MMA: Ronda Rousey
The armbar: It’s the signature submission hold of UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. She has finished all seven of her professional opponents in the first round using the technique.
Even the woman who will coach opposite Rousey on this season of "The Ultimate Fighter," which begins Wednesday night at 10 ET on Fox Sports 1, knows what it feels like to be caught in that armbar. Former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Miesha Tate will be the first to tell you that it doesn’t feel good.
Rousey lifted the Strikeforce bantamweight title from Tate via an armbar on March 3, 2012. Tate has been attempting to become champion ever since.
Tate believes that the time has finally arrived to reclaim her status as best women’s bantamweight mixed martial artist. She is more confident than ever of dethroning Rousey and promises the armbar won’t come into play a second time around when they meet Dec. 28 at UFC 168 in Las Vegas.
With each training session, Tate discovers something new about the mistakes she made in the loss to Rousey. She says she won’t make them again. If Rousey is to retain her 135-pound title, she will have to do so with something other than an armbar.
“I learn a lot in every fight, but especially the ones that I lose,” Tate told ESPN.com. “I know the mistakes I made in that [first] fight, and I do believe they are fixable. I’m working on them all the time.
“And I’m keen to the mistakes she made. [Rousey] is not perfect. She makes mistakes in fights, too. It’s a matter of who can exploit them better. In the first fight she was definitely able to exploit the mistakes I made better.
“But I’m much more familiar with her style; I’m much more familiar with judo. I’ve learned a lot. There are things that I’ve taken note of.”
“Tate acknowledges that Rousey won the psychological battle. She was able to get under Tate’s skin, which eventually took her out of her game.
I have the skill-set to beat her. She's not invincible by any means. I know that being emotional and being mean-spirited does not serve me well inside the Octagon. So, I'd rather go in there with a positive outlook.” -- Miesha Tate on fighting Ronda Rousey for the second time.
Rousey never hides her feelings. If she doesn’t like you, she will let you know it right away. Rousey doesn’t like Tate -- and the feeling is mutual.
The difference now is that Tate refuses to lose her cool. Rousey can no longer throw Tate off her game, at least mentally. This rematch will come down solely to skill.
And Tate likes her chances in that arena.
“Ronda isn’t particularly stronger than anyone I’ve fought,” Tate said. “But she’s very good at what she does, she’s very smooth. And I’m very well aware of that.
“I wasn’t able to put it all together in time for that fight. Knowing that now and admitting to the mistakes that I made, and not being emotional.
“I have the skill-set to beat her. She’s not invincible by any means. I know that being emotional and being mean-spirited does not serve me well inside the Octagon. So, I’d rather go in there with a positive outlook.”
Being a coach on "The Ultimate Fighter" helped Tate further develop and maintain a positive outlook. Watching her fighters grow and improve brought Tate great joy.
But it wasn’t a one-way street. Teaching allowed Tate to closely examine her own techniques. And she corrected a few flaws in her game.
“I feel I retain more when I teach,” Tate said. “I learn more because I really have to dissect some things; I have to dissect a move, whereas before I was just doing it. Now that I have to think about them, I’ve learned how to do certain moves better.”
SEATTLE -- An acting role in the Hollywood movie “Expendables 3” is definitely on Ronda Rousey's radar. A rematch with Miesha Tate at UFC 168 is, too.
Newly crowned 145-pound Invicta champion Cris Justino, aka “Cyborg,” yeah, she’s also on Rousey’s radar -- but just barely, she says.
“I mean yeah, she’s always on my radar,” said Rousey at this weekend’s UFC event. “But I have a really, really full plate and she has nothing to worry about but me.”
Rousey (7-0) downplayed questions regarding a future fight against Justino, saying if Justino wants it, “she needs to get off her a-- and try to make (it) happen.”
Justino returned from a one-year drug suspension in April and recently claimed the inaugural 145-pound Invicta title in a TKO win over Marloes Coenen.
She was stripped of the Strikeforce featherweight title following a positive drug test in December 2010. She was expected to still fight in the UFC when the suspension was up, but instead requested her release from the promotion.
Justino (12-1) has constantly said she is unable to physically cut to 135 pounds. Her management has cited that as the primary reason behind her UFC departure.
Rousey was clearly aware of Justino’s recent win over Coenen, but didn’t seem overly impressed. She also reiterated she has more important things on her mind.
“I have a lot of things going on,” Rousey said. “She’s fighting random chicks. I mean, Marloes -- it took her longer and more energy to beat Marloes than it took Miesha (in July 2011).
“It’s only the MMA diehards that want to see that fight. I have so many things going on. If she really wants to make that fight happen, I’m here.”
UFC president Dana White told reporters he has had no recent contact with Justino or her manager, former UFC light heavyweight Tito Ortiz.
“I have not heard from her manager,” White said. “I have not seen any press conferences. So, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on with Cyborg.”
After all, if frenetic back-and-forth action is what we want in a main event, this is the formula -- even if the guys fighting in it, challenger John Moraga and 125-pound champion Demetrious Johnson, are lighter than most sophomores in high school.
But then again, everybody loves a headliner consisting of two loaf-fisted heavyweight monstrosities trying to take each other's heads off. Given these perhaps outdated but still popular appetites, it's risky to trot out the remora instead of the sharks, is it not?
Not that these are the only factors.
By now you know that nobody knows who Moraga is, and that's why so many people are dishing the CliffsNotes. We need to learn of the fly on the fly. The 5-foot-3 Johnson is better known, but not to the dreaded "casual fans," the ones presumably being tempted toward their television sets. So what we're talking about by making two fairly anonymous fighters the main attraction on a big, widely seen card is that technique, athleticism, skill and speed -- colliding like two angry hummingbirds in a jar -- are more than enough.
The truth is, it might be. Particularly if each has his moments putting the other in trouble. The question then becomes: Does any of this change Johnson's approach? Johnson is holding the flyweight belt in part because he fights smart (a euphemism for "boring" in the minds of some people). He hasn't been involved in a fight that didn't go the distance since 2010, when he fought Damacio Page in the WEC. If he fights tactically against Moraga -- which by all rights he should and Moraga expects -- doesn't he make the least of the coveted spot?
That's all left for Saturday night. Drama is sometimes in the smaller details, and those are on display this weekend in Seattle.
The introduction of Moraga
Though the flyweights carry an onus of not being able to finish fights, Moraga crushes onuses like a cold monkey wrench. In two UFC bouts, both at 125 pounds, he has finished the guy in front of him. Should he do to Johnson what he did to Ulysses Gomez (that is, knock him out), here's guessing that everybody knows exactly who Moraga is come Sunday morning.
Aesthetically, the flyweights are fun to watch and almost impossible to truly behold with the naked eye. They require remote controls and liberal use of the slow-motion button. But do we ultimately value that? Should Moraga-Johnson underwhelm, this could be the last flyweight tilt (title or no) we see headlining a big card for a long time.
MacDonald as legit contender
Who has Rory MacDonald fought, cynics want to know. After all, Che Mills isn't in the UFC anymore and Nate Diaz is more of a natural lightweight (as is BJ Penn). As for Mike Pyle? He's awfully long in the tooth. But remember, MacDonald did have Carlos Condit on the ropes until the final seconds. And if he beats Jake Ellenberger, who has won eight of nine, MacDonald puts his name into imminent welterweight contention.
Ellenberger's chance to make statement
Say that Ellenberger goes in and savagely puts MacDonald away in the first round, as he's known to do. What then? The guess is that such an outcome sets up a fight between Ellenberger and Demian Maia as a true No. 1 contender bout while Georges St-Pierre-Johny Hendricks plays out in November.
It's crazy, but the last time Robbie Lawler won consecutive fights was all the way back in 2007. He traded wins and losses for four years in Strikeforce, coughing up a bit of his mystique. But the upset victory over Josh Koscheck in February put a little wind back in his sail, and should he beat Bobby Voelker on Saturday, he'll essentially have a clean slate.
Can 'Mighty Mouse' finish a fight?
Truth is, Johnson looks better each time we see him in the cage. He looked good against Ian McCall the first time and better against him the second time. Johnson looked great against Joseph Benavidez. Ditto John Dodson. The knock is that Johnson is a points fighter who does just enough. Does that end against Moraga?
Can Ellenberger win a decision over MacDonald?
You ask people how Ellenberger wins his fight against MacDonald and they'll say via knockout. But what happens if MacDonald stays disciplined and is there all night? Can Ellenberger eke out a win on points? He did fade against Martin Kampmann and Diego Sanchez, and neither is as big and strong as MacDonald.
Realistically, there's only one Guillard, and that's the same one who will show up in Seattle. He switched training camps (yet again) to Denver, where he's been training with Trevor Wittman. Thing is, he loves his power and trusts it to trump everything he'll encounter. Against Mac Danzig, who has gone 3-6 in his last nine fights, Guillard will once again sink or swim by his infatuation.
How does Carmouche rebound?
Fate is funny. For a few seconds at UFC 157, it looked like Liz Carmouche was about to defeat not just Ronda Rousey but the very reason for women's MMA in the UFC. It was a tense few moments when she had Rousey's back, but in the end, Carmouche went down gallantly. Facing Jessica Andrade, Carmouche -- the biggest favorite on the card -- has to guard against the spiral.
Will MacDonald come around to GSP?
This question is premature, which makes it the kind of question we love to ask. Yet should MacDonald beat Ellenberger, St-Pierre take care of Hendricks in November and the two be asked to fight each other thereafter, we have arrived at the next Jon Jones-Rashad Evans (and the hunch is MacDonald won't protest for long).
WHO'S ON THE HOT SEAT?
John Albert -- He has lost three fights in a row since beating Dustin Pague in his UFC debut. A loss to Yaotzin Meza is almost a guaranteed pink slip. But if Albert wins? Yahtzee! The "Prince" lives to see another day.
Aaron Riley -- Riley is only 32 years old but has been in 44 fights. He's been around the block a few times. In his last fight against Tony Ferguson, in 2011, he suffered a broken jaw. Should he lose to Justin Salas, if he doesn't hang up the gloves himself, the next pair he wears might not say "UFC" on them.
Trevor Smith -- The Strikeforce immigrant takes on an angry Ed Herman, who, in a fit of optimism, made a cameo appearance in Strikeforce against Ronaldo Souza and lost badly. Tough draw for Smith. Herman's relevance is at stake.
Melvin Guillard -- Yes, there's a Leonard Garcia thing going on here. Guillard always comes to fight, does so on short notice and lets the chips fall where they may. Dana White likes him. But he needs a win badly. Very badly. Then the UFC won't be forced to make any hard decisions on him.
Mac Danzig -- See Guillard.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the flyweights have one speed, which is blue blur ... because Johnson is one of the most underrated fighters to ever carry such mastery to the cage ... because Moraga swings for the fences and is fighting for his late cousin Jay ... because there's not one, but two women's fights, and Julie Kedzie versus Germaine de Randamie will have your grandmother spitting out her tea ... because Danny Castillo does love himself a brawl ... and for that matter so does Michael Chiesa ... and Jorge Masvidal ... because Herman can't afford to lose to Smith, and when a "Short Fuse" meets "Hot Sauce," the thing gets flammable ... because MacDonald is fighting Ellenberger, and it won't cost you a dime.
One question I get just about every week on the Friday chat was some variation of this: Which UFC champion will fall first?
For the past year, it’s been easy to imagine that none of the current champions would ever lose again, given the state of the matchmaking. Not with Ronda Rousey fighting Liz Carmouche, and Georges St-Pierre fighting Nick Diaz, and Jon Jones fighting Chael Sonnen, and Anderson Silva fighting Stephan Bonnar with no belt in the balance, and Dominick Cruz not fighting at all.
With landslide favorites in these matchups, the answer was always Junior dos Santos. Heavyweights have never been good at holding on to the belt. Then it became Cain Velasquez, when he beat Dos Santos. That is, until Velasquez was resaddled with Antonio Silva, whose odds the second time were longer than his gangly reach. When that happened, the question of who would fall first came back around to its usual futility.
The real question was: Who would get Matt Serra’d first?
For the past year, it wasn’t that the UFC champions were being catered to and protected, so much as the matchmaking lacked imagination. Or the matchmaking had too much imagination, because it required the open-mindedness of our disposable income. There was not enough genuine threat, due to circumstances (injuries), limitations (shallow heavyweight division) and cash-out gimmickry (Sonnen). Aside from a few exceptions -- Gilbert Melendez versus Benson Henderson, say, or any Demetrious Johnson fight -- for a long time we had main events that looked and felt more like potboilers.
Just activity for the sake of activity, with low-flame drama.
Yet here we are in mid-2013, and a champion has fallen. Anderson Silva, the longest-tenured, most unthinkable of the titleholders with his 16-0 record in the UFC, lost to Chris Weidman spectacularly at UFC 162. There’d be no such thing as “eras” if they went on forever. Now the Silva era hinges on the rematch in December. How are those for stakes?
If that wasn't novel enough, after a long dry spell of pretenders getting shots on whims and shaking limbs, suddenly it looks as if Silva could be just the first domino to fall. Most of the title fights slated to take place in the second half of 2013 pits a challenger who looks and feels like an actual threat to the throne. Suddenly we can imagine a world where Johny Hendricks is posing for magazine articles with the belt slung over his shoulder, know what I mean?
Think about this: By the end of 2013, we might have recast our pantheon of UFC champions. Hendricks is a legitimate threat to St-Pierre. So is the barely talked about John Moraga over flyweight champion Johnson. Dos Santos could reclaim his title against Velasquez, just the same as Silva could reclaim his belt against Weidman. These fights are booked and happening (pending health).
Rousey will be the odds-on favorite to beat Miesha Tate, just as Jose Aldo will loom large over Chan Sung Jung -- but Anthony Pettis beat Benson Henderson once, what’s to say he can’t to it again at the end of August? Especially in his hometown of Milwaukee?
Romanticists might point to Alexander Gustafsson as a viable challenge to Jon Jones, but that one is more wait and see. Yet Gustafsson feels like Ares in there against Jones after fostering our collective beliefs for so long over Sonnen’s chances.
By the end of 2013, our pound-for-pound lists may become a weekly Etch-a-Sketch. This is how it was drawn up in the Ultimate Fighting Championship -- to stake the best fighters in the world against the people who the matchmakers think could beat them. That’s how this thing works best. Champions, after all, are made to be vulnerable.
And it’s refreshing to look over a slate of upcoming fights and genuinely have no idea how things are going to go. It’s better, when asked a question like "which UFC champion will fall first," to counter with: "A better question is -- which one will still be champion this time next year?"
So when he faced Fitch on June 14 at World Series of Fighting 3, Burkman made it part of his game plan to avoid using one of the first chokes learned by Brazilian jiu-jitsu white belts. He thought of it like this: Attempting to catch a guy with a reputation for being impossible to choke out and giving a guy who loves top position ... well, top position wouldn't be the best way to win their rematch.
A snapshot at the end of the fight says differently, of course. Considering the contest lasted only 41 seconds, with Burkman on the bottom and Fitch caught in a guillotine, you could say the plan went astray. Understandable, really, after seeing Fitch laid forcibly unconscious on the mat.
"A technical submission over Jon Fitch was definitely not what I was thinking how I would win this fight," Burkman said after being told his finish ranked atop ESPN.com's best submission list from the first half of 2013.
When he looked back on it a couple of weeks later, after the controversy surrounding referee Steve Mazzagatti's (in)actions subsided, the consequences of the victory hit home for Burkman.
"A win over Jon Fitch, in the way that I did it, helps me believe in myself and this comeback," he said. "I think my best years are ahead of me. I've been saying that for about a year and a half."
The 32-year-old Burkman won his fifth straight match and eight of nine since 2009, when he parted ways with the UFC after three years fighting in the Octagon.
One contest before signing on for the second season of "The Ultimate Fighter," Burkman was strangled cold by Jeremy Horn. “It happens in our sport,” Burkman said. However, the finish was controversial at the time because Horn spit on Burkman immediately afterward -- a reminder that when you’re out, there’s no such thing as defense.
Getting choked cold isn't easily forgotten, never mind the indignity that comes with being spit upon. Burkman responded by making the ins and outs of guillotines a strength. Eight years after the Horn loss, just a week before meeting Fitch in the main event of WSOF3, Burkman was in the gym training a couple of guys seeking insight into finishing guillotines. They particularly wanted to work on tightening up the hold at the finish.
This proved fortuitous. "So the lesson there is help others because it helps yourself," Burkman said with a laugh while driving home to Utah after a family vacation.
He may not have wanted to submit Fitch the way he was about to, but Burkman recognized the end of the fight when he saw it. The instant the determination was made to go to his back, Burkman knew he could finish the fight.
"I felt him make one last-ditch effort to get out of it, and when he did that, right after he got done, I tightened it and I felt him go limp," Burkman said. "I knew he was out. I double-checked. For me, I just wanted to let everyone know the fight was over because I knew that nobody knew yet -- especially if the referee is still standing up over you."
The point of a submission choke is to prevent sufficient blood from reaching the brain, which induces it to shut down critical functions. Referees are supposed be aware of this and watch closely, because the longer a brain goes without blood, the likelier it is to be traumatized. Mazzagatti didn't move to separate the welterweights, so Burkman released, rolled Fitch off him and stood with a loud exhale.
"I don't think there's anything quite like a knockout,” Burkman said. “But there's something about this choke that's the highlight of my career. I was glad the referee didn't step in and I was able to get up and celebrate the way I wanted to. As a fighter and mixed martial artist, you're trying to prove you can stop a guy, that your style of fighting is better than theirs. And any time you can put another person out cold, then you have definitively proved you were the better man on that day."
The next best:
No. 2: Kenny Robertson SUB1 via kneebar Brock Jardine: UFC 157 (Feb. 23). Officially it's listed as a kneebar, but this needs updating. Robertson nearly snapped off Jardine's hamstring with this unique finish.
No. 3: Ronda Rousey SUB1 via armbar Liz Carmouche: UFC 157 (Feb. 23). Ho-hum, another armbar for Rousey? No, not if you consider how deftly she negotiated her way to the arm. This was a pure finish for the UFC champion.
No. 4: Pat Healy SUB2 via rear-naked choke Jim Miller: UFC 159 (April 27). Although a postfight drug test for marijuana overturned the result, Healy beat the hell out of Miller before finishing him with an angry hand-to-hand rear-naked choke.
No. 5: Fabricio Werdum SUB2 via armbar Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: UFC on Fuel 10 (June 8). Circumstances matter more than skill sometimes, and Werdum's verbal armbar submission over Nogueira in Brazil certainly qualifies.
I opened my podcast this week discussing the quality mixed martial arts on tap for June. Forget that. With all the bouts now announced, August is officially out of control. UFC will pull four events, two on pay-per-view, starting with Jose Aldo's featherweight title defense against Anthony Pettis in Rio de Janeiro. A lightweight title fight at UFC 164 closes out the month, when Benson Henderson defends against TJ Grant. And sandwiched in between, the first and second UFC events on FOX Sports 1 are loaded.
Henderson tweeted early Wednesday that he learned the date and location of his fight with Grant, which headlines a terrific card in Milwaukee, via Twitter. I'd hazard a guess that the UFC lightweight champion isn't the only fighter who found out like this. Plenty of them, men and women both, ought to be fired up. That goes the same for fans, which is why you shouldn't need to try hard to rattle off 10 contests that are worth getting excited about.
Including the title fights, my list is Brad Pickett-Michael McDonald, Carlos Condit-Martin Kampmann, Sara McMann-Sarah Kaufman, Frank Mir-Josh Barnett, Lyoto Machida-Phil Davis, Alistair Overeem-Travis Browne, Matt Brown-Thiago Alves, Eric Koch-Dustin Poirier. I like each for their style, relevance and expected level of competition, and could have chosen others -- that’s how deep August has turned out to be.
It's strange how some factors, such as time to prepare, can influence perception. On Monday I thought a fight between Chael Sonnen and Mauricio Rua next weekend in Winnipeg would have been a nice way to fill the void left by Antonio Rogerio Nogueira's injury. Visa issues prevented Sonnen from getting into Canada, so the UFC scrapped Rua's appearance and transferred him and the American to the main event of the Aug. 17 card in Boston. Now with two months to prepare as opposed to two weeks, I really don't expect Sonnen to do much against Rua, and I’m not so into the fight.
Recognize Sonnen’s M.O., though, because I think it's fair to call it that. When Sonnen steps up to fight on short notice, he ends up taking on the same guy at a later date. Good fortune, I suppose. But as Sonnen always says, you don't get anything you don't ask for. In and of itself there's nothing wrong with this. Yet, even with the extra time, Sonnen doesn't appear to have much hope at 205. He's a middleweight fighting a larger man's game, and that could make him more susceptible to getting hurt. Shogun Rua needs no help in this department. That's why I didn't list his fight among the best in August.
However: Since I highlighted my top 10, why not choose a favorite?
Upon further inspection (I could easily have gone several directions and no one could have argued otherwise) Sara and Sarah get the nod. Women have lived up to their billing in the Octagon. McMann is on the cusp of something big. Kaufman can rise to the top again if she handles the physical grappler.
There's a lot to like here, even for McMann's crew, who were disappointed that they didn't hear from the UFC when Cat Zingano was injured. The story line between bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and McMann needs some fleshing out, and TUF comes off as a perfect place for both Olympic medalists to take the next step. Alas, we know that'll have to happen some other way, and the first step would be McMann toppling Kaufman.
In part, I felt the need to highlight it because of just how much news poured out of the UFC last night.
Owning the news cycle
Bellator MMA had designs on owning the news cycle Wednesday, when it was set to unveil Quinton Jackson as its latest addition. Up against nothing, Jackson’s ability to stir up press is formidable. But with so much stuff breaking the night before, that’s unlikely to happen. At the very least, Jackson’s news conference in Los Angeles won’t get the kind of play it could have.
Would it be cynical to suggest all this news was released as a response to the Jackson signing?
Take it as little more than speculation, and not even the informed kind. But having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be true. Either way, this is undoubtedly part of the budding war between Zuffa and Viacom, which isn’t so cold these days.
Jackson did the smart thing by laying low for six months and allowing his deal to lapse so Zuffa couldn’t match even if it wanted to. This shouldn’t be a tough concept to grasp. Patience is key, and based on Eddie Alvarez’s experience, fighters in position to control even a little bit of destiny in their own hands is something that must be taken seriously.
Next on the list is Roy Nelson. If he beats Stipe Miocic on June 15, it’s worth watching closely to see what he chooses to do.
Two new stars were unexpectedly born Saturday night, when Kelvin Gastelum and Cat Zingano each beat the odds at “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 17 live finale in Las Vegas.
After beginning the season as the show’s last pick, Gastelum turned the heavily favored Uriah Hall into MMA’s latest straw man by upsetting the talented striker via split decision to win the TUF 17 crown. Zingano similarly rocketed out of obscurity and rebounded from a tough first round to TKO Miesha Tate in the third, claiming the chance to coach opposite Ronda Rousey on Season 18 and eventually challenge for her women’s bantamweight title.
As far as plot twists go, these were both better than we might have expected from the UFC’s flagging reality show -- a pair of surprise endings that suddenly made the hoary old institution of “The Ultimate Fighter” feel more relevant as it prepares to jump from the FX Network to the fledgling Fox Sports 1.
Credit Zingano as not only the biggest winner but the biggest catalyst for change. A week ago, she might have been an appropriate pick as a contestant on TUF’s next season, which will jump yet another reality-show shark by having men and women live, competing side by side, when filming begins this summer. Now Zingano will have a full slate of hourlong episodes to introduce herself to the UFC faithful as coach, and she’ll do it starring opposite the biggest sensation of women’s MMA. Not to mention, if the early returns of her gutsy performance against Tate and exuberant postfight interview are any indication, she stands a decent chance of coming off as the more likable half of this particular coaching tandem.
Zingano's participation will offer a fresh angle to fans, who had already heard Rousey and Tate give each other an earful leading up to their March 2012 Strikeforce title fight. In the same way that the caustic feud between Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans made Season 10 of TUF borderline unwatchable, the Rousey-Tate beef was best consumed in smaller quantities. Our brief glimpses of Zingano’s personality suggest she might not play the trash-talk game, which portends good things for making Season 18 endurable.
Things turned in the exact opposite direction for Hall, who did as much to derail his own hype this weekend as Zingano did to kick-start hers.
Hall came into his bout with Gastelum as perhaps the most highly touted TUF finalist ever, drawing speculation he’d be an instant title contender in the middleweight division.
Unfortunately for him, that narrative fell flat when the 28-year-old member of Team Tiger Schulmann fought as if he wholeheartedly believed it, eventually conceding the decision to the underdog after a performance during which Hall looked great in flashes but entirely pedestrian the rest of the way.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that just like Zingano’s win, Hall’s loss could ultimately prove to be positive, both for himself and for TUF at large.
Why? Two reasons: First, because Gastelum's victory demonstrated that amid all the babble about Hall, there might actually have been more than one noteworthy fighter on this season's show. If TUF's role in the UFC is to produce new faces for the company to promote, then the live finale worked like a charm. Instead of yielding Hall as the one breakout star we were counting on, TUF 17 gave us two interesting prospects (Hall and Gastelum). Make no mistake, that’s a win-win.
Second, as much as we’re all mourning the demise of Hall's myth in the aftermath, the stakes here were actually very low for him. Truth is, he didn’t lose much over the weekend except for the pressure of being “the next big thing” and the opportunity to get locked into the TUF winner’s notorious “six-figure contract.” He’ll still almost certainly get the chance to be a UFC fighter, and now he’ll begin his career in the Octagon under far less scrutiny and likely against far easier competition than if he’d slayed Gastelum in 30 seconds as we all expected.
Think about the alternative for a moment. Pretend Hall blew through Gastelum without breaking a sweat. This morning we’d all be trumpeting him as a contender at 185 pounds and agitating for him to leap into a bout with a top-10 guy. Knowing what we know about him now, how do we think that would’ve worked out for Hall? Answer: not well.
No, far better for Hall to get the time he needs to mature as a fighter and a competitor.
Over time, if he grows and improves and stops fighting like a man who thinks he can’t be beaten, perhaps he can still come to be regarded as TUF 17’s greatest talent, in the same way guys like Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard arguably surpassed the winners of their respective seasons when viewed through the filter of hindsight.
Upsets have long been a mixed bag for “The Ultimate Fighter.” In this instance, wins by Zingano and Gastelum made the end of TUF 17 and the beginning of TUF 18 seem simultaneously exciting.
For a show that appears so intent on running itself into the ground, that was a welcome change indeed.
Miesha Tate, like any UFC fighter, wears the occasional black eye in public. It used to be, in a grocery line, for instance, she would receive a concerned-but-not-sure-how-to-react look from bystanders.
Lately, though, it's more of an I-wonder-if-that-girl-fights-for-a-living look, which is proof (and satisfying proof, at that) to Tate that the presence of women's MMA is growing.
"I've noticed people seem to have the wheels turning now, instead of the worried look I used to get," Tate told ESPN.com. "I think they are starting to think, 'Maybe she's a kickboxer. Maybe she does MMA.'"
"People are starting to wrap their mind around the idea that women do combat sports. It's been kind of cool to see that process."
Tate, who will face Cat Zingano in the second-ever UFC female fight at The Ultimate Fighter Finale on Saturday, has spent a lifetime experiencing that process.
As a high school freshman in Tacoma, Wash., she joined the boys' wrestling team by "default" because it was one of just two sports offered. A handful of other girls floated on and off the team, but Tate was the only one who stuck with it.
Her current boyfriend, UFC bantamweight Bryan Caraway, is widely credited for introducing her to martial arts, but it was actually a persistent neighbor who got Tate to take the first step.
"A neighbor of mine did karate and said, 'Hey, come try this out,'" Tate said. "I had never seen the UFC, and I wasn't interested at first, but she kept being persistent, so finally I went to appease her and learned some jiu-jitsu, and it was awesome."
Fate continued to push Tate toward a career in MMA. She attended her first amateur event as a spectator in 2006, still convinced the striking aspect of the sport wouldn't appeal to her.
By the time that first event was over, Tate was already signed up for her first fight.
“"I said, 'This isn't about violence or blood, this is about competition,'" Tate said. "It was really beautiful to me. I could see myself doing it, and lo and behold, the referee got on the microphone and announced an all-female fight card in three weeks.
A lot of people [watching UFC 157] just saw Ronda Rousey, Ronda Rousey, Ronda Rousey, but we haven't had the second UFC fight yet. At this point, people are probably just becoming fans of Ronda but I hope to change that April 13.” -- Miesha Tate, on growth of women's MMA entering her UFC debut
"I gave him my info, and three weeks later, I was fighting."
Fate, it seems, was also intent on providing Tate with a rival in the form of current UFC champion and U.S. judo Olympian Ronda Rousey. The two fought in March 2012 for Tate's Strikeforce title, resulting in a first-round submission win for Rousey.
Rousey has been such an overbearing topic for Tate during interviews, she consciously has started to steer conversations away from her. It's not just that she's sick of talking about Rousey, but she's also eager to show the sport is deeper than one athlete.
"I think [UFC 157] came across probably more as a big moment for Ronda Rousey [than women's MMA] because she's really been pushed hard," Tate said. "But people who read into it more than just who's on the poster, I believe it carries that energy of women's MMA as a whole.
"A lot of people just saw Ronda Rousey, Ronda Rousey, Ronda Rousey, but we haven't had the second UFC fight yet. At this point, people are probably just becoming fans of Ronda, but I hope to change that April 13."
Not necessarily in that order. At least not in terms of degree of difficulty.
The victory was vital, I suppose, but it was also never really in doubt. In practice, the fight turned out to be as lopsided as it looked on paper, which is to say the win was so one-sided that it was almost completely hollow for the former Strikeforce women’s featherweight champion.
Santos dropped Muxlow with her first punch, a straight right that put the replacement fighter, who took the bout on 17 days’ notice, skittering into the frenzied survival mode we so commonly see in Santos' opponents. The rest was essentially cleanup. It took referee John McCarthy 3 minutes, 46 seconds to decide he’d seen enough, but each tick of the clock after that initial salvo felt more gratuitous than the previous. By the time the end came for Muxlow, she was backed up against the cage accepting a series of increasingly inevitable knees and punches and the overriding feeling that swept over us all when Big John stepped in was one of relief for her.
For Santos, we felt only a vague sense of confirmation. Yep, she’s still Cyborg.
Proving that Santos is still the most bloodcurdling figure in women’s MMA was the really essential thing here, because, after nearly 16 months of inactivity owed to a yearlong suspension for a positive steroid test, there were questions about whether she would show up in Kansas City looking as ripped, as relentless and altogether frightening as before. More to the point, because Cyborg still being leaps and bounds ahead of the competition is an integral part of manager Tito Ortiz’s plan to run the longest of long bombs on the UFC.
When Santos and Ortiz very publicly balked at the chance to cut to 135 pounds for an immediate shot at Ronda Rousey’s bantamweight title back in February, instead opting for a much slower burn in Invicta, it prompted copious industry-wide head-scratching. One of those heads belonged to UFC President Dana White, who alternated between describing the Santos-Ortiz negotiating style as “wacky” and “goofy” and then proclaimed Cyborg “pretty much irrelevant” when talks finally appeared to fall apart for good.
Ortiz claims Santos needs a multifight run in Invicta to gradually shed the pounds necessary to safely make the cut to 135. Maybe that’s true, but the perils of this route are obvious. What if something goes wrong, we all asked when the deal was announced. What if she emerges in the Invicta cage looking like something less than the terrifying knockout artist who cut a swath through women’s MMA during seven fights from 2008-11? What if she -- choke, sputter, gasp -- loses?
"She ain't gonna lose ," an ever-confident Ortiz told MMAJunkie.com's Ben Fowlkes when he put voice to these concerns at the time. "You ever sparred with Cris? You ever tried to wrestle with her? Ever watched her wrestle, watched her spar? Have you ever watched her fight?"
Yeah, well, point taken. Never did Ortiz’s long-term plan for Santos’ career feel like less of a gamble than while we were watching her brutalize Muxlow. Granted, the 35-year-old Australian’s prospects were doomed from the moment she agreed to sub in for the injured Ediane Gomes last month, but it must have been reassuring for Ortiz & Co. to get proof that Cyborg can still deal with an overmatched opponent with the kind of extreme prejudice we saw from her against the likes of Jan Finney and Hiroko Yamanaka near the end of her Strikeforce run.
While not a particularly instructive affair, we’re now told the victory sets Santos up for an Invicta 145-pound title bout with Marloes Coenen later this year. Coenen will no doubt be a far more dangerous opponent, albeit one Santos already defeated back in January 2010 and one who had been competing at bantamweight prior to debuting in Invicta. If Cyborg wins that, she’ll have a shiny new belt to match Rousey’s, and it’ll start to feel more and more like Ortiz’s gamble might just pay off after all, giving Santos time to drop the weight while only stoking the fires of interest in a Rousey bout.
Still, let’s not kid ourselves here. Santos and Ortiz are taking tremendous risks each time Santos steps into the Invicta cage. They are still involved in the kind of clunky, long-range scheme that very seldom pays off in a sport this unpredictable.
If you strip away the veneer of dominance and the fearsome power, Cyborg has exactly one thing going for her right now: There are only two real stars in the landscape of female MMA, and, as of this weekend, she’s still one of them. Rousey and the UFC need her (and by extension, Ortiz) as much as the fighter and manager need the fight promotion and its golden girl. Rousey versus Santos is the one truly marketable superfight in women’s fighting at the moment, and no matter how big the honchos at the UFC talk, they’ll still be interested in it if and when Santos decides she’s ready.
But that delicate balance of power evaporates immediately should Cyborg make a misstep in Invicta. All it takes is one lucky punch or a momentary mental lapse on the ground and, suddenly, she’s not the perfect foil for Rousey’s good looks and slick submission game anymore. Suddenly, she’s just a former champion with a positive steroid test and a reputation for difficult negotiations.
If we’ve learned anything from MMA, it’s that the thing that “ain’t gonna” happen, often does, and, afterward, the people who wind up on the short end wish they’d grabbed the brass ring when they had the chance -- instead of putting it off for another day.
GLENDALE, Calif. -- Simply happy to be there, boys and girls, women and men, milled about the sunlit mat like swarming bees.
This was AnnMaria De Mars’ fun kickoff to a two-hour charity-inspired mixed martial arts and judo clinic hosted by her recently famous 26-year-old daughter, UFC champion Ronda Rousey.
Thirty Good Samaritans each ponied up at least $200 to train (or have a loved one do so in their place) with Rousey at her home base in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles at the Glendale Fighting Club. The goal was to raise money to support mental health associated with eating disorders -- something the new UFC star was too familiar with.
All told, including a $5,000 donation from Rousey, the aptly titled “Don’t Throw Up, Throw Down” event raised $11,800 for Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a Southern California-based organization that provides counseling and substance abuse services for people who can’t afford another option.
De Mars’ instructions for “partner tag” were clear: chase and evade and chase again until everyone was warmed up enough so her daughter could show them how to take a person down and snap an arm.
Late last month against Liz Carmouche, Rousey practiced what she preached and became the most prominent female figure in MMA. This prompted her chronically driven mother to wonder how much good could arise out of such a thing. De Mars wanted a group or person to support, so she asked the champ for her thoughts. Without hesitating, Rousey mentioned that people with eating disorders have the highest mortality associated with mental illness.
“I went home, looked it up, and it is true,” De Mars said.
It wasn’t as if Rousey pulled that fact out of thin air. She lived, suffered and survived it.
Leading up to the historic fight with Carmouche, dramatic pieces of Rousey’s life were highlighted on television, online and in print.
She’s utterly fascinating. The camera loves “Rowdy” Ronda. And like her mother, Rousey is a treasure trove of quotes and anecdotes. That’s one reason why everyone who joined the two-time Olympian, a bronze medalist at the Beijing Games, on Saturday was aware of her father’s tragic suicide, and the anger, passion and perseverance it inspired.
Lesser known, though it will become a significant part of her story, is Rousey’s battle with body issues. Competing on the demanding international judo circuit, Rousey got it in her head that being off weight meant she wasn’t pretty, or she had character flaws, or she was “weak willed, or not disciplined enough.”
Rousey struggled with her weight in two ways. The toll of week-in, week-out cuts (judo weigh-ins take place the morning of competition), was physically draining enough on its own. Worse yet was the mental beating. She traveled around Europe, trying to maintain 63 kilos (139 pounds), and had it in her head that the more she struggled, the weaker she was.
“I didn't think there was actually anything wrong and I didn't reach out to anybody about it,” Rousey said. “It was kind of my private personal battle that I was forced to work out on my own, and people shouldn't.
"Did you ever see the commercial with the chick chained to a scale dragging it along? It was very much like that.”
In 2007, the year Rousey qualified for Beijing, she aimed not to hurt herself anymore.
"No more bingeing or purging,” she promised herself. “None of that anymore. I was going to do it the right way. I grew 4 inches since I started and couldn't make the weight anymore.”
I didn't think there was actually anything wrong and I didn't reach out to anybody about it. It was kind of my private personal battle that I was forced to work out on my own, and people shouldn't.” -- Ronda Rousey, on dealing with weight issues
But this only made things more difficult. She said she suffered a heat stroke at a tournament in Belgium, and actually hallucinated, seeing fire. Two weeks after a terrible weight cut at the British Open in London, a tournament she won, Rousey headed to Paris. It was the last time she attempted to make 63 kilos. She recalled the smell of singed hair, that and the fact that she just couldn’t sweat. Paris is the only time Rousey missed weight in her life. She was mortified.
“I was too scared to call anybody,” she said. “I just fell off the face of the earth for a week."
Rousey resurfaced in Austria, broke down and called home. De Mars was “just dying” not knowing what was going on with her daughter and believed Rousey “could have been on the edge of having a real problem.” So on the advice of her mom and her coach, Jimmy Pedro Sr., Rousey skipped the hard cut, moved up 7 kilos, enjoyed a good meal and returned to championship form. She remained at that weight the rest of her days in judo.
For as much as Saturday’s seminar participants might have felt they knew Rousey, they likely weren't aware this was why they were asked to raise money for Didi Hirsch. Certainly 11-year-old Persephone Schrick wasn’t. She hadn’t even known she’d be in Rousey’s presence until her dad, Aaron, surprised her. Wearing a pink rash guard and a perpetual smile, Persephone called herself Rousey’s biggest fan.
"I like that she can always get arm bars in any position,” Persephone beamed. “And that she's the first girl ever to get the belt in the UFC."
Youngsters like Persephone have someone to look up to now in MMA, though Rousey pointed out that the only young girl she intends to be a role model for is her teenage sister, Julia.
“She's the one I'm responsible for,” Rousey said. “If stuff that I'm doing helps other kids out, that's awesome. But I can't really control the way that I'm perceived. I'm not perfect.”
Rousey, of course, is responsible for herself. At the end of the month she’ll take a much-needed week off to recharge, suggesting an island with coconuts and no cell phones is in her future. She wouldn’t say where, exactly, and won’t even tell the UFC or her coaches.
“I feel like this last year was three years’ worth of activity,” she said. "There were just so many experiences shoved in such a short period of time. It seems like this last year has taken forever.”
Take last week, for example.
“I promised I'd do this clinic and I was obligated to go,” she said.
“Yesterday I had food poisoning and I promised I'd be on 'Good Day L.A.' I promised, and it was going to be [broadcast] live. I'm glad I went because Mike Tyson was there, but I threw up in the parking structure on the way out. I was in no position to be anywhere. And I already promised I'd be at some charity basketball thing that night. I had a horrible fever and I drove all the way from Santa Monica to Glendale, and went to the one thing because I promised I'd be there.
“My word's my word. And that was right after I got back from a trip where I was in five cities over six days. I went from L.A. to Vegas to shoot a commercial. To New York City to do 'Fox and Friends.' To Albany to speak to the state assembly about legalizing MMA. To Vegas to do a whole media day and get my MRIs and doctor stuff done just as a checkup after the fight. Then back here. Got food poisoning. Went to 'Good Day L.A.' Went to the basketball auction thing. Slept. Woke up. Did a workout before the clinic. Did the clinic. And now at 3 p.m. I have a call with producers of Jim Rome. And, umm, what time is it?”
It was 3:04.
"F---," she said.
Rousey spent the next 20 minutes on the phone, listening to questions she would have preferred to answer live on air. By the time she wrapped up, the gym was clear of seminar attendees. Persephone Schrick had long gone, presumably giggling all the way home, eager to affix a newly signed poster to her wall, filled with memories of learning a setup to an arm bar from the Queen herself.
De Mars handed Rousey a blended drink from Starbucks and a gluten-free cookie, which were devoured while they discussed Julia, the youngster they're responsible for.
"It's just a question of energy," Rousey said. "Every person you talk to pulls a little energy out of you. Every single interview you do pulls a little energy. Every workout. Anything. It just pulls energy out. So as long as I can maintain energy, I can do everything."
In addition to displaying her talents in the Octagon, Rousey now wants to showcase some of her nonfighting skills. She has signed a contract with powerhouse talent agency William Morris Endeavor.
News of the signing was revealed by hollywoodreporter.com on Wednesday, less than a week after Rousey successfully defended her title with a first-round arm bar submission of Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif.
The bout marked the first time women had competed in a UFC-promoted fight, and it was the card's main event.
While the 26-year-old Rousey (7-0) must be ecstatic over the possibility of starring on the big screen -- there have been hints she might land a role in the sequel to "The Hunger Games" -- UFC president Dana White can't be thrilled with this latest development.
White's been down this fighter-turned-actor road before.
His relationship with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson took a turn for the worse after the former UFC light heavyweight champion briefly put his MMA career on hold in to appear "The A-Team" movie. Jackson played the role of B.A. Baracus, a character made famous by Mr. T in the television series, which aired in the mid-1980s.
Upon completion of the film, which was released in 2010, Jackson returned to action to settle a grudge with fellow former champion Rashad Evans at UFC 114. A sluggish Jackson lost by unanimous decision.
Jackson satisfied his contractual obligations with the UFC on Jan. 26, when he came out on the short end of a unanimous decision to Glover Teixeira. Jackson ended his UFC career on a three-fight losing skid.
The experience with Jackson remains a sore spot with White, something he hopes not to repeat with Rousey. He revealed his thoughts Tuesday night on Rousey possibly pursuing an acting career while competing in mixed martial arts.
"You know how I feel about the movie stuff," White said on Fuel TV. "When Rampage did the movie, it was his dream to be a part of the A-Team. I don't want to take away any opportunities from Ronda, but at the same time her window of opportunity as a professional athlete is really narrow. She could make a zillion movies when she retires. Where she's really going to get the money is here fighting.
"I don't care if she's the lead role in 'The Hunger Games 2,' she would not make anywhere near -- I mean, not even in the universe -- the money she makes fighting."
It remains to be seen if White's assessment is accurate, but this much is known: Rousey's star power is directly linked to the media attention she receives from fighting in UFC and her continued success in it.
If she can fight and continue winning in impressive fashion on a regular basis -- while simultaneously shooting a motion picture -- then more power to her. But if there is the slightest hint that acting is interfering with her ability to remain a top-level mixed martial artist, then she will quickly become the target of White's wrath.
And that won't be a pretty picture.
The UFC women's bantamweight champion improved to 7-0 in her MMA career with a first-round armbar submission of Liz Carmouche (8-3) at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif. All of Rousey's wins have come via first-round armbar submission, but Saturday's was the longest.
This fight lasted 4 minutes and 49 seconds -- 22 seconds longer than her previous longest fight against Miesha Tate last March. The total time of all her fights is now 12 minutes, 28 seconds. Her average fight time is 1 minute, 46 seconds.
Rousey -- Fight History
Saturday Liz Carmouche 4:49
Aug. 2012 Sarah Kaufman 0:54
March 2012 Miesha Tate 4:27
Nov. 2011 Julia Budd 0:39
Aug. 2011 Sarah D'Alelio 0:25
June 2011 Charmaine Tweet 0:49
March 2011 Ediane Gomes 0:25
>>All wins by 1st-round armbar submission
According to Fightmetric, Rousey landed 41 total strikes to Carmouche's 22. She landed seven significant strikes, one fewer than her fight against Tate. However, Rousey also faced a submission attempt for the first time in her Strikeforce and UFC career as Carmouche attempted a choke while mounted on Rousey's back early in the first round.
Meanwhile, former UFC champion Lyoto Machida won via split decision over Dan Henderson in a light heavyweight bout. Machida won despite landing only 28 strikes -- nearly half as many as Henderson's 54. It was Henderson's first loss in a span of five fights dating back to April 2010. It was also the first time he lost when landing more strikes than his opponent.
The end came as most expected Saturday night: with UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey defending her title with a first-round armbar submission of Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif.
It’s the way Rousey has finished every one of her mixed martial arts opponents and appearing in the Octagon for the first time proved no different. But Carmouche did something no other fighter had ever done -- give Rousey a scare.
For a brief moment, Carmouche got Rousey’s back in a standing position and attempted a rear-naked choke. Carmouche twisted Rousey’s neck, and it appeared that maybe, just maybe, one of the biggest upsets (betting-wise) in sports history was unfolding.
Rousey, however, remained cool and eventually freed herself from Carmouche’s grip. Shortly thereafter, Rousey would get Carmouche to the ground and submit her at the 4:49 mark.
There would be no upset this evening in the first women’s bout in UFC history. Rousey, who refused to accept being called UFC women’s 135-pound champion until she won a fight inside the Octagon, can finally breathe easily. She's still the bantamweight titleholder, and she has still not seen the second round. And she still has not been tested in a striking battle.
But Rousey did have to fight extra hard this time. Her takedown attempts didn’t come easily, and Carmouche proved that Rousey is very much beatable.
As a result, there is no doubt that the women who refused to accept this fight when UFC officials first offered it -- according to promotion president Dana White, Carmouche was the only fighter to sign on -- will line up for a shot at Rousey now.
And the promotion can thank Carmouche for that. The UFC can also thank Carmouche for giving Rousey all she could handle.
This fight didn’t last long, as is the case with all fights involving Rousey thus far, but it was entertaining and suspenseful.
“It was a great fight,” Carmouche said after falling to 7-3. “I thought I had it. Like everything, you make a mistake, and it turns around.”
Carmouche will surely learn from this experience and come back a much better mixed martial artist. But so will Rousey. She must know that every woman who competes in the UFC gained a bit more confidence after seeing her barely escape a very vulnerable situation.
This was only Rousey’s seventh professional fight, and during her short career, she’s proven to be a quick study. She will examine tapes of this fight and address any flaw that pops out.
"I was saying, 'No way am I going down,'" Rousey said of being in that rear-naked choke. “That’s one thing I had to learn in MMA is to take my time.”
Now that every woman fighter has seen the look of concern on her face inside the cage, they will come after her with less hesitancy. And that’s great for women’s MMA.
Rousey is skilled enough to reign for a very long time, but when she enters the cage again no one will consider her a sure thing. Fans might even get to see what she can do standing.
And if she’s extended into the second or third rounds, her cardio will be tested.
The true test of a champion is the way he or she handles adversity. Rousey passed Saturday night’s test, but there are many more to come.
Carmouche made that point very clear.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the first female titleholder in the UFC hasn't been immune from this kind of talk throughout her short career.
Hey, haters gonna hate. But this is more than that.
Fighters, members of the media, even insiders at Zuffa ... they've felt compelled to suggest Rousey is currently being handled -- that is, positioned as advantageously as possible without the specter of a real threat.
That Liz Carmouche, her challenger on Saturday, is the safest fight the UFC could have made for Rousey.
That real opponents, like Cris "Cyborg" Santos, are being kept away for fear of running a potential box office star into the ground.
That UFC president Dana White is such a fan he's willing to manipulate Rousey's career in the cage with the goal of keeping her "safe." (Yet, when has any UFC champion received such treatment?)
Even if there's truth to any of that, is there no worse place to hide than the Octagon? Fighters who aren't good enough will get exposed. That's how it's been. That's always how it will be.
This is part of the reason it's comical to envision a girl with a chainsaw for a mother and a competitive background straight out of Sparta requiring, let alone accepting, a professional life jacket.
If Carmouche isn't up to snuff -- a judgment I'm not willing to make, though Rousey is deservedly a significant favorite -- others will be. The UFC is introducing a new division on Saturday, not just a new champion. It takes time to cultivate serious threats, the type Rousey has always pursued. They'll come and if Rousey is as good as she appears to be, she'll eagerly meet those challenges.
The more Rousey's story has gotten play leading up to her Feb. 23 title defense against Carmouche at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif., the clearer it is that she has all the makings of a special breed.
Among the most frequent questions I hear when talking mixed martial arts is: "Why do these people feel compelled to step in a cage and fight?"
There's no such thing as standard definition of a fighter. MMA is a melting pot. Athletes come from troubled backgrounds. Many found the sport because it offered a new level of competitiveness. Many need to make rent, and waiting tables sounds like hell compared to an elbow to the eye socket.
Rousey walked a path marked with tribulation and triumph. Were it not for those highs and lows, she never would have been positioned like she is today.
Losing her father to suicide made Rousey angry. (Fuel.) Losing a father to suicide meant a new life for a struggling family. (Matchsticks.) Losing a father to suicide meant her mom, the grizzly, needed to snap her child out of a funk. (Boom.) At no point was sheltering part of the equation.
When she was 11, doing judo, she broke a big toe. It was her first "serious" injury. Rousey's mother, Dr. Ann Maria Rousey DeMars, a judo world champion, didn't care about her daughter's tears. Rousey was told to run laps around the mat, and she did. The lesson was: "Sometimes you have to fight when you're injured. You need to know you're capable of that."
When Rousey was 15, three broken bones in her foot didn't stop mom from sending her daughter upstate without a coach to a judo tournament hosted by one of her fiercest rivals at the time.
The lesson there, Rousey wrote, "You need to know you can win anyway."
By the time she was 16, having endured smashed noses, cauliflowered ears and black eyes aplenty, Rousey tore an ACL in practice. Mom made her finish training that night and made her return to the gym in the morning. As it turned out the ACL was shredded. So as she recovered from surgery, Rousey found other ways to train, other ways to improve.
Rousey wrote about having her arm snapped at a German judo competition. She mentioned that she wouldn't stop. Refused to stop. She won. She wrote about tearing the meniscus in her knee a week before a major competition, only to soldier on and win bronze. On and on and on.
Three days before her first pro fight, Rousey was bitten by a pit bull and needed nine stitches in her foot. Her response was to ask the doctor if she risked permanent injury by competing. He said no, so she went ahead and won in 25 seconds.
This is the last woman who needs protecting.
To say otherwise is to ignore Rousey's experience on this planet so far.
Liz Carmouche is not a can. She is a human being with motivation and drive and a world of dreams that can be realized one weekend late in February. But what happens if she realizes her dreams and beats Ronda Rousey at UFC 157?
What, in this game of four-ounce gloves and four-leaf clovers, happens then?
The vanguards of women's MMA are being stacked up against each other in the old Washington Generals/Harlem Globetrotters dynamic. No, it's not fixed or choreographed, but it's a foregone conclusion that Rousey wins this historical first women's title fight on February 23. Isn't it? It has to be.
There would be no women's MMA in the UFC if Rousey didn't catch Dana White's eye. Her mere arm-barring presence made up for all the red flags that kept it out so long -- namely, the "lack of divisional depth" that White talked about.
Of course, that was all BR (Before Ronda). Now, the depth of one transcendent fighter is enough to fill out a division. It's the wide world of Rousey, and then everybody else. White has made no secret that Rousey is the reason.
That's why it isn't that Carmouche is a can -- it's that they're all aluminum product. Miesha Tate (whom she's already beat), Sara McMann (who is in the on-deck circle) and even Cris "Cyborg" Santos, who is jettisoning herself from the UFC (and can't/won't make 135 pound besides). All of them. This is Rousey's domain. It was her patent. The future of women's MMA is Rousey's burden in the present tense. The pressure is only to win. And preferably to collect a couple more arms along the way, like she's done a million times before (or six, to be exact).
Make no mistake, this is boom or bust.
And if she doesn't win? Well, Seth Petruzelli becomes the second greatest party pooper of all time.
Should Carmouche get her arm raised in Anaheim, this whole thing becomes a Jenga proposition. Rousey, who White admires for being "so nasty, so mean" -- who has broken into larger and more varied media realms than Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Chuck Liddell combined -- would then slip into more pedestrian ranks. The iconoclast who is potentially inspiring thousands of young girls to give MMA a chance would get hung up in "potentially". I've written in here before that Rousey is the Royce Gracie of WMMA. She's the example of broader possibility.
I still believe that.
But how fast a loss leads the chorus to chants of "you've been exposed", even for those with Olympic medals in judo. How fast those six victories would seem incomplete if upended by a single loss. How shaky the idea of women's MMA in the UFC becomes overnight. How fast the eggs would topple out of that single basket.
And if this is all experimentation, you'd have to wonder how long the experiment goes on -- even with the signings of Tate, Cat Zingano and others to fill in the inaugural bantamweight division.
Carmouche's Marine background is cool. It lends to her no-nonsense pluck. That she's the UFC's first openly gay fighter is admirable and perfect for narrative. She's nice, genuine, sincere -- there's not a bad thing you can say about her. But "Girl-Rilla" Carmouche as champion? What on John Moraga's green earth would the UFC do then? The most marketable fight for Carmouche at that point would be a rerun of Rousey (because surely the first fight would have been an aberration). Beyond that, it's just a bunch of jacks scattered on the linoleum. Or Jills, as it were.
In any case, it's an awful lot riding on a single fight -- this is a crossroads bout right out of the gate.
Yet it's not Carmouche's place to contemplate the aftermath. It's her job to win, even if that means dealing an indirect blow to the thing that she's fighting for. That's a unique mission. It's at least her job to go down swinging, as that's the scenario we've grown most comfortable imagining. Carmouche volunteered herself for this piece of historic martyrdom. We like that. We expect her to go down valiantly.
But man, can you imagine if things don't go to expectation?