Ronda Rousey is amazing. Simply amazing. The UFC women’s bantamweight champion possesses world-class Judo, and apparently some highly-effective Muay Thai as well. Her propensity for snatching and breaking arms was developed at an age before most kids can ride a bicycle without training wheels. As a competitor, she’s given us very little to criticize. The problem with Rousey is that she may quickly run out of competition. With Sara McMann bumped out of the picture, the women’s 135-pound division currently lacks athletes who can legitimately challenge Ronda’s dominance.
If Cristiane “Cris Cyborg” Justino does in fact drop to 135 and is signed to the UFC, a super-fight years in the making could take place. Cyborg is a challenge for any woman, and some men. Her athleticism, power, aggressiveness, and diverse set of skills have brought her nothing but victories for the last nine years (except for that one no-contest). Needless to say, the former handball player turned fighter may be the biggest — and most profitable — test lurking in the future for Rousey, assuming that Cyborg ever settles her beef with Dana White.
Outside of that, there are painfully few challengers that the UFC could throw at Ronda, and call it a “competitive matchup” with a straight face.
I was beyond excited to see Rousey take on Cat Zingano, whose striking skills and power, purple belt in BJJ, and high-level wrestling background make her more than qualified to give Rousey a great fight. Watching her finish Miesha Tate toward the end of their three-round back-and-forth battle gave me confidence in her abilities to contend for the title. However, after her knee injury and the devastating loss of her husband, she has been sidelined for the time being. According to her manager Ed Soares, however, she could be ready to step back into the cage “as early as June.”
There is one other women fighting outside the UFC, who I believe would be an interesting and tough match-up for Ronda Rousey. Holly Holm is an incredibly accomplished boxer, on a level we have not seen in either women’s or men’s MMA. With a astonishing 18 boxing titles in three weight classes, and a kickboxing record of 2-1, Holly steps into the cage with a striking background most MMA fighters would fear. With five KO/TKOs (including four via kicks) and one decision in her professional MMA record, she would seem to be her way to being signed by the UFC — as long as her management and the UFC can agree on a price. These are the women I see putting on exciting fights against Rousey, and the fact that only one of them is currently under contract with the UFC is a bit of a problem.
Rousey is great for the UFC, and she might very well be the promotion’s biggest star as of right now. Having her as a champion is a good thing, but without quality opponents, her pay-per-view buys will drop and her star will fade, as fans lose interest in the latest Ronda Rousey squash-match. The three women mentioned above would hypothetically make for better fights than the champ has had in the UFC so far, but there is no guarantee that she will ever fight any of them. Cyborg may not make weight, or get signed. Cat Zingano may not come back to fight at the top level, and Holly Holm may continue fighting on MMA’s regional circuit, competing in boxing and kickboxing on the side.
Women’s MMA is several years, if not a full decade behind the men’s divisions in terms of competition and depth of talent. There are fewer fighters, fewer weight classes, and fewer opportunities for women to compete. But the tide is turning. Ronda may remain on top, unchallenged for years until the sport catches up to her and young athletes who have been training all of their lives (like the champ herself) start fighting in the Octagon. In the meantime, I hope for the sake of the sport — and for Ronda Rousey herself — that we get to see her in competitive match-ups against the existing cream of the crop. Until then, we can only wonder how far ahead of the game she really is.