On Saturday night, Ronda Rousey tore through the defenses of Sarah Kaufman like a tornado to collect another victory by armbar submission. This makes nine straight armbar wins for Rousey, with two of them clinching what is essentially the sole women's bantamweight championship belt worth having.
What made this armbar truly impressive is that Kaufman actually had her defenses planned out beforehand and was working constantly to thwart Rousey's efforts at harvesting the arm. Several times, Rousey was denied her Plan A and it was the lightning-quick shifts to Plans B and C that allowed Rousey to work her blitzkrieg attack to a successful conclusion.
The modern sport of mixed martial arts does not suffer one trick ponies for long. Fighters who specialize only in one phase of the game are quickly scouted, forced out of their comfort zones and worked over by smart opponents. Very few one trick ponies have winning records, much less elite division championship belts. If a fighter consistently wins by the same method over and over again against elite competition, something is truly special about their tactics. This examination of special tactics is where the Judo Chop series makes its bones and the continued success of the armbar is why Ronda Rousey gets her second Judo Chop on the same technique.
After the jump, still photos and grappling analysis of Rousey slicing through Kaufman's drilled defenses.
If the entire world knows you are going to do this one thing and your opponents specifically gameplan to stop it - and you still go ahead and do that one thing, isn't it an expression of dominance and skill very much worth celebrating? The Rousey armbar is at least the equivalent of Manu Ginobili going left, Marcelo Garcia's guillotine or Dan Henderson's H-Bomb. The mere threat of it opens up all kinds of moves, counter-moves and shortcuts back to the original move that the chess game aspects of it can freeze an opponent or slow them down. Such freezing or slowdowns are disastrous in what is so often a mixed martial arts battle of speedy decisions and actions.
As always, MMA fights begin standing and Rousey has to get inside the clinch and use her judo trickery and exuberant athleticism to get Kaufman and the fight down to the ground. This turned out to be surprisingly technical, as Sarah knew going in that Ronda's preferred throws for MMA are variations of the harai goshi and the o goshi hip tosses.
Once clinched up, Ronda gets the head control and looks to angle herself side-on and facing to the right in preparation for the hip toss over her left hip.
However, Sarah knows this and immediately beings dropping downwards, or sandbagging her weight, to prevent the toss. She wants to get her hips below Rousey's, while Ronda wants her hips underneath those of Kaufman. By the time Ronda has turned to go for the throw, Sarah's hips are already below hers (preventing the throw). Plan A -has failed. The red and green lines in the picture were added in to further demonstrate the hip heights of both fighters at this point.
Almost instantaneously, Rousey shifts to attacking the left leg of Kaufman. Rousey's right hand briefly paws at the leg and some balance shifts are performed by both women. At this point, Ronda demonstrates just how far ahead her back-up plans and instincts are than those of Sarah. Rousey puts her left foot in between those of Kaufman. At this point, the usual tactic of fighters is to pull that foot backwards (attacking the opponent's right leg) to off-balance the opponent. Sarah feels this and then plants her own left leg farther out to support her balance. Ronda then immediately kicks outwards in what most judo people will call a reaping motion (even if there is no traditional name for this technique).
Edit: Ananse, a knowledgeable BE community member corrects me and drops some serious knowledge of his own.
The reap is a ko-uchi-gari(Small inner reap in English).
Ronda sets up Sarah with a textbook combination. The first time she turns in for the throw, Sarah drops her hips and Ronda tries to take her backwards by grabbing her left leg, but she is too slow.
So the second time she baits Sarah to lean backwards and drop her hips again by pretending to turn in for another hip throw because she already knows what Sarah's response will be and is prepared for it. She leaves her left leg between Sarah's legs and the moment Sarah leans back Ronda turns her hips in and reaps Sarah's left leg, then takes a second to adjust her weight and clear Sarah's legs so she can step into mount, thus transitioning from throw to matwork seamlessly.
It's textbook stuff, just very well executed. Watch the motion of Ronda's leg on the takedown. It stabs into Kaufman's calf and then her foot hooks behind Kaufman's ankle and drags it forward, removing her base and causing her to fall backwards. Accounting for the cage, that's what it looks like as a combination from a throw attempt/feint where your back is turned to your opponent. You can see a video of her doing it in Judo competition here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_YIGHMk3AE
The kick outwards is so effective that the knee hinges as per its normal range of motion and Kaufman goes down like a sack of flour. The full sequence is extremely nice to view from a standpoint of a clinch-and-throw arms race that Kaufman loses after several rapid actions and counters from both sides. (G) The sequence shows how deeply ingrained the ashi-waza is in Rousey's body and mind and how Kaufman was indeed preparing for this fight in a smart fashion - but couldn't match the experience gap in this narrow realm of MMA.
After Sarah has been tripped, Ronda is already past the legs and guard. She plops into mount and begins firing off punches. Even though Kaufman knows Rousey wants her arm for an armbar, she must still cover up to protect her head from these punches. These mount punches cannot be ignored - unless you are being punched by Jake Shields. Kaufman covers up and right away, Ronda shoves her belly down on top of those hands. She is launching into a technique I now call the Iaskevitch Roll, after KJ Gould linked me over to this absolutely brilliant breakdown done by the judo blogger at The Difficult Way. That breakdown rivals anything a Judo Chop has ever done on here. Anyways, Ronda loves doing that and did it to Miesha Tate to get the second armbar (the really gruesome one) in their match. Here, she is doing the same thing to Sarah Kaufman and Kaufman does not quite recognize it. (G)
During that Iaskevitch roll, Ronda has her right leg shoved across the rib cage, her left foot hovering near the head and the right arm of Kaufman hooked with her own left arm. The right hand is free to do the important work of carefully guiding Sarah's foot over and plunking it on a specific side of Ronda's body. This is done to prevent Sarah's positioning from truly building to a point where an escape is possible. Kaufman is so focused on the defense of clinching her arms together (palm of the trapped arm to the biceps of the free arm) that she lets Ronda spin her like a top. It's the right decision, but ideally the spin is done in such a way that alters the guidance of the opponent into something aiding your own escape, rather than their submission.
After Ronda gets the Iaskevitch roll to work perfectly, she has Sarah in the classic armbar position. However, Sarah is strong enough to resist the finish and begins to work her preferred escape - freeing the elbow from a half kneeling position. Tate did something similar in the Rousey/Tate fight, but had her arm momentarily hyperextended before she freed her elbow and worked entirely loose. Here, Kaufman does not free her elbow and is spun over once more by Ronda's leg pressure. (G) Once more, Rousey guides Kaufman's leg and body to the correct side, while Sarah concerns herself much more with the trapped arm. Kaufman is stubborn so they spin one final time, with Ronda pushing the thigh of the other leg and not even bothering to grab the usual leg due to the lack of resistance. (G)
And once Sarah is done rolling around, Ronda goes hard for the grip break. Most often, I like to go for the IBJJF-illegal tactic of a biceps slicer (a painful compression-based submission) to get the clinched arms of my opponent to loosen up for an armbar (or tap to the slicer if it is on right). However, the required swiveling of the legs to create enough pressure can give the opponent space to make their escape. Rousey much prefers to attack the hands. The free right hand comes across and Ronda starts using the forearm/wrist/glove to scrape and dislodge the hooked hand from the biceps/triceps of the free arm. Kaufman is strong enough to resist a linear force pulling in one direction, but once the scraping starts, she cannot win this fight. The escape has to happen now or never. Sarah must pull that trapped elbow out of Ronda's pelvis and down to the mats. Unfortunately for her, she does not - because Ronda has a vice-like grip on the arm, her splayed legs are creating immense downward pressure and her pelvis is shoved up against the body and arm of Kaufman. The arm goes nowhere and the tap soon results after Kaufman tries to posture up and rip free. (G)
In summation, Ronda may look like a one trick pony to some, but it is a more complicated situation than that. An astounding variety of throws, off-balance moments and preferred tactics like the Iaskevitch roll all feed into the armbar. It is an "All roads lead to Rome" situation and gameplanning to block one, two or even three of the roads is smart - but ultimately fails against a superbly athletic and quick-thinking opponent who knows all the shortcuts to the other roads.
The variations just keep surprising their opponents and we keep seeing these wonderful finishes. I give much respect to Sarah Kaufman for working hard and smart and also to Ronda Rousey for working even harder and smarter.
I believe the only way to escape or stop the Rousey armbar is to not allow your arm to be hooked in the first place. Easier said than done, as Dr. Ann Maria proved over and over and as Ronda is proving over and over again. We shall see if Cristiane Santos, Marloes Coenen, Liz Carmouche, Shayna Baszler or Sara McMann have the skills, smarts and strength to beat Ronda in the coming years.