Salsa Connects the Dots from Rousey to “The Rumble in the Jungle”

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Photo by Dan Shapiro

Rare is the discussion about MMA that veers off into a tangent about salsa music. Then again, not every mixed martial artist is UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

With a little more than two weeks to go until her UFC 193 title defense against Holly Holm, Rousey recently revealed that she bumps the tunes of salsa great Hector Lavoe in the training room. And while she’s often been cited as MMA’s answer to boxing legend Mike Tyson on account of her quick finishes, Rousey is using the sounds of salsa to find synergy with another pair of boxing greats: Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

“[Coach] Edmond [Tarverdyan] says that’s the rhythm of boxing,” explains Rousey in reference go Lavoe’s extensive discography, which spanned from the late 60s until 1988.

But Lavoe’s music is more than just a rhythmic interpretation of fancy footwork and movement. It is the bridge that connects Rousey to Ali and Foreman’s battle in Kinshasa, Zaire, “The Rumble in the Jungle,” which will celebrate its 41st anniversary on October 30.

Then performing with the Fania All-Stars, Lavoe flew into Kinshasa to take the stage as part of a three-day festival leading up to Ali and Foreman’s historic bout. His music has been linked to boxing ever since.

When listening to Lavoe’s tracks, it’s easy to understand why salsa is so relevant to boxing. The four-four time signatures and timbale percussion elements instantly incite movement in the feet that is so precise and calculated that it can help any pugilist move in and out of the pocket and dance around the ring.

“I’ve really fallen in love with boxing in the process of doing MMA,” states Rousey, who also admitted that she no longer dons the judo gi or practices the martial art for which she was first known. “I do boxing almost all the time. And it’d be impossible to spend so much time on something and not fall in love with it in a way.”

With the entirety of her boxing training coming under the tutelage of coach Tarverdyan, whose influence has also brought Rousey closer to salsa and “The Rumble in the Jungle,” it is, actually, the decade-plus of international judo experience, that includes an Olympic bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, that is helping Rousey make the final adjustments during the last stages of her training camp.

Preparing to fight Holm on the morning of November 15 at Melbourne, Australia’s Etihad Stadium, Rousey will, for the first time, compete inside the Octagon during daylight hours.

It’s a small detail for an athlete who has already traveled around the world for over 10 years, participating in international competition. But any change to a training regiment can potentially be detrimental to preparation.

Rousey, however, disagrees.

“When I did judo it was always like that. I would weigh in that morning and then fight an hour and a half after that. So if anything, I have more experience with that format – more than she or anybody else does,” comments Rousey. “Ever since I was a kid, I was taught to wake up and then go fight … when I fight now, I go into the locker room, I lay down and take a nap first. They wake me up, I do a short warm up and I go. If anything that’s what I’m the most comfortable with.”

So with her international judo experience providing the necessary perspective to prepare for a mid-day fight, which is expected to set the UFC’s attendance record, Rousey can now focus on her new love, boxing. And every time she pressures Holm in the cage, Rousey can remember Lavoe’s sweet salsa rhythms because, hey, if they were good enough for Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, they’re good enough for any fighter.


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