Ronda Rousey readies for showdown of Olympians

LOS ANGELES — As the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are well underway across the globe, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey is well underway in her preparation for her own Olympic showdown.

Rousey, a former two-time Olympic judoka and the first woman from the United States to medal in judo, will defend her Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight championship against Sara McMann, a former Olympic medalist in wrestling, on Feb. 22 at UFC 170 in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay.

Not just a UFC title bout, Rousey believes it’s an Olympic showdown that may never be seen again.

“It’s not that we’re just Olympians, we’re Olympic medalists. And we’re not just Olympic medalists, but we’re undefeated Olympic medalists. We’re two undefeated Olympic medalists that are fighting during the Olympic Games,” Rousey said Monday. “I really don’t think this will happen ever again.”

With her impending UFC title fight closing in, Rousey took center stage at the Glendale Fighting Club on Monday morning for an open workout as she spoke, among a range of topics, on how she hopes and believes a bout featuring fighters with such high-level pedigrees can change the perception not just of women’s mixed martial arts, but the sport as a whole.

“I really want the public to have more respect for not just the women’s MMA fighters, but MMA in general,” said Rousey, who trains at GFC under Edmond Tarverdyan. “It started out everyone had this kind of idea that MMA fighters were two guys that they found in the bar at the casino that they paid them enough money to jump in the cage and swing at each other. I think it really represents the progress and the refinement of the sport. It’s not just two chicks that were doing Tae Bo and decided to give this a try one day or their boyfriend was a fighter so they got into it. It’s two girls that were at the pinnacle of their sport and decided that MMA was a better option and moved over to that. It not just speaks for the women, it speaks for all the fighters.”

The 27-year-old Rousey boasts an 8-0 professional MMA career following two appearances in the Olympics, winning bronze in judo in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

McMann, 33, was the first American female to win a silver medal in Olympic freestyle wrestling, doing so in 2004 in Athens. She’s 7-0 entering her first title shot.

Rousey, who’s finished all eight of her fights via armbar, is coming off a third-round submission win on Dec. 28 against bitter rival Miesha Tate. While Rousey’s UFC 168 bout was built on a foundation of bad blood, Rousey and McMann have shown nothing but mutual respect for each other. McMann, however, with just one fight under the UFC banner, is considerably lesser known than Tate to the casual MMA fan. Rousey doesn’t believe that will matter when UFC 170 rolls around.

“Even though Sara isn’t as well known, I think it really helps a lot that this fight coincides with the Winter Olympics, so it’s really an Olympic theme going on,” Rousey said. “I think that just kinda helps that the whole country and the whole world is really in that mode.

“When people get Olympic fever, it’s all over the place.”

Rousey also believes McMann’s Olympic experience bodes well for her ability to be thrust into the main event limelight.

“A UFC title really doesn’t compare that much to the Olympics, because they have new title fights all the time, but the Olympics could be one day in your whole life. There’s no amount of pressure that can really ever compare to that,” Rousey said. “Just what it takes mentally to get through that, I don’t think you can recreate that in any other environment, so I expect her to be ready to go when it comes to the day of the fight.”

The bout was announced at the UFC 168 postfight press conference by UFC President Dana White, not long after Rousey had dispatched Tate. Thus, after taking roughly 10 months off in between fights to film the 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as a coach opposite Tate, then a role in “The Expendables 3” in Bulgaria and finally a role in “Fast and Furious 7” in Atlanta, Rousey is fighting again in less than two months.

So, Rousey will go from the longest layoff — Rousey beat Liz Carmouche on Feb. 23, 2013 in the first-ever UFC women’s fight — in between fights in her pro MMA career to equaling the shortest turnaround.

“All my best performances are when I had the shortest amount of time since the last fight,” said Rousey, who will face McMann after the latter last fought in April of last year. “I really did have some problems with ring rust in the last fight and I really don’t think that’s gonna be an issue at all.”

From Rousey’s win over Tate to her showdown with McMann, it will encompass a 56-day span, which is exactly the same of her June 17, 2011 49-second win over Charmaine Tweet and her Aug. 12, 2011 25-second victory over Sarah D’Alelio. Those were her second and third fights, respectively.

Indeed, this may well be a matchup of timing.

Against a backdrop of the Winter Olympics, Rousey and McMann will collide at a point in their careers in which the former Olympians are both undefeated after having begun their amateur MMA careers in 2010 and their pro careers in 2011.

“We’ve both been aware of each other since then,” Rousey said, “and I’ve been sure that our paths would cross at some point.”

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