Ronda Rousey vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Really, How Would a Fight Go?
The theory crafting behind a Ronda Rousey vs. Floyd Mayweather match just doesn't want to go away.
Everyone wants to talk about it, nobody seems to want to hear about it, but fans just keep tuning in to listen.
Enough, I say. The debate ends now.
Welcome to Bleacher Report's indisputable, irrefutable, guaranteed breakdown of how a fight between the UFC's leading lady and boxing's top pound-for-pound fighter would go down. Let's begin.
What Does Mayweather Do Well?
Floyd Mayweather's boxing has been studied, broken down, analyzed and discussed for the better part of a decade now. Asking and attempting to answer the "what makes Floyd Mayweather special?" question is something that has been done many times in the context of boxing. The answer, of course, is best summarized as: "Many things, he's really good at boxing."
Some boxing techniques that he excels at, though, don't apply to MMA.
A great example is his exceptional shoulder roll into a straight right. In boxing, that technique allows him to rear back as an opponent presses forward, letting punches harmlessly roll off his left shoulder to set up for a hard right hand. In MMA, though, leaning back as an opponent moves forward with punches either invites an uncontested inside leg kick or a single-leg takedown.
That said, many of Mayweather's skills either translate, or can be easily adapted, to MMA.
His ability to stop an opponent from clinching with his elbow or forearm and then following it with a right hand would be devastating in a mixed martial arts fight, where he could actually throw an elbow strike. The same goes for other skills that are demonstrated by many top boxers but rarely seen in MMA, such as using the head to set up punches to the body, the body jab and the lead hook followed by lateral movement.
For further reading, check out Jack Slack's discussion on Mayweather's skills and how they relate to MMA here.
What Does Rousey Do Well?
Ronda Rousey's Olympic judo background is pushed hard—and rightly so. She was the first American woman to take home a medal in the sport, and she is one of the few fighters to transition from judo to MMA and have major success while staying true to her roots.
Combining her amateur and professional MMA records, she is 12-0 with 11 of those wins coming via armbar submission, the spare came via knockout. All but one of those wins came in the first round.
Rousey is a shark in a very small pond, which has been shown every time she has entered the cage.
But what makes her special, even among a growing crop of female 135-pound fighters? As you'd expect from a judoka, her greatest skill is her ability to force an opponent off balance and exploit it. When standing, that can result in the elegant-yet-physics-defying throws that judo is known for, or it can lead to a simple leg hook that trips an opponent to the mat.
On the ground is where she really shines, though. While most grapplers are exceptionally skilled when it comes to moving themselves into an advantageous position, the UFC champ is second to none at being able to move an opponent into a disadvantageous position. Basically, she is capable of throwing an opponent when she is already on the ground.
She masterfully broke down one of the many setups for her armbar on The Ultimate Fighter Season 18, and she has shown numerous subtle variations on that formula each time she has locked it up in the cage. While many are quick to call her a one-trick pony, the reality is that she has dozens of tricks that ultimately end the same way.
How Would Rousey Win?
Ronda Rousey's formula for victory is well known and well established at this point. She clinches you, takes you down with a throw or trip and slaps on an armbar without any manner of difficulty.
While it's easy to say "well, she can't win if she can't get a takedown," the reality is that she can get a takedown. In fact, she basically has an Olympic medal in takedowns, which she won by tossing around women who had dedicated their entire lives to the art of takedowns. The idea that somebody would be able to spend anything short of years focused entirely on grappling and put up any serious resistance once she gets hold of something is ludicrous.
Similarly, once things hit the mat, Rousey is almost certainly going to be able to get her signature armbar. Longtime mixed martial artists like Miesha Tate—who even comes from a grappling background—and Sarah Kaufman were unable to resist Rousey's sneaky submissions for very long.
Would a boxer be able to take some judo classes at the local YMCA and hang with an Olympic medalist, regardless of gender or weight class? Almost certainly not.
So, how would Rousey beat Floyd Mayweather? The same way she has beaten almost everyone else: clinch, throw, armbar.
How Would Mayweather Win?
While Floyd Mayweather is a brilliant tactician and tends to excel in defense—he can knock you out. That's with 10-ounce gloves, too, not those little four-ouncers the mixed martial artists wear. Saying "well, he can knock out anybody with those tiny gloves," though, does a massive disservice to his actual skills.
As stated, Ronda Rousey's modus operandi is clinch, throw, armbar. That is an all-offense game plan against the most defensively sound athlete in combat sports. Whether it's boxing, MMA, taekwondo, judo, fencing or wrestling, there is nobody as good at stifling and punishing an offensive advance as Mayweather Jr.
It can be a sly elbow to Shane Mosley's neck with a right hand behind it or a spectacular knockdown of Ricky Hatton with a fadeaway lead left hook. If Rousey tries to hustle into a clinch, Mayweather has the tools to stop her in her tracks and provide some strong disincentive from trying to do so again.
He is very easily capable of keeping Rousey at a safe distance. Add to that how MMA doesn't afford the courtesy of a standing eight-count after a knockdown and even the slightest mistake would lead to a knockout.
What Does History Tell Us?
The most well known examples of boxers moving into MMA are the silly one-and-done careers of James Toney, who was demolished by former UFC champion Randy Couture, and Ray Mercer, who punched out former UFC champion Tim Sylvia.
In reality, the "boxing vs. martial arts" argument has a long, storied and complex history. Frankly, it is too long to go into comprehensively, so for the sake of brevity, we will only go over the few examples of success and failure that this writer deems particularly relevant.
It likely comes as no surprise that the first case to look at here is Gene LeBell vs. Milo Savage. For those who are unfamiliar with the fight, in the 1960s a men's interest magazine named Rogue ran an article entitled "The Judo Bums," which claimed judo was not a legitimate form of hand-to-hand combat and offered a $1,000 purse to any judoka who could defeat a boxer in a fight. LeBell took them up on it and was matched up against an aged star in Savage.
The fight was something of a circus act, complete with allegations of greasing and brass knuckles. The actual contest would ultimately stretch across five rounds and be mired by reluctant engagement. The bout lasted until LeBell scored a takedown, took Savage's back and choked him unconscious—Sports Illustrated's Josh Gross told the whole story here.
At the time, though, it wasn't possible for a boxer to find a top-flight camp of judoka to prepare with. The same goes for the Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki match of the 1970s. In today's combat sports world, an elite boxer would have no trouble finding somewhere to hone other aspects of his game for a potential run in MMA.
For an example of a high-level boxer who actually made a relatively serious run, look no further than the career of former Ronda Rousey protege, Jessica Rakoczy.
While Rakoczy is not a boxer on Mayweather's level—who is?—she worked her way to the No. 5 spot at 125 pounds by amassing a 33-3 (1) record and a small pile of belts. When she decided to take the MMA plunge, her pedigree got her matched up with some of the top female fighters in the strawweight and flyweight divisions. The results were not good.
Her first three opponents were Michelle Ould, Zoila Frausto and Felice Herrig, who are all regarded as some of the best fighters in either the 115-pound or 125-pound weight classes in women's MMA. Ould and Frausto, both formidable grapplers, took Rakoczy down and finished her. Against Herrig, a muay thai kickboxer, Rakoczy was more competitive but came out on the wrong end of a split decision.
She would face weaker competition from there and, combining her amateur and professional fights, has gone 5-1—one of those wins was overturned to a no-contest due to a drug test failure. The early ugliness in her MMA career and recent success show that a strong boxer can be successful with legitimate, dedicated training.
What, though, should fans make of the male vs. female dynamic in a Rousey vs. Mayweather bout?
While YouTube is full of intergender "fights" of questionable legitimacy, there have been several sanctioned boxing and kickboxing matches between a man and a woman. Traditionally, the bouts involve relatively seasoned women beating up inexperienced men with little difficulty (you can check out some of the examples here and here) that, frankly, can be dismissed out of hand. While a promoter tried to pull off a serious woman vs. man match between Ann Wolfe and Bo Skipper in 2005, the bout was delayed due to Hurricane Katrina and was never rescheduled.
Worth watching, though, is how Rousey dominated TUF 17 sensation Uriah Hall in a grappling session in 2013. Hall, who comes from a kickboxing background, fights at 185 pounds and likely walks around well over 200 pounds between fights. That didn't stop her from utterly imposing her will on him when they rolled and repeatedly sinking in her signature armbar.
Who Would Come out on Top?
If Rousey and Mayweather were to face off 100 times, there's no question that some of the fights would end with a massive headache for Rousey, and some would end with a very sore elbow for Mayweather. In this writer's opinion, though, Mayweather would get the better of the majority of the matches despite history generally favoring martial artists over boxers.
There's no doubt that if Rousey can successfully clinch Mayweather, it will almost certainly lead to the end of a fight. Stylistically speaking, though, "Money" has the tools to keep Rousey at a manageable distance long enough to either score points or a knockout with his punches.
As stated, Mayweather is a wizard of defensive boxing. Against Rousey in particular, a few techniques he happens to be a master of would generally be able to neutralize her.
Rousey is very willing to absorb punches to secure the clinch. You can look at any given one of her fights where she won by submission, and you will see her move in with her hands at waist level, eat a couple punches, but secure an underhook, which typically leads to a takedown.
In today's women's MMA, which lacks power punchers, this is a relatively safe tactic. Against Mayweather, though, that simply won't do.
Not only that, but even if Rousey is capable of getting in on him, the top pound-for-pound boxer already has at least one of the tools to deal with it.
Effective circling is a great way to counter fighters with a strong clinch takedown game. The first few rounds of Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson is a wonderful example of this. Jones, like Rousey, is a fighter that has had success taking opponents down in the clinch. Gustafsson effectively avoided danger with non-stop lateral movement and the ability to pepper Jones with his front hand. When Jones did get his hands on Gustafsson, he was able to push him back and circle away.
Now imagine if Gustafsson owned a massive advantage in the striking department and legitimate one-punch knockout power. Gustafsson's gas tank would betray him in the championship rounds but, frankly, that wouldn't happen with Mayweather.
Mayweather, probably 60 percent of the time, would be able to keep that front arm out to prevent a clinch then either follow it up with a right hand or land a lead left hook before escaping danger.
That, MMA fans, officially ends the Mayweather vs. Rousey debate. Now let's move on to more important things, like what would happen if Rousey faced off with a motivated BJ Penn...or Spider-Man.
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