When the UFC first started, Royce Gracie wasn’t the biggest, strongest, or even toughest, and he wasn’t even close to being a well-rounded fighter, but he had a specific skillset of jiu-jitsu, that was remarkably effective and no one had an answer for it, as he tapped out eleven straight opponents and changed the world of combat sports and martial arts forever. Almost twenty years later, I think we’re seeing it happen all over again with Ronda Rousey.
Like Royce, she looks relatively unassuming, and when she wins it looks easy. Almost too easy, as punctuated by her rapid destruction of former World champion Sarah Kaufmann, a couple hours after her last helpless victim Miesha Tate, had to fight her brains out, just to barely win over another top female veteran in Julie Kedzie. And by 2012 standards, Ronda Rousey is as one-dimensional as Royce Gracie was in the nineties. But just like with Royce, because that one dimension is so strong, the women she’s competing with are as helpless to her judo takedowns and vicious armbar, as the brawlers and bodybuilders were to Royce Gracie’s jiu-jitsu.
In men’s MMA, top judo fighters haven’t made that much of an impact, in great part because of the abundance of strong wrestlers and well-rounded fighters seem to neutralize judo. With no disrespect intended to the ladies, but women’s MMA doesn’t seem to be at that point yet. There are some great strikers for the women coming from the world of Muay Thai and of course Cyborg, but the few elite female wrestlers at the Olympic level have not yet pivoted to the world of MMA. And when that does happen, it will not take place overnight.
But it will happen at some point. Eventually an Olympic caliber wrestler will make that turn to fight MMA, or the legit jiu-jitsu master will rise the ranks in women’s MMA to neutralize Ronda, but realistically that could take a couple of years or more for that to happen. And when someone with as strong of a skill as Ronda’s, faces off with her, will Ronda be well-rounded enough at that point to counter that challenge, or will her vicious judo-based ground game just be too uniquely effective to defend against? Perhaps this is all smoke and mirrors, and once someone can stuff her takedown or really get a good punch on her, the Ronda show will be over, but the other possibility is, we are seeing the career of a true MMA legend unfold right before our eyes.