UFC 168 saw Ronda Rousey retain her crown, but it was announced at the post-fight press conference that she would be returning to action in February.
Rousey, an Olympic bronze medalist, will meet Sara McMann in the evening's main event. McMann was a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in wrestling. This will be the first ever title fight between two Olympic medalists, and it just so happens to coincide with the Sochi Games.
The two elite grapplers entered the sport at around the same time, and have continually been linked to one another ever since. This fight was attempted when they were both amateurs, but never came to be. Now, at the top of the sport, they meet for the ultimate prize.
Rousey vs. McMann is one of the most highly anticipated female fights ever.
Here is a breakdown of the matchup between two elite women bantamweights.
Both women are primarily grapplers who have worked tirelessly on their stand-up since becoming full-time mixed martial artists.
We have seen McMann throw down in a brawl before. It wasn't pretty, but she did well enough. Rousey, on the other hand, chose not to show her hands until UFC 168.
Between the two, Rousey looks far more technical on the feet.
McMann may have the power advantage, but her punches are rudimentary. If Rousey continues to develop superior head movement and footwork, she'll slip McMann's strikes with relative ease. Rousey is not one for brawls.
The champion in this fight is the technically-superior striker.
This is the battle everyone wants to see.
In men's MMA we have seen interesting judo vs. wrestling battles. When the levels are equal, wrestlers routinely end up in top position. Their bases are very strong. To date, Rousey has never fought someone with an equal grappling game. That changes in February.
However, men and women are different physiologically. It will be interesting to see how the clinch battles go between Rousey and McMann, and how Rousey's judo is utilized in those positions. Her hips are the best in the sport.
We won't really know who holds the edge until the fight happens. It is close on paper. I will give the edge to the champion based on her more dynamic grappling game.
While there is doubt in grappling, there is no doubt in submissions. Rousey has a definitive edge here.
McMann has shown defensive deficiencies in her career, but she has improved and continues to do so. Is she ready for Rousey's submission game that is also improving?
McMann's fight against Hitomi Akano was scary. She was put in several compromising positions, but survived due to the strength differential. When she fought submission specialist Shayna Baszler she showed improved defense. But Baszler is not Rousey.
Rousey has begun to add more jiu-jitsu to her game. Rousey is working with Rener & Ryron Gracie, and it showed as she attempted a triangle against Tate. Her submission game is becoming more versatile, and that is bad news for the rest of the division.
McMann's X-Factor: Stay Tight on the Ground
McMann needs to improve on her submission defense, and one of the best things she can do in this fight is to not give Rousey any slight opening.
She will want to take her down, and if she is successful she should not haphazardly strike. That gives Rousey appendages to attack.
The silver medalist should establish her top position first. Stay tight, work slow and pick shots where there is little danger of Rousey grabbing something. McMann's base is strong. It won't be as simple or easy for Rousey to explode up.
This is a stylistic matchup where McMann benefits from a slow pace on the ground.
Rousey's X-Factor: Patience
The champion often rushes to the center, initiates a clinch and tosses her opponent. It's possible she can do the same to McMann, but she should not go right after it.
Rousey should be patient. Take what is available, and counter McMann.
Let McMann initiate the clinches. Let McMann make herself off balance. Counterstrike. A more reserved approach will give her the opportunity to catch McMann's mistakes and capitalize.
This is an incredibly intriguing fight between two elite grapplers. Whoever can implement their grappling the best will have a much greater chance at victory.
The problem for McMann is Rousey has a fantastic bottom game. She strikes well, and is incredibly active with submission attempts. It does not give McMann free reign to try and ground and pound. It will force her to be conservative.
On the feet, Rousey has the technical and speed advantage. She is likely to win those exchanges as long as she doesn't brawl with the stronger puncher.
McMann's submission defense has improved, but it hasn't improved enough to combat Rousey. Eventually, Rousey will set up her infamous submission and finish with it. McMann may try to power out like she has in the past, but it won't work with Rousey. This is a different level. She's a finisher.
Prediction: Rousey defeats McMann via submission (armbar) in the second round