Who can take on Ronda Rousey?
Ronda Rousey’s dominance was the driving force that pushed the Ultimate Fighting Championship to add women’s fighting two years ago.
Now, on the heels of Rousey’s pair of overwhelming first-round victories this year in defense of her UFC bantamweight belt, her superiority in the octagon creates a conundrum.
Is too much of a good thing a bad thing?
Rousey delivered a disabling knee to the gut of challenger Sara McMann for a technical knockout 66 seconds into their February fight, and she followed that last month with a 16-second TKO destruction of Alexis Davis.
But a significant element that fuels any fight’s ticket and pay-per-view sales is suspense over the outcome. With Rousey, though, the question seems to be when, not if, she will win. So her star power must carry the show.
“I can’t do anything right for some people,” Rousey said. “I train harder than all these girls. I’ve worked to be the best in the world. People still find something wrong with it. It’s not because I have no competition. The competition out there is amazing.
“It’s that I plan for every fight so precisely. … So I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all that I’ve been so dominant in my last couple fights.”
UFC President Dana White views Rousey (10-0 with 10 knockouts, nine in the first round) as his organization’s latest superstar, declaring that she is performing as he hoped when he signed her, carrying on a tradition of extended title runs by Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones.
Fretting about lopsided wins is “like saying they should have had some better fights for Mike Tyson,” White said. “The Tyson era was one of the most awesome eras in boxing history.
“You hear Ronda Rousey’s last fight went 16 seconds and you’re like, ‘Sixteen seconds?’ But what she did in those 16 seconds was un … believable. For 16 seconds, she traded punches, knocked [Davis] out with one, caught her under her arm, kneed her to the stomach, threw her and then hit her with about 15 punches. That all happened in 16 seconds.”
So who can he find as a credible challenger for Rousey?
White has negotiated recently with former Strikeforce women’s title challenger (and film actress) Gina Carano. But White says there’s “nothing new,” to report about a Rousey-Carano bout.
And he has considered renewing talks with muscular Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, who won the Strikeforce women’s featherweight title in 2009 by beating Carano. But Justino tested positive in 2011 for a steroid, and White is troubled by her history.
Then a few days after Rousey’s win over Davis, the UFC announced it had signed unbeaten mixed martial arts fighter Holly Holm, a former pro boxer and kickboxer who said the multi-fight deal followed months of negotiations.
“The 16-second [Rousey] knockout … it may have got them to say, ‘OK, let’s sign it now,’” Holm said.
Holm, completing recovery from a broken arm suffered in April, expects to make her UFC debut in November, followed by a shot at Rousey.
“There’s a lot of expectations on me as a stand-up fighter against her. It gives me motivation,” Holm said. “Ronda has a lot of things going for her beside her skill, starting with her belief in herself … and I wonder how confident the other girls are. That seems like the big difference. They might’ve been able to perform better with more confidence, but it’s crazy what mind games can do.”
Said Rousey: “Holly is a very interesting matchup — it’s great for me that she’s a very structured fighter.… It’ll be a much prettier fight.”
Rousey, 27, was a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist for the U.S. in judo, and she caught White’s attention by winning her first six MMA fights by first-round TKO, applying her famed armbar submission to end each.
“Even though she’s the best at the armbar, I guarantee she’s working on making it better, how to set it up better to get to that spot,” Holm said. “And she’s obviously working hard on her stand-up.”
Rousey said the right hook that destroyed Davis was the first she’s thrown in a pro fight, showing a willingness to develop her discipline to reach her goal of becoming one of the sport’s greatest fighters.
“Mike Tyson had some serious competition too, don’t forget. It wasn’t always easy,” Rousey said. “People knew from those fights to get there immediately.
“You never know what’s going to happen in one of my fights, either. That’s the advantage I have over my opponents and what draws the fans in so much. From the second my fight starts to the second it’s over, nobody sits down.”
Rousey is expected to fight again in December. White suggested the front-runner to fight Rousey is the UFC’s top-ranked bantamweight Cat Zingano (8-0), who has a Sept. 27 bout to get through first.
“Cat Zingano is no joke, she’s a very good fight for Ronda,” White said. “A lot of people who follow Holly Holm think she’s the answer to Ronda Rousey. There’s a lot of people out there who think Ronda Rousey can be beat. And all the Gina Carano talk.… Gina Carano fought ‘Cyborg’ …and that was a damn good fight.”
White, though, still chafes at the idea of pursuing Justino.
“I have a ton of issues with ‘Cyborg,’” White said. “As soon as I sign ‘Cyborg,’ they’re going to be talking to me about drug testing. … This whole aura of invincibility around ‘Cyborg’ and the people who don’t like Ronda who want her to fight ‘Cyborg’ … very weird dynamic.”
Meanwhile, Rousey is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, but she doesn’t anticipate any malaise in her next training camp despite her last two one-sided bouts.
“It’s impossible for that to ever happen with me,” she said. “The one thing that sets me apart from all these girls is that I work harder than them.”
There’s proof, Rousey said, that her chokehold on the bantamweight belt won’t threaten the future of UFC women’s fighting too.
The organization added a second women’s division this year — the 115-pound strawweight class.
“It’s good to have another division. I can have mine and [that belt] can be circulating around in that one,” Rousey said.
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire
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