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Beating Ronda Rousey on the Ground

With seven first round armbar wins in seven professional fights, UFC 168‘s Ronda Rousey has become one of the most feared fighters to tangle with on the ground.  So, is she beatable?  Of course, although it’s a lot easier in theory than in practice.

The most important point about grappling is understanding that grappling is progressive.  Every single defensive question in grappling has the exact same answer.  “How do you escape the mount?”  “How do you get off your back?”  And in Rousey’s case, “How do you stop the armbar?”

The basic answer is simple.  Don’t get put in the position where you can be armbarred to begin with.  The best way to beat Rousey on the ground is to avoid the ground altogether.  Unfortunately, given Rousey’s elite judo skills, this isn’t a very easy task.  Truly though, the best armbar defense is to never be taken down at all — something all of Rousey’s opponents have failed to do.

Assuming one gets taken down, the game isn’t over.  Even if you are on your back against Rousey, she can’t armbar you if she can’t pass your guard.  In fact, Rousey has yet to demonstrate very strong guard passing skills, although, this is partially because she hasn’t had to.  However, if someone is taken down, having a strong guard will completely negate Rousey’s ability to apply an armbar.  Practically, this has been very problematic.  Unlike wrestling style double legs and single legs, Rousey’s judo takedowns tend to land her on top in side control and half guard, where she has been easily able to pass to mount.

Assuming Rousey passes the guard, there is no magic answer.  The best way to stop the armbar is proper fundamentals, and unless you’re training with people as good on the ground as Rousey, it’s unlikely that you’ll be sufficiently prepared to stop her armbar.  Still, most girls have given up the mount far too easily against Rousey, and I would predict that someone like Alexis Davis should be able to at least prevent Rousey from mounting her without some resistance.

From the mount or back mount, Rousey makes life very difficult for her opponents.  She has many setups for her armbars, and does them all flawlessly.  Back mount, technical mount, S-mount — once Rousey attains these positions, the armbar almost feels like a formality.  Armbar defense isn’t the answer here, not getting put into these positions is.

Other than fundamental escapes, has Rousey shown any other holes in her grappling?  Absolutely.  Rousey prefers to attack with an O Goshi takedown using head and arm control.  Once she lands, she takes a Judo-style Kesa Gatame or “scarf hold” position.  In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is generally recommended that one should let go of the head and attempt to secure the far side underhook.  Rousey does it the Judo way, and this choice of Rousey got her into hot water against Carmouche.  By Rousey giving up the far underhook, Carmouche was able to take Rousey’s back, and nearly finished her with a rear naked choke.

Other than that, Rousey hasn’t shown many holes in her game.  An armbar is a checkmate position.  If it was easy to escape, it wouldn’t be a checkmate.  The best way to avoid being checkmated is to not be put in check, which means not letting Rousey take you down or attain the mount.  Period.