Friday, February 22, 2013

Looking for a Fight: UFC 157

Ronda Rousey in the process of making Sarah Kauffman double-jointed. (fcfighting.com)

There's no denying it; Ronda Rousey is a star.

As soon as UFC President Dana White brought Rousey over from Strikeforce and started a women's division just for her, the swirl of media activity around her is only comparable to the swirl of one of her opponents in the midst of a Rousey judo toss.

One more Rousey simile.

To avoid the media crush (both in reference to the volume of Rousey coverage along with the attraction to her good looks) would be like trying to get out of one of her trademark armbars.

Rousey has been featured heavily through the UFC hype machine since this fight with Liz Carmouche was announced. There's been the standard conference calls, media days, open training sessions, and Countdown features. But there has also been a Primetime series - which is usually set aside for the UFC's biggest stars - along with ESPN coverage (including her pre-UFC-joining cover of the Body Issue), HBO Real Sports piece, a visit to Conan, and her constantly updating Twitter and Instagram pages.

Even the casual sports fan, let alone MMA fan would have a tough time not finding out something about Rousey's fight game, livelihood, or sex life.

No matter what critics thought about Rousey "just being handed" the UFC women's bantamweight belt, it's clear that the fans, media, and people simply cannot get enough of the golden-locked fighter.

She's every ounce promoter, personality, and entertainer as she is fighter.

The attention focused on her and Carmouche as the cage door locks Saturday night at UFC 157 for the first female fight ever in the UFC - it will be the culmination of everything Rousey has accomplished in and out of the fight game.

Her back story is compelling and intriguing. Any of the outlets I named above can fill you in if you're not aware, but there is a reason this woman above all others was able to catch the attention of the UFC.

Please don't change your hairstyle, Ronda.
Her presence is more professional wrestler than fighter. She's well spoken, entertaining, tough, and candid. She has her own walkout music (Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation") and bun hairstyle complete with finishing move (the armbar - which she's finished all of her professional fights with...in the 1st round). All of these things are why she's the champion and why she's fighting as the headliner on Saturday. She has worked extremely hard and overcome a lot to be the perfect set it and forget it star the UFC needed to even think about starting a women's division.

With all the hype leading up to Rousey's UFC debut there are two important things to focus on.

First, there has to be kudos sent out to Strikeforce. They first started showcasing women's fights on a big stage, and along with Rousey brought along other female stars like Gina Carano and Cris 'Cyborg' Santos. Without them taking a shot on women's fights, who knows how far behind things would be.

Second, and more importantly - the pressure Rousey must be facing is beyond intense. Not only is the expectation there to win, but the pressure of proving that this women's division in the UFC. Justifying the attention she's gotten. It is fair to say that this may be the most pressure any fighter has encountered going into any fight in UFC history. There might have been greater challenges, reasons to be more fearful of an opponent or less confident in oneself, but as far as outside factors completely crushing an individual - this has to be at or near the top of any list.

Of course, the reason the pressure is there is due to the fact that many expect Rousey to win and win in convincing fashion. As we all know, things don't always go according to plan in MMA. There have been numerous hyped debuts that fell flat on their faces. It's never been a death nail, but then again, these were men coming over to fight in the UFC. A whole division hasn't been reliant on them.

Ultimately, I don't expect any kind of shocking upset. Rousey can rumble, and she's fitting a formula that has made UFC potential superstars into superstars. She's young (as opposed to past one's prime), dedicated to the sport of MMA (as opposed to just picking it up because, well you look like this), and is dangerous from many different areas (not a one trick pony).

I expect Saturday night to be Rousey's rightful confirmation as a UFC fighter and a superstar. She's already done much more than anyone ever thought she could do. And from the hours of coverage I've seen about her - she's just getting started.

BREAKDOWN

No disrespect to Liz Carmouche, but for anyone to expect anything less than a Rousey finish early is stupid. I will say, I think this will be Rousey's longest fight of her career and she will not finish via her finishing move. Both for the same reason. She wants to show off her boxing skills. That's the one thing I've noticed a lot watching the gobs of media coverage is that you rarely see her working on the ground. It's a lot of striking and footwork. Unless Carmouche gets Rousey in trouble early, I'd expect 'Rowdy' Ronda to, not take Carmouche lightly, but want to put on a show and her stamp on the UFC. Rousey by 2nd Round TKO.

That's nothing too mind blowing, so a couple notes about those other fights on the card and Jon Fitch.

The co-main event has Dan Henderson going against Lyoto Machida. This is a hard fight to figure out. In a three round fight, Machida's elusiveness and point striking abilities seem to tick the arrow towards him as the favorite. Henderson has been out of action for some time, but that's never seemed to affect him in the past. He can certainly win this fight without landing the good ol' H-Bomb, but it will be difficult. Karmically, it'd be nice to see Hendo win so he can get that Jon Jones fight a knee injury took away from him, but it won't be easy against Machida. But I'm willing to bet Hendo can do it. I'll pick him in a decision.

Finally, the Jon Fitch era has temporarily come to an end in the UFC. The former #1 contender at welterweight was the most notable fighter of several cut yesterday by the UFC. Fitch appears to be a martyr for lay and prayers. A lot of people were shocked by Fitch being free to leave. His style has never won over a lot of fans, but he was still a high class fighter. Many see this as a way for Dana White to let his fighters know that you have to get out there and be exciting. Certainly, Fitch would most likely never contend for a title again, but in a world where there's a UFC event on seemingly every other week - a name like Fitch would be interesting enough to tune in to see; if only to complain about.

Typically fighters that leave the UFC can find their way back, and that might be the case for Fitch. Wherever he goes, I certainly wish him the best.




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