Ronda Rousey: What's the truth about the UFC star's boxing ability?
Sparring partners, Olympians & world champions reveal their experiences
By James Dielhenn
Last Updated: 10/01/17 6:04pm
Ronda Rousey's UFC dominance led to her becoming Ring Magazine's most controversial cover star, as she vowed to add boxing to the list of sports that she has mastered. But after two knockout losses left her reputation in tatters, what's the truth about Rousey's boxing skills?
"She conquered MMA, is boxing next?" The January 2016 issue of Ring Magazine bravely profiled a woman on its cover, wearing just one boxing glove with fists appropriately clenched. But the presence of Ronda Rousey, a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medallist and then-unbeaten UFC champion, occupying a space reserved for boxing's elite sent shockwaves through the community.
Her brazen assertions that she could cross-over and become a boxing world champion carried gravitas due to her prior success in two sports, but there remains little evidence about Rousey's competitiveness inside a boxing ring. She counted Mike Tyson as a great ally and Floyd Mayweather as her ultimate nemesis, but could Rousey ever become a top-notch boxer?
"No, of course not," said Mikaela Mayer, an Olympian and a recent Rousey sparring partner, exclusively to Sky Sports.
"I have been training for 10 years to be at this level. For her to just walk in to the Olympic level and be competitive - that's just not probable.
"That's not just her, it goes for anybody. The experience you need to compete at this level is just tremendous. You don't just walk in and kick people's a** unless you're Claressa Shields!
"We do four two-minute rounds - it's the pace and scoring that you need to learn. Of course [Rousey isn't at the same level] just like I wouldn't be at the same level in MMA or judo."
Mayer, a quarter-finalist at Rio 2016 for the United States, was seen as the perfect preparation to hone Rousey's punching before her ultimately unsuccessful UFC return against Amanda Nunes last month.
For her to just walk in to the Olympic level and be competitive - that's just not probable. That's not just her, it goes for anybody.
"We went at it 100 per cent," Mayer says about their sparring. "For me, as an Olympic-style boxer, it was good work because she gave me that style. She lets her hands go, she punches hard. She kept coming forwards so I had to punch in combinations, I couldn't just throw two. When she got on the inside, I had to work her body."
Rousey's willingness to trade blows with an Olympic-calibre boxer, after a devastating stoppage loss to Holly Holm that ruined her perfect record, suggests a dedication to improve. But, in fact, she had shared the ring with boxing world champions throughout her meteoric UFC rise.
"She was stiff, she's not a striker, and you don't punch a puncher," Diana Prazak, a former WBC champion, said about Rousey's latest defeat exclusively to Sky Sports.
"She's not a boxer, that's not something you pick up in a couple of months. I started working with Ronda over two years ago but, but when she was going to fight Holly Holm, they stopped me being her sparring partner."
You don't punch a puncher. She's not a boxer, that's not something you pick up in a couple of months.
Prazak previously boxed Holm so surely she was the perfect sparring partner? "You would have thought so," she said. "Our spars were always battles, they were harder than the fights she was having. We had great sparring - she was getting better.
"My opinion? It wouldn't have been good for her confidence to keep sparring me, and not being successful. Edmond made that decision. She isn't a striker."
Edmond Tarverdyan, Rousey's coach through her highs and lows, was the first to notoriously claim she could rule boxing alongside her UFC domination. There is a mural of Tarverdyan, who professes to have evolved from a boxing background, alongside Muhammad Ali's image at the gym he owns in California.
He has no BoxRec statistics, and his record is unconfirmed in kickboxing. Rousey's mother critiqued him before the defeat to Holm in November 2015, yet he remains firmly in place despite his star pupil's second consecutive loss.
Tarverdyan's infamous claim that Rousey was flooring boxing world champions with body shots in sparring still echoes for Prazak, who was behind the scenes during the UFC star's heyday.
"He was talking about me," Prazak said. "My trainer rang him to say 'why would you make that up?' It's an untruth. I hope she comes back with a totally different team around her who look after her safety."
You have to take responsibility for yourself, every time you have a loss you can't just blame your coach. You have to say 'what did I do wrong?'
Yet Mayer, a more recent visitor to Tarverdyan's gym to work with Rousey, has a differing view.
"He comes from a boxing background," she asserted. "I actually like Edmond a lot, I really like his mitt-work.
"I didn't know what to expect - as a boxer, you don't like doing mitt-work with other coaches because they never match up. But he was really good - he made me work long, straight punches which is the Olympic style. Nothing super fancy.
"You can tell their connection is so strong, they have a really tight bond. When people talk about her finding another coach, I just don't see that.
"You have to take responsibility for yourself, every time you have a loss you can't just blame your coach. You have to say 'what did I do wrong?' The coach is a big part of it, but you can't blame them every time you don't win a fight."
Since the Ring Magazine put Rousey on their cover - which Prazak called "disrespectful to female boxing champions" but Mayer viewed as "doing so many [good] things for sports" - her career has taken a knockout punch that she may never recover from, yet women's boxing is beginning to flourish with Olympic gold medal winners Shields and Katie Taylor turning professional.
"She said 'get Ronda Rousey in the ring'," said Taylor's new promoter Eddie Hearn told Sky Sports News HQ.
"It's not a problem. Make that happen. One day, who knows? From a boxing standpoint, people like Ronda Rousey wouldn't have a chance."
It's taken less than 18 months for Rousey's boxing reputation to be crumpled yet the truth is far more complex. Having reached the pinnacle of judo and MMA before her 28th birthday, her fighting spirit is impossible to question.
"It goes without saying that Ronda isn't a boxer but I saw definite improvement," Prazak reflected. "She's such a determined woman, and she's a true fighter which isn't something that you can teach someone. She has an attitude where she won't give up. There was constant improvement on her behalf."
She's a true fighter which isn't something that you can teach someone. She has an attitude where she won't give up.
Mayer added: "Her strongest point is that she's very aggressive and strong. They're her two strong points. In the boxing ring, she puts pressure on and keeps coming forwards."
Like many before her, the ultimate test of whether Rousey deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as generations of memorable fighters will come with her reaction to climbing up off the canvas.