Far away from the Sochi winter Olympics’ snow-white temperatures, Maxim caught up with UFC 170 headliners Ronda Rousey and Sara McMann at their various media days around Los Angeles, leading up to their Saturday night showdown at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Inside the Glendale Fight Club - down the road from UFC bantamweight champion and former Maxim cover girl “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey’s Venice, CA, home - an oversized red and yellow boxing glove hangs from the ceiling. It reads, in its bright, Hulkamania colors, “Ronda in your face.” Since Rousey’s Octagon debut a year ago, Rondamania has been in full effect. The 27-year-old occupies the main event spot for the second time in three UFC appearances. The brash and charismatic Olympic judo bronze medalist is the first woman to win a UFC fight, the organization’s first female champion, and, regardless of gender, one of its biggest stars (if not the biggest). It’s up to Olympic silver medalist wrestler Sara McMann (7-0; 1-0 UFC) of Gaffney, S.C., to stop Rousey’s perfect eight-for-eight armbar finish streak through the mixed martial arts ranks (8-0; 2-0 UFC).
"We started at the amateur [fighting] level at the exact same time,” says Rousey. “We've both been aware of each other since then. I've been sure our paths would cross at some point."
“It's not just two guys out there trying to smash each other, or two girls,” McMann says of this fight’s Olympic pedigree. “I think this gives people an idea of how much we've dedicated our lives to this."
Rousey-McMann is the UFC’s first ever bout between Olympians. It’s only the second title fight between undefeated combatants in the promotion’s history, and comes the day before the closing ceremonies at the Sochi Olympics. Rousey has spent much of her six-week fight camp deflecting movie talk and asserting that her focus is on the scrap ahead. She has roles in the upcoming Entourage and The Athena Project films, but the only thing she says she has planned for now is the first exchange with McMann. Thinking about anything else can be hazardous to her health; fights are chaotic, so she can only afford to think about rising to the occasion when going up against an athlete of McMann’s caliber. She points out that all her best performances have been on quick turnarounds, having last competed on Dec. 28 at UFC 168 in the co-main event of a million-buy pay-per-view, fully aware she’d be opposite McMann in February.
“I've been excited to fight Sara for a while, because I feel I'll be able to show more against her than I have against other opponents," enthuses Rousey, a four-to-one favorite.
Photographed for Maxim by Stephan Wurth | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2014
Rousey started judo at age 11 - McMann began her wrestling pursuits at 14. They are lifelong combat sports athletes, so rest assured, they are more than ready to mix it up for UFC gold. Rousey’s mother used to drive her to four or five different clubs a week while she was growing up, in order to find answers for every situation. When Rousey tore her knee at 16, she practiced only on her left side, so upon her return she knew double the throws, and had also picked up groundwork - like her famous armbar - during that time. Rousey has brought many high-level wrestlers into her camp for the McMann fight, and she wonders if McMann has had the same access to elite judokas.
“It's much easier in the U.S. to find high quality wrestlers,” admits Rousey. “I've been training with people that I'm extremely lucky to have around. It'd be very difficult for her to find someone in judo that's comparable to them."
McMann had been in the same training rooms as former Olympic wrestler and UFC 170 co-main eventer Daniel Cormier as far back as 1997. The 33-year-old challenger believes wrestling is Rousey’s kryptonite. The first mother to ever headline a UFC fight is happy out of the spotlight and leaving the hype to Rousey - she only cares about the training process, because in combat, she says, “You never know what's going to come afterward."
Jim Kemper / Zuffa LLC / Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2014
Rousey fully expects McMann to be ready on fight night, since the UFC title - the most important thing in the world to both of them - is available in that 25-minutes-or-less span. In a skill stalemate, Rousey claims personality sets the real winners apart. She’s a nasty limb-ripper - she thinks, respectfully, that her opponent is “Saint McMann.” So how would McMann handle dethroning the champion and becoming the new torchbearer for female MMA in the UFC? "That's for future Sara to worry about," she says.
Rousey knows how big the stakes are here - not just for female fighters, but MMA in general. It’s not two drunk guys thrown into a cage in a casino, it’s the evolution of professional athletes, regardless of gender in this space - two decorated Olympians at their athletic peak.
“It's not that we're just Olympians, we're Olympic medalists,” says Rousey. “We're two undefeated Olympic medalists that are fighting during the Olympic games. I don't think this will ever happen again."