Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
The UFC women's bantamweight champion spent close to a half-hour in the Octagon. The snapping sound of her sparring partner hitting the mat after a throw turned heads from the farthest reaches of the expansive UFC Gym.
When she hit the mitts with her striking coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, she unleashed her combos with an abandon that suggested it was another full-on workout at the Glendale Fighting Club, not a half-speed exhibition for the media and assembled fans.
It was as if the star of Saturday night's show at Anaheim's Honda Center was trying to send a message to opponent Liz Carmouche that there's more to her game than just ambars.
"She's a good striker," said Tarverdyan. "She's been sparring with WBA world champions. She's been beating girls up. She's an elite athlete. If she sees something, she's right on you, and it's all up to her what she wants to do."
Perhaps Rousey's camp went out of its way to showcase aspects of the champion's game other than submissions as a bit of gamesmanship. But regardless of their intentions, Saturday's title fight between Rousey and challenger Liz Carmouche still comes down to one big, obvious question: Can Carmouche avoid the 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist's signature move?
Not only is it easier said than done: To date, it simply hasn't been done. As anyone who has paid even glancing attention to women's mixed martial arts can tell you, all nine of Rousey's MMA opponents (six pro and three amateur) have tasted first-round defeat by way of the armbar. Eight clocked in under a minute; the other, Miesha Tate, lasted until the 4:27 mark before Rousey made her tap and took her Strikeforce title last year.
Carmouche's San Diego Combat Academy trainer, Manolo "Hurricane" Hernandez, says the best way to prepare for Rousey's armbar is simply to be prepared for it.
"The thing with her ambars is, you know it's coming," Hernandez said. "It's not like it's some sort of secret. Knowing what to do once the attempt happens is what's important."
Hernandez hints that they've brought in training partners with the ability to help Carmouche counter the onslaught, though he's not naming names.
"That's why we've brought in the correct people," he said. "Knowing that I'm a black belt in jiu-jitsu, that doesn't mean I know everything, I'll let you know exactly who those people are afterwards. I feel like we've got the exact right people for this camp. We had a lot of girls come in for this camp from all over the country. It's a very big deal. We got a lot of help from a lot of Invicta fighters."
For her part, Rousey said on Wednesday that her streak of victories via armbar wasn't a matter of design. The champ's all about winning her fights in as efficient a manner as possible, and to date, the armbar has been the quickest path available.
"It's just the way the fights have gone," Rousey said. "I just kind of follow the flow of the fight. I don't really go for a specific thing. I'm not trying to go after one thing I want. I'm following my options. It could be that she's so overly aware of the armbar that they open up the options to other things. Sometimes when they're trying really hard not to get taken down, they're easier to knock out. Sometimes when they're looking to hard for the armbar, they're in an easier position for a TKO, so that happened a lot when I was doing judo. I was getting a lot of armbars for awhile and people started being so paranoid about it that I was pinning everybody. Because everyone was giving up position all the time, so I'm just staying and trying to adapt."
Part of the reason Rousey has been able to finish her opponents so quickly is that she's won the mental battle before the cage door even locks. Most recently, Sarah Kaufmann froze at the outset of their fight, allowing Rousey to pounce and quickly finish one of the bantamweight division's most solid strikers.
Carmouche knows this. "I can't freeze when I go in the cage," Carmouche said. "Because when you do that, she has you right away. It's constantly going, the constant execution of her game plan. I can't speak to other people have or haven't done, I haven't been in their training camps to see, but I'm treating this like every other fight."
"It's that deer-in-the-headlights thing," Hernandez said. "It's happened to so many of Ronda's opponents. That's the thing, that's the key to victory is not allowing your opponent to do his or her thing. I think we will be able to do that. I think we captured lightning in a bottle. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."
And make no mistake, with Carmouche a heavy underdog, a lot of folks would be surprised if the fight ended with anything other than a Rousey armbar. The champ insists, though, that she's going to win any way she can.
"My mom has a line, sometimes you'll hear people say ‘that's not pretty, that not proper," Rousey said. "My mom's line was, ‘if it works, it was right.' That's all I really care about. It's a fight. If I win a fight as quickly and efficiently as possible without taking any damage than that's the best way to try to win. I don't feel like standing there and trying to go for a roundabout way to winning to try to prove to a couple people I've never met before right or wrong. If I spent all my time trying to do that, I'd never get anything done."
While Rousey basically said it doesn't matter how she wins, Tarverdyan doesn't mind coming out and saying he's like to see the armbar streak stay alive.
"I would love for her to retire with only having armbars," he said. "I know I am teaching her the right things using her boxing. I'm not going to say ‘oh, just knock people out so they can know that your boxing coach is good, ‘that's nonsense to me. She has her armbars, if she uses what works, why do something else? If she retires with all first-round finishes, I would love that."
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