After 14-second victory, will we finally see a Rousey vs. Justino matchup?
So much to say, so little time.
Like, 14 seconds.
No, that’s not the amount of time we have here to illustrate, assess and sing the praises of Ronda Rousey -- we could go on for an eternity, and we will, long after she’s finished decorating what might become the gaudiest resume in the annals of fighting.
That “14 seconds” was in reference to the slim chapter added this weekend to The Book On Ronda Rousey, because that’s all the time it took her to finish off the woman she’d described before their fight as “the toughest chick I’ve ever come across.” Cat Zingano contributed greatly to the brevity of the UFC 184 main event Saturday night, charging across the octagon at the start with a bold, if reckless, flying knee. From there we got a concise clinic on virtuosity, all courtesy of the champion.
A lot happened in those 14 seconds at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and that it happened so quickly made its precision all the more astonishing. The flying knee missed, but Zingano used her momentum to grab hold of Rousey and drag her to the canvas. It was “Rowdy Ronda” who landed in the advantageous position, though, and that was no accident. She’s been scrambling at a high level ever since she was a teenage judoka with an Olympic dream. So of course Ronda ended up on top. She always does.
From there, Rousey’s transition to a submission hold was swift and a bit abra cadabra. Seeing her finish with an armbar was nothing new -- that’s always been her weapon of choice, as inimitable and inevitable as a Kareem skyhook. She has ended nine of her 11 victories with armbars. But none from the past were quite like this one, which came out of nowhere, like a rabbit from a top hat. It was all legs and hips that trapped the right arm and in one instant snuffed out all nine of Cat’s lives.
Fourteen seconds. The fastest finish ever in a UFC championship fight, and tied for the fastest submission in the promotion’s two-decade history. It was Rousey’s eighth win in under a minute. Her last two fights have gone a combined 30 seconds. Her last three, barely a minute and a half.
To refer to Ronda Rousey as dominant -- as we’ve done ever since she burst on the scene in 2011 and ascended to the top of the game in less than a year -- now feels like understatement. We’re watching early Mike Tyson carving a path of destruction.
But where does Rousey Road lead from here?
“Rowdy Ronda” already has established herself as the biggest star in the UFC. The buy rate for UFC 184, the third pay-per-view Rousey has headlined, might not bear that out, but star power takes many forms. Ronda is the one athlete in the promotion whose appeal has crossed over into the mainstream, both in sports and in the culture at large. She appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and was in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue. Within the next few months, she has two major Hollywood movies coming out, Furious 7 and Entourage. Late-night talk show hosts from Conan to Kimmel love having her on. She’s burst out beyond the MMA bubble.
Inside the octagonal bubble, though, what’s next? Now that Rousey has taken out Zingano, there simply are no challengers left in the UFC women’s bantamweight division. There are only sell jobs. Carnival barker Dana White will be getting back to us about one of them someday soon, but on Saturday night Rousey took the opportunity to address the situation herself. “I was really impressed with Holly Holm tonight; I always like to test myself against that level of striking,” she said during an interview in the cage after her short night’s work. “And Bethe Correia, she’s undefeated; I’d like to take that ‘0’ away from her.”
Hmm. Let’s just say that if Rousey’s armbar skills were at the level of her salesmanship chops, she wouldn’t have a single win on her record. Sorry, Ronda, we’re not buying either Holm or Correia as a legitimate threat. Yes, Holly won in Saturday’s co-main event, but a split decision victory over Raquel Pennington doesn’t beget a title shot. And as for Bethe, sure, she’s beaten two of Rousey’s close friends, so there’s some heat there. But neither Jessamyn Duke nor Shayna Baszler was ranked, and neither have been any of the others on whom the Brazilian has built her 9-0 record. Because the UFC loves a good story line, Correia might indeed get the next shot. But she has no shot.
There’s only one fight for Ronda Rousey. The UFC knows this. It was no coincidence that on the same weekend that the 29-year-old Californian was defending her belt at the Staples Center, the company’s online streaming service, UFC Fight Pass, broadcast an MMA show held two miles away at Shrine Auditorium. Headlining the Invicta FC card was a 46-second KO by Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, who before Rousey came along was the alpha female of combat sports. She believes she still is, and she’s not alone in that belief. It’s time to find out.
There are complications. There always are complications (see Mayweather vs. Pacquiao). Justino competes at 145 pounds, Rousey at 135. And because Ronda is the champion of her division, both she and Dana White have insisted that a “Cyborg” bout must be contested at bantamweight. Justino, a 29-year-old out of Curitiba, Brazil, has said she’ll try to cut those extra 10 pounds for what would be the biggest fight in women’s MMA and one of the biggest in the sport, period.
Justino’s manager, George Prajin, told ESPN that “we’re working hand-in-hand with the UFC.” There’s even a plan in place: “Cyborg” will fight July 10 for Invicta at 145 pounds, then make the cut to 135 for another Invicta bout in the fall. If all goes well, Rousey vs. Justino could happen by the end of the year.
This makes some sense from a business standpoint, even as it applies to personnel matters. It allows Justino to take her time with the weight cut, and allows Rousey to go off and film a movie -- a plan she alluded to in Saturday’s post-fight press conference, without revealing the film she’ll be working on. Invicta gets a couple more nights in the spotlight. The UFC maybe gets to squeeze in a less risky Rousey defense. Building up the suspense a little appears to work for all parties involved.
Well, almost all parties. The fans’ hopes must hang in the balance while all of this plays out. Maybe the Tyson Effect has numbed us to the lack of competition in front of Rousey. Maybe plopping down $60 to watch a 14-second fight is a worthwhile expenditure when you consider that you’re witnessing greatness unparalleled. But patience is a virtue not shared by sports fans. We see a fight for the ages on the horizon, and we want to reach that horizon posthaste. We want John McCathy to be standing in the octagon RIGHT NOW, flanked by Ronda Rousey and Cris “Cyborg” Justino, and to say “Let’s get it on!” We don’t want to wait until year’s end to hear those words.
If I am “Cyborg,” I’m skipping dessert tonight. I am immediately declaring myself to be the love child of Mike Dolce and Jenny Craig. I am going to get to 135 pounds as quickly as I can, because that’s where the money is. And it might not still be there if I take my sweet time. Stuff happens. Maybe Ari Gold, fresh off the Entourage set, makes Rousey a Hollywood offer that takes the fight out of her.
The other reason Justino should act with haste: Rousey gets better and better every passing day. If this summit meeting had taken place around the time when Ronda defeated Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce belt, “Cyborg” likely would have been the favorite. (It cannot be ignored that one good reason the fight couldn’t have taken place was that, following a December 2011 fight in that same promotion, Justino tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol.) Back then, Ronda was an Olympic medal-winning judoka with no standup game to speak of. Today, she’s rounded out her skill set and is an all-around elite fighter.
Factoring in the significant “Cyborg” weight cut, I’d now favor Rousey if this fight comes to be. But, actually, I’d prefer that there be no extra cut. If Ronda were to defeat a Justino who looks gaunt from a severe weight loss, it would taint the victory. There still would be doubts.
There’s no need for doubts. Rousey won her Olympic judo bronze medal at 70 kilograms, or 154 pounds. She began her MMA career at 145 pounds. Why not meet “Cyborg” halfway, at 140? That’d be a badass move, and Ronda is as badass an athlete as there is. C’mon, save us from having to cover our eyes while Rousey and Justino ravage overmatched stopgap opponents in the meantime.
Let’s make the thing happen, UFC belt be damned. The belt is a marketing tool, and this fight needs no such thing. It will sell itself. It already has. On a weekend in L.A. when a 145-pound Cris “Cyborg” Justino won in 46 seconds and 135-pound champ Ronda Rousey got it done even more quickly, in 14 seconds, the fight that needs to be made is right there in front of us. Dana White & Co. even can recycle a promotional line of recent vintage. The time is now.