Well-rounded Rousey has star potential
When I see Ronda Rousey, I see a woman who could comfortably rank alongside her male counterparts on a pound-for-pound list.
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If you watched her fight Meisha Tate on Saturday, you know what I'm talking about. This is a serious competitor, who in the short time we've seen her looks like the best athlete to grace the female side of mixed martial arts. Period. She's 25 and gifted with balance and all sorts of other stuff that makes for an Olympian. She's also angry and intense. In a prefight interview that night, it looked to me like she wanted to maim poor Showtime broadcaster Heidi Androl. After savaging Tate's arm, Rousey had no interest in making amends. This is good stuff. Real, it seems. Nothing Rousey does comes off as shtick.
Tate is no slouch on the floor. Let's put that out there. Yet she was fighting off submissions from the start. She could have been finished with an armbar in the first minute but incredibly freed herself from Rousey's grip. So the idea that you have this finish, the armbar, a classic move that's not so easily applied anymore, and no one can stop you from applying it is, generally speaking, appealing.
Rousey needs opponents. Good ones, for at least a couple years. If she wins, the rest takes care of itself and we could be looking at a crossover athlete for MMA in more ways than one.
UFC on FX2/Strikeforce grades
This is a Jon Jones situation: living atop the world with a ton of room to improve. Ronda Rousey (5-0) took a couple clean shots from Tate but hung tough and swung back. Striking is obviously the weak link to her game, but that gap is closing fast. When she gets striking down, her athleticism will shine like it does on the canvas. Rousey's balance and timing are excellent -- it's hard to imagine another woman keeping up with her power, technique and aggression. Rousey, 25, also gets high marks for holding a grudge. Too many of these fighter dustups are just for show. I don't get a whiff of Chael Sonnen from Rousey. She has no problem letting anyone know exactly what she's thinking, and the honesty works very well for her.
"I always rock people one way or another on the feet at 135, but they're just too big and they don't quite go down. I think now that's a sign of things to come, me hitting people and them going down and getting finishes in this division also," said Joseph Benavidez, 27, upon stopping Yasuhiro Urushitani. Welcome to flyweight; the consensus is you'll do well there. Benavidez (16-2) is sitting pretty. While we're enjoying Johnson-McCall 2, Benavidez has a second chance to scout his potential UFC flyweight title competitors.
Miesha Tate needs time to recover from damage inflicted on her left arm by Rousey. The former champion a showed tremendous amount of spirit against the determined challenger, making for a great one-round fight. Before tapping to Rousey at 4:27 of Round 1, Tate held off the submission as well as anyone could. Tate (12-3) had her moments, including the taking of Rousey's back, but failed to respond to new champion. Tate, the same age as Rousey, will be back and remains a threat to the top of the 135-pound division. If Tate can beat Rousey in the eventual rematch, this has the makings of an important rivalry.
I had Demetrious Johnson (14-2-1) up 20-18 headed into the third round against Ian McCall. His speed advantage was evident and he seemed to frustrate McCall. That unraveled in a dangerous third period for Johnson. Another referee might have moved in to stop McCall from hitting him some more, but that didn't happen, leading to a 10-8 round by one judge. Johnson, 25, was hit-and-miss against McCall. He knows now he can be successful with speed and movement, but understands McCall is physical enough to establish control on the floor.
What thoughts were swimming in Ian McCall's head after he thought he lost to Johnson? Dark angry thoughts, I imagine. The result mixup notwithstanding, McCall's effort has to be taken as positive. He surrendered two close rounds to a very good opponent, but dominated the third. It was McCall who closed the fight strong. He was in control and nearly secured a finish. McCall (11-2-1) had to prove to himself that he could put together a solid effort in the Octagon. He did that.
Beneficiary of a bonehead decision by Thiago Alves, Martin Kampmann was bailed out late in the main event in Sydney. Alves was ahead on the scorecards, cruising in the finale minute, when he decided to drop levels for a double leg. It was successful, but Kampmann tied him up in a guillotine choke and squeezed hard. The 29-year-old Dane forced a tap for one of the best comebacks of the year. It's an important victory for Kampmann (19-5) and staved off the potential of three losses in four fights.
The 32-year-old former Strikeforce middleweight champion breezed to an easy submission win over late replacement Bristol Marunde (12-7). Ronaldo Souza needed to go into the third round to get it, but the arm-triangle finish was clean. He'll need to work his way back into the title picture, mostly against hungry middleweights seeing "Jacare" as a step to the top. If Souza (15-3) has it in him to be among the best, this is a stretch to home in on improvements and regaining confidence.
"The Hitman" put together a professional display against Paul Daley, scoring a surprising split decision win. As always, Kazuo Misaki was well served by his speed and movement. Daley had trouble finding space and time to go after Misaki, and when he did the 35-year-old former Pride 185-pound champion won those exchanges. He looked good at welterweight. Next time UFC goes to Japan, a fight between Misaki (25-11-2) and Yoshihiro Akiyama would be a lot of fun.
There's not a lot to glean from Lumumba Sayers' win over Scott Smith other than he did his job and beat someone he should have. Sayers (6-2) has room to grow, and he will face stiff tests in the Strikeforce middleweight picture. Considering he's never been out of the first round, this is someone Zuffa will keep close watch on. His instinct is to finish, and that's a valuable commodity.
Josh Thomson (19-4) was angry with himself after earning a lopsided decision over K.J. Noons. I didn't get it, but if you saw me without a shirt on you'd know I'm not as goal-oriented as "The Punk." The lightweight said he was concerned about his training leading up to this fight, and while his stamina held up just fine in a bout he won with mostly wrestling that must not have been enough. Thomson, 33, isn't far from another fight with Gilbert Melendez.
Constantinos Philippou has grown comfortable in the Octagon and you can see that in the way he moves around the cage. If he gets out of headhunter mode and starts throwing combinations, Philippou (10-2) can climb to the upper echelon of the UFC middleweight division. He packs solid power and is improving with each bout. Beating Court McGee was big.
"The Ultimate Fighter" 11 winner finally stumbled in the UFC. Court McGee's inclination is to move forward, which will keep him in a lot of bouts, but that did not work against the speedier, more accurate Philippou. While McGee (13-2) didn't go away, perhaps his best attribute as a fighter, the concerns about whether or not he's anything more than a future gatekeeper center on whether his skill and athleticism can answer the call.
Paul Daley (29-12) must be furious. He switched it up, wrestled (something he said he'd never do), maintained control for long stretches of his fight (something he criticized others for doing) and still lost a decision. Misaki deserves much of the credit for the result, but Daley wasn't all that sharp in Columbus. He failed to answer Misaki's plan of attack and didn't land the big shot he's come to rely on for victories. Depending on how Zuffa wants to treat the 29-year-old Brit, he could easily get cut after losing his third straight Strikeforce bout.
Thiago Alves' major error late against Kampmann sealed his fourth loss in six fights -- and beating Papy Abedi or John Howard isn't exactly lighting the world on fire. "The Pitbull" will hang around for a while because he's exciting and there are bouts to make -- Alves (19-9) already asked to fight Diego Sanchez -- but is he on anyone's list as a title contender? He's not on mine, and he is far removed from his 2008 form.
I asked Josh Thomson on my podcast last week if he thought K.J. Noons was a complete mixed martial artist. He didn't say yes, nor did he allow Noons a chance to prove so over the weekend. There's always a lot to like about the way Noons (11-5) presses the action, but his weaknesses from a few years ago remain the same ones that exist today. He's tough. He's athletic. But he's also flawed, and turns 30 at the end of the year.
Go watch some of Yasuhiro Urushitani's fights in Shooto to get a sense for what kind of fighter he is. Benavidez beat a tough opponent. But this wasn't Urushitani at his best. He suffered against the wrestler's speed and power, and it wasn't long before the outcome appeared clear. Urushitani (19-5-6) went down like Benavidez really clocked him 11 seconds into Round 2. An opportunity to lift spirits in Japan, unfulfilled.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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