Ronda Rousey will look to defend her Women's Bantamweight belt against Cat Zingano in Los Angeles, California this weekend, February 28th at the Staples Center in the main event tilt. The title fight took the headlining slot after it was announced that Chris Wiedman vs. Vitor Belfort would be delayed after the champion suffered an injury.
The queen of the comebacks takes on the queen of wrecking people in microseconds, in a fight which could be incredibly awesome... or incredibly short.
The woman marketed as someone who might only lose if she fights a man faces, off against the equally undefeated woman who could be marketed as someone who might only lose to a man if she wins.
"Rowdy" Ronda Rousey
"Alpha" Cat Zingano
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Rousey is the face of modern women's MMA. She's the volatile, emotional judoka who has torn through every single competitor she's faced thus far, without being significantly troubled in a single bout.
David: Well to be fair, I think getting your head twisted like some mutant child chewing off a lego head the way Liz Carmouche tried to do would qualify as "significantly troubled" in any other context. Rousey was probably bothered by it the same way a normal person is bothered by being in a june bug's path, so you're still technically correct.
Phil: Cat Zingano is probably the most likeable and compelling underdog to take the stage against Rousey. A heart-wrenching personal story has been coupled with a tendency to win dramatic upsets, where she battles back from the brink to take out her opponents.
David: I've been fairly impressed with Zingano but there's no doubt that the odds are what they are precisely because her career just doesn't compare on paper. Not only has she fought lesser competition, but she's struggled with lesser competition. Thankfully this fight isn't decided on Microsoft Excel, however.
What are the stakes?
Phil: This fight is the first event for Rousey which will confirm how she draws with the public. Her first fight was something of a historical novelty (the first women's bantamweight championship fight in the UFC!), and the others have all benefited from the presence of Chris Weidman on the card. His sudden departure has left Rousey to carry the card on her own. That said, it's engendered some negative backlash which is a little unfair: people looking forward to the double-header now have a much less compelling card, and it's debatable that people would be quite so pissed off if Weidman had never been booked in the first place.
David: The real question is whether or not Dana White follows up on his odd trajectory of mentioning a fight with a man no matter how hyperbolically or in jest. Perhaps Rousey could start with Bobby Riggs, and then she could work her way up to Shad Smith. No matter how stupid or concerned with proving a point, it's the kind of comment people (including Ronda herself) latch on to, and it distracts from the narrative of what she's accomplished. I always feel moderately uncomfortable whenever Dana says it, mostly because of the whole Diaz brother in a beautiful body thing. I know I missed several expletives in there. Anyway, Zingano is a stout opponent for Rouse, who would be wise not to look passed.
Where do they want it?
Phil: The two fighters are both very similar in approach. They are both superb, tireless clinch fighters, who have been able to crush their opponents with technique and athleticism. Rousey is a bit more about the trip and the submission, whereas Zingano is based more around wrestling and ground and pound. This isn't to imply that they are limited, because both have wide and rich clinch arsenals, and each can essentially do what the other can, just that they have slightly different focal points.
Neither is a really crisp striker, but Rousey's game at the moment appears to be more finely attuned to her strengths, as her strikes are essentially designed to do damage and close distance at the same time. Her primary weakness, that it's a little easy to tag her on the way in, is slowly fading away, although it's notably still present.
The problem here is basically that we have two fighters who are very similar... but one is just plain better than the other. Of particular note is the fact that we're talking about a hyper-aggressive, fast-starting finisher against a painfully slow starter who easily dropped the first rounds of her last fights. Even if these two are unmatched athletes in the division, one of them is like a car which slowly builds speed off the starting line while the other is a drag racer which goes 0-60 in the blink of an eye.
David: Difference being, the drag racer never stops while the pinto can break down at any time. I'm afraid of where these analogies might lead so let's stop there. It's hard to really pinpoint what Rousey can't do at this point. Not only has her striking rapidly developed, but she's unearthed technique to go along with some natural power. I was impressed that she didn't wilt against Sara McMann, who I thought at the time would have been a stiff test on the feet. Instead Rousey just blitzed her with an arsenal I didn't know she had.
I don't expect her to bring anything new. The Davis win was a combination of a well timed punch, and Davis being just a good opponent for her. Although that fight is still one of the most brutal beatdowns the UFC has ever seen. It's just a perfect marriage of swift and violent. The UFC is allowing everyone to watch it for free in all of its supernaturally brutal glory.
I also like that Rousey uses her jab. While she doesn't appear to throw it with the attention of establishing distance (she uses it aggressively rather than patiently), being willing to double on it allows her another inlet towards the clinch she might otherwise lack. Rousey isn't just like the Alpha Male types (good lord, MMA doesn't even allow me written wiggle room away from its over masculine connections) who blend offense together seamlessly; instead she channels it all at once like a collider collapsing brain matter into a Higgs boson of white knuckle turbulence.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: If we've looked at Zingano's slow starting, then I we should also give dues to her sheer power. Miesha Tate's comeback with a broken orbital against Sarah McMann shows how astonishingly gutsy and tough she is, and Zingano beat her until the ref pulled her off.
David: I still think you can look at all of Rousey's fights and point to her posture on the feet. While the window to catch her is limited, it's a window all the same, no matter how opaque. She's open for some fairly standard combinations. Granted, Cat isn't the fighter to take advantage of that, as she does the bulk of her work inside, but Zingano owns enough power to at least pretend to threaten.
Phil: Rousey's combination of enormous technical and athletic advantages have made her judo an unbeatable asset in the cage thus far. Some of the high-amplitude throws she goes for are still risky though. There are a lot of things which can go wrong in an MMA fight, and we've seen fighters like Jamie Varner and Dylan Andrews knock themselves out on sacrifice throws. This seems very unlikely to happen to someone as skilled as Rousey, but even positions like scarf-holds can quickly turn sour if something goes wrong.
David: I realize you're reaching because you kind of have to, but Rousey always manages to ensure that her opponent takes the brunt of the impact. It's one of her many gifts in the cage. I'd be more concerned with Zingano landing an elbow or knee in close that cuts Rousey wide open.
Phil: Zingano is a wonderful fighter who just happens to be up against a style nightmare. Rousey is more technical, starts far faster and has more ways to end the fight. Zingano, if she survives early, will constantly be playing catch-up. I have hopes that this will be a great fight, but I'm not sure how likely it is that Zingano can actually win it. Ronda Rousey by unanimous decision.
David: You took the words right out of my keyboard. Ronda Rousey by Armbar, round 2.