Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche staring each other down like professionals. - Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche take center stage at UFC 157, becoming the first women ever to do so for a mixed martial arts event. Whether sports fans will embrace the fight will start with whether or not the audience at the Honda Center will be impressed.
I don't like referencing myself, but when I wrote an op-ed last March explaining why women's MMA belongs in the UFC following Rousey's win over Miesha Tate, I didn't think it would occur so soon. Nonetheless, Dana White's a gambler, and that penchant always gave me the suspicion he'd consider pulling the trigger. As we now know, Dana is more than willing to gamble on Rousey's appeal.
"Like a (expletive) dude trapped in a beautiful body" Dana White is on record as 'saying'; a statement so bizarre that it's practically outlined in Freudian concentric circles.
None of this is to make light of what UFC 157 really means. The real narrative has been hidden behind Rousey's provocative comments and tweets. And the criticism, legitimate (and otherwise), demands answers. If Rousey vs. Carmouche is an example of Dana gambling, the risk is that he hasn't thought far ahead enough to consider what it really means to endorse women's MMA, implying this may be nothing more than the UFC's Christy Martin moment.
However, the moment is what we call a seminal one, and it should be treated as such. Women who have dreams of being an athlete in this sport will be inspired by the image of two females headlining a UFC card. Sara McMann, the Olympic Silver Medalist (now official UFC fighter), who will be watching closely, has said as much. It'll mean so much to a sport that only a few years ago was on a channel that liked to proceed UFC programming with asking the question 'how big do a pair of tits have to be in order to crush a beer can?' and other SpikeTV nonsense.
The fallout for this fight will be interesting. If it's bad it'll be treated as a symbol for what's wrong with female MMA in general. If it's a quick Rousey win, it'll be treated as a symbol for what's wrong with female MMA (lack of depth). If Carmouche wins, it'll be treated as a symbol for what's wrong with female MMA (lack of star power). In other words, there is a damned if you do/damned if you don't element to this fight, which feels unfair. After all, the same questions could be asked about flyweight (can you name more than six fighters in the division off the top of your head?).
Let me start by addressing part of that criticism (keep in mind I'm not saying said criticisms aren't legitimate) by saying that there's every indication that Rousey, like Anderson Silva, is simply a supernatural talent. A fighter being so much better than their contemporaries can give audiences the illusion of a lack of depth. But if you took away Silva, 185 would still be a fascinating division with guys like Rockhold, Weidman, Belfort, Jacare, etc. It just feels worse because Silva seems so much better. Granted, MW is still one of the UFC's weaker divisions, but let's let female MMA breathe just a little. Speaking of fighting, let's get to it.
What both women can do: This one's no secret. Everyone is predicting a first round, maybe first minute armbar against a good fighter in Liz Carmouche, for good reason. Rousey is just that great.
Great submissions are set up by great positions (unless you're Marcelo Garcia, in which case you rely in teleportation). This is the constant in every Rousey fight. When she gets the takedown, which are executed by a wide variety of ways be it by trip (as she did against Sarah Kaufman) or toss (like against Tate), she's almost always in side control. This is something not many fighters are capable of. Fluidity is rare in MMA. You see plenty of sequences that go from takedown, to ground to pound, to guard passing to submission. From point A to point D with the B and C involved. Rousey doesn't need the B and C.
Carmouche is the fighter that needs the B and C. And that's fine. You can see a good job of this in her fight with Kaitlin Young.
At the 10:00 minute mark you see a nice sequence where Carmouche quickly counters a triangle attempt, engaging in a rather lengthy battle for back control, side mount, and then mount, which ends in a rear naked choke. It's an ugly sequence, but efficiency is king in MMA, and Carmouch is efficient.
This is Liz' game. She's a wrestle-boxer minus the boxing part. But she's tough where it counts. She's known more for her loss against Marloes Coenen than her win against Young, or Curry.
What both women can't do: If you watch Carmouche's fight with Young, the holes in her game are apparent from the get-go. For one, she's not an explosive wrestler. The only reason she gets Young down in the first place in a fight she was otherwise losing was because she was able to time Kaitlin's kicks. Plus, her striking isn't where it should be to have a 'puncher's chance' against Ronda.
It's hard to say much about Ronda in this category. We know she'd prefer to not strike. But the idea that being one-dimensional in MMA is an achilles' heel reminds me of the myth of 'defense wins championships'. Being multi-dimensional is important, just like defense, bit it doesn't matter much if your primary asset and ability is strong enough to entail victory.
Does this mean Rousey can't be clobbered on the feet? Of course not. But it won't happen here. Rousey needs to fight someone with reach. Someone who can land from the outside. I'd love to see McMann fight Rousey, and I suspect that fight will happen sooner than we think, but I just wish they would give Sara some more fights.
Prediction: Same as everyone else.