Troubleshooting Ronda Rousey’s Game with Five Simple Tactics

UFC Bantamweight Ronda Rousey

UFC Bantamweight Ronda Rousey: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

After Ronda Rousey’s devastating loss against bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes, at UFC 207, it seems unlikely that we’ll see her in the Octagon again.  If she does return, however, there are a wealth of resources available for her to improve her game in many ways.  We’ll go over a few of those ways here.

In the wake of Ronda Rousey’s most recent loss, much has been said about the incompetence of her coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, relative to those with a proven track record in MMA such as Greg Jackson and Firas Zahabi.  There does seem to be truth to those allegations.

While it’s not true that Ronda Rousey is the same fighter now that she was on the day of her first professional fight – she’s developed a jab she can use to work in and enter the clinch, and has tightened up her clinch game – her striking has received remarkably little development over the course of her career.  She’s never been taught to move her head nor her feet to avoid punches, she doesn’t seem to know how to retain her stance while moving forward, and her punching form leaves more than a little to be desired.

Many have suggested a move to another camp for Rousey to train under a proven coach.  Fewer have written about what that training may look like for Rousey.  “Teach her how to box” seems to be the obvious answer, but I wish to avoid talking about the broad technical advancements Rousey would no doubt need to make under an elite coach and instead focus on a few “patchwork” tactics.

These don’t require the lengthy time commitment of learning how to strike and could be added to her game in short order.  Tactics that won’t cover up the holes in her game, but fit the overall cohesion of her style and will strengthen the path to her A-game.

UFC Bantamweight Ronda Rousey

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1. The Shoot and Grab

Right now, the threat of Ronda Rousey’s grappling entries exists on one level and one level only.  Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes both had considerable success avoiding the clinch by creating frames in front of their head in the form of stiff-arms or crossfaces.  By adding another level to her entries, she can manipulate the hand positioning of her opponents and lead them into one by encouraging them to defend the other.

Rousey famously avoids shooting due to a history of knee injuries stemming from her Judo career, but this technique doesn’t require her to take proper shots or even bend her knees all that much if she follows the example of Jake Shields.

There was a time when the name “Jake Shields” struck confusion, apathy, and a small twinge of panic into the hearts of the UFC’s Welterweight division, and he did it largely on the strength of an elite top game and the shoot and grab.

Shields wasn’t mechanically sound or athletic enough to hurt you with his punches, not a skilled enough striker to find clinch entries with his striking, nor explosive enough to take you down outright, but he was nothing if not persistent.

Shields would bend over at his waist and plow forward into a rather useless-looking takedown, but it would give him an in.  Once he had clung to his opponent, there was no separating him and he could transition to underhooks or simply hold onto the legs and mildly irritate his opponent with knees for the next couple minutes.

He was even able to take an (albeit undeserved) decision over current Welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley, through a willingness to shoot at the most inopportune times, from all the wrong ranges, and to grit through them into the clinch.  This tactic eventually failed Shields when he ran into the brick wall that is Hector Lombard, but the chances of Rousey facing a far more athletic, superior Judo player in the near future seem rather slim.

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While Ronda’s footwork has been the main problem in her recent fights, she was able to back both Holm and Nunes up to the fence at times.  Instead of bull-rushing forward and allowing her opponent to angle off, bending over and running for the hips would allow her to push them back to the fence and transition into an over/under clinch or a headgrab.

A shot here could have made the difference between buying Rousey some recovery time and getting finished immediately.

If she were to go down this route, additional threats could be added to build off the level change.  Adding a jab to the body to go along with the level change would serve her well

Frankie Edgar’s favorite takedown setup involves regularly changing levels into body jabs, putting together combinations off those entries, and eventually feinting the body jab only to raise his lead hand and slam it into his opponent’s face on a knee pick.  This could work well for Rousey as she’s already demonstrated a familiarity with knee picks.  Another option involves going the wrestle-boxer route and feinting her level changes into right hands.

UFC Bantamweight Ronda Rousey

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2. Pressure Footwork

Since Ronda Rousey’s game is built around taking away space and closing in on her opponent’s hips, pressure is a natural feature of her style.  It’s much more difficult to pick up clinch entries in the open while moving backward, especially for someone like Rousey who lacks the clinically-trained reactions to strikes necessary to hit them consistently.  Pushing opponents back to the cage and trapping them there is a great way to stand them still for her clinch entries, but the way she currently pressures leaves much room for improvement.

Effective pressure starts with moving on diagonals.  Constant forward motion commits your weight forward while leaving gaps on either side to which an opponent can step out and pivot away.  Diagonal movement, advancing while moving laterally, allows you to eat up space while simultaneously tracking an opponent’s movement.

Rousey was doing a fairly good job of advancing in diagonals early in the Holm fight before a few shots to the head threw her off her gameplan, but she came forward in large, committed steps.  These big steps threw her weight forward and committed her to advancing while Holm was already pivoting around her.  Careful positioning is more important than fast feet when pressuring, and it’s important to use small steps in order to track an opponent’s movement while remaining in position to react to strikes and direction changes.

Note the difference in commitment between Rousey’s steps and Weidman’s.  Rousey is doing half of Holm’s work for her, rushing in while she pivots away.  Weidman sits back and makes Machida do all the heavy lifting, calmly adjusting his feet every time Machida makes a move, while at the same time gradually taking away space.

This video demonstrates Chris Weidman’s patient application of pressure that Rousey would do well to develop and implement.  Aggression has always been a large part of Rousey’s persona and style, so it may be difficult for a coach to reign that in and dial back the over-commitment, but patience is a necessary facet of effective pressure.

UFC Bantamweight Ronda Rousey

Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

3. Quick-Trigger Counters

Counterpunching may seem a tall task for a fighter who has yet to learn to move her head, but effective counterpunching doesn’t necessarily require a great deal of finesse.  John Lineker has shared some of Ronda Rousey’s cage-cutting woes, albeit to a far lesser degree, but his ability to whip out counter punches on a hair trigger has helped him keep opponents against the cage.

Put on Rousey’s fight with Holm and any Lineker fight side by side on your screen and you’ll probably notice similar instances of them leaping in with punches, missing, and allowing their opponents to sneak out the side.  Range is a big problem for both of them, as they tend to guess at the distancing between themselves and their opponent, rather than gathering that information through probing with jabs and feints.

Lineker has had success solving his range issues by using his opponent’s strikes to measure the range.  Whenever an opponent steps in and lands a strike on Lineker, he immediately knows that he’s in range to land his own and throws back.  Nobody would accuse Lineker of being a precise counterpuncher, but his rapid flurries on the counter land with power and serve to dissuade his opponent from stepping in.

Providing negative incentive for an opponent closing distance is especially important.  As a pressure fighter trying to track down an elusive outfighter, you want them circling the perimeter of the cage, as they’ll need to circle halfway around the cage just to get back to the center.  This affords the pressure fighter ample time to cut them off along the way or stop their progress with sweeping strikes.  When the outfighter is able to close distance, however, a step and pivot are all that’s required to get their back off the fence.

This would have been especially useful against Holly Holm.  Rousey’s constant forward motion allowed her to sit back and counter, but Holm is more than willing to close the distance herself with shifting rushes that take her out of her stance if her opponent isn’t bull-rushing toward her.

Waiting for Holm to step into her before firing off a punch or two would have gone a long way toward figuring out the range in that contest.  Add a level change to a body hook on the counter like Lineker does and it leads nicely into taking an underhook after striking the body.

Ronda Rousey landed a sharp cross counter on Alexis Davis, so this isn’t outside of her ability, it’s just a matter of developing the patience to wait on her opponent.

UFC Bantamweight Ronda Rousey

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

4. Stepping Right Lead

Although Ronda Rousey’s discomfort in the striking phase of a fight has become something of a meme within the MMA community, squaring up and hammering in a right straight is something she’s always done with a fair degree of comfort.  Unfortunately for her, a devastating straight right thrown with planted feet is not all that conducive to a gameplan of “close distance or die trying”.  However, by overshooting on the straight and stepping her rear foot forward, she can close the distance and bring herself chest-to-chest with her opponent, allowing her to transition into the clinch while taking away the space necessary to counter her on the way in.

A favorite of Fedor’s, dropping the right hand after a step in leads perfectly into an underhook.  From there, the left arm is free to punch or look for Rousey’s trademark head grab.

The rear leg can also be brought deep around the opponent’s to punch right into an outside trip.

In a more advanced application of this, if the opponent responds by backing straight up or circling away from the underhook, the left hook is lined up perfectly.

UFC Bantamweight Ronda Rousey

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

5. The Angled Duck Under

The one method of defense Ronda Rousey has used to any degree of effectiveness is raising her shoulder and dipping her chin below it on her jab.  This dipping jab made wide right hands a risky prospect against her, as she’d catch it on her shoulder and use the space created to wrap her opponent’s head.

Although she was able to catch wide rights on her shoulder, the straights of Holm and Nunes gave her trouble, and she was never able to develop a way to deal with punches off her opponent’s lead hand.  Angling off toward the rear hand and ducking under the lead would give her an option for both hands.

Jussier Formiga’s goal is always to find the quickest path to his opponent’s back.  When he’s fighting a southpaw, he’ll circle past their lead leg, encourage them to throw the straight across the plane of their body, and duck under the space created by the removal of their elbow from their chest.

When Rousey is fighting an opponent in the same stance as her, she’d need to circle toward the rear hand to create an angle for the duck under.  This may seem dangerous, but GSP spent most of his career jabbing into the power hand without much punishment to show for it.  As long as she keeps her jab active and shoulder up while circling, not only will it keep her chin relatively safe from right hands, but she can also angle her body to the inside of her opponent to give herself a better angle to catch the rights on her shoulder.

This is what the duck under would ideally look like for Rousey.  BJ Penn pivots to his left and flashes the jab, encouraging Edgar to leap into him with a lead hook.

Ronda Rousey’s recent fights have shown that her ability to find the clinch is lacking some needed diversity.  If she does decide to continue her MMA career, she’ll need to develop more varied pathways to the clinch against opponents that are prepared to maintain distance or punish her on the way in.

These are five ways she could accomplish that.  They won’t fix the holes in her game – nothing but an adequate coach, willingness to learn, and a lot of time will accomplish that – but they would give her more tools to get the fight where she wants it.

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