Plenty has been written in the way of armchair psychology to explain why Ronda Rousey lost to Amanda Nunes this weekend. The only things we know for sure are what we were able to observe during their short, 48-second fight at UFC 207 this past Friday night.
1. Lack of head movement
The former judo Olympian has spent much of her five years in MMA working on her stand-up striking. In her best moments, Rousey has pulled off effective striking offense on the feet.
In her wins over Alexis Davis, Bethe Correia and Sara McMann, Rousey showed fast and powerful fists and knees en route to KO victories. When it comes to striking defense, however, Rousey has yet to develop any useful reflexes or smoothness.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of head movement. Getting their heads off center allows fighters to make their heads moving targets instead of sitting ducks.
Rousey has a great chin, and until Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, no one was able to hit her in her stationary and steely head enough to stop her. Against most opponents, Rousey would shell out punches and absorb them while marching towards them in a straight line, with her head still and erect, until she grabbed them, tossed them to the mat and submitted them.
We’ll have more on takedowns, below, but well before she could try to clinch with Nunes at UFC 207, Rousey was lit up with stunning punches. With a year between her loss to Holm and her challenge of another dangerous striker in Nunes, Rousey needed to somehow develop much better head movement to have a shot at winning at UFC 207.
As it turned out, she did not. So, she planted her feet and head right in front of Nunes and became relatively easy for the Brazilian to hit.
Rousey’s lack of head movement before and after getting punched were a big reason why she kept getting hit. She didn’t misdirect with any feints, didn’t slip any punches or roll out after absorbing one or two.
Nunes started and ended every punching exchange, and that’s a surefire way to win. Rousey’s coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, shouted at her throughout the fight, imploring “head movement,” and for Ronda to “make her miss,” but you can’t do in a fight what you didn’t learn in practice.
2. Arms straight out
Rousey didn’t move her head during punch exchanges, but she did extend her arms out, relatively straight, a whole lot. That can happen often in a fight, especially to grappling-based fighters desperate for the clinch who are not yet comfortable striking.
Beyond that, training footage we’ve seen from them over the years shows Tarverdyan consistently having her end punching combinations with a stiff arm to her opponent. I don’t know their reasons for training punching combos that way, but it certainly did not help them against Nunes.
Every time Rousey extended her arms out, she gave Nunes plenty of space to come over the top of that extended guard with more punches.
3. No new takedown setups
Ronda Rousey was a dominant takedown artist for years, but she was never a particularly multi-faceted one. Sure, her judo trips and throws have an intricacy to them that take a lifetime to master, but just about all of them start up high.
That is, Ronda specializes in upper-body takedowns. The judo master is able to chain together takedown attempts in many combinations once she gets inside where she wants to be, but her initial entry to get into takedown position has gotten predictable.
You have to be a great fighter to avoid Rousey’s takedown entries, but both Holm and Nunes are just that. Holm knew she would only have to watch out for Rousey coming in high with her clinch and takedown entries, and did a good job of immediately breaking clinch attempts and getting her hips out in time to avoid a toss.
In fact, Holm was able to score her own take down in their fight. With a year in between her loss to Holm and her challenge of Nunes, Rousey needed to diversify her takedown entry game.
The former wrestler, Miesha Tate was able to succeed with takedowns against Holm, where Rousey failed in large part, because she was able to show different levels. Rousey is a more dominant takedown artist than Tate, but Tate is a more diverse one.
As a freestyle wrestler, Tate is comfortable going high for a clinch or shooting low for a takedown. As such, she’s able to be unpredictable with her takedown entries.
Rousey didn’t expand her takedown entry approach against Nunes, and so she didn’t give the champion any new and unexpected grappling problems to deal with. Nunes shrugged off Rousey’s high clinch attempts and got back to punching her every time she attempted to close the distance.
4. Front kicks gone wrong
Rousey did unveil a new striking technique in her game – a front kick. Rousey has never kicked much in her fights, and perhaps her and her team were hoping to surprise Nunes with this new move from her arsenal.
In under a minute, Rousey managed to throw a bunch of front kicks at Nunes. Unfortunately for her, she was countered nearly every time by Nunes’ right hand.
When kicks aren’t thrown out and recoiled with enough speed, while doing damage in between, they can often be effectively timed and countered with punches down the middle or over the top. Not only were Rousey’s front kicks timed and countered by Nunes’ punches, she had to absorb most of those counter punches while on just one leg, instead of two, which limits a fighter’s ability to effectively absorb a blow.
Where does she go from here?
Ronda Rousey says she needs time to reflect and decide what she’ll do, next. Perhaps she’ll retire or perhaps she’ll continue fighting.
She’s earned the right to do either with her sterling legacy intact. If Rousey wants to continue fighting on, however, she’ll need to avoid more rushing and bad stylistic match-ups from her promoter.
She’ll also need to reevaluate the way she currently trains and who she does it with. I’ve never been in the gym or training room with the "Rowdy" one, but her fights show that – as great as she is – she isn’t improving her weaknesses.
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