No one likes a challenge more than Ronda Rousey. It’s her motivation, her reason for driving herself inside and outside the Octagon.
It’s also the reason she can’t wait for UFC 193, when she’s expected to display her skills as a boxer against Holly Holm, the next and latest challenger to Rousey’s bantamweight title.
Rousey is known as a takedown specialist and a quick finisher. Of her 12 MMA wins, nine have come quickly via submission, notably her signature armbar.
But she concedes there’s a boxer lurking inside her, and beating Holm – a 19-time world boxing champion before transitioning to MMA – would be her chance to show the kind of punching skills she’s learned.
“I know my fighter,” says her coach, Edmond Tarverdyan. “I see my fighter every day. People that know boxing know how Ronda boxes.”
Although her success has come through her judo and her submissions, Rousey has come to embrace the sweet science. In her daily training, it’s the aspect of combat sports that she focuses on most.
“I’ve really fallen in love with boxing in the process of doing MMA,” she said. “I’ve stopped doing judo at all. I haven’t put on a gi and done judo since I started MMA. I do boxing almost all the time. It would be impossible to spend so much time on something and not fall in love with it. I want to be more involved in the sport.”
But can she prove to be the equal of Holm inside the Octagon? That’s what UFC fans want to find out.
Tarverdyan, however, believes Holm (9-0) will avoid boxing exchanges with Rousey and instead use her kicks to create distance. A clinch could be her undoing.
“Holly is not going to try to box with us,” he said. “Because if Holly is in a boxing distance and a clinch happens, Holly doesn’t want that to happen. Holly is going to be running. Holly is going to be trying to keep it at a kicking distance.
“We’re ready for everything, but if the question is, does Ronda need to prove that she’s a boxer? I hope (Holm) does box with us because Ronda can box. Ronda has knockout punching power in both hands.
“It doesn’t matter which hand she touches you with, it’s dangerous.”
Rousey offered a glimpse of the power in her hands when she knocked out Bethe Correia in 34 seconds at UFC 190. Except for one knee she threw in a clinch, Rousey used her hands exclusively. A right hand to the side of Correia’s head dropped her face first into the canvas.
But boxer against boxer? Maybe Holm’s expertise will allow her to jab, move and look for openings to strike. If she remains standing, it could be her best chance for an upset.
Rousey understands she’s fighting an opponent who knows the fundamentals of boxing and can weave them into her kicking. In two UFC fights, Holm has never been taken down, so she knows how to remain upright.
“She’s very good at staying disciplined and staying to the game plan, and they’re amazing at coming up with game plans,” Rousey said of Holm’s team. “That’s one reason why I’m going to be at the top of my game for this fight, because she’s going to be a bigger challenge than ever.
“Everybody tries to come at me in different ways, but their approach is going to be the most strategic and well thought-out. But no amount of thought and strategy can beat me, and I’m going to show them that.”
Although Rousey has spoken previously of an interest in boxing, she also knows that beating Holm may not prove to anyone that she can make the switch. But it will help.
“This match would help to show some of my striking legitimacy with boxing crowds, but it’s still a different sport,” she said. “I think I would really only be able to prove that I (deserve) respect as a boxer by beating a boxer in their own sport instead of beating them in mine.”
Will that happen? Neither Rousey nor Tarverdyan will say, but at least fans will come away knowing if Rousey has the talent to try it. In the brief glimpses she’s offered so far, it appears she’s got the right stuff.
Her title bout against Holm on Nov. 14 could prove it.
“I hope she stands there at a boxing distance and engages with us or tries to run away and box with us,” Tarverdyan said. “Then we can see how great Ronda’s hand skills are. But MMA is not a typical boxing match. We know that.”
Michael Martinez is a longtime sports journalist and former staff writer at The New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMMartinez