By Chuck Mindenhall
COLUMBUS — Heading into the fight, Strikeforce’s women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate said that wrestling trumps judo nine out of 10 times. She was speaking from experience, and experience also happened to be an x-factor against an opponent with only two minutes, 18 seconds of cage time. Experience was also supposed to trump a green challenger.
Funny how the fight game works.
By the time it was over, Ronda Rousey proved more than ready to bust theories, and if need be, the more experienced fighter’s arm. In what was being hailed as the biggest women’s MMA event since Gina Carano versus Cristiane Santos, Rousey emerged as a star in just her fifth fight, while proving that she could back up the audacity of her prefight talk.
Rousey submitted Tate the same way she did her previous four opponents — via a first-round armbar. And, though she more than doubled her total time in the cage this time out, it was again the judo that delivered her to the moment. Rousey used a brilliant hip toss to get Tate down, transitioned to mount, and then punched away until she could pry the arm away to set up her signature submission. The crowd at Nationwide Arena cringed as she hyper-extended the limb into an unnatural position, torquing it for the tap. It finally came at the 4:36 mark of the first round.
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And even though you’d have trouble finding a list of big viable challenges for Rousey right this second, she became the future of women’s MMA with a clear-cut challenge ahead in Sarah Kaufman, who won an equally memorable back-and-forth war with Alexis Davis. With Santos’ suspension, the retirement of Carano and the state of women’s MMA in flux, this played out as the best-case scenario for Strikeforce.
Or as a case of perseverance, to hear Strikeforce president Scott Coker tell it.
“Strikeforce has been supportive of female mixed martial arts since 2006 when we started,” he said during the postfight news conference. “Gina Carano versus Elaina Maxwell in December of ’06 was the first [female MMA] fight that was licensed in the state of California. We’ve always believed in female martial arts fighting. Before that we were a kickboxing league.
“We had many great fights in the female division and, personally, for myself, I believe these ladies that grew up in a martial arts school, or in a wrestling program, they should always be allowed to compete. And I think tonight justifies those feelings of the past. And we talk about fighting at the highest level, I think tonight we saw it. We had four amazing athletes fighting in the female division at the highest level. And we’re going to continue moving forward. I think a star was born tonight, and it’s onward and forward for the female division.”
Afterward, Rousey dedicated her new 135-pound title to her late father. Yet when asked if she could quash her beef with Tate, which reached a crescendo at the weigh-ins when Rousey headbutted Tate, she chose not to. In regard to the armbar that looked like it did some serious damage, she said, “I don’t feel bad about it,” which sent the crowd into raptures. Part of the reason Rousey got a title shot in the first place was by telling it like it is and causing waves in the media. She wasn’t about to back down after achieving her goal as being a champion at 25 years old.
And it looked like she might end the fight as early with an initial armbar attempt.
“I didn’t feel like I really had it,” she said. “The second [armbar attempt], I knew for sure I could get it, and that’s why I abandoned the dominant position. The first one I just kind of fell into it; it didn’t feel that secure.”
Now the new champion can set her sights on former champion Kaufman, who has contended all along that it’s still her belt. Just as you’d expect, she already thinks she spots a weakness in Rousey’s game.
“I thought overall that Ronda looked good,” Kaufman said. “There’s definitely something’s that she doesn’t like that I do really well. It’s going to present a really interesting fight and a really good fight for the fans and for myself as well.”
Asked to elaborate, she added, “clearly I like to strike … and based on my face, I also like to get hit. But Ronda hasn’t been challenged by somebody who can strike like I am able to strike.”
It was a good night for women’s MMA, and everybody involved knew it. The women stole the show in Columbus, and a star was born in Ronda Rousey.