UFC 219: The Best Women’s Fighter Ever?

By: S. Davis

 

 

I’ll avoid the legacy blabber as it pertains to the winner of the contest. You can get all that analysis elsewhere. A sound argument can be made to validate the fighter that gets their hand raised at the conclusion of the event. No matter your thoughts on the outcome this is a monumental fight in the women’s division overall. Taking their collective accomplishments into consideration both competitors enter tonight’s bout supremely decorated.

Cris “Cyborg” Justino wins after pinning Holly Holm’s back against the cage and unleashing a relenting, punishing barrage that leads to a stoppage! I’ll buy that. Holm stays true to her counterstriking prowess, uses Justino’s aggression against her – matador style – and captures the title with a pinpoint, devastating head kick. It’s possible.

I’ve been wondering over the last week if Holm could employ a strategy that could win her the title on points. It’s strange to consider once you begin to realize that in Cyborg’s 20 fight MMA career she’s 18-1-1 with only two of those contests reaching the scorecards. She’s a fight finisher unlike most of the loudmouths of the sport boasting 16 stoppages on her ledger. Throughout her career only one made it to the fourth round; a TKO of Marloes Coenen.

Imagine Justino eschewing her new-found, measured, approach after (possibly) finding minimal success this evening, provided Holm remains on the horse. As one that doesn’t initiate a ton of offense as a lead fighter, Justino does bring the kind of style that could allow Holm to flourish. Holm has to keep the fight at distance! In close-quarters, Justino will use her elbows and knees and if that’s the route the evening takes this is an easy night for the defending champion.

If Holm dictates the fight and controls the pace on her terms there is a path to a victory. Her oblique, side, and push kicks will be crucial and I can see her scoring points with her combinations – which, honestly are foreshadowed with her loud exhalations – to begin building a slight lead.

Will any of this happen? That’s why they’re in the ones locked in the cage. Cyborg’s path to a successful defense is written in her previous matches. She takes control early and often with her physical dominance and powerful strikes, especially her right hooks. Now I have noticed that she ducks her head to the left when launching the strike and tends to drop her left hand at times as she hits the target. Hmm? If this minor technical glitch has been scouted by Jackson-Wink, the right side head kick is there.

Size won’t be the advantage that it has been in the past for the champion as Holm is the same height – and does boast a one inch reach advantage. That advantage is negligible as Holm doesn’t employ the jab as a true weapon which is startling as she’s a former boxing champion and a dominant one at that. Cyborg’s built like a tank whereas Holm is leaner but physically impressive in her own right. I’d love to see them in a clinch battle although it does expose “The Preachers Daughter” to clinch fighting and the understated jiu-jitsu of the defending champion.

I think the fight will be exciting after the first three minutes; I believe there will be an auditing process as they survey one another and calculate their moves. Both women are great fighters and I hope they both enter and exit the cage with their health intact.

Has Khabib Nurmagomedov made weight? Can someone check? Whew. Lastly, since The Ultimate Fighter has been relegated to building the roster while paying the new fighters pennies why haven’t they built a season on unearthing talented women at women’s featherweight? Why isn’t the UFC propping up their champion and creating a true division around her?

Women’s flyweight was created on the reality show – and it was needed to give the women more options – but did they have to crown a champion? Since they did, why not blow out a season on finding true featherweights or maybe, I don’t know, three other women that are actually fit to compete at 145? The only women listed at featherweight according to the UFC website are Megan Anderson and Tonya Evinger – a bantamweight. As for the rankings in the division, there aren’t any.

Looking past tonight, who’s the next challenger in the division? I’m sure that if Holm wins they will book an immediate rematch but who does Cyborg fight next if she retains? Use TUF  to populate the division and give Cyborg some exposure by having her do interviews on each show and have her interact with the women who will be vying for a title shot upon completion of the season.

It seems obvious the UFC doesn’t want to put her on a pedestal and give her a larger platform. Why?

They haven’t promoted this event like they have others. Maybe they were afraid about Nurmagomedov’s reliability on the scale. They were scrambling to find a marquee fight to headline tonight and were forced to push the women into the main event once those options evaporated. It’s the show that closes the year and the main event can sell the card, if the promoter actually went out and promoted.

Picks: Carlos Condit, Carla Esparza, Marc Diakiese, Nurmagomedov and Cyborg.

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Ronda Rousey

By: S. Davis

The mob mentality of fans never ceases to amaze me or prove my thought about the cult of fandom. Ninety-nine percent of all sports “fanatics” are putrid beings of flesh with the remaining 1% expressing the ability to view athletes as actual humans. Who knew?

We’re a few months removed from Ronda Rousey’s second consecutive defeat, and since this piece has been gestating in my brain from the Friday before the UFC Bantamweight title fight with champion Amanda Nunes…it’s time to type. Let’s just get this out-of-the-way early: Rousey defeated all the fighters that were placed in her path. She prevailed over every woman she was supposed to turn back on her way to becoming the biggest star in mixed martial arts. Now it can’t be ignored how much of the UFC machine aided her upon her rise but she was the one that had to step into the Octagon and deliver. Zuffa couldn’t manufacture that, she was tasked with stacking wins on top of one another. Alone. She entered the cage and had the door slam behind her. She fought. The world watched. She won.

“Overrated!”

“All hype and nothing else!”

“Brat!”

“Entitled!”

“Cocky!”

“One-dimensional!”

A few of the aforementioned labels are apt but not the ones you think. Overrated? No. All hype? No. Brat? Yes. Entitled? Maybe. Cocky? Isn’t that a prerequisite in all sports, especially the individual ones? I think so. One-dimensional? No.

She’s as dominant in judo as any fighter has ever been in their strongest discipline. Demian Maia is an uncanny jiu-jitsu practitioner, Anthony Pettis is a spectacular striker and Jon Jones is well, great everywhere, and I think he’s an alien but you should be able to follow my path. There’s a weird aura surrounding the sport of MMA and its competitors; when a fighter’s dominance is based, primarily, in the grappling realm they are viewed and judged in a harsher manner than the exciting fighter, per se. Peculiar.

Holly Holm excels as a striker, yet – up to the recent present – she struggles with her takedown defense and aggressive striking (she’s a classic counter-fighter; the sole reason I thought Rousey’s forward marching, bullish, style could haunt her the longer the fight went). Additionally the game-plan, apparently was to trade with a decorated standup artist but there’s no need to rehash that evening. Nunes is just as gifted in that aspect of martial arts and yet she’s susceptible to gassing out. Are they one-dimensional as well? What about Maia? Pettis?

Rousey’s problem was born from the fool’s gold in the aftermath of her knockout of Bethe Correia. That evening doomed her. It was the worst result…and she won the bout. She made a successful title defense! It steeled her belief that she was a boxer, a true standup fighter; she had thoughts of being a high-level one. Or at least that was one of the subjects spewing from her trainer’s mouth. Well, then she had to defend the title against Holm.

Holm and then Nunes; the outcomes are well-known at this point. While she made improvements in the striking arena leading up to the title defense against Holm, she clearly regressed in her devastating loss against Nunes. Where was her defense? “Head movement!” She would get tagged in some of her prior fights but she stood as straight as a pole and her head was an easy target in the one round she lasted against Nunes.

Unfortunately every fight begins on the feet. For Rousey that means she has to enter striking range in order to put her expertise to use. Her limited striking features no kicking to speak of and she doesn’t employ traditional takedowns like doubles, singles, knee-taps, etc., so her head movement and creation of angles must be stellar. They aren’t; at least not recently.

As for her legacy and impact: She met every challenge – until her last two outings – and was as dominant during that run as any athlete has ever been in any sport. There is no reasonable debate otherwise. Is she the most complete fighter? No. However, in my opinion, only Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Demetrious Johnson, Cris Cyborg, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and Jose Aldo fit that description. Tyron Woodley, Max Holloway, Rory MacDonald, Tony Ferguson and Rafael dos Anjos are worthy of mention as well.

Is she the best female in MMA? No. I never thought she was – even at her apex. That title belongs to Cyborg. Period. It does speak to Rousey’s gable grip on the sport and her excellence that respected members of MMA media picked her to win a long-rumored bout with Cyborg. Those journalists deserve to have their credentials torched. It was lazy then and it’s preposterous now.

Is she great? Yes. That can’t be deleted from her story. Holm and Nunes are the only two women that were able to topple her. (A legitimate argument can be raised that the third woman on that list is Rousey herself; at least mentally and emotionally.) The sports world and all of pop-culture screeched to a halt on those Saturday evenings when she competed and still remains the biggest crossover star under the UFC banner. She honored whatever the hell the ideal is of a champion in this peculiar time in MMA. She burst out to 12 victories – over four years – before her first loss. She won the title and actually defended her crown six times, event after event; didn’t fail at weigh-ins and held up her media obligations to promote (with the exception of UFC 207).

Rankings, belts and champions – as far as MMA is concerned – matter as much as the interim title I recently drew on a piece of paper, crumbled into a ball, and threw for my dog in a game of fetch. She infused substance into those gold “UFC” letters slung around her waist. Her championship had true meaning; it was layered and respected.

Pride comes before the fall. That’s the saying, right? I would add “Immense” to begin the statement as it pertains to the former champion. No, the former title holder. Hubris. In an interview leading up to her defense at UFC 193 where she was onstage with Jedrzejczyk, she answered a question by stating she could defeat the entire female bantamweight division with “one arm tied behind” her back. That was cringe-worthy.

Personally, I hope her last fight wasn’t the final act of her athletic career, so to speak. I don’t want it to end the way it seems like it has, presently. Naturally the mob is out to defecate on her achievements, and, over enough time I see her name drawing snickers. Hasn’t it already?

Predictably, it’s already begun. Its’ unfortunate that she’ll be remembered in a fashion unfit for the stature she earned within all of sport. If she’s taken the cage for the last time, I’m positive that idiot fans will feel pleasure and their own form of personal satisfaction. They already do.

Whether she retires or not, I respect her time in MMA and all she accomplished. I wish her all the happiness and success in the world. She excelled in an arena where consistency is its own martial art.

It was a joy to watch her perform. Damn, I’m going to miss her walk to the cage.