Excitement is building for UFC 170 in Las Vegas, Nev. on Saturday, February 22, when three Olympic athletes will be included in the featured events on the card, including the first match in UFC history between two Olympians.
The headline event is the Women’s Bantamweight Title fight between UFC champion Ronda Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo, against a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling, Sara McMann at 135 pounds. The other featured headliner will include two-time freestyle wrestling Olympian Daniel Cormier, who is battling another former wrestler, former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, at 205 pounds.
All three of the Olympians on the card will enter the Octagon with undefeated records in their MMA career. Cormier is 13-0, Rousey is 8-0 and McMann is 7-0. Because of the Rousey-McMann battle, at least one will leave Las Vegas with their first professional MMA loss.
Fans may not know that this will not be the first time that these three great Olympic athletes competed together at the same event. Rousey, McMann and Cormier shared the mat during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling and Judo, held in the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev., June 12-15, 2008.
Coming into the 2008 Olympic Trials, McMann, Cormier and Rousey were looking to make their second Olympic Team, as they all competed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. McMann was on the historic first U.S. Olympic Team for women’s wrestling, when the sport made its debut in Athens. Of the three athletes, McMann was the only to win a medal in Athens, a silver.
Cormier came into the 2008 Trials in Las Vegas after the best international performance of his career, a 2007 World bronze medal. He had made five straight U.S. World or Olympic Teams. His other top efforts at that level were a fourth place at the 2004 Olympics and a fifth place at the 2003 World Championships. Cormier’s college career featured two Junior College national titles for Colby CC, and a runner-up finish at the 2001 NCAA Div. I Championships for Oklahoma State.
Cormier, as the U.S. Open champion in 2008 and a World medalist in 2007, advanced directly to best-of-three Championship Series at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. Winning the Challenge Tournament to face Cormier was two-time NCAA champion Damion Hahn of the New York AC. Heavily favored, Cormier did not disappoint in the finals series. He won the first match, 6-1, 6-1, then closed out the sweep with a 1-0, 1-0 triumph in bout two.
McMann came into the ’08 U.S. Olympic Team Trials as the No. 2 wrestler at 63 kg/138.75 lbs., after being upset in the finals of the 2008 U.S. Open by Randi Miller, 2-1, 4-0. McMann had been on the previous eight U.S. World and Olympic teams. Included on her resume were the 2004 Olympic silver medal, a 2003 World silver medal and two World bronze medals (2005 and 2007). Fans may remember that she was on the men’s wrestling team at Lock Haven.
Even though she was a returning World medalist, McMann had to compete in the Challenge Tournament at the Trials because of the loss at the U.S. Open. McMann dominated her three opponents there, with technical falls over Samantha Fee, 7-0, 7-0 and Stephanie Shaw, 7-0, 6-0 and a finals pin over Alaina Berube in 1:35, earning another shot at Miller.
In the Championship Series against Miller, McMann started well by winning the first period of bout one, 3-1. From that point on, the powerful Miller was able to shut down McMann’s offense, and Sara did not score again. Miller closed out bout one with a 3-1, 4-0, 2-0 win. She secured the series sweep with a 1-0, 1-0 win in the second match.
Rousey was among the headline stars for the judo field at the Olympic Trials in Las Vegas. She was a silver medalist at the 2007 World Championships. Rousey also competed in the 2005 World Judo Championships, where she did not medal. She was a 2004 Junior World champion, only the second in U.S. judo history on the women’s side. (The first was Hillary Wolf, a 2000 Olympian, who is married to former World-class Greco-Roman wrestler Chris Saba). Her mother was also a world-class judo athlete.
Those looking to watch Rousey in action at the ’08 Trials had to pay very close attention, as she spent very little time on the judo mat. Rousey scored quick ippons, judo’s equivalent of a pin, in all three matches, competing for only a combined 2:50 on her way to making the Olympic team.
Rousey opened with an amazing 10-second ippon over Natalie Laursen. In the semifinal, she put away Jennifer Tutass in just 1:03. Her finals match was also over in short order, a 1:37 ippon over Katie Sell.
The 2008 Olympic Games were in Beijing, China, and it was Rousey who had the memorable performance there. She became the first American women’s judo athlete to win an Olympic medal, capturing a bronze medal at 70 kg.
Rousey opened the Olympics with dominance, scoring a pair of ippon wins of Nasiba Surkieva of Turkmenistan in 1:03 and Katarzyna Pilocik of Poland in 2:12. In the quarterfinals, former World champion Edith Bosch of the Netherlands secured an ippon over Rousey, eliminating her from gold-medal contention. Rousey was impressive in the repechage rounds, winning three straight matches. First off were ippons over Rachida Ouerdane of Algeria and Anett Meszaros of Hungary. In her bronze-medal fight, Rousey stopped Anett Boehm by yuko.
Cormier’s Olympics in Beijing were very disappointing for him and the wrestling community. After struggling to make weight, Cormier was not medically able to compete the next day, and had to withdraw.
On a followup note, Randi Miller, who was able to beat McMann at the 2008 Olympic Trials, won an Olympic bronze medal for the United States. Miller won four of five of her Olympic matches in Beijing, stopping World champion Martine Dugrenier of Canada in the bronze-medal round, 1-0, 1-2, 1-1. Ironically, McMann and Miller lost to the same athlete at their Olympics competitions, Japanese superstar Kaori Icho, who is now a three-time Olympic champion and still competing. Miller made a comeback to wrestling this season after five years away.
The Rousey-McMann match has captured the attention of the sports world, because of Rousey’s dominance of previous opponents and McMann’s strong credentials coming in. Rousey has won all of her MMA matches by submission, using a nasty arm bar technique. Also, Rousey reportedly never lost in a major event to an American opponent in her Senior judo career. McMann would like to pin a loss on Rousey and snap her streak of wins in combat sports against fellow Americans.
Cormier’s match with Evans is also catching attention. As a star in college for Michigan State, and a past UFC beltholder, Evans has a large fan base. Cormier, who has been competing at the heavyweight level in MMA, will be coming down in weight to battle Evans. Wrestling fans may be torn between which former wrestler to root for in this showdown.
So, those who attend UFC 140 or tune in on television need to remember that these three featured Olympians already shared the same stage once during their Olympic careers. Many are expecting their return trip to Las Vegas to also be one for the record books.
2008 U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM TRIALS RESULTS
At Las Vegas, Nev., June 12-15, 2008
Men’s freestyle wrestling
96 kg/211.5 lbs. – Daniel Cormier, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator WC), 1st
WIN Damion Hahn (New York AC), 6-1, 6-1
WIN Damion Hahn (New York AC), 1-0, 1-0
Women’s freestyle wrestling
63 kg/138.75 lbs. – Sara McMann, Gaffney, S.C. (Sunkist Kids), 2nd
WIN Samantha Fee (Missouri Valley College), tech fall 7-0, 7-0
WIN Stephanie Shaw (New York AC), tech fall, 7-0, 6-0
WIN Alaina Berube (New York AC), pin 1:35
LOSS Randi Miller (Gator WC), 3-1, 0-4, 0-2
LOSS Randi Miller (Gator WC), 0-1, 0-1
70 kg/154 lbs. – Ronda Rousey, Wakefield, Mass. (NYAC/USA Judo Team Force), 1st
WIN Natalie Laursen (Northern California Elite), ippon 0:10
WIN Jennifer Tutass (Cunningham’s Judo), ippon 1:03
WIN Katie Sell (USA Judo Harlingen), ippon 1:37
Hometowns listed are where they trained in 2008.