Ronda Rousey May Never Be Anderson, But She Could Do a Mean Wanderlei
Ronda Rousey is as talented a fighter as they come in women’s Mixed Martial Arts, but if you were waiting on the Olympic-level Judoka’s striking to catch up to her grappling, you may never see the day in the classic sense, and it is really no fault of Rousey.
Rousey has often times made the excellent point that the speed at which she is getting better at Mixed Martial Arts is much faster than many of her competitors, precisely because she is still so relatively new to the sport. While this is certainly a logical (and scary) truth to digest about the UFC’s undefeated bantamweight champion, it’s a point that becomes muddled in the realm of striking when everything is put into context.
If anyone is capable of training their way to becoming an elite level striker in the women’s division, it’s Rousey. Whether it’s her relentless work ethic in the gym, her incredible athleticism, her unwillingness to give up when things get rough, or just her and her mother’s extremely analytical approach to fighting, Rousey has all the tools to become a bonafied knockout artist. The problem, however, is that she may never get the real-fight experience she needs to push her game to the next level, because she’s just too darn good at taking down and finishing her opponents.
Striking is More Than Just Throwing/Evading Fists
If Brock Lesnar taught us anything during his foray into MMA, it’s that having a great chin isn’t the only thing that matters when eating shots. Just as importantly as it is to be able to take a punch, you have to know how to keep your composure after, and Rousey may never get that kind of exposure during her career. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure Rousey is a killer in sparring practice, but taking a shot in a real fight from a real opponent with the intent to hurt you is a completely different experience than being able to collect yourself in the gym against some heavy-handed boxers. I’m sure Rousey knows this, which is probably why she’s often said she looks forward to her first five-round fight. I just don’t think she’ll ever have enough of them to take her striking to the kind of level that matches the potential she has for it.
Rousey’s striking is definitely getting better at a rapid pace, but her exchanges are brief and she’s never had to make mid-fight adjustments to pick apart her opponent’s defense from a striking perspective. Rousey is a fantastic learner and has shown she’s fully capable of taking in important rehearsed techniques, and reproducing them in a fight without having to think about it. Most notably in her title bout with Liz Carmouche as UFC 157, Rousey displayed some excellent dirty boxing as well as defensive headwork, and looked extremely comfortable exchanging with Carmouche in and around the clinch. In these limited exchanges, Rousey can dish out serious punishment and she’s only going to get better at it. My concern is what happens then the fight opens up, and Rousey must rely on a muscle memory that isn’t so well-trained in broader space.
She Has All The Tools To be a Killer
In Rousey’s seven professional fights, you could probably count on two hands the amount of strikes she’s had to throw while standing. You could probably count even less the amount of strikes she’s had to take, too. When your ability to take down your opponents is unparalleled in the sport, then there’s really no reason to be standing around exchanging with your foe, which is why ultimately it is Rousey’s own extreme proficiency at Judo that will be her biggest roadblock to becoming a more well-rounded competitor. It has nothing to do with her lack of skill, and everything to do with an overload of it.
While Rousey may never get the live-action experience she needs to become the Anderson Silva of the women’s division, there’s every bit of reason to believe that her dirty boxing and clinch game can become as dangerous as her patented armbar. Of all the striking scenarios Rousey prepares for, up-close-and-personal is the only type that she consistently, and significantly has live-action experience with. You might be pressed, then, to liken her striking potential to someone like Randy Couture, but Ronda is far too gifted an athlete and far too dynamic for me to not think there’s a little Wanderlei hiding in there somewhere.
Although Rousey’s style of grappling isn’t exactly ideal for punishing opponents with knees, there’s no reason to think that she can’t develop a Thai-plum to mix in with her traditional Judo clinches and really start devastating opponents on the feet (it’s not like she has to be afraid of being taken to the ground). We’re talking about a woman that has been controlling the head of her opponents in one way or another for a decade as a Judoka, and if she can develop a Muay Thai-hybrid game to fall back on, then it won’t matter what happens when and if she meets someone that she can’t take down…
Because she’ll have all the tools to knock them out.