't tap to the first armbar Rousey tried but she eventually fell prey to Rousey's signature finisher.
Carmouche has good wrestling skills, as Coenen and others like Kaitlin Young can attest, but they're not overwhelming. According to FightMetric, she's completed just 35 percent of her takedown tries, while she's defended 60 percent of takedowns against her. To be fair, it's a limited sample size of only four fights, but Carmouche hasn't shown the elite level of grappling necessary to suggest she'll threaten Rousey.
The striking? For the purposes of this breakdown, it's worth discussing, but it's likely not going to be a major factor on fight night. Rousey's hands have improved a little at a time, but that's a conclusion made as much from training footage as fight footage. Rousey's six pro fights have totaled just seven minutes and 39 seconds, with the vast majority of that on the ground, so there's not a lot of real analysis to be taken from her standup game. She didn't look stellar in her match with Tate, which is by far her longest to date. But in video of her training with coach Edmond Tarverdyan and former female boxing star Lucia Rijker, she appears to have a much more fluid and controlled approach. It's unknown if she can carry that with her out of the gym and into the cage.
Carmouche's striking is competent, and she may even have the advantage against Rousey. She has a good straight right hand and she likes to attack the lead leg with kicks, but she has a tendency to work into the clinch, and as I stated, that's going to lead to very bad things against Rousey.
The one other thing worth pointing out against Carmouche is that she seemed to struggle going backward in a couple of her fights, and Rousey is a pressure fighter, so that should come into play as well.
All of this may make it sound like Carmouche has no chance. She is a huge underdog. But there are plenty of question marks about Rousey, too. Does she have a chin? Who really knows? Tate hit her pretty square and she didn't fall down, so that's a good sign, but it's hardly unassailable proof. Will her striking hold up over extended stretches? Does she have conditioning to go late into a fight? Will she fall apart if she can't get the armbar tap? These are all legitimate questions with answers that are left to the future.
As best I can tell, Carmouche is not the one who will force an answer. Her game is too dependent on the clinch, a position which Rousey owns. A clinch fight is a Rousey fight, and we all know how that ends.
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