UFC 170 Judo Chop: Can Sara McMann-handle Rousey?

USA TODAY Sports

BE's striking specialist Connor Ruebusch has a gameplan in mind that would allow Sara McMann to dethrone Ronda Rousey--but does McMann have the skills and discipline to execute this strategy?

Sara McMann has been lauded by many, including myself, as Ronda Rousey's toughest challenge yet. Boasting grappling credentials almost as impressive as Rousey's own, McMann will almost certainly be much harder to take down than any of Ronda's previous opponents. Indeed, McMann has yet to be taken down in her seven-fight, undefeated career.

Does this mean that McMann should engage in the clinch with Ronda Rousey, and test her submission grappling skills against those of the champ? Eh... probably not. As I said above, McMann's silver medal in wrestling is almost as impressive as Ronda's bronze in judo, but it also means that McMann has not spent her lifetime preparing for a submission grappling art. Compare this to Ronda Rousey, whose mother supposedly used to armbar her daughter to wake her for school in the morning, and you start to understand that McMann's pedigree may not have quite prepared her to roll with the champ on the ground.

Rather, McMann's best chance is probably on the feet, where she can use her wrestling skills to keep the fight standing and utilize her crisp, powerful striking. Before we get into McMann's particular skills, let's take a look at what kind of attacks have worked on Ronda in the past.

ROUSEY'S DEFENSIVE LIABILITIES

Despite her many tactical errors and downright foolhardy approach, no one can deny that Miesha Tate was able to give Rousey some considerable trouble with her left hook. While Rousey's "hanger" jab did a great job of neutralizing Tate's right hand, the left hook found its mark repeatedly whenever the two fighters were separated on the feet. Rousey was most susceptible to the left hand when throwing her own right.

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1. Rousey and Tate square off.

2. Ronda looks to throw her right hand, and telegraphs badly with a large, undisguised outward step with her left foot.

3. Having seen it coming a mile away, Miesha connects with a short left hook.

4. Rousey tries to recover with a left hook of her own, but her feet are out of position and it serves as little more than a gentle shove.

Ronda's right hand is susceptible to a left hand counter for a number of reasons. First, there is the huge step, a dead giveaway, particularly given the angle at which Ronda steps. This kind of footwork is best hidden with a jab. Next, Rousey's cross seems to lack just about every mechanical advantage that her jab enjoys: the level changing, built-in head movement, and balance that make her left so dangerous are completely absent from her right. Finally, Ronda leaves her back foot so far behind when she throws (as you can see in frame three) that there is no meaningful power whatsoever on the punch. In other words, there's no reason not to counter it.

The uppercut leaves her similarly vulnerable.

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1. Tate chases Rousey across the cage winging wild right hands.

2. Nearing the fence, Rousey plants her feet, executes a nice level change, and prepares to counter.

3. She springs upward into an uppercut, landing but lining her chin up for Tate's left hook in the process.

4. Ronda stumbles back momentarily.

Rousey's key mistake with the uppercut is standing up tall. Despite its upward trajectory, the uppercut is meant to be thrown the same as any other punch, with a lowering of the body and a bit of built-in head movement. By straightening her legs, Ronda ends up un-bracing herself for a counter mid-punch, which explains her momentary loss of footing despite the fact that it wasn't a particularly hard left hook from Tate. We can look at the famous knockdown from Ali's first fight with Joe Frazier for an example of what happens when a fighter stands up tall into the path of a real left hook.

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We all know that the higher the Jenga tower grows the easier it is to tip over. The same is true of fighters. A lowered position of leverage is almost always better than a tall one, where balance is too easily compromised. She's shown improvements in this area, but Rousey still tends to stand tall when she strikes, particularly when she feels pressured.

MCMANN'S TOOLS

So does McMann have what it takes to capitalize on these holes? Well... "perhaps" isn't a particularly promising answer, but it's about the best we can confidently come up with until we've actually seen the fight.

Like Miesha Tate, McMann is heavily reliant on her right hand for striking. Typically, she uses this right hand in Fedor-esque fashion, falling into the strike with her upper body in order to establish the clinch and work for takedowns. As far as her clinch entries go, she is essentially Ronda Rousey... two fights ago. If McMann hopes to outstrike Rousey, she'll need to abandon her usual method in favor of something a bit more scientific.

In terms of keenness, however, there's no comparison. McMann is clearly a harder hitter than Tate, and quite possibly a harder hitter than any opponent Ronda has faced yet. Even better, she's shown signs of serious tactical thinking in her most recent fights.

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Here, you can see McMann landing a sharp right hand on Shayna Baszler in her sole performance under the Invicta banner. Notice that Baszler makes the same critical mistake as Ronda Rousey, attempting to throw an uppercut by straightening out her legs and standing up tall. The degree to which her base is compromised is clear from her body's reaction to the punch.

What really matters here, however, is why Baszler was caught throwing a counter uppercut. It's McMann's movement. Note how McMann continually steps forward and drops her weight slightly, feinting a takedown attempt. She will do this constantly any time she finds herself in a prolonged standup battle, and it's undeniably effective. By changing levels, McMann convinced Baszler that she was about to shoot, prompting the poorly executed uppercut. Having expected Baszler to throw, McMann has a crisp right hand counter cocked and ready. It's no Randleman-Cro Cop KO (GIF), but the use of the takedown to set up strikes is one of the most fundamental and consistently effective set-ups for strong grapplers. Rousey has shown a tendency to wait on her opponents' takedown attempts in the past, as well (GIF), simply standing with open arms in expectation of the shot. Whether Ronda tries to counter or attempts to engage in the clinch, McMann will very likely be able to catch her with a few good punches.

Of course, the problem lies in the fact that McMann, inexperienced as she is, still tends to go a bit nuts with the punching. You can see that Baszler was able to tie her up easily above. McMann hasn't had to stick and move against any opponents before, as she's always enjoyed a substantial wrestling advantage, but the fact remains that we just don't know if McMann is capable of executing a technical boxing gameplan.

If, however, McMann does intend to use her wrestling offensively against Rousey, she is certainly more capable of taking Ronda down than anyone else so far. Her biggest advantages in the grappling department are her timing, and her ability to hit powerful angles once she has a hold of her opponent's legs.

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1. Shiela Gaff runs at McMann like a woman with a death wish.

2. Gaff wings an ill-advised right hand under which McMann ducks, wrapping her arms around Gaff's hips.

3. McMann steps her right foot forward and turns so that she is now set to drive through Gaff's hips at an angle, with her power leg in front.

4. A hard push off her right leg secures the takedown for McMann.

As a wrestler, McMann utilized a right-leg-forward stance, as many right handed wrestlers do. The idea is to keep the power leg in front to facilitate deep penetration steps and powerful drive on shots. Like so many wrestlers in MMA, the switch to orthodox has somewhat neutered McMann's offensive wrestling. She can no longer attack with the same explosiveness that marked her wrestling career, and has resorted to more striking entries and clinch takedowns as a result. However, there are some ways that McMann can bring her powerful shot into play--as a counter.

By timing her opponent's punch, McMann is able to easily connect herself to the other woman's hips. With one small step, she suddenly finds herself beneath her opponent's hips, in a low wrestling stance with her power leg forward. In other words, she is essentially at the final stage of a perfectly executed shot, ready to drive across her opponent's hips at such an angle that they cannot possibly sprawl and regain their balance. Chris Weidman uses a similar approach to wrestling out of a striking-based orthodox stance, and effortlessly took down Tom Lawlor with almost the exact same technique.

Again, I can't say that it's a great idea to dive headlong into Ronda Rousey's world, but it can't be denied that Sara McMann possesses a unique ability to test Ronda both on the feet and on the ground in a way the bantamweight queen has never been tested before.

Stay tuned to BE for all of your UFC 170 coverage, including a new edition of Sexiness vs. Deadliness tomorrow morning.

For more fight analysis and fighter/trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast that focuses exclusively on the finer points of face-punching. Be sure to check out the latest episode, a technical interview with UFC flyweight and former Bellator champ Zach Makovsky. Please rate and review the show on both iTunes and Stitcher.

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