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Help me Ronda

  |  August 19, 2012

Ronda Rousey at a UFC press conference last November. Pic: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images
Ronda Rousey at a UFC press conference last November. Pic: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

It's been a good summer for women's combat sports.

Boxing made it's Olympic debut, with British fighter Nicola Adams winning the first ever women's gold medal in the sport at the Games, defeating Chinese fighter Ren Cancan by 16 points in the flyweight title to claim not just gold, but a place in the history books.

And then comes Ronda Rousey. The 25-year-old Californian's rise up the ranks of MMA has made her not just the reigning and defending Strikeforce bantamweight champion, but has become the new poster girl for the sport - achieving a level of fame many of her male rivals can only dream of.

It's been a remarkable rise to the top of the sport for Rousey, who defended her championship against Sarah Kaufman this morning. In less than 18 months, she's gone from an amateur with just three fights under her belt to undefeated champion, a regular on the talk show circuit and the front cover of ESPN magazine.

More remarkable, all nine of her wins - six at pro, three as an amateur - have come by way of submission with an armbar. All have come within the first round. Just one of those fights has gone further than a minute.

She's brought a level of hype and interest to the world of women's MMA not seen since the peak days of Gina Carano, before the Haywire star decided to quit the sport in favour of her new career in Hollywood.

It helps, undoubtedly, that - like Carano - Rousey is an attractive and charismatic figure, able to present a charming face for the sport when so many have squeamish reservations about the idea of women taking part in pro combat sports in the first place.

It helps too that her trash talking - which continued last night with a call-out of former champion Cristiane Santos, nearing the end of her steroid suspension, challenging her to the "first fair fight" of her career - has been backed up by dominant performances in the cage.

But she comes from a remarkable fighting background, too. A two-time Olympian, Rousey became the youngest judokan to take part in the Games when she fought for the USA in Athens in 2004. Four years later, aged just 21, she won bronze through the repechage at Beijing - the first American to do so.

Her mother, Ann Maria DeMars, was also a celebrated judoka, becoming the first US fighter to win a world championship in 1984. It was her who drilled the young Ronda in the armbar which has become her signature move, and the architect of her remarkable success.

That success continued this morning in San Diego when, with less than a minute of the opening round gone, Rousey forced Canadian challenger Sarah Kaufman to tap. It was as dominant a performance as a champion has shown this year in top level MMA, with Rousey forcing Kaufman back against the cage via a flurry of punches, upending her and immediately putting her into the armbar.

The result leaves little doubt over Rousey's dominance of the division at the moment, but does pose the question - what next? She's spearheading a resurgence of women's MMA in the public eye - something boosted by Invicta's recent all-female card - and her trash-talking, confrontational style has helped raise both her profile and the championship she now defends.

A fight with Cris 'Cyborg' Santos would undoubtedly be a big deal - indeed, one suspects only contractual obligations to Shotime prevent Strikeforce's owners moving such a bout to a UFC card, where it could be a potential pay per view draw. And a rematch with Miesha Tate, whom she beat for the belt earlier this year, seems inevitable.

But beyond that? The danger becomes that Ronda Rousey ends up a victim of her own success. And that may be one challenge she can't overcome with an armbar.