The UFC 190 pay-per-view event at HBSC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, with a menu of seven bouts instead of the usual five, was like that punch-line restaurant where the food might not be so good but at least there’s plenty of it.
No righteous review would deny that Ronda Rousey can cook. The problem is that her portions are so small. The last time we saw her, she microwaved her opponent in 14 seconds. The time before that, she fried someone in 16 seconds. On Saturday night she went to the slow cooker, by her standards, requiring a full 34 ticks of the clock to face-plant a sacrificial lamb named Bethe Correia and retain her UFC bantamweight championship.
That Rousey (12–0) had her hand raised at the end of this endless night was a surprise to no one. Not the fans. Not the pundits. Not the oddsmakers. Not even the UFC, which already had gotten the promotional choo-choo chugging out of the station for a third Rousey vs. Miesha Tate title fight down the tracks. Saturday felt like a fait accompli, this short, sadistic dance with an in-over-her-head 32-year-old Brazilian who came in at steep 18:1 odds.
When you think of it that way, it’d be natural to conclude that this W doesn’t elevate Rousey’s stock even a little. The 28-year-old Californian already was No. 1 on SI.com’s MMA pound-for-pound fighter list; there was nowhere to go but down. But if there were style points to be had, “Rowdy Ronda” grabbed them with gusto in this profoundly breathtaking performance.
Correia (9–1) was thought to have a brawler’s razor-thin chance (if she brought in the razor, maybe?) because she punches with aggressive abandon. The thinking was, however, that this would put her within the perilous Rousey wheelhouse, and one of her arms would pay the price. But the champ didn’t go for her usual special of the day, the armbar she’d used to finish her first eight victims. Lately the 2008 Olympic bronze medal judoka has taken to the knockout. Saturday’s win was her third KO in four fights, this one accomplished via her own aggression.
• UFC 190: All the results from Rio de Janeiro
Annihilating opponents at their own game was what made Jon Jones the top fighter in the sport, pound for pound, before he got himself suspended from the UFC, facing a court date amid allegations from a hit-and-run auto accident, and replaced at the top of the pound-for-pound heap by Rousey. So while she might not have dressed up her resume much with this holster notch, the champ did unveil a whole new side of her game that future opponents will have to worry about. Oh well, at least the worry will be brief before it ends violently.
Rousey had talked during the lead-up to Saturday about this one being personal. In so doing, she’d sounded like a fighter desperately trying to sell a monumental mismatch. But there was some legit heat. Correia had made a tasteless comment to Brazilian media in which she teasingly implored her opponent to “please don’t kill yourself; don’t commit suicide.” Rousey, whose father took his own life, did not take kindly to the trash talk. “Suicide is no joke or selling point,” she wrote on Twitter. “My father will be with me the day I hand you the comeuppance you deserve.”
The comeuppance was swift, relentless and brutal. Rousey and Correia charged to the center of the cage at the start, and the rock-’em-sock-’em exchange began. The challenger landed a couple of punches but mostly looked overwhelmed and frozen by the champ’s fury. Rousey just kept throwing punches. Even when she missed looping rights she continued to push the assault. Correia briefly clinched, but she seemed to instantly understand the folly of that and pulled away, falling to her back and rolling over to get off the ground. As soon as the hapless challenger regained her feet, back against the cage, the barrage of Rousey lefts and rights lit her up until a straight right hand connected on the temple and sent Correia right back to the mat. This time she went there face first.
The arena in Rio went electric. Social media lit up.
"The Rowdy Ronda Show" is a sparkling extravaganza, even when her supporting cast doesn’t have any believable scenes onstage. Correia, though undefeated, was the least qualified of Rousey’s six challengers. Earlier in the evening, a different Brazilian woman, Claudia Gadelha, did give the home country fans what they came to cheer for, earning the next title shot at strawweight with a strong outing. But the rest of main card was split between Brazilian reality show contestants who aren’t ready for prime time and legendary names (and nicknames)—“Shogun” Rua, “Minotouro” Nogueira, “Bigfoot” Silva—who are near or even past their expiration date.
And the pacing, oh, the pacing.
With six other fights on the main card, it was 1:20 a.m. ET when the PA system in Rio began playing Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and Rousey started her mean-mugging strut to the octagon. It was 1:25 when she was introduced to a rousing noise, much of it cheers, something no foreign fighter ever had heard prior to a bout in Brazil against a native son or daughter. And while it was just moments later that Rousey had made quick work of another opponent, did the UFC really think it was wise to keep its biggest crossover star offstage until the middle of the night?
Passionate MMA fans would love to see Rousey tested in a bout—cough, cough, “Cyborg” Justino—but it doesn’t appear that her squash act is growing tired. And casuals who know Rousey mainly from Hollywood or the ESPYs or the SI swimsuit issue have no clue how low-level this latest fight was and don’t seem to care.
Rousey has drummed up passion among people who are deeply into MMA as well as people who don’t even care for the sport, but love this woman. She’s a star unlike anything the UFC has seen, crossing over into worlds into which the promotion had not yet been invited. Last month the promotion got a boost from a different breed, Conor McGregor, an Irishman both loquacious and lethal, a primo salesman with appeal unmatched within the MMA bubble. There’s been talk comparing the spectacular gleen of these two.
But late on Saturday night we learned that we might soon get to see them side by side. Rousey expressed an interest in fighting on the same card as McGregor, and UFC president Dana White pounced on the idea. Speaking to Fox’s Ariel Helwani, White said Rousey vs. Tate III probably will share a bill with McGregor’s bid to trade in his interim featherweight title belt for the real thing, currently worn by José Aldo. The UFC poobah said that double dip of “wow!” probably will take place in December at 105,000-capacity AT&T Stadium in Dallas.