“My MMA striking is the best in the game,” said Rousey.
"With judo I spent so many years with a certain posture that the hardest thing was adjusting it.”
“I’ve reached a certain level of competition where what’s required out of striking to come into the clinch to grapple is a lot more complicated than at the lower levels. It requires much more high-level footwork and striking to be able to use grappling at all.”
No woman in the UFC has yet to score a knockdown due to a standing strike, but Rousey said all it needs is time.
“It’s a younger side of the sport that’s still developing,” said Rousey. “It’s going to need a little more time before we can reach the same standard the guys are at because they had a big head start.”
Ronda Rousey possesses arguably the most dangerous ground game in women’s mixed martial arts. However, the reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight titleholder thinks her striking is equally effective.
Rousey has worked diligently to raise her comfort level on her feet ahead of Saturday’s UFC 170 pay-per-view headliner vs. Sara McMann in Las Vegas. That work has paid off after a brief period of stand-up training, Rousey says, and she thinks her skills have surpassed those of her peers.
"My MMA striking is the best in the game," Rousey told USA TODAY Sports.
It’s a bold claim ahead of a historic title defense, one in which Olympic medalists meet in the UFC for the first time. Rousey (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC), a 2008 judo bronze medalist, meets McMann (7-0, 1-0), a 2004 wrestling silver medalist.
Rousey, 27, has earned all of her career wins via armbar submission but continues to expand her horizons and target what was once a weakness. She is an athlete who has put in years on the mat, so adjusting to punches, kicks, knees and elbows is a difficult task. It also is one Rousey enjoys.
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"It definitely is a challenge," she said. "With judo I spent so many years with a certain posture that the hardest thing was adjusting it."
The shift from hurling a judo opponent through the air to knocking her out with a punch is no easy feat. Rousey has found success, though, and her offensive and defensive striking statistics over her last six fights hover right around the UFC average.
While Rousey intends to bolster those stats, as she feels more comfortable standing, don’t expect her to completely abandon what got her to this point. In the end, she says, she’ll always possess the instincts of judoka, which means striking will be used to better her chances of taking a fight to the mat.
"I’ve reached a certain level of competition where what’s required out of striking to come into the clinch to grapple is a lot more complicated than at the lower levels," Rousey said. "It requires much more high-level footwork and striking to be able to use grappling at all."
As a whole, the level of striking in women’s UFC fights is still a notch below what you’ll find in the men’s weight classes. Since the adoption of the women’s division in early 2013, a female UFC fighter has yet to score a knockdown due to a standing strike.
The exact reasoning for the lack of knockdowns is difficult to pinpoint, but from Rousey’s perspective, it’s a product of women’s MMA still being in its infancy.
"It’s a younger side of the sport that’s still developing," she said. "It’s going to need a little more time before we can reach the same standard the guys are at because they had a big head start."
Saturday’s bout against McMann marks Rousey’s third title defense since she was appointed UFC champion in early 2013. Some titleholders get more complacent as their reigns go on, but Rousey remains on her toes. She thinks McMann could be her toughest test yet and, despite the growing confidence in her overall game, she can’t take any opponent — especially this one — for granted.
"I approach every fight like I’m fighting for a new belt," Rousey said. "It doesn’t matter who you’re fighting. You don’t start with an extra score on the scoreboard because you won the last fight."