Jack Slack's Ringcraft: The Fall of Ronda Rousey
You can watch the previous episodes of Ringcraft here. Ringcraft IV is not-for-profit and intended only for analytical and entertainment purposes.
Originally drafted in January of 2016, Ringcraft: The Fall of Ronda Rousey was a look at the importance of cutting the cage as it pertained to the UFC’s inaugural women’s bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey. Since the fateful night in November 2015 that she lost the crown, much has been made of Rousey’s boxing form and the delusions fans had around her abilities. But realistically, Rousey had a heavy right hand and only needed to pin her opponent down in exchanging range to score a hard right or roughhouse her way into the clinch where her judo would carry the fight.
But Rousey’s boxing training shouldn’t have been focused on quickening her hands and putting together fast combinations in a routine with her mitt man. Efforts should have focused on her feet. In any clip of Rousey on the pads you can watch her throw out a combination with decent speed and snap, then her coach will step a few degrees around her and she will turn and wait for the command to go again. None of this was ever going to help her against even an inexperienced striker trying their hardest to avoid an exchange, and would certainly not help her against a decent ring general doing the same.
All of this is simply repeating what we examined in Killing the Queen: Ronda Rousey, some time before the Holm – Rousey fight. But the focus of Ringcraft IV was on what should Rousey have been doing. Cutting the ring is easy to describe and considerably tougher to actually do with any kind of consistency. Almost anyone can get their opponent stuck against the fence once or twice in a twenty five minute bout, but as the level of opposition gets better trapping them once or twice just won’t cut it. A fighter must be able to repeatedly manufacture these slight advantages in order to make the most of them. This is where economy of motion comes in. Sometimes it will take a good ring cutter a minute or ninety seconds to get the fight to somewhere he wants to engage, but he keeps the opponent working the entire time. Ideally the ring cutter wants to be forcing more activity from his opponent’s feet than he is using with his.
When the boundary gets a little to close to his back foot, a good ring general will try to fake his pursuer out. The over-eager ring cutter will leap in to meet his man and often be thrown off by a quick direction change. A great example of this in mixed martial arts is Eddie Alvarez’s performance against Michael Chandler in their second meeting. Alvarez’s direction changes along the fence also saved him a good deal of hassle against the relentless Rafael dos Anjos in their title fight.
When you watch the best ring cutters in the game fight a savvy, direction changing outfighter, it often seems like these direction changes end up costing the outfighter space. For instance, Julio Cesar Chavez didn’t have the raw quickness of Hector Camacho, but at all times he seemed to have Camacho worried about standing still. Chavez rarely rushed to keep up with Camacho, he simply let Camcho exert himself and allowed Camacho to work himself into the corners. Good ring cutting is less like pursuing someone in a straight sprint and more like attempting to hold a bubble underwater.
In this episode of Ringcraft we also discuss the wide right / wide left and how it serves as a great ‘herding strike’. There wasn’t time to cover everything—there never is—but one of the massive advantages of going to the body and arms with herding strikes is that the head is the part of the body which is least predictable during a side step. A fighter can side step with his head up in the air, weaving down by the hips, or ducked slightly so that the hard top of the skull is projected as the only target—sometimes punching that is worse than punching nothing at all. To see why going to the body is so much more useful against an elusive outfighter, at least in the early going, you need look no further than Sandy Saddler versus Willie Pep. Saddler gets a look in on Ringcraft IV, but his bout with Pep (the one which actually made it onto film) saw him cut the ring on one of the most graceful outfighters in boxing history. Whenever Saddler thought he could catch Pep circling along the ropes with no option of retreat, but pushed his luck and swung for Pep’s head, Pep would evade him.
But when Saddler went to the body—which cannot bob and weave and is effectively on rails along the ropes—he gave Pep a hell of a time getting out of the way.
Ultimately, Rousey's ringcraft cost her against Holly Holm, where her lacking head movement and defensive chops cost her against the more powerful, straight forward Amanda Nunes. It is fashionable to pretend that Rousey was never any good to begin with, and with the heat she garnered from her personality on The Ultimate Fighter and the hyperbole of others in the fight game it might feel good to belittle her chops. But Rousey remains something unique in mixed martial arts and could probably have kept developing and honing her abilities to this day had she wound up under better management. Ultimately she has her place in MMA history as a champion and a star, and has come to fit her Tyson-esque billing in at least one way: she will forever be remembered as a cautionary tale on the nature of hype and hangers on in the fight game.
This episode of Ringcraft was placed on the shelf for a long time, but in releasing it the author hopes to return to providing them semi-regularly, perhaps between larger episodes of The Primer.
You can watch the previous episodes of Ringcraft here.