Outside the Octagon is a weekly column from UFC.com editorial director Thomas Gerbasi, who has covered the sport since 2000 and has authored the official UFC encyclopedia.
After Ronda Rousey’s 16-second destruction of Alexis Davis at UFC 175 earlier this month, it’s safe to say that UFC fans had mixed emotions about the performance of the women’s bantamweight champion.
Yes, it was spectacular.
Yes, it was dominant.
Yes, it was Rousey’s second straight sub-two minute win, and eighth in just ten fights.
But what it left was the question that at 135 pounds, who has a shot at beating the champion or even testing her? Sure, Liz Carmouche almost caught her in a rear naked choke at UFC 157, and Miesha Tate extended her into the third round in their UFC 168 bout, but at this point, “almost” and “good job” are considered victories.
So it was amusing that after taking no shortage of abuse for writing in this space a few weeks ago that Rousey brought the same feeling of menace to the Octagon that a prime Mike Tyson brought to the boxing ring, a lot of folks are on board with that sentiment.
Rousey is mean, she’s intimidating, she’s a finisher, and scariest of all, she’s getting better.
Who is her Buster Douglas though? Or better yet, who is her Evander Holyfield, the opponent who will refuse to be intimidated, who not only has the skill set but the attitude to not just test her, but to beat her?
UFC President Dana White, no stranger to all things Tyson as a diehard fan and friend of “Iron Mike,” probably knows this scenario better than most. And while he’s not looking to get any of his fighters knocked off, he is in the business of making the best fights possible, so even with number one contender Cat Zingano waiting in the wings and next on the Rousey hit list should she defeat tough Brazilian Amanda Nunes in September, the boss isn’t sitting idle and hoping for someone to emerge as a serious threat to the Rowdy Reign.
Instead, Dana White did what Dana White does. He’s made things happen. He hit the phones and the boardrooms, first signing unbeaten Holly Holm last week, with his next project being to bring former Strikeforce and Elite XC superstar Gina Carano back from Hollywood and into the Octagon.
Both would inject new life into the title picture in a division that is still ultra-competitive and exciting in spite of Rousey’s dominance. The amount of compelling matchups at 135 at the moment are endless, and with the Brazilian contingent of Nunes, Jessica Andrade, and Bethe Correia holding down the tail end of the top ten, Zingano’s return from injury getting fans amped up to see if she has the right stuff to topple Rousey, and veterans like Tate, Davis, Sara McMann, Sarah Kaufman, Jessica Eye, and Carmouche still dangerous, the weight class is stacked and strong.
But Holm and Carano still intrigue the most.
Albuquerque’s Holm is unbeaten in MMA, and she’s been training full-time in the sport since last year despite competing in it since 2011. You may wonder how she could have a shot at beating the champion, but look at her background and that idea becomes more realistic. A former kickboxer, Holm moved over to boxing and won multiple world titles, becoming the sport’s pound-for-pound Queen in an era that is the most talent-rich in its history. If you want to compare it to something, let’s just say Holm’s boxing is equivalent to Rousey’s judo. It’s something honed on the highest level against the best in the world, and it’s a trait she spent years in the gym perfecting.
Then again, Rousey, MMA’s armbar queen, has knocked out her last two opponents in a combined 82 seconds, which would lead most to say that Rousey’s striking would still beat Holm’s ground game in a fight. But wouldn’t it be something to see in the meantime?
The same can be said for a fight between the two most important women in WMMA history, Rousey and Carano. Yes, Carano has been making movies since her last fight against Cris Cyborg in 2009, and she lost that fight, but when she was active, she was one of the best in the game, a precision striker who beat everyone put in front of her not named Cyborg. And she hasn’t been far away from the gym in her absence either. When I spoke to her earlier this year, she not only said that she was training regularly, but that she also picked up her first gi and was learning the finer points of jiu-jitsu while also honing her Muay Thai game. She won’t say this, but I’m guessing that she always knew she was going to come back, and she’s prepared accordingly. And at this juncture, despite not being signed to the UFC yet, I don’t think anyone doubts that this deal will eventually get done. If and when it does, Rousey vs. Carano is the biggest fight in women’s MMA history, hands down.
And then there’s always Cris Justino, aka Cyborg, the current Invicta FC featherweight champion who has gone public with her desire to move to 135 pounds in December. If she makes that cut and shows that she can still compete at the same level as she has in the past, fight fans would certainly want to see that bad blood matchup with Rousey, who has made no secret of her disdain for the former Strikeforce wrecking machine. The feeling is mutual from the Brazilian’s side, making this another eagerly anticipated bout if it can be made.
Which fighter has the best shot at beating Rousey though? Is it Holm, Carano, and Cyborg, or will that woman with the ability to shock the world come from a pool consisting of Zingano, Eye, Tate, and the rest of the current UFC top ten?
At this point, none would be favored, but in the fight game, the favorites don’t always win.
Just ask Buster Douglas and Evander Holyfield.