There are only a handful of true marquee draws in mixed martial arts today, with Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Georges St. Pierre the most obvious names that come to mind. Thanks to a dominant run inside the cage and plenty of exposure away from it, Ronda Rousey, the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion, has the potential to join them. Already it appears that “Rowdy” is close to surpassing Gina Carano as the most popular female MMA star of all-time, if she has not done so already.
Of course, great champions do not grow without compelling and interesting competition. Rousey appears to have that in former titleholder Sarah Kaufman. In the past, Kaufman has been quite vocal regarding Rousey’s rapid ascent through the women’s ranks. Now, the Canadian will finally get a chance to let her hands do the talking in the Strikeforce “Rousey vs. Kaufman” main event on Saturday at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego.
Here is a closer look at the card, with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: Strikeforce ‘Rousey vs. Kaufman’ Free Fan Pick’Em
Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Championship
Ronda Rousey (5-0, 3-0 Strikeforce) vs. Sarah Kaufman (15-1, 6-1 Strikeforce)
The Matchup: It has been approximately five months since she dispatched Miesha Tate in one of the most highly anticipated bouts in the history of women’s MMA, but Rousey’s star has only continued to grow. The Olympic judo bronze medalist made the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “Body” issue, called out Kim Kardashian, was a guest on “Conan” and has been the subject of a Showtime “All-Access” special. These days it seems everyone is a fan of “Rowdy.” Case in point: at the UFC on Fox 4 weigh-ins, Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Rousey’s ESPN the Magazine cover.
If Rousey is to continue building her brand, she will have to keep on winning. That means getting past Kaufman, a former Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion who figures to be able to test her with an aggressive standup attack. While Rousey-Tate drew the lion’s share of the attention in March, it also gave the 26-year-old Canadian a greater platform to showcase her skills. For three hard-fought rounds against Alexis Davis, Kaufman did exactly that, landing a whopping 135 significant strikes en route to a majority decision. She absorbed her share of punishment, as well, particularly in the final frame when Davis secured a trip takedown and worked from side mount.
Nonetheless, Kaufman is the most prolific and accomplished striker Rousey has faced, as the Canadian has landed 80 or more significant strikes in five of her seven Strikeforce appearances. Meanwhile, Rousey is not accustomed to getting hit; all five of her professional bouts have ended inside of a round. Tate, a wrestler by trade, did her best to bring the fight to Rousey in their title bout, but her technique on the feet left plenty to be desired.
Kaufman likes to move forward with her jab, and she can rack up the points by landing crisp straight punches. She can get overzealous at times, as she did while throwing punches in Marloes Coenen’s guard in a 2010 bout. As Kaufman attacked, she left her arm exposed, allowing Coenen to submit her and take the bantamweight crown. Kaufman also gave up her arm in the third round of her most recent outing against Davis -- a major point of concern against an appendage collector as skilled as Rousey.
With a judo background and a powerful build, Rousey has been able to get her foes to the floor seemingly at will. Kaufman normally is not averse to fighting in the clinch, but she will likely find herself hip tossed or tripped to the canvas if she elects to take this avenue against the champion. Once on the mat, Rousey transitions smoothly to dominant positions. When the opportunity to grab an arm presents itself, “Rowdy” expertly puts all her weight and leverage into isolating the arm from the rest of her opponent’s body.
The key for Kaufman is to simply avoid these situations or risk being sidelined by a lengthy medical suspension. The Canadian must use her jab to maintain distance and circle constantly to avoid tie-ups. Outside of a mini-barrage of ground-and-pound against Tate, Rousey has not needed to throw many strikes. Kaufman would like to force Rousey to use her jab so she can counter; the Californian has displayed a tendency to keep her chin up when she throws punches.
The Pick: There is a reason that nobody has been able to bait Rousey into an extended standup war: the Olympian is very good at what she does. Kaufman lands in volume, but she does not have the type of power needed to knock out Rousey. After a brief feeling-out process in the opening round, Rousey slips a Kaufman combination and adds her to the list of submission victims in the second frame.
Next Fight » Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Derek Brunson