In Ronda Rousey vs. Sara McMann, Olympic credentials replace reality TV hype

Esther Lin

LOS ANGELES -- Daniel Cormier took a look at Sara McMann, the 2004 Olympic wrestling silver medalist, who was seated to his left. Then he turned to his right and saw Ronda Rousey, the 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist.

All Cormier could do was shake his head and let out a wry cackle. "I"m the only person here without a freakin' Olympic medal," said Cormier, who placed fourth in wrestling in 2004.

At Wednesday's downtown media event promoting UFC 170, the world-class credentials of the main event fighters were the prime topic of conversation. Rousey defends her women's bantamweight title against McMann at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

This time around, there's no need for Ultimate Fighter-style melodrama, because the sport sells itself. During a match which will be contested at the same time as the Sochi Olympics, a pair of Olympic medalists will meet for the first time in a UFC title fight. Oh, and both fighters are undefeated.

"I think it's an amazing matchup, its good not just for women's MMA but MMA in general," Rousey said. "Two undefeated fighters, both not just Olympians but medalists, all those factors combined. Olympic medalists undefeated for the championship, we've never had that many factors come together, so yeah, it just really speaks to how far MMA has come in general."

And Rousey, who said that Dana White called her three weeks before UFC 168 to see if she'd be interested in fighting in February (although McMann's name wasn't revealed until after the event), is looking forward to competing against an opponent on her merits rather than because of a reality-show buildup, as was the case with her contentious meeting with Miesha Tate last month.

"I couldn't be more excited than to have an athlete on Sara's level test myself against," said Rousey (8-0). "It helps all of us. It can't be like one Olympian had a jump against everyone else. It raises the whole level for everyone. I don't have a bad thing to say about her."

McMann (7-0), a soft-spoken and thoughtful person who couldn't match Rousey's occasional penchant for trash talk if she wanted to, returned the plaudits. "It's different when you have respect for the person you compete against," McMann said. "I don't think it changes how I will compete, but, I competed against Olympic medalists, and world medalists and champions, as did Ronda, so you have a certain degree of respect for the people who put in the work that you've put in."

And while this is McMann's first taste in the UFC's main event limelight, don't expect her to approach the hype like a deer in the headlights. As part of the first women's Olympic wrestling competition in 2004, McMann was besieged with media requests leading up to the Athens games, an experience she says she'll draw upon to handle the publicity.

"We were the first team for the Olympics in ‘04, so we received a lot of attention for our sport," McMann said. "So it was a constant barrage of attention, you couldn't sit down to your meal without having reporters there. Outside of training time, it was all interviews. But now I think the second time around it's going to be a little easier because I know what to expect."

Rousey has become so accustomed to overwhelming her opposition with sharp judo throws and finishing them with armbars that it seems like second nature. But, with all due respect to the high-level opponents Rousey has defeated, this is the first time she'll be pushed by someone who also boasts a world-class skill.

Cormier broke into his FOX analyst mode to break down the matchup of Rousey's judo vs. McMann's wrestling.

"When she feels Sara, she's going to feel the type of power, and the type of athlete she felt in her judo competitions," said Cormier, who meets Rashad Evans in the UFC 170 co-main event. "It's not like grabbing someone you can just throw down. It's like, now I'm grabbing someone who is on the athletic level I am. I don't know how the fight is going to play out, but physically it will be different, because Sara's base is different because she competed her entire life. And Sara will feel with Ronda, she's never felt anything like this outside of wrestling. She usually just double legs them and throws them down. That's going to be a lot harder to do against Ronda, because Ronda is an Olympian."

Rousey wasn't about to disagree with Cormier's take.

"I'm absolutely positive that the way I threw Miesha when she came in for her shots, it will not be possible to do that against Sara," Rousey said. "Just because of the time she's put in and the level of athlete she is and the technique she has. I'm going to have to approach her completely different than Miesha, the level that she's at, she has to be approached entirely differently."

And after the months of drama that went into her last fight, that approach is something Rousey relishes.

"I like how different it is," Rousey said. "It’s hard to sell the same thing over and over and over. I think the dynamic of the fight is so different that it makes it easier to get people interested so soon. ... I approach every single fight differently. I think this is the perfect fight at the perfect time."

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