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Rousey versus Tate still SF's best move

1/6/2012

If anyone had cause to be upset this week by reports that Strikeforce is on the verge of signing a women’s 135-pound title match between Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, it was surely Sarah Kaufman.

Having put the memory of her October 2010 loss to Marloes Koenen behind her with two consecutive victories, Kaufman had every reason to believe she would be back in the pole position for a shot at Tate’s championship. Herself a former titlist, Kaufman already owned a 2009 win over the current champ and at 14-1, it would be difficult to find a female fighter with a better résumé.

No doubt about it, losing out on an immediate opportunity to regain her Strikeforce bantamweight crown is a bad beat for Kaufman, who described learning of the organization’s plans to have Tate fight Rousey instead as “terrible news ... frustrating ... [and] ridiculous,” in an interview with MMA Fighting.com.

Unfortunately for her, it’s also the right next move for the women’s division.

In most measureable ways, Kaufman is right about this matchup. Rousey hasn’t beaten anyone “of a high caliber” and hasn’t beaten anyone at all at 135 pounds. Kaufman is also correct that Rousey has essentially talked her way into this title fight, calling out Tate and then confronting her on Ariel Helwani’s popular MMA Hour talk show. She has 10 fewer professional fights than Kaufman does and can’t compete with her in terms of cage time or dues paid.

What Rousey does bring to the table is something that can’t be measured on a stat sheet. It’s also the very thing the female ranks need most of all right now: Excitement.

Through her first seven MMA fights (three of them as an amateur) nobody has managed to last even a minute with Rousey. No one has been able to avoid her Olympic-quality judo game or "steer clear of her nasty" arm bars, even though everyone knew both were coming by the time she turned pro. As we learned when she and Tate appeared on Helwani’s show in November, nobody has yet been able to hang with her in a moderated debate, either.

Rousey has the chance to be transformative figure in women’s MMA. To do that, though, she needs to prove she can back up all her talk. Giving her an immediate shot at Tate gives her that chance in a sink-or-swim, high-stakes gambit that will be attractive to fight fans, assuming Strikeforce spends any time at all promoting it. Tate versus Rousey feels fresh and compelling (two other things Strikeforce in general and the women’s division in particular need to strive for) and comes steeped in bad blood. The fact that some people don’t think Rousey deserves it only makes it all the more interesting.

In a nutshell: this fight makes sense. Unlike this weekend’s Stikeforce event, where we still don’t know exactly why Keith Jardine is fighting Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title, Tate-Rousey reads as a step forward for the women’s bantamweight division. It doesn’t feel like treading water or desperation matchmaking -- it feels right.

It’s a shame the decision had to come at the expense of Kaufman, who is an outstanding fighter and a fine ambassador for the sport. Here’s hoping she can be first in line for the winner, in a title fight which will be all the better and itself more exciting for the longer wait.