Judo vs Wrestling in MMA, Who Wins?
20+ years since UFC 1, style vs style match ups haven’t been common in high level MMA since. It’s obvious now you need all the skills (striking/wrestling/BJJ) to survive in the octagon but lucky for us though, UFC 170 provides us a style vs style clash for the ages.
Wrestling’s place as a legitimate skill set to bring into the octagon has been validated many times over. The jury is still out on judo though. Despite Ronda having dominated all her opponents since day 1, skepticism still remains as to her abilities and most of it focuses on her being a one trick pony, and the central question in every fight is “can you stop her armbar”. Strangely, until late the question has never been, can you stop her takedown, as if it’s a matter of time before some exposes her judo takedowns/tactics as flawed. The usual rebuttal to her getting a throw easily has typically been, “oh wait till she faces a real wrestler”, “those girls are just naive” etc. Ronda in her last fight with Tate though showed Judo can be quite a handful for even someone who can wrestle. The rebuttal has now moved to whether her judo can deal with elite level wrestlers.
Why the lack of judo props in MMA?
Personally, I don’t really need much convincing because I have been a fan of JMMA for a while where Oylmpic judo medalists like Yoshida and Akiyama have been hitting judo throws and applying judo tactics to MMA for a number of years. Karo Parisyan too in the early days has already provided some form of validation as to judo’s place in MMA. Add Fedor with his sambo and you basically have all the proof you need. Note though that in Pride, no cage and footstomps/soccer kicks made shooting in a very dangerous proposition for the wrestler. Getting stuck in the turtle from a stuffed shot where a single fight ending knee or soccer kick can come simply wasn’t worth the risk. Also certain clinch tactics you can pull of in the cage such as head pinning can’t be done off the ropes where the action can be easily broken if someone falls out. Add to the fact that many Japanese/Russians/Europeans (where judo is big) have not been fighting in the UFC/US/Europe till late, there is a case of sample selection (statistical) bias going on here when it comes to deciding on judo’s efficacy in MMA as opposed to wrestling.
Judo Training is Brutal
I do see judo environments as pretty different from BJJ ones to be honest and closer to wrestling. The training one undergoes as part of a competitive Olympic judo program is very similar to the rigid regimen that college wrestlers under go. It’s a job for many of these judokas and there’s no expectation of a “new move” every week/lesson to keep fee paying members interested. It’s endless drilling and grinding with full on S&C and hard sparring. Many judokas will complete 20,000 to 30,000 uchikomis or more a year (uchikomi – repetition of a throw) and it will be the same few throws over and over. Strategy and tactics are critical in judo, but you first need to be able to hit your throws with no hesitation.
The idea of a surprising the competition with a new “move/throw” as a winning strategy in judo is pretty foreign and “competition judo excellence” is more about getting your combinations smooth (Kouchi to Morote, Ouchi to Morote, Kouchi to Ouchi to Morote etc), efficiency and footwork. It is very rare to see a world champion win a second gold medal at the Olympics totally changing his throw set. He is just basically a meaner version of his old self 4 years later. BJJ has recently started to adopt drilling as a legitimate training aide which I am quite a fan of though. Yes it’s boring and it’s tough, but it’s the only way to burn something into your brain (at least until someone figures out how to upload Kungfu to your brain ala Matrix).
Ok Rant over – Will the bodylock stop the head grab?
We can blame the rules on judo for this “lack of innovation”, making contests more about athleticism, but the fact remains, Olympic judokas are tough sobs and come Feb 22, we get to see what happens when a wrestler tries to stop judo tactics.
I have already covered how Ronda looks to get head control as a precursor to firing off her throws and so far no one has been able to stop the takedown once she links hands around your head. The closest (and still valid I think) thing to a “defence” has been to 1) accept the throw and try to sweep her to top (assuming it’s uchimata) or to 2) try slip to the back and choke her out. Opponents have come close (Tate/Carmouche) on (2) but so far Ronda has managed to get out. We might see this defence again but Mcmann will have another option which plays to her strength.
Mcmann as a pure wrestler has a good shot and low single/ankle attacks. In MMA however, she rarely shoots but rather seeks to overwhelm you with strikes to get the clinch. From there Mcmann’s go to position is double unders where if she gets the body lock high on you, she gets the suplex. This has been her most successful take down and she is very strong in this position – often taking down girls who are trying to pummel out/counter throw/frame out.
I don’t really see Mcmann wanting to shoot low for the single/ankle pick (knees + Ronda spinning to the back) and Ronda with her head grabbing will most likely concede the bodylock when she gets the headgrab. So the question is when this situation happens (Ronda headgrab, Sara bodylock) who gets the takedown? To me it really comes down to where it happens. Out in the open or with Mcmann pinned to the fence, Ronda will have all the room she needs to turn her hips for throws. If Ronda can be pinned though, Mcmann can take her time to grind out Ronda till she can muscle her down with the bodylock or switch to a double/single. That being said, while Ronda’s effortless judo makes it look like all it takes is a suplex to take her down as she turns in, Ronda’s kouchi/ouchi is waiting for those that try to “sit back” when she goes for the uchimata. Has Ronda been able to hit those kouchi’s because no one strong enough has tried to suplex her as she switches, or is her sense of balance just that good? I personally think Ronda’s ability to attack the weak plane is very refined (you will see in the video why I think so) and I think Ronda will be able to catch the balance shift during the suplex. More proactive, bodylocks/underhooks can be broken by headlocks and Ronda has used this tactic to stop this type of clinch (Rousey v Tate 1), where she can also get many of her usual throws.
One thing to note – Ronda has physically broken many of the girls she has faced as quick as those fights have been. She has managed to trap everyone against the fence and bully them without exception. Those split seconds of physical domination to get the head grab are glimpses as to how strong she is in her division and the idea that Mcmann will overpower her with the bodylock cannot be taken as a given. Mcmann might well find herself being the one pinned to the fence come 22 Feb.
Can you Bullrush the Bullrush Queen back?
It seems suicide to fling yourself into a clinch in the open with Ronda and try drive her into the cage (ala Hendricks v GSP), so perhaps just bullrushing her with strikes is the way to go. So the question then is, can you give Ronda a taste of her own medicine and bullrush her back? Previously I had thought socking Ronda hard would kill her bullrushing but her striking has improved so much now that going berserk on her with a flurry hoping she panics and retreats seems a lot harder. Tate in their first match actually managed to get off a number of flurries as Ronda moved back with her guard down, but in their re-match Miesha could rarely throw 3 punches in a row before getting her hand trapped and clinched up. Ronda now stands her ground and actually wants you to swing at her. Many times in her rematch she purposely faked the jab trying to lure Tate to throw the counter right overhand so she could trap it and grab the head (see video). I’m still not sure why everyone is still so negative on Ronda’s striking to be honest, it’s steadily getting better every fight.
In the video below you will see how Ronda’s latest striking/clinch evolution still leaves her open to left hooks. But unless Mcmann has learned to be a refined counter striker, timing Ronda’s bullrush and low guard on the right, it’s going to be quite a long night for her. Mcmann appears to be a crude bullrusher still, throwing a 1-2 combination with no follow up if she can’t hurt you.
Of course, Mcmann has not fought in over a year and has had a lot of time to refine her skill set and likewise Ronda has probably scrutinized her last performance and worked on fixing even more issues. So all the above could all be for naught. But for what it’s worth, enjoy the video.
(ps: no, I am not Ronda’s mother.)