Crash Course: Ronda Rousey vs. Sara McMann

Wednesday February 19th, 2014

Ronda Rousey will look to extend her dominance by topping fellow former Olympian Sara McMann.
Jae C. Hong/AP

In the week leading up to every UFC championship bout, presents a crash course on the big fight. UFC 170, which takes place on Saturday, will feature MMA's foremost female star, Ronda Rousey, in her title defense against Sara McMann.


Enjoying the Olympics? Downhill skiing and slopestyle. Hockey and speedskating. Luge and curling and pinkeye and figure skating TV analyst attire. There's a lot of excitement to take in over these two weeks.

UFC 170 Live Blog: Follow's round-by-round action

Now let's add some mixed martial arts a good 8,000 miles away from Sochi to this cornucopia of sports.

It's not actually part of the official program for the Winter Games, but on Saturday night in Las Vegas the main event of UFC 170 will pit Olympic medalist versus Olympic medalist, with another Olympian competing right before in the co-main event.

Talk about clever cross-programming. Even the Russian judges are awarding the UFC matchmakers a 10.0 for their timing and style.

When Ronda Rousey meets Sara McMann at the Mandalay Bay Events Center (10 p.m. ET, PPV), it will be Rousey's third defense of the championship belt she was awarded a year ago after the UFC absorbed the 135-pound women's bantamweight division from Strikeforce. "Rowdy Ronda" had reigned in the corporate little cousin promotion since March 2012. Prior to that, Rousey's claim to fame was winning a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. McMann was the silver medalist in freestyle wrestling at the '04 Games in Athens. (The third Olympian on the card is Daniel Cormier, a member of the 2004 and '08 US freestyle wrestling team, who'll face late replacement Patrick Cummins in Saturday's light heavyweight co-main.)

The 27-year-old Rousey (8-0, 2-0 in the UFC) has swiftly become the UFC's brightest star. She has few professional fights on the resume, but she's drawn interest far afield from the MMA world. In the months between last summer's coaching stint opposite arch nemesis Miesha Tate on The Ultimate Fighter and their December bout, Rousey took part in the filming of two movies, The Expendables 3 and Fast & Furious 7. Rousey, who's also had exposure as a cover model for the body issue of ESPN Magazine and as a late-night guest of Conan O'Brien, Jim Rome, and Jimmy Kimmel, recently agreed to two more movie deals.

But this woman is no mere Hollywood creation. Inside the cage, Rousey is a very real terror, having ended every fight via her inevitable armbar, with all but the last Tate encounter finishing in the first round. It is that dominance, not her thespian chops, that has earned her the No. 7 spot in the pound-for-pound fighter rankings.

(A note about Rousey's inclusion on the pound-for-pound list: At the start of each month, when we release our new rankings, the presence of the women's bantamweight champ in the same Top 10 as the sport's elite men never fails to draw the ire of some readers. I explained my thinking on this a year ago, back when I was one of the few media members to include Rousey in the fanciful rankings, so I won't go into that again. If you need to know, click here.)

McMann (7-0, 1-0 UFC), ranked No. 4 on the women's bantamweight list largely based on the potential her Olympic medal promises, has only last April's first-round TKO of Sheila Gaff on her UFC resume. And Gaff, following another loss last summer, was summarily bounced from the UFC's less-than-deep women's roster. So McMann, despite her Athens podium credentials, does still have some work to do in proving herself in this sport. The 33-year-old's encounters with top-ranked women have all been near misses: She was scheduled to fight Liz Carmouche in a Strikeforce bout in 2012, but the fight (along with the rest of the card) was cancelled, and she was set to face another contender, Sarah Kaufman, last August but pulled out for an undisclosed personal issue. Now, thanks to that Olympic silver and the UFC's sharp sense of promotional timing, she's getting her shot against the champ.

In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (8 p.m. ET) and the card's other two bouts will stream on the UFC Fight Pass digital subscription service (6:30).


The UFC cage has been home to Olympians before.

Rousey, McMann, and Cormier aside, the fight promotion's current roster includes several athletes who've competed in the Games, from middleweight Yoel Romero (2004 silver medalist, Cuba, freestyle wrestling) to welterweight Hector Lombard (2000, Cuba, judo) to ageless light heavyweight Dan Henderson (1992 and '96, United States, Greco-Roman wrestling).

Past UFC competitors have included some of U.S. wrestling's biggest Olympic stars, such as 1984 freestyle gold medalist Mark Schultz, 1992 freestyle gold medalist Kevin Jackson, 1996 freestyle silver medalist Townsend Saunders and 2000 Greco-Roman silver medalist Matt Lindland.

And some of the UFC's greatest have been Olympic team members or alternates, such as the promotion's first heavyweight champion, 1992 freestyle wrestler Mark Coleman, and five-time champion and Hall of Fame inductee Randy Couture, a Greco-Roman alternate in 1988, '92 and '96.

But never before have two Olympic medalists competed against each other in the octagon. Never has the cage been the venue for a meeting of two Olympians, period. So Rousey vs. McMann is history in the making. No wonder the UFC couldn't wait to make it happen.

This might prove to be too much too soon for McMann, who has not yet been tested by a top-10 fighter. But she has some lofty credentials left over from her days on Mount Olympus. As fellow Olympian Cormier told me, "Don't expect to see Ronda ragdoll Sara like she did Miesha."

I'm not quite sure what we should we expect, but as with everything else in the sports world during this Olympic fortnight, expectations are running high.

Last Five Fights


12/28/13 Miesha Tate W Sub 3

2/23/13 Liz Carmouche W Sub 1

8/18/12 Sarah Kaufman W Sub 1

3/3/12 Miesha Tate W Sub 1

11/18/11 Julia Budd W Sub 1


4/27/13 Sheila Gaff W TKO 1

7/28/12 Shayna Baszler W UD 3

1/21/12 Hitomi Akano W UD 3

8/27/11 Raquel Pa'aluhi W Sub 3

7/29/11 Tonya Evinger W UD 3

Tale of the Tape
Feb. 1, 1987
Birth Date
Sept. 24, 1980
Riverside, Calif.
Takoma Park, Md.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Gaffney, S.C.
* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Other Numbers To Count On

3:24: Total average fight time, in minutes, for Ronda Rousey, which if she had more UFC fights would qualify as third shortest in the promotion's history. She'd finished every opponent in the first round, five in the first minute, before Miesha Tate took her 15:58 in December. McMann has averaged nine minutes more per fight against lesser competition.

100: Percentage of opponents' takedown attempts that McMann has fended off. Few have even tried to put the Olympic wrestler on her back, though no one she's been with inside the cage had grappling credentials even resembling Rousey's. But still, if Ronda can't take the fight to the mat then her usual strategy might not come into play.

0: Number of previous UFC fights, throughout the promotion's 20-year, 262-event history, that have pitted two Olympic medalists against each other.

Greatest Hits

2008 Olympics: Ronda Rousey secures a bronze medal

2004 Olympics: Sara McMann pins down a silver medal


I know the "mixed" part of mixed martial arts signifies a delectable multi-flavored gumbo of combat styles all thrown into the eight-sided stovetop pot. But wouldn't it be cool to set aside all the punches and kicks just this once, so we can see how an Olympic medal-winning judoka would fare against a similarly decorated freestyle wrestler?

Not going to happen. At least not for the entirety of the fight, and surely not in the form of pure grappling.

When Rousey and McMann are waved together at the start, they'll both leave their corners with their fists in front of them. The true proving ground of this bout will be in the standup: Which of these grappling specialists has rounded out her game better than the other?

Once one of the fighters has hurt the other with punches and kicks, grappling will come into play. It's too deeply embedded in the nature of each of these two women for it to remain hidden in the background all night. The fighter taking punches will revert to the familiar ground game. Or the fighter who's seized advantage will see an opening and pounce. We'll see takedown attempts all right, but they'll come as desperate defensive maneuvers or sneak attacks behind punch combinations or some other form of offensive that one need not concern herself with in a judo or wrestling match.

A pivotal moment within the grappling game might come when Rousey first feels the strength and technical mat acumen of McMann, something Rousey likely hasn't felt in earnest since the 2008 Games. She'll have to decide whether to stubbornly go strength vs. strength or to opt for a Plan B where she sees herself as more evolved. Another might come if McMann instinctively takes the fight to the mat and then must make the crucial and instantaneous decision: Do I stay on the canvas with Rousey, knowing what she is capable of, and trust my lead-blanket top game to keep me and my arm out of peril?

Decisions, decisions.

The Odds

Rousey is a sizeable favorite at all sports books checked, with her money line ranging from -380 (bet $100 to win $26.32) to -500 (bet $100 to win $20). The lines on McMann range from +300 (bet $100 to win $300) to +342 (bet $100 to win $342).


This is where the streak ends. That statement could apply to either of these undefeated fighters, but I'm referring to Rousey. No, I'm not predicting that her win streak is about to be over. I'm predicting that her means of winning will expand beyond the one-dimensional. McMann's high-level wrestling should keep her in good position -- which is to say, out of an armbar. But Rousey, despite all evidence to the contrary, has become more than just a walking arm-breaker. McMann might be able to match her on the mat -- might -- but she won't be able to compete with her in the standup. Rousey by TKO

Must-see Photo

Ronda Rousey (right) won't have such an easy time overwhelming Sara McMann on the mat.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Fighting Words

"I go back and forth on Ronda. I think [her success is] really good for the sport; I think it's progressing things. I would prefer it in a little more respectful, or with a little more integrity, not quite so ... I don't know exactly how to put it, you know, with a little more class. You know, you can say, 'I think I'm better' than someone, you can say, 'I have great skills,' but you don't have to cut other people down in order to make yourself bigger."

--Sara McMann, speaking to Fight Hub TV last year, addressing the acrimony between Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate.

"Regardless of how nice and saintly Sara is, I've worked my entire life for everything that I have now. And no matter how cute and sweet she is, she's still trying to rip away everything that I've ever worked for, and it's not very nice, I'm sorry. It's not that I feel angry when I walk into the octagon, it's that have to empty myself of emotion. And I'm going to be doing that when I fight Sara, too."

--Ronda Rousey, during a teleconference with MMA media last week, talking about the difference between fighting Sara McMann and fighting a grudge match like the Miesha Tate bout.

The Tweet Beat

Join the conversation about Rousey vs. McMann on Twitter. Track the hashtags #RouseyMcMann and #UFC170 to see who's tweeting what about Saturday's fight.

@rondarousey (Ronda Rousey, champion)

@Sara_McMann (Sara McMann, challenger)

@ufc (Ultimate Fighting Championship)

@danawhite (UFC president Dana White)

@jeffwagenheim ('s Jeff Wagenheim)

@lorettahuntmma ('s Loretta Hunt)

@MelissaSeguraSI ('s Melissa Segura)

@chuckmindenhall (Chuck Mindenhall, writer)

@arielhelwani (Ariel Helwani, Fox Sports 1/ interviewer)

@LukeThomasMMA (Luke Thomas, writer)

@MikeChiappetta (Mike Chiappetta, MMA writer)

@benfowlkesMMA (Ben Fowlkes, USA Today/ writer)

@kevini (Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports MMA/boxing writer)

@bokamotoESPN (Brett Okamoto, MMA writer)

@davedoylemma (Dave Doyle, writer)

@MMAjunkiejohn (John Morgan, USA Today/ writer)

The Rest Of The Card

Daniel Cormier vs. Patrick Cummins, light heavyweight

Rory MacDonald vs. Demian Maia, welterweight

Mike Pyle vs. T.J. Waldburger, welterweight

Robert Whittaker vs. Stephen Thompson, welterweight

Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Alexis Davis vs. Jessica Eye, women's bantamweight; Raphael Assunção vs. Pedro Munhoz, bantamweight; Cody Gibson vs. Aljamain Sterling, bantamweight; Zach Makovsky vs. Josh Sampo, flyweight.

Online prelims (6:30 p.m. ET, UFC Fight Pass): Rafaello Oliveira vs. Erik Koch, lightweight; Ernest Chavez vs. Yosdenis Cedeno, lightweight.

Programming Notes

Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

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