In most weight divisions of the UFC, the questions leading up to a championship bout focus on whether the challenger can unseat the champion.
In the woman’s bantamweight division, however, the questions leading up to Saturday’s title fight are mostly focused on whether the challenger can survive all five rounds.
Those questions are a testament to the dominance of champion Ronda Rousey, who will fight former Olympic wrestler Sara McMann in UFC 170 Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas in an effort to defend her 135-pound women’s UFC belt for the second time.
The 27-year old Rousey has had a death grip on the bantamweight belt for nearly two years, first in Strikeforce, and then in the UFC after the sport’s main organization absorbed the division.
Despite her impressive string of victories, however, there are some who feel that Rousey was given a title fight more quickly than was deserved because she used trash talk to make herself marketable to fight fans. Count McMann as a member of that group.
“I definitely have a pedigree that I could have gone the same exact route and I could have said the same things and I would have gotten the same attention,” said McMann, who, like Rousey is undefeated in her MMA career at 7-0. “I just don’t have a lot of respect for it. I’m perfectly willing to work my way up the ladder because I don’t want to skip over girls.”
Rousey, as she has done frequently in the past, also did her part to fuel the pre-fight animosity between the two former Olympians.
“Regardless of how nice and saintly Sara is I worked my entire life to get what I have now,” said Rousey, whose fight with McMann will be the first main event to feature women in UFC history. “She’s still trying to rip away everything I worked for, and that’s not very nice.”
Regardless of whether Rousey originally merited a title fight, she has certainly earned her current status as a champion and, really, as one of the faces of the UFC.
“Rowdy Ronda” has submitted all eight of her professional MMA opponents with her trademark armbar, including seven in the first round. In short, she hasn’t been particularly challenged yet in her career.
Although Rousey is a heavy favorite against McMann, it’s possible that this latest challenger will give the champion her toughest test to date. It’s certainly the most intriguing matchup she’s had in the UFC.
Much has been made of Rousey’s background in judo, a sport in which she took home the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In the past, she has used her sublime grappling skill to put herself in position to execute the deadly armbar.
However, the 33-year old McMann has her own Olympic background, having taken silver at Athens in 2004 in women’s freestyle wrestling. It will be fascinating to see whether the Maryland native will try to box with Rousey or whether she will attempt to take the fight to the mat and trust her wrestling skill to keep her away from the armbar.
Another interesting element to this matchup is the short turnaround that Rousey has had since her last fight. She beat Meisha Tate at UFC 168 on December 28, so she’ll have had only 56 days in between fights. For that reason, it’s possible that she might not have the stamina to keep attacking if the fight reaches the later rounds.
For her part, Rousey believes the short time between fights will be an advantage rather than a detriment.
“(The short turnaround) has helped my training a lot,” Rousey said. “For the Meisha (Tate) fight, I was in good shape, but I wasn’t in the optimal shape, but I started this camp already in the best shape of my life. It was just a lot of maintaining and killing time.”
Rousey will need to be at her best in order to beat her newest challenger. I look for the California native to win, but not from an armbar. McMann is too good of a wrestler to allow herself to be submitted that way. Rousey flashed some big-time power against Tate, so it’s possible that, if she can’t submit McMann, she’ll try to outbox her. Either way, fight fans should expect fireworks come Saturday night.
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