Like the swallows of Capistrano, faithful sports fans converge upon Columbus, Ohio every year to take part in the general festivities. In great numbers, these curiously bipedal and featherless migratory beings that call ourselves "humans" agree with each other that early March is the perfect time to see some fine feats of athletic strength, skill and competition - which makes Columbus a perfect place to have mixed martial arts events. The UFC has brought its show to town many times in the past and this year, Strikeforce is bringing the first title defense of the Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion against a fiery upstart challenger.
Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey will feature Miesha Tate (12-2, 5-1 in Strikeforce) and Ronda Rousey (4-0, 2-0 in Strikeforce) as the five round main event in the battle for the women's 135 pound title. The nationwide broadcast on Showtime begins on March 3rd at 10 PM Eastern Time (9 PM CT) and possibly extending up to 12:30 AM ET (depending on how the five main card bouts unfold throughout the night).
By now, the esteemed reader may have grasped that this event is hyped as the battle of the two hottest stars in women's MMA. The hype is actually right. With the sidelining of Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, the meteoric rise of Ronda Rousey and the decisive method by which Miesha Tate became the champion, these are the two best fighters in the bantamweight division. Both are athletic, skilled, tough and attractive women. Both have the ability to talk some heat, stir up controversy and get inside the heads of their opponents. Only one will walk out as the champion, but women's MMA should benefit from both being fiercely passionate examples to emulate for current and future fighters.
Hit the jump for a brief look at the last fights of Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, their styles and the likelihood of success for both fighters.
Miesha Tate won the bantamweight belt by submitting Marloes Coenen with an arm triangle midway through the fourth round of their bout at Strikeforce: Fedor vs Henderson. The title bout between Tate and Coenen was relatively even, as Miesha looked to push Coenen up against the cage and then take her down to begin her ground and pound progressions. Coenen attempted several submissions and even had Tate's back during the second round, but both fighters spent significant time in advantageous positions during those battles on the ground. The stand-up/striking portions were fairly limited due to Tate's success in evading Coenen's strikes and dragging Coenen to the ground.
Throughout her career, Tate has had five wins by submission and two by knockout. The remaining five wins in her professional career were all unanimous decisions. Her last loss was back in 2009 to Sarah Kaufman at Strikeforce Challengers: Evangelista vs. Aina. Miesha has made significant strides in her game since then and now enjoys a wrestling advantage over just about everybody in the division as well as competent stand-up. Tate will want to plant her opponents onto the mat and swing her fists at their head and body until they give up position or submissions in every fight she takes. Lately, Miesha and her support team have been vocal about dismissing Rousey's worthiness as a title challenger and even going as far as tweeting some very provocative words on the eve of the fight. The weigh-in "headbutt" was really nothing more than a slightly more than normally intense stare-off and even reminded me of an Australian cockatoo gently confroting a Meyer parrot that has encroached upon its space.
The big story of this event is how Ronda Rousey armbarred and trash-talked her way to the title. That simplistic telling of things does little credit to the years of hard work sunk into a world class judo career and the stunning swiftness with which Rousey has applied that judo success into MMA. None of Ronda's four professional opponents have managed to avoid being submitted by an armbar within a minute. This woman is blasting her opponents out of the cage and occasionally leaving them with mangled limbs. The list of fighters in MMA who have done things like this include names like Jon Jones, Junior Dos Santos and Rousimar Palhares. These are the bonebreakers, soulcrushers and legendmakers of MMA. Julia Budd, Ronda's last opponent, lasted forty seconds before having her elbow dislocated at Strikeforce Challengers: Britt vs. Sayers.
However, the knock on Rousey is that she has not fought someone yet who can hold her off, make her play the stand-up game or plant her on the mat and unveil her defenses. Winning fights inside a minute with little to no damage taken is exactly the kind of career a professional fighter wants, but to be fighting for a title belt in a major MMA organization on a national title stage is a big step up for such a young prospect. The stand-up skills have been employed mostly as feints and blocks for Rousey to get within the clinch and then use her diverse array of trips and throws to gain side control or mount. From these positions, Ronda harvests arms with excellent technique and quickly - perhaps too quickly - applies the coup de grace that is her armbar. Rousey has been training all phases of the MMA game, as befits a professional, but time in the cage is a valuable learning tool and she just doesn't have it yet.
Will that precociousness matter? Will Miesha Tate retain her belt by fending off Ronda Rousey's onslaught and dealing out damage in return? All signs seem pointed towards another Ronda armbar, but Miesha's coaches and team are smart people and probably have been drilling her in keeping her arms clenched inwards like the quasi-avian T-rex while on the ground. This is an interesting one and the later rounds could expose Rousey's conditioning to Tate's delight.
This fight is the upstart judo hotshot facing an experienced wrestler/submission grappler in the most anticipated fight in recent women's MMA and it is the headlining bout of a Strikeforce show in Columbus, Ohio and televised on Showtime. Check this main event out. If the signs are right, we should be in for one very entertaining fight between two "birds".