Ronda Rousey, the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, is defending her title on Saturday night. She will win easily.
There’s a narrative here that the UFC will half-heartedly attempt to foist upon you. It goes something like this: There’s a hot, Brazilian fighter named Bethe Correia, who is 9-0 in her career. Since she entered the UFC two years ago, she has sent Julie Kedzie into retirement, and beaten two of Rousey’s closest friends and training partners as the champ looked on. (If this were a video game or an action flick, Rousey would be the shadowy final boss.) Additionally, Correia talks a lot of shit, and has said a) that she will beat Rousey down and b) that said beatdown will be the catalyst that drives Rousey to suicide. This would be run-of-the-mill, if unnecessarily raw, pre-fight bravado, but c) Rousey’s dad killed himself when she was a child, and d) she’s heartbroken to this day, so e) she reacted by vowing to fuck Correia up very slowly and torturously. She probably will fuck Correia up very slowly and torturously! But Correia just might go out there in front of her Brazilian countrymen and Make This Shit Happen! Tune in to find out (without the use of an illegal but free online streaming service)!
The far better narrative leading up to the fight, though, goes like this: Ronda Rousey is one of the most dominant athletes alive, and watching her while we can is a profound privilege, because we have never seen and will never again see anything like her.
Mixed martial arts is still a young sport, only a couple of decades old. Women’s MMA is even younger than that, partly because of sexism that has led to questions about whether women can fight or should fight that are still being asked right now, today. As befits a sport in its infancy, it is changing and evolving at an alarming clip, it can be pretty shitty at its worst, and its best days are still way ahead of it. Many men who fought successfully in the UFC 15 and 10 and even five years ago are now seen as primitive martial artists who weren’t particularly good fighters or athletes, and the same goes for many women currently competing. It’s within this context that Ronda Rousey exists. She is noticeably stronger and faster, as well as quicker in both action and thought, than any woman fighting anywhere in the world today. More frighteningly, she’s vastly more skilled than any woman who has ever thrown hands. She looks literally decades ahead of her competition, and the effect is something like if LeBron James had somehow been transported backward through time to the Civil Rights-era NBA. But this is fighting, not basketball, and so all of Rousey’s advantages manifest themselves in jaw-dropping and jaw-droppingly violent ways.
Three years after winning the bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Rousey made her professional MMA debut. Since then, she has fought 11 times, with nine of those fights taking place in Strikeforce and the UFC, the two promotions that boast the greatest female fighters in the sport. She remains undefeated, appears unbeatable, and has defended the 135-pound title six times in a career that spans just 25 minutes and two seconds. Rousey has finished every single fighter she has faced; only one of her opponents has made it out of the first round; and only four have made it out of the first minute of the first round. One of those four opponents is Sara McMann, who is notable for winning a silver medal in wrestling in the 2004 Olympics and is regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in women’s MMA. McMann lasted 66 seconds:
This fight itself, which took place in Feb. 2014, is notable for a few reasons. Rousey is a judoka, and so many of her techniques are from that sport. She customarily starts and finishes fights by striding across the cage, fighting her way inside, grabbing her opponent, and then tripping or throwing her to the ground. At that point, she perches over her opponent, her four limbs working independently and inevitably, like those of a kraken, toward the common goal of isolating one of her opponent’s arms from the body. Once she’s done that, she straightens the arm at the elbow and cranks backwards on it. Her opponent then submits, either just before or just after the elbow has been dislocated or the arm breaks.
The McMann fight matters, then, because Rousey slugged with McMann before grabbing and overpowering her, pushing her up against the cage, and ending the fight with fists, cutting elbows, and finally, a single knee. McMann was her ninth fight, but just her first TKO. It suggested that, yes, Rousey was physically too overwhelming for even other Olympians, but, more importantly, that she was getting better.
She proved it in her next fight five months later against Alexis Davis, a jiu-jitsu black belt. Rousey led with a couple jabs, then connected with a savage overhand right to the temple that stunned Davis. Rousey immediately recognized her opening and transitioned from boxing to judo, grabbing Davis, throwing her to the ground, and landing on top of her with Davis in a headlock. Rousey then punched her opponent flush in the face nine times in four seconds. When the ref stepped in, Davis was so wasted that she didn’t realized the fight was over, and wouldn’t let go of Rousey. When Rousey finally broke the hold, Davis then tried to fight the referee. The whole thing lasted 16 seconds, and fit into a GIF.
Rousey’s next fight was against Cat Zingano, undefeated in her own right and widely considered to be one of the baddest two or three women in the world. Rousey ended the fight with an armbar in 14 seconds.
This is all to say that in a very young sport largely featuring athletes who aren’t heavy, strong, or technical enough to knock their opponents out, Rousey is out here rendering people helpless in the time it takes to suck in three deep breaths through both striking and submissions. However you want to get fucked up, Rousey can fuck you up. Look how crisp her hands are here:
Bethe Correia is no doubt a brave and beautiful fighter. Bethe Correia will get fucked up.
The question, then, is what’s next for Rousey after she fucks up Correia. She’s only 28, and still so new to the sport that she has years left of developing and wrecking unlucky ladies who have proven themselves worthy of catching a beatdown. The problem is that there just aren’t enough women who are. Rousey said a few days ago that after Correia, she’ll fight Miesha Tate for the third time in her career. It makes sense. Tate is one of the best fighters around, and the two have bad blood. They fought for the first time in 2012 for the Strikeforce bantamweight belt. Tate, the defending champion, put on one of the toughest, most lionhearted and most futile displays in the history of MMA.
Rousey took her down immediately, and after 50 seconds Rousey was cranking on the champion’s left arm. Five seconds later, the elbow dislocated. But Tate didn’t tap, and because her elbow was now inverted, she was able to slither out. Her arm was wrecked, but Tate fought on. With a minute left, Rousey isolated the left arm again, and again she cranked, and again the elbow dislocated, and again Tate didn’t tap. Her arm was bending perversely the wrong way, and Rousey saw that she pulling on the joint was no longer effective, because the joint had already more or less exploded. So then she sat up, started pushing the arm the other way, and twisted. Rousey looked like she was trying to break apart a stubborn Buffalo wing. It was vile, and nauseating, and shrewd; more than that, it was ingenious and showed Rousey’s intimate, scientific knowledge of the human body and how to ruin it. Thirty seconds before the bell, Tate submitted.
It was one of the most grotesque finishes ever. Soon after, the UFC bought Strikeforce while acquiring its fighters, and a year and a half after their first fight, Tate challenged for Rousey’s title in their new promotion. She lasted two full rounds, during which Rousey showed that on top of everything else, she could battle at length and take a punch if prompted. Then Rousey submitted her with an armbar a minute into the third. Of Rousey’s 25 minutes in the cage, 15 and a half have been against Tate. Tate has lasted longer than all of Rousey’s other opponents combined, and is the closest thing the champ has to a rival. This is not, of course, to say that they are rivals. Neither fight was close, and when they fight again, Rousey will send one of Tate’s elbows the wrong way once more.
After Correia and Rousey-Tate III, the telegenic Rousey will film a movie alongside the telegenic Mark Wahlberg. Then she’ll fight someone else. The only fight that would produce any intrigue would be against Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, who might be the hardest hitter in the world, was once busted for taking steroids, fights at 145, and walks around at 175. Cyborg starves herself to get herself down to 145 and may not be able to physically get to 135, and Rousey has made it clear that she won’t move up to 145 or meet in the middle in a hypothetical bout. There’s also one other nasty detail: The UFC only holds women’s fights in the 135- and 115-pound weight classes, so Cyborg is under contract with Invicta, the all-women’s promotion. The two may never get in a cage together.
What is more likely is that Rousey, having fought her way through the sport, will be forced to turn around and offer the top fighters in the world like Correia and Zingano and whomever else the chance to step in the cage and leave concussed or missing one limb a second time. The tragedy of women’s MMA is its depth; Rousey represents both the potential of the sport and its pinnacle. Every other 135-pound athlete in women’s MMA is fighting for the honor to lose horrifically to its transcendent star.
It’s hard to imagine, but Rousey might one day lose. She might get caught with a lucky shot, and her body and mind may dull as she grows older. It’s hard to imagine, but someone training right now, inspired and spurred on by Rousey, could come along and even end up being better than Ronda Rousey as the young sport of women’s MMA hurtles forward to catch up and eventually, inevitably overtake the champion. Regardless, there will never be another Ronda Rousey, another athlete who was somehow transported backward through time to rip unlucky pioneers limb from limb even as she pulls her sport kicking and screaming into the future.
Photo Credit: Associated Press