Ronda Rousey

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IN the first part of this article, Fighting Fit learned that whilst Ronda Rousey’s MMA exploits have made some impact in the judo world, some of the traditionalists in the sport do not view Mixed Martial Arts in a particularly positive light. This time I got a different perspective on MMA from the world of judo as judoka turned MMA fighter, Emma Delaney, talked openly about her experiences in MMA so far.

Emma first learned judo at Metro judo club, whose respected coach Mick Murphy spoke to me in part one. Emma has the distinction of holding a victory over her contemporary Ronda Rousey in judo (although Emma was modest enough to stress that Ronda also beat her as well) and started in MMA at around the same time, but found it a little trickier than the American superstar.

“I was asked to attend a gym in Gravesend by somebody I was working with. They wanted me to come down as I did judo and had just won a silver in the Commonwealths and they were like ‘we just want to learn how to do some throwing’. I went to the gym and it was part ring, part cage and they said they did BJJ there and MMA – cage fighting basically – and they said everything they do is in the cage.

“This was the first time I really thought about it. I knew about the UFC from the TV but that was about it. A friend of mine who was fighting over in America had just made the transition (from judo) into MMA herself – she was getting a lot of fights. Once I was doing the judo training (at the gym in Gravesend), I decided that I wanted to do some cage fighting myself.

“I tried to get a fight in the UK and entered a competition but the girl didn’t turn up because of my judo record. She went online and found it and didn’t like it! Yeah, she was scared. If you train and compete at international level in judo, maybe compared to say karate, the kudos that comes with it [is greater]. Plus the fact that Ronda [Rousey], who is the friend I was referring to, was making a name for herself in MMA with the judo arm-bar. We made the transition at the same time. We were friends in judo, had competed against each other a couple of times and when I was speaking to her, she was like ‘yeah I have got a fight, straight away’ and she was winning them. I didn’t really know the people who she was fighting and wasn’t really interested [at that time] but she seemed to be making a lot of progress.”

As someone who competed in judo at a reasonable level myself, I never thought I’d back myself in a fight with a striker and never liked the prospect of being punched or kicked. I wondered what made Emma believe she could beat someone who could strike and how she felt about the pain aspect of hitting and being hit?

“It was probably a bit of naivety. Getting punched in the face, I thought I can just get in quickly like in a judo match. [In judo] I’d get in, get the throw, get the Ippon [maximum score in judo] score and get out again. That’s how I used to compete. Really an MMA fight is like that; you get in and throw but maybe take a few hits to the face. That though was a bit of a problem for me in MMA – I’d get in, throw them to the ground but if I couldn’t finish with a submission I was getting stuck. But I think it’s the confidence of, as you know yourself, if you throw someone to the floor you can take the wind out of them.

“You don’t think about it [the pain], you definitely don’t think about it like that. I was always a head in first fighter anyway [in judo] and I got away with things that I maybe should not have got away with. You don’t think about those things. It hurts, when you get kneed for the first time and the wind is knocked out of you, when you get punched in the face for the first time and your eyes water, I guess it makes a difference but it doesn’t cross your mind. It’s the same as in judo, when you are going into competition you’re going to fight and win even though you could suffer injury and broken bones and other stuff.”

From watching a lot of MMA, I sometime feel judo is under-utilised but can see how some things would not be practical and how adapting to MMA must be challenging. As someone with experience in both sports, Emma explained how some throws work and what the issues are:

“The hip throws, on both sides. Even the boys are starting to use them [in MMA]. In judo they were known as a girl throw as girls tend to throw more with their hips. These would be your ‘ogoshi’ type throws. The ‘koshi’, which is going over the head can help but is sometimes not ideal as I drill [in MMA] to get under hooks [under hooks are hooking your arms under the arms of your opponent, usually when pressing them against the cage].

“The lack of a Gi and grip is a massive change between judo and MMA. Not having something to hold onto and using their own body – pinning the biceps, the triceps, the sweat and the sliding – as opposed to holding a Gi is a massive transition. You do have your hands free as opposed to boxing gloves. You have to remember that in training you don’t always wear MMA gloves, you train in boxing gloves.

“Giving your back when doing judo techniques like ‘ippon seoi nage’ and ‘drop seoi nage’, where you throw them over the shoulder and drop to your knees opens a whole can of worms. They can ground and pound you, take your back – I have found myself in that situation a couple of times. The cage is quite big, especially in professional fights but the cage prevents you doing certain things. On a judo mat you can throw and roll off the mat, but if you get thrown against the cage it is dangerous.

“There have been lots of different learning curves for me. Three five minute rounds is tough as opposed to one five minute contest in judo and carrying on later. In judo, being clean and disciplined, coming on and bowing to your opponent – judo means the gentle way – that doesn’t bode well in MMA, although obviously there are rules and regulations.

“Learning how to punch and kick for me was the hardest. What you think is punching, until you learn it by the professionals, it is not!”

I feel that MMA is almost becoming a distinct martial art in its own right with bits of the other martial arts that work in the octagon being incorporated and bits that don’t work being jettisoned. I wondered if Emma felt, with this in mind, that coming from a strong base background might be a disadvantage because of potential bad habits?

“My gut feeling would be that it’s better to come from a base I think. Yes we have got bad habits and have to unpick things but I’ve had twenty odd years of doing a sport. You learn about the nerves and how to control them, you learn the discipline and have a basis, whereas learning from scratch, you are literally learning everything. How would you go about that, I don’t know?

“I know now they will do something different every day. I’m from a generation where you did one thing.

“100 percent it [MMA] is becoming a style in its own right. It’s a fair statement that people will not learn all the judo moves, all the boxing moves, all the Muay Thai moves; they will only learn what is relevant. In 10 years, 15 years hopefully we will be looking at an Olympics with MMA.”

I asked Emma if she felt there was a contradiction in using judo, known as ‘the gentle way’ in the somewhat less gentle sport of MMA?

“Possibly. I try to explain the differences in the different styles like judo and BJJ. Judo is 80 percent standing and 20 ground, BJJ is the other way round. You need to do the transition from an MMA perspective as at one point you’re standing and you will end up on the ground. From judo, the gentle way, you need the basics but I’m biased and I’m going to say you do need judo in MMA.”

What were Emma’s thoughts on the reputation of MMA and did she, from her experience, find refereeing and safety at lower level shows adequate?

“I think it has come a long way. It is really hard coming from a professional, corporate environment when people find out you are a cage fighter – and I do harp on about it not being ‘cage fighting’, it is martial arts, it is a discipline.

“The notoriety of it is that you’re in a cage and when it first came out it was more around being no holds barred, do whatever you want, kick holes in people literally and there was a lot of blood and guts. It’s not like that [anymore], there are more rules and regulations now than there have ever been. It’s still got a long way to go, but I know that in boxing the idea is to knock someone out but if you get up within the timeframe, you can still carry on. In MMA, if get you knocked to the ground, they call it.

“You can’t blanket it [poor safety / good safety], there are promotions out there that are still learning the ropes. There are still people out there who think you can put on a cage show and just have anybody rock up, go into the ring or cage and fight. It is not as easy as that. The higher level promotions they safeguard and there is an awareness now and I know that IMMAF (the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation) are working to educate people.”

So what would Emma say to anyone, especially women, who might want to take up MMA?

“I have a little girl. She is doing Muay Thai and has done judo. If she said she wanted to do MMA I would be a little concerned to start with. There are a couple of things I’d like to see more of in gyms and that would be wearing head guards whilst sparring – that doesn’t always happen and it should. It is a tough discipline but there are injuries in most sports at all levels. I’d tell people to give it a go at whatever level; it is hardcore but it is enjoyable as well and I’ve got an extended family because of it.”

Ahead of her upcoming fight, Emma is heading to Las Vegas for a weeks training camp. How does a professional fighter with a day job, a partner and children manage it?

“I’m a trained lawyer, my job is demanding but I have a good support network. I did have a situation with a previous employer but the sport is regulated and it is not bringing the company into disrepute. It is about striking a balance with a company that supports you, which I now am lucky to have and a family that supports me. My partner is also following his passion in sport.

“This training camp is me taking a holiday from work It will be completely different as I’m coming away from home to dedicate a week to go and get my program going. It will be 5 hours a day training.

“When I’m at home and in previous camps it is more sporadic, but generally 6 times a week for a couple of hours a day on top of work life and home life. I’m lucky, my kids are a bit older and I can do training in the morning, afternoon or evening – there is flexibility.

“My training has to be all round, so strength and conditioning, fight practice – judo, boxing, BJJ as well as cardio on top. You have to self fund. I have an S & C coach I fund myself, professional coaches in each discipline I have to fund. I don’t have a nutritionist but I have a strict plan I follow, it has worked for me in the past and someone came up with it for me. It gets harder as I get older. Judo helped as I have tried and tested things. I have a network, also through the judo connections and there is always someone I can ask for help.

“Making weight is really difficult. I used to fight at 70kg in judo. There isn’t a 70 in MMA, it is 135 pounds, which is 61.5kg. It is a big cut. Sometimes it has been easier than others, I can’t lie. I think I have now hit the nail on the head with it.

“Ronda had a job at one point when she was going from amateur to professional, you can do it. Could I go to UFC level now with what I’ve got? Yeah, but it would take a lot of time and effort. People can get to the Olympics if they try hard enough, but can you have a full time job as well? Something has to give.

“I have thought often about if I could make that sacrifice. It’s a time thing. When I first got signed to Cage warriors, it was an absolute yes but I was three years younger then and my body wasn’t falling apart! [Emma suffered a serious shoulder injury in one of her first MMA fights which led to a lengthy absence.] It was a dream and still is – I don’t think I’ll get to that level but I’ll still aspire.

“It would take an awful lot, maybe a small lottery win and to be a few years younger!”

So how does Emma focus her training in terms of her strengths and her opponent?

“I focus on both my strengths and weaknesses but also it depends on the opponent you are fighting. For this fight I have a grappler, this is the first time I’ve fought another grappler, very similar in style. My focus has been on what she has done in the past, what I have done and what I’ve mucked up on.

“For me I have to have a plan a, b and c.”

Obviously our discussion once again turned to Ronda Rousey; I was keen to get Emma’s take on her contemporary:

“She has done a great job for women in MMA and you can’t take that away from her. People are fixated on the celeb she has become. She is a left handed judo player and I’m not sure if everyone has picked up on that with the threat of the arm bar. In some ways it wasn’t a threat but people have now made it a threat in their own minds.

“The thing that Ronda does best is, and that didn’t work with Holly, is to get in to people’s heads. She is all about the mind, as well as being a great athlete. She was exposed by Holly because Holly did not allow her to get in to her head and she was out boxed.

“Ronda was mentally hard. It was hard to fight her [in judo]. You don’t go to the Olympics at 17 and win an Olympic bronze medal if you’re not great. Her mum pushed her, her team knew what she as like. She could be a funny character and she was so driven. Does that make you great, I don’t know but it wins you medals. The proof is in the medals.”

My own theory on Rousey against Holm was that Ronda let her ego get the better of her and that she wanted to prove that she could out-strike a world class striker. I didn’t think Ronda focused on her strengths – her judo. Did Emma subscribe to my theory about her friend and former judo adversary?

“I think, for me, she wasn’t focused on the fight full stop. She had a lot going on with the other celebrity stuff so she wasn’t managed very well there. She tried to outbox a boxer and didn’t focus on what she does best but she also didn’t look as in shape as she normally does as I think she had other things on her mind. I know for a fact it wasn’t the head kick that took her out – she was gone before that. If you watch the fight, you can see after the first hand exchange she was lost. She tried to regain it but she never did.

“I would have gone straight in to try to get the take down, even knowing that she would know that was what I was going to do. Surely the extra amount of years of doing that – like Rhonda has as well – I would have stayed away from her hands. But that is easier said than done, right? I’m not a keyboard warrior; I’m in there doing it. But I would have approached it how I would have thought Rhonda would have approached it.

“She can turn it around [against Holm in a rematch], but in time. To say she couldn’t is to say you can’t aspire to something and I think you can. You only have to look at some of Holly’s other fights to see she has gone the distance and has shown weakness and that is what you need to drill on.”

Finally, I asked Emma about her own future after her fight at the end of February. What would should next?

“When I win, I need closure. As a Judo player I was successful and was able to leave on my terms. I’m 0-3 in MMA as I have taken fights I shouldn’t have taken straight away. I need to win this fight and then I’ll make a decision. I need closure, I need a win and then I’ll decide otherwise I’ll keep carrying on. I’ve tried other stuff but triathlons and marathons don’t cut the mustard!”

Whilst, by Emma’s own admission, it may be her last visit to the cage, when there are competitors as dedicated and committed to the sport as she has been, it is easy to see why MMA is thriving. Like boxing, judo will remain a strong sport for years to come with both fans and detractors; it is my belief that MMA can live side by side with these more traditional forms of combat and hopefully they can all learn (and improve) from each other.

Emma fights LJ Adams at Raged UK MMA 3 on Saturday 27th February