August 14, 2012

Armbar. Armbar. Armbar. Armbar. Armbar.

There you have it, just in case you were wondering what ever became of Ronda Rousey after the judoka won bronze at the 2008 Olympics, becoming the first American woman to medal in the sport. Or you don't follow judo but happened to pick up the recent "Body Issue" of ESPN the Magazine and was curious about the naked woman on the cover. Or you saw the 25-year-old Californian -- with her clothes on -- last week on Conan O'Brien's late-night television show, an ideal venue for Rousey because it's a talk show and she likes to talk. Or -- speaking of Ronda's runaway mouth -- you're a Kim Kardashian fan (for some inexplicable reason) and you have an inquiring mind about the mean girl who told the pseudo-journalists at that she wants to beat up your pseudo-celebrity heroine.

Whatever your entry point into the life of Rousey, now you know the results of Ronda's five fights since turning pro as a mixed martial artist last year. All happy endings, all finishing with the very same submission maneuver.

Go ahead and call her a one-trick pony. But be aware that that's a little like calling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a one-dimensional basketball player because he scored around 38,385 of his 38,387 career points with his skyhook. You know the hook/armbar is coming, but you can't do a thing to stop it. So why should Kareem/Ronda bother with Plan B?

In Rousey's case, seven of her eight opponents (counting her three amateur bouts) couldn't survive even a minute before a little arm twisting persuaded them to surrender. The lone exception was Miesha Tate, who in March lasted into the final minute of the first round. But eventually Rousey secured the armbar and dislocated both Tate's elbow and her belt, taking away the Strikeforce bantamweight championship.

The question remains, though: Does Rousey even have a Plan B?

It's a question that at this time is most significant to Sarah Kaufman, the former champion who will try to regain the belt when she fasces Rousey in the main event of a Strikeforce event Saturday night in San Diego (10 p.m. ET/PT, Showtime). Making the matter especially pertinent: Kaufman's reign ended in October 2010 when her only career defeat came against Marloes Coenen ... via armbar.

But Kaufman (15-1) isn't buying in to any of the "Ronda can do only one thing" talk. Why? Because there used to be "Sarah can do only one thing" talk. After all, Kaufman's first eight bouts went like this: KO, TKO, TKO, TKO, TKO, TKO, TKO, TKO. "It does create this kind of aura of 'Whoa, she's won every fight by the same thing,'" Kaufman said during a conference call with MMA media last week. As an opponent, she added, "You can't focus too much on that one thing."

Why not? Well, in Kaufman's ninth career bout, back in 2009, she faced Tate, who successfully avoided the knockout but nonetheless lost a unanimous decision. Sarah is aiming higher. "You do have that mystique," she said of Rousey, "and someone has to break it. That's what I'm prepared to do."

Toward that end, Kaufman is operating under the assumption that Rousey has more in her toolbox than an armbar. What exactly is available in there for the champ to use will remain a mystery until Saturday night, because Rousey, talkative as she may be, isn't bragging on it. "I want to be as underestimated as possible," she said during last week's conference call. "As little information my opponents can have about what abilities I have, the better it is for me. So I don't really feel that much of a need to give them any details."

What we do know is that Rousey has been working on striking with Lucia Rijker, the longtime unbeaten kickboxer known as "The Dutch Destroyer." Ronda also has spent time in the Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu gym working with Nick and Nate Diaz and their boxing coach, Richard Perez, who has honed the homies' standup skills to the point where the Diaz brothers are now among the most proficient and efficient strikers in MMA. "He kind of helped me [with] putting together longer combinations," Rousey said of Perez. "With judo, you kind of have a tendency to have very short exchanges. And so he just helped me with the fluidity in my striking a whole lot more."

Kaufman's heart probably beats a little faster when she hears Rousey talk about a standup fight. She insists that she will not take Ronda's fistic skills lightly -- because Sarah's not the trash talking type -- but she will acknowledge the obvious: that there are aspects of the fight that will favor each woman this weekend.

"I have the advantage in striking in that I've been doing it for so much longer," she said, "just as Ronda has been doing her judo forever." But in the same way that Rousey cautions against pigeonholing her game, so does Kaufman suggest that those who view her skill set in a limited light do so at their own peril. "If people think I'm just a striker," she said, "then that's great."

One factor that will not come into play come fight night, the women agree, is the sidetracking effects of the fame game. In the five months since winning the Strikeforce championship, Rousey has been pulled in all directions -- from magazine photo shoots to TV appearances to ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. That's a lot to take in for someone newly famous. Kaufman's perspective on it all: So what?

"A lot of people are sending me messages saying, 'Oh, Ronda's so busy doing so many other things,'" said Kaufman. "But I truly believe -- and I've said this all along -- that Ronda is an athlete, and her athletics are first and foremost when it comes to training versus fun. You don't get to be world champion and a medalist at the Olympics from sitting back and just enjoying things."

Indeed, you could tell fighting remains first and foremost in Ronda's head when she was asked during last week's conference call what perk of being a champion has been her favorite. Her answer: getting cageside tickets to UFC events. The other stuff has been "cool and interesting," she said, "but that's not who I and that's not where my interests are. I just want to have good seats for a fight."

That is the mindset of a fighter. Which is to say Rousey will be in the best place possible on Saturday night. And so will Kaufman.

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)