The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 02/20/2014 12:22 PM | Comments: 0
A few hours before the Sochi Games wrap up halfway across the world, Ronda Rousey and Sara McMann will meet in a cage in Las Vegas for the UFC's celebration of its own Olympic spirit.
Judo bronze medallist Ronda Rousey takes on wrestling silver medallist Sara McMann in the main event of UFC 170 on Saturday night. Former U.S. Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier headlines the undercard against UFC newcomer Patrick Cummins.
Two female Olympians have never met in the UFC octagon, and Rousey jumped on the chance to accomplish another MMA first, even if it's just 56 days after she was booed out of the octagon for refusing to shake hands after her last victory over Miesha Tate.
"I'm super stoked, and it's even better it's happening with the Sochi Winter Olympics," Rousey said. "It just seems like this is the absolute perfect time for it to happen."
Rousey (8-0) has become one of mixed martial arts' biggest stars since her UFC debut in February 2013, and she'll soon be a movie star as well. But Rousey realizes she owes her fame and fortune to judo, which took her around the world and eventually to the Beijing Olympics six years ago.
With her victory over Tate on Dec. 28 still fresh in her mind, Rousey returns at the Mandalay Bay Events Center against McMann (7-0), who won silver in freestyle wrestling at the Athens Games in 2004.
"It's a big challenge," Rousey said. "It's the biggest one I've had to this day. I think it's showing how quickly the women's division is progressing. The men, they've had a lot of Olympians and guys with Olympic backgrounds competing before, but this is the first time we've had two undefeated Olympic medallists fighting for a title."
Rousey's Olympic experience defines everything she does in MMA. Her judo skills have been her defining strength in the octagon, where she grabs and throws opponents to the canvas seemingly at will before landing her signature armbar submission on every fighter she has ever faced.
She also learned the discipline necessary to be successful in MMA from the decidedly unglamorous world of judo, where internal politics eventually soured her on the sport. After she picked up MMA a few years ago, she found it suited her perfectly.
It's much the same story for McMann, who wasn't sure what to do after her wrestling career until she found a new sport.
"I do it for different reasons, but (Rousey and McMann) come from sports where you don't really make any money," said McMann, who has a young daughter.
"You're just doing it because of love of doing it," she added. "But at some point, when you have to work full-time and you have a family, you can't do all those things. There are just not enough hours in the day. So if you can do what you love to do and train professionally and then spend time with your family, that's an awesome, rare thing to be able to do."
Cormier has a similar story, taking his first professional MMA fight in 2009 only after making two Olympic wrestling teams and winning gold at the Pan-Am Games.
After winning his first two UFC fights as a heavyweight, he has dropped down to light heavyweight to avoid having to fight his teammate, UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Rashad Evans was scheduled to meet Cormier at UFC 170, but dropped out with a leg injury 10 days ago, opening the door for Cummins, who had to quit his job as a barista to take the fight on late notice.
Rousey isn't worried about the quick turnaround after her third-round victory over Tate in the UFC's holiday show. That fight was her first in 10 months after taking time off to film the latest sequels in the "Expendables" and "Fast and Furious" franchises.
"The movie stuff was fun, but by the time it was over, I was glad," Rousey said. "That's why it's good to do the movie stuff and fighting. By the time I was done filming, I was so ready to get back to the gym. I was sitting around Bulgaria, thinking, 'Man, I miss my gym."
And Rousey insists she isn't plotting her escape from the sport, even while she's getting more calls for more movies and entertainment jobs.
"I'm a fighter," she said. "That's why anyone in Hollywood is even interested in me at all."
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