One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Sara McMann, who squares off with Ronda Rousey at UFC 170 in Las Vegas on Feb. 22.

Fresh off another decision-packed UFC event in Brazil, UFC President Dana White has to be wondering if his famed catchphrase of “never leave it in the hands of the judges” has been forgotten by the fighters. He will no doubt be questioning the impact that the removal of the bonuses for best knockout and submission have had upon their mindset, with the new bonuses being simply for “Performance of the Night.” In truth, “Performance of the Night” is rather ambiguous and places a lot of discretion in the hands of Dana and company, though favoritism has always played some part in post-fight bonuses within the UFC, so there is nothing to suggest too much will change.

However, as we look at the UFC 170 card, it would seem (on paper, at least) that the current run of decisions may just stop here. Jessica Eye, who has been placed under the microscope in recent weeks to the extent of no other female beyond Ronda Rousey ever has, could be expected to come out with a point to prove. There is also the prominent welterweight match-up between Rory MacDonald and Demian Maia, who will be looking towards a title shot now that Georges St-Pierre has left an opening in the 170-pound division. Finally, whatever the card lost in terms of prestige by having Rashad Evans pull out of the co-main event, it has most certainly gained in intrigue due to the apparent rivalry between newcomer Patrick Cummins and Daniel Cormier. This rivalry dates back to their wrestling days in which Cummins states he made Cormier cry during a practice session. Using this as ammunition, we have seen Pat Cummins cutting WWE-style promos, and following up on UFC Tonight as the fighters went back and forth over the issue, leaving Dana White beaming in the background, no doubt amused at the way he has turned a negative into somewhat of a positive.

Yet, above all else, there stands the women’s bantamweight championship tilt where McMann will challenge Rousey for the crown. With Evans’ withdrawal from the lineup, Rousey and McMann are left to do the heavy lifting when it comes to attracting fans to the event. If Rousey has her way, McMann will be left with only one arm remaining to lift anything. McMann, however, would like to snap Rousey’s streak of victories and claim a little piece of UFC gold for herself.

The Breakdown

Simply put, this fight is a historic occasion. It is the first time that two Olympians will meet inside the Octagon.

However, to look at the fight as just an elite-level judoka versus an elite-level wrestler would be a mistake and would suggest that MMA hasn’t progressed from the early days, when the focus was on which martial art would prove dominant. Both fighters have shown real skills in all areas of MMA despite having just a few fights to date.

In her fights so far, Rousey’s incredible ability to get the armbar victory has been much discussed. But in this fight we may well see McMann opt to use her wrestling in reverse to keep Rousey’s chances of securing another famous armbar finish to a minimum.

In her short seven-fight career, McMann has spent much more time inside the cage than Rousey, and her methods of victory have definitely been of a more varied nature than those of Rousey. On the other hand, Rousey has finished her fights so quickly that there hasn’t been any real opportunity for her to showcase too much beyond the trademark armbar.

For any normal competitor, the spotlight of facing the biggest star in MMA today in the main event might be daunting, but McMann has been through the Olympics. As such, her character when under pressure shouldn’t be in question, as may be the case for others in the division.

The Strategy

The key to victory for McMann will be to pressure Rousey from the start and push her back. Although Rousey has been working hard on her striking skills, it is often easier for those new to the striking game to fight on the front foot but less so when being pushed back.

McMann will need to set the tone early on and make Rousey think about the takedown. This will open up plenty of striking opportunities that McMann can then look to capitalize upon.

Another bonus of McMann setting the pace early on is the possibility that Rousey may tire in the later rounds, should it go that far. Whether Rousey will tire is pure speculation, given that we have not seen the champ need to do so in her professional career thus far. However, simply by pushing the action and taking it into the later rounds, it adds further weight to McMann’s challenge and will give her increased confidence as the fight progresses.

In MMA, you often find dominant wrestlers looking to utilize their wrestling in reverse when they come up against a highly touted grappler such as Rousey. It is, without a doubt, the absolute nightmare scenario for McMann to find herself taken down by Rousey early on. As we have seen, if you give the champion even a short amount of time to work, she will catch you.

Overall, this fight has all the hallmarks of a great battle which promises to capture the imagination of sports fans worldwide due to the Olympic theme and the fact that, for the first time, we are witnessing two females battle it out that have lived and breathed competition their entire lives.

They say that the more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle. Both women have certainly earned their place in the main event through years of hard work in their respective sports, but someone is going to have to be the exception to that rule and suffer in battle come Saturday night.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.