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Ronda Rousey aims to quiet critics once again as she defends her title against Sarah Kaufman

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

The critics were legion in the weeks before Ronda Rousey met Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce bantamweight title in March. Rousey was only 4-0 and had spent less than three full minutes in the cage when she landed the high-profile title shot.

And even after Rousey submitted Tate in the first-round with an arm bar that ended one of the year's most exciting fights and gave her the championship, there are still those who believe Rousey didn't deserve the opportunity to fight for the belt.

They argue it was her looks, her sassy personality and her penchant for self-promotion more than her fighting ability that landed her that shot.

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Ronda Rousey continues to be a lightning rod for criticism. (FilmMagic)

As Rousey prepares to defend the belt against ex-champion Sarah Kaufman on Saturday at the Valley View Casino Center in a nationally televised bout on Showtime, Tate continues to be foremost among those who insist Rousey was given preferential treatment.

Rousey had won all four of her previous fights at featherweight. She dropped to bantamweight and was immediately granted a title shot against Tate.

"It's like you take Joe Schmo off the street and he claims, 'I can do this. I can do that,' and you have very little to go off of, but you give him a title shot," Tate said. "Ridiculous, right? Well, of course. That's not how it works. Look at the UFC: Guys are busting their butts, winning this fight, winning this fight, winning that fight, and they have to do so much more to get to that level.

"Ronda didn't put in her time. Her skill set is there. Yeah, she has the skill set. But she didn't do what all the rest of the girls had to do. … You can't tell me she put in the time and proved she deserved the title shot."

Tate isn't alone in her criticism of women's MMA's biggest star. And have no doubt, Rousey has heard it.

[Related: Sarah Kaufman lacks Ronda Rousey's glamour, but that won't matter]

To those who are expecting her to get her comeuppance and to be put into her place by the heavy-handed Kaufman on Saturday, Rousey nearly snarls.

"Let them try to put me back into my place," an obviously agitated Rousey said as Showtime's preview show concluded. "Who are they to say where my place is? My place is at the top. I earned it and I'm here. Women being put in their place is part of what's wrong with this world."

That attitude, that ability to think on her feet, is what has made her such a star. No less than Dana White bubbles with enthusiasm when he speaks of Rousey. The UFC president is a guy, who has repeatedly dismissed the thought of a female division in his company because he said there aren't enough quality fighters.

But White's face was the first to appear on Showtime's two-part preview show. This is a guy who has feuded openly with Showtime and called its management all sorts of derogatory names.

That is what made his presence in part one of Showtime's "All Access: Ronda Rousey" so stunning.

"She's incredibly talented," White says, as the video cuts to a clip of Rousey catching Tate in that fight-ending, championship-winning arm bar. "She's mean, she's nasty and she's dangerous. She's got the whole package."

Later, White breaks into a wide grin and adds, "I will not miss a Ronda Rousey fight, ever. I'm a Ronda Rousey fan."

Rousey has much to prove, and though she won't say so, she knows it. It's one thing to win a title, but the greats of the game defend it multiple times.

And though Rousey's summer has been filled with non-MMA personal appearances and an almost unprecedented media blitz for a female fighter, that overlooks one very dominant aspect of her personality.

"I've known Ronda since she was 14 and she is such a great competitor and she wants to win so badly," said UFC fighter Manny Gamburyan, a judoka like Rousey. "She trains so hard. She pushes and she pushes and you can see the difference in her striking.

"She's so much better today than she was [in March] when she fought [Tate], it's like it's two different people. She has a lot to do, but she knows the most important thing is to put the time in. Everything about her striking – everything, her knees, her elbows, her kicks, her head movement – is way better than it was."

[Related: MMA rankings: Frankie Edgar poses a vexing problem because of two razor-thin losses]

Rousey hasn't been idle, despite posing nude for ESPN the Magazine's body issue and generally turning herself into a pop culture star since winning the belt. Her judo is first-rate, but she's sought help in the areas in which she's been weak.

She worked with Richard Perez, the striking coach for MMA stars Nick and Nate Diaz, for several weeks. She brought in Lucia Rijker, arguably the greatest women's boxer ever, to help with her game.

Despite that, she's being dismissed by a large segment as a one-trick pony. Avoid the arm bar, that theory goes, and Rousey is out of options. Edmond Traverdyan, Rousey's head coach, finds the notion ridiculous enough to be insulting.

"It's getting tiring, but here's the thing: Nobody can stop her arm bar," Traverdyan said. "And they spend so much time in their camp worrying about Ronda's arm bar that they don't become good at what they're doing. People don't understand that.

"If you want to even think of beating Ronda, you have to be ready in every place. They overlook that because they're so afraid of her arm bar. They put 90 percent of their focus on defending her arm bar. But if they figure out how to defend it, that's OK, because she has a very good overall game. She can win her fights in many ways, not just by arm bar."

So far, nobody has come close to getting away from Rousey's arm bar. She had three submissions from the arm bar in less than a minute each in three bouts as an amateur. As a pro, she's 5-0, with her wins all coming by arm bar. The fight against Tate lasted four minutes, 27 seconds, and was one of the year's best fights, male or female. The others were 25 seconds, 49 seconds, 25 seconds and 39 seconds.

And though Rousey firmly believes she's more than a one-trick pony, she's not above using that perception to her advantage.

"If I am a one-hit wonder, what does that say about them for losing to me then?" she said. "If people are upset that I got a chance, I'll be honest: I don't really give a [expletive]. Did they want me to say I didn't want the title shot? Did they think I should have just sat back and kept quiet and not tried to make my life better and improve my situation?

"Whenever you have success, you're going to have your share of detractors. I get it. If there are people who want to say I'm nothing more than an arm bar, well then prove it. I'm a fighter and I have had to fight for everything I've gotten. I haven't been given a thing. And that's exactly what I'm going to keep doing."

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