Ronda Rousey, MMA, and You


Warning. At one point in this article you will see someone discussing a grisly injury. If this is something uncomfortable for you, please accept my apology.

The thing about MMA, in and of itself, is that it’s based upon a combination of extreme levels of violence and also extreme levels of skill. To participate in the sport and be successfull, you can’t be the stereotypical bar-brawling tough guy some of MMA’s critics have decried the common-day MMA athlete as being. But in that same vein, you have to have both a high pain personal threshold and an equally high pain tolerance for your opponent. Simply put, you have to be willing to suffer as much as you are willing to make your opponent suffer. That brings us to this weekend’s Ronda Rousey vs Miesha Tate fight from Strikeforce.


Now I know when you saw it, you probably thought how gross it was that you could see an arm broken in combat sports.

Some of you might have even believed, like and But here’s the thing: in every form of grappling, whether it be Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo, or even college wrestling, you are taught that if your opponent is unwilling to tap out or verbally submit while they’re in a hold you don’t let go. You force the tap. That’s what Ronda Rousey did. She forced the tap.
Also, Ronda Rousey is the kind of franchise player women’s MMA needs. She checks every box. Grappling cred? She won an Olympic Bronze in Judo, and medaled in several other high-level competitions.

Now I get it. I truly understand why broken limbs in a sport can trouble you. But if it troubles you this much, I ask you one question. Why is football so popular, so adored? It’s the same kind of violence and skill level meld as MMA, albeit the violence is higher and the skill level is lower. And, MMA is far safer than football. Admittedly, the research isn’t nearly as detailed as I would like it to be but it does pass the eyeball test. But think about this. For a football game, every player collides with the force of small adult killer whales on every play. For 3 hours. And the culture inherent in football makes it so that you can’t stop, can’t quit, and most certainly can’t feel pain. You have to keep going or otherwise you’re not a football player or something to that effect. The entire culture of football is built around the idea that you have to be tougher than the next man, that you have to ignore pain.

Without sounding like a biased MMA head, the truth is that MMA protects its athletes to a far greater degree than they are given credit for once competition starts. The culture also helps with this. It’s from a grappling culture that is about fighting with all you have, but just as importantly, understanding when to submit.

The knowledge that MMA is still condemned as being overly barbaric, while football is as American as apple pie and the flag, is terrifically confusing. Maybe over the course of the next few weeks I’ll get into this. If that is something you are interested in, let me know in the comments.

5 Responses to “Ronda Rousey, MMA, and You”

  1. Temple3 says:

    For a football game, every player collides with the force of small adult killer whales on every play. For 3 hours.

    This is a good piece. The ssue of willfully breaking bones vs. accidentally breaking bones, however, seems to be the heart of the matter.

    I think your statement above is clearly an overstatement. First, there are only 10 minutes of real “action” in any football game. There is more actual action in just about every MMA contest. There are no pre-snap reads or shuttling in of players on 3rd down or checking alignments on punts, or resetting the ball on wind-blown kickoffs. There aren’t even plays where DB’s and WR’s casually lock up on the opposite side of a play as if one were truly intent on blocking and the other intent on tackling. So, the extent to which football is a collision sport for all 22 players at any given time is vastly overstated.

    And I’d dare say that the average fullback or middle linebacker would be quite insulted to have their collisions compared to a small adult whale, even if it is an orca. 🙂

    Bottom line, though, I feel you on the question of having what it takes to break someone’s arm. If you’re in that situation, you have to understand that if the person you’re competing against can withstand that degree of pain, they’ll have no problem breaking your own arm. So, you’re 100% right — force the tap out.

    I don’t think football presents us with similar drama. There are no extended grappling moments (the average play is over in about 4-6 seconds).

    Also, there is the question of intent. The intent of the offense in football is to score, and so if an offensive player breaks the bones of a defensive player, you can argue its going to be incidental or accidental, but not intentional. Conversely, defensive players are trying to stop the offense (some even try to force turnovers). Defenders probably have a higher incidence of breaking bones of offensive players, but the extent to which this is intentional is debatable.

    The primary objective of a defensive lineman is either to penetrate the line (to disrupt the run or pass) OR to occupy blockers (as in a 3-4 defensive scheme). In neither case is bone breaking an objective or essential part of the game. Linebackers and DB’s have even less of a bone-breaking incentive since their primary objective is to tackle and/or separate players from the ball. Bone breaks are going to happen from high impact hits (and usually from missing the target area) vs. grappling and imposing submission.

    It’s a different animal. Within MMA, there isn’t anything barbaric about breaking someone’s arm because failing to do so announces a weakness that can be catastrophic. And you’re right about “knowing when to submit,” but just as in the NFL, there are desperate folks who are in the arena for all sorts of reasons. Some really, really, really don’t want to go back to where they came from. Some are indifferent. In football, one could argue that teams submit all the time.

    Teams “give up on the run.” What is that other than submission? Teams stop tackling or playing with “passion for the game.” It happens every week and some teams are known to “tap out” more than others. But, and this is big, the consequence of not tapping out in football is seldom a broken arm — it’s usually just a very frustrating and embarrassing blow out loss.

    Football is a collision sport, not a combat sport…so, you can lose in football without tapping out and retain some dignity — even if you suck, but compete. In MMA, if you go too far, you’re going to get broken — and that’s a huge difference. Think of the relative “ugliness” of the Patriots beating the Titans 59-0 in the snow of Foxboro vs. the busted face, gouged eye, broken arm spectacle that can occur in MMA. Neither is “pretty,” but it’s not hard to see why Americans (the home of “watered down everything”) would see MMA as barbaric.

  2. TheLastPoet says:


    I feel your pain, man, and if MMA was “my sport” in the way that it’s yours, I’d no doubt rush to its defense in the same way you did here. Nuff respect, I mean that.

    Now I won’t, and can’t, get as detailed and persuasive as T3 did above – although I’m curious to read your reply to what seem to be some very legitimate claims from him.

    I can say only this: any “sport” in which the stated goal is either (a) submission or (b) serious physical harm really isn’t a “sport” at all, is it? Perhaps we don’t want to call it “barbarism.” Fans of the MMA clearly do not want to call it that. So then maybe a new category is required to properly describe what is going on there. On the other hand, barbarians of lore were brutal, of course, but also highly skilled in much the same ways as MMA fighters are. I understand that the words “barbaric” and “barbarian” have taken on a different connotation in our time, but maybe we can take things “back to the future” so to speak?

    Cua what I see in that video, to my mind, is barabric. But in saying that, I don’t necessarily mean to condemn it. Feel me?

  3. Temple3 says:

    Good stuff LP.

    I hope the discussion continues. Lots of nuances here. For 1:

    I think that the way football games are televised is also a huge factor in this. You can’t see much of true violence in a football game and you certainly can’t hear it because the mikes are off. In MMA, there is no where to run, nowhere to hide.

  4. Big Man says:

    As Temple and Last Poet said, Football provides a certain veneer of respectability to hide the barbarism. That’s crucial.
    I don’t watch either anymore because I see the similarities, but I’m tempted to watch football in a way I’m not tempted with MMA.
    With football I can convince myself that the entire purpose of the game isn’t inflicting pain despite the evidence to the contrary. That’s not possible with MMA.

  5. Okori Wadsworth says:

    @Temple3: Firstly, the eye gouging is gone. That’s one of those things people talked about in the days before a unified set of rules went into effect. It’s the same way that people stereotype NBA players as not being able to play defense. It’s just not true, and the sooner we get to a place where we can accept that it’s not true, the better off we’ll be.

    Everyone else, thank you for commenting. It means a lot to me.