UFC 168: Can Miesha Tate Defend Ronda Rousey's Armbar?

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UFC 168: Can Miesha Tate Defend Ronda Rousey's Armbar?
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

At UFC 168 on Saturday night, Miesha Tate will seek to close out an already chaotic year in MMA by dethroning UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey—in the process, somehow managing to avoid Rowdy's infamous armbar.

In theory, the task isn't impossible.

There is, after all, ample footage in existence thoroughly documenting Rousey's various methods of executing the submission in professional MMA.

Yet in reality, we arrive at an obvious paradox: In spite of her opponents likely drilling armbar defense ad nauseum, Rousey has managed to secure 10 armbar victories—seven professional and three amateur—spread out over 10 unique opponents.

Let's also not forget that it's never taken her more than five minutes to go from opening buzzer to having another woman's elbow tweaking in grotesque angles.  

In spite of her attempt to change that pattern on Saturday night, Tate is all-too-familiar with this somber reality. After all, it was Rousey who yanked away her Strikeforce championship with a first-round armbar in March of 2012.

Yes, of course there's reason to consider the MMA maxim of every fight starting on the feet. Yes, of course both women might have made enough improvements to make this a competitive standing affair.

In spite of all that, make no mistake about it—both Rousey and Tate find their roots in grappling. More specifically, Rousey's claim to fame is an unquenchable thirst for the takedown-mount-armbar approach to victory.

On Saturday night, in spite of some fancy mitt work, Rousey will surge forward like a bat out of hell. If she happens to throw shots, they'll be perfunctory distractions en route to her securing a solid clinch and slamming Tate to the canvas via a picture-perfect judo throw.

If you're at all hesitant to agree with me on the likelihood of this being a ground contest, just consider that roughly half of Tate's career victories have come by way of submission, courtesy of a strong wrestling background and supported by orthodox Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

This bout is hitting the canvas at one point or another.

So the poignant question is whether or not Tate can outright avoid getting into armbar territory, or in the event that she happens to find herself there, if she'll be able to escape with arm intact.

According to "Cupcake," her effort to oust Rousey from the throne will end in anything other than another armbar defeat. In an interview with MMA Fight Corner Radio, her message couldn't have been clearer:

I also need to stop the judo. I mean that’s another part of it. If she goes out there and throws me and she can’t armbar me, that’s a big part of the fight too. That’s what I’m going to do from now until December 28: it’s going to be an anti-judo camp. It’s never too early to train and practice that game plan over and over and over. I’m going to beat it into my skull if I have to. Swear to God, she’s not going to armbar me if it’s the last thing I do. I will seriously shoot myself in the face before I leave that cage if she armbars me again. It can't happen.

Though I'm sure we can all appreciate the valiant intent of an "anti-judo camp," the reality of the case is that Rousey's offense isn't likely to be thwarted as the result of a single, dedicated training camp.

She's sharpened that katana-like armbar over the course of lifetime Olympic-level judo training, refining it into a hybrid of a traditional Brazilian jiu-jitsu submission with slight variations to ensure full control over her opponent's body.

Look no further than nuances separating Tate's methodology to this submission as opposed to Rousey's.

Strikeforce
Strikeforce

Notice the strain in Tate's face as she struggles to place the appropriate pressure on Julie Kedzie's elbow. It's also worth mentioning that with her knees held tightly together and back flat on the canvas a la the traditional Brazilian jiu-jitsu armbar, Tate allows a window of opportunity for Kedzie's lower body to scramble wildly in an attempt to escape.

That entire affair is starkly different from Rousey's approach.

She, on the other hand, exerts no unnecessary effort as she spreads her knees evenly across Tate's torso, interlocks her ankles, and uses her hips to elevate the elbow joint into a position otherwise alien to the human physique.

The issue lies in the fact that, if only on the most subtle level, Tate looks for armbar cues from angles she would be likely to execute herself.

Therein lies the problem she's going to face again on Saturday night: Rousey attacks with strength, dexterity and technique from any and all angles—some of which are entirely unorthodox in the world of mixed martial arts. All who have tried—Tate included—have failed to stop either the setup or the execution.

Let's examine the varying approaches that she's used in her last three bouts:

Ronda Rousey's Last Three Armbars
Opponent Rousey's Position Prior to Armbar Rousey's Position at Time of Armbar Opponent's Position at Time of Armbar
Liz Carmouche Full side control Full mount, falling back for armbar Flat on canvas, belly up
Sarah Kaufman Full mount, against the cage Bottom position, shoulders against the canvas Top position, attempting standing-armbar escape
Miesha Tate Back control, reaching under for arm Full mount, falling back for armbar Flat on canvas, belly up

UFC/Strikeforce

When she decides to pull that trigger, Rousey is willing to do so from any position presented to her and at any price a failed submission attempt may cost her.

Her killer instinct is second to none.

Yet credit must be given to Tate where it's due—she did effectively manage to foil Rousey's initial armbar when they first fought.

Strikeforce

Sensing the submission attempt, Tate correctly spun to her side in order to prevent Rousey's left leg from covering her torso and effectively limiting her to a belly-up position. In doing so, she gave herself enough leeway to eventually squirm out of the submission.

Could she repeat this on Saturday night? Perhaps.

But I wouldn't bank on it.

Is Rousey going to armbar Tate for a second time?

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Rousey will be coming with a publicly avowed hate and malevolence, sure to catch Tate in any vulnerable positions she happens to wind up in. If nothing else, Cupcake would be better served avoiding the ground at all costs, opting to instead play the long game by carefully jabbing and leg-kicking Rousey to oblivion.

All the while, she'll need to keep Rousey's vice-grip claws off of her in order to escape judo throws that almost always spell certain doom. Oh, and she'll need to keep it up for 25 minutes of frenzied combat.

The task isn't impossible, but it isn't likely either.

Rousey's weapon of choice has a 100-percent success rate. 

Do you really believe this will be the time it fails?

 

Artem Moshkovich is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for MMA news and more. 

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