In reality, many would contend that the impending showdown for the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight title has been years in the making.
“We started at the amateur level at the exact same time,” said Rousey at a recent open workout at the Glendale Fighting Club, where she trains under Edmond Tarverdyan. “So we’ve both been aware of each other since then. I’ve been sure that our paths would cross at some point.”
Rousey was a two-time Team USA Olympian in judo in 2004 and 2008, winning a bronze in ’08 and becoming the first female judoka to do so. In 2004, McMann won a silver medal for the United States in freestyle wrestling. Both would then begin their amateur mixed-martial-arts careers in 2010, run off a string of wins before debuting in the professional ranks and subsequently defeat every opponent in front of them to lead into Saturday’s Olympic showdown of undefeated fighters for the UFC women’s 135-pound title at the Mandalay Bay.
“There’s no doubt that those two were on a collision course from the inception of the division,” UFC President Dana White told the News-Press in January.
Thus, many in the MMA world have long speculated that McMann (7-0) and her Olympic-level wrestling could be the foil to Rousey (8-0) and her Olympic-level judo.
In November, at a media luncheon in Los Angeles, longtime UFC contender and analyst Chael Sonnen spoke about a proposed matchup of Rousey and McMann, still a month away from Rousey defending her title against archrival Miesha Tate (a fight Rousey won via third-round armbar on Dec. 28 of last year).
“The toughest girl I know, aside from Ronda … is a girl named Sara McMann,” Sonnen said. “That’s the fight. That’s the fight where people will have to tune in and think Ronda’s in danger.”
Though Rousey enters the bout as a 4-1 favorite, a growing number of those in the fighting community are picking a McMann upset. But Rousey has often expressed that doubters fuel her more so than believers.
“She likes proving people wrong,” Tarverdyan said Wednesday. “Everybody does, right?”
Rousey’s MMA career thus far — one characterized by unbridled dominance in the cage and stardom outside never seen before in the sport — has seen her fight 11 times (three amateur and eight professional fights) with all of them ending with her opponent submitting via armbar.
From Day One, though, Rousey has been quick to tell media and fans alike that she never seeks out the patented finisher — one she’s applied from various positions, be it side mount, full mount, standing, etc. — and that’s not changing with this fight either.
“I’m going to win by the most entertaining way possible,” Rousey said at Thursday’s prefight press conference.
While Rousey, 27, is renowned for her armbar, following her latest win over Tate in which she displayed marked improvement and skill with her striking, the 135-pound champion is finally starting to get recognized for a developing all-around game.
“She’s been on,” Tarverdyan said. “It’s just great to see that as a trainer.”
Though McMann, 33, is six years Rousey’s senior, most MMA pundits see Rousey as having a more polished overall MMA game. Rousey’s resume and strength of opposition is clearly more pronounced.
Of Rousey’s eight wins, four (Liz Carmouche, Sarah Kaufman and Miesha Tate twice) have come against current UFC fighters ranked in the division’s top seven, and two (Julia Budd and Ediane Gomes) have come against featherweights (145 pounds) that have been ranked in the top three in that division’s Unified Women’s Mixed Martial Arts rankings.
“Everybody kinda forgets I won the world title a year after my pro debut,” said Rousey, who debuted against the then 6-1 Gomes in March 2011 and defeated Tate in March 2012 for the Strikeforce bantamweight title, in Thursday’s press conference. “I’ve been learning on the go. I jumped into the deep end, whereas Sara casually waded into the deep end. I’m constantly trying to improve myself all the time.”
McMann has fought once in the UFC, defeating Sheila Gaff in April 2013 via first-round technical knockout. Gaff, who went 0-2 in the UFC and holds the dubious distinction of being the first woman cut from the company’s roster, rushed right at McMann after the opening bell and gave McMann an easy, textbook takedown. McMann’s other notable wins came over the likes of Tonya Evinger, Hitomi Akano and, most notably, Shayna Baszler. All three of those victories came via decision, with the Baszler win in July 2012 coming via razor-thin verdict by most accounts (though one judge had a 30-27 score) that many had Baszler winning.
Baszler now trains at the Glendale Fighting Club and is a roommate of Rousey’s, thus, at the very least, lending familiarity of fighting McMann to Rousey.
“I have and it’s helpful,” said Rousey of talking to Baszler. “We’re not dependent on it, but it’s useful information. More about her personality than anything else. I think the personality of a fighter matters more than anything else when you’re inside there. Physically and skill-wise, you get so close when you’re at that level; personality is really what sets people apart.”
In her seven bouts, McMann has gone to decision three times and showcases a much more patient, methodical style in contrast to Rousey, who is renowned for her aggressive approach and killer instinct.
“Just from watching Sara’s fights, it seems to me that she’s much more cautious when she fights. She has a lot more decisions and she wins rounds and gets points,” Rousey said at her GFC open workout. “That’s not really my style. Personality-wise, she’s much more methodical and thinks things through.”
McMann’s opponents have a combined 63-42-1 record (63-35-1 excluding McMann’s fights), while Rousey’s opponents have combined for a 65-24 mark (65-16 excluding Rousey bouts). This will be Rousey’s fifth straight title match, creating the phenomenal distinction that the majority of her career bouts have been for a championship.
This will also be Rousey’s second bout in less than two months after defeating Tate, essentially forcing her to have back-to-back training camps after a previous 10-month layoff.
But Rousey and Tarverdyan have both professed their excitement for the fight, as much as their happiness with the camp.
“She was in her groove. Everything is so precise, she’s looking so good,” said Tarverdyan of Rousey during her recently concluded camp. “I think both of us have been really excited for this fight. We have had the best training camp; we’re both on the same page.”
Said Rousey at Thursday’s press conference: “I think this definitely was the best camp I’ve ever had. I spent all my time improving and I really feel like I’m gonna have the best performance of my entire career. It always has a lot to do with my competition. I fight better when I have higher-level competition.”
And for the first time in UFC history, former Olympic medalists will square off. In addition, both are unbeaten and the UFC championship is on the line.
For Rousey, it’s exactly the stage and the opponent she’s been searching for.
“I think it also comes with being an Olympic athlete, you’re raised to rise to the occasion and fight above yourself when it counts,” Rousey said Thursday. “And I know that Sara’s exactly the competition I’ve been waiting for to show what I’m really capable of.”