Posted 04/15/2014 by McKinley Noble in UFC

Chasing Rousey: UFC Challengers’ Last Chance to Catch the Champ

At the moment, everything is fine with the UFC women’s bantamweight division.

Ronda Rousey is getting ready to defend her title again. She has a fresh (albeit promotionally dull) opponent in Alexis Davis. There’s a lot of young talent being cycled in and out of the weight class on a regular basis, and the upcoming 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter is on the horizon.

So why does everything feel so frantic?

Maybe it’s because, believe it or not, we may see Rousey retire next year, or, God Forbid, the end of this year.

And it could happen. Easily. There’s not much left for her to do, anyway.

Rousey is one of the UFC’s biggest stars. She made history as the first female UFC champion. She changed the history of combat sports as we know it.

Rousey’s book is written, and perhaps her UFC Hall of Fame spot is set, too.


Put that one in the UFC Time Capsule, boys.

Put that one in the UFC Time Capsule, boys.

But look again at the women’s bantamweight division, especially the fights lined up for this month. Sarah Kaufman vs. Leslie Smith. Miesha Tate vs. Liz Carmouche. Jessamyn Duke vs. Bethe Correia. Half of those are challengers that Rousey has already crushed (especially Tate), and the other half are little more than warm bodies that aren’t quite on-par with the challengers.

Is that enough reason for Rousey to stick around?

What’s the upside?

Title defenses against a division that just can’t catch up?

Either way, the women’s 135-pound title picture is an injury away from life support, and the UFC is doggedly doing everything they can to make money off Rousey while she’s still interested in defending her title.


Rousey, Tito, and the UFC Rush

Keep in mind, that UFC 175 date between “Rowdy” and Davis will mark the champion’s third title defense since December 28 last year.

That’s a span of only six months and eight days, an insane pace that’s only been matched by Tito Ortiz as the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. From December 16, 2000 to June 29, 2001, Tito ran through Yuki Kondo, the late Evan tanner, and what this author can only assume was a grossly-overmatched Elvis Sinosic. That took Ortiz six months and 14 days.

In hindsight, there was one obvious reason (well, a few) for Tito’s workrate. He was the sport’s biggest star, and he put butts in seats. Moreover, a cash-strapped UFC freshly bought by Zuffa would be silly to not make as much money off their super-heel headliner as fast as possible.

But with Rousey, things are a little bit different.

Although the UFC is wealthier than ever, they’re in the uncomfortable position of having lost major headliners in Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva, and Georges St-Pierre, not to mention the market pressure of a down pay-per-view market. In short, the UFC’s gold rush is over for now. That makes fighters like Jon Jones and Rousey all the more valuable, since they’re the only active fighters on the roster who can pull a PPV buyrate over 400,000 or better.

(That also assumes they keep winning.)

Without their blonde bombshell badass, the UFC rests on Jones’ shoulders, and Bones isn’t exactly a “company man” kind of guy.


The Hollywood Call

Unfortunately (and fortunately) for Zuffa, the beautiful and charismatic Rousey seems to have plenty of value outside of a cage fight.

Hollywood is calling to the young star louder than Dana White’s voice ever could, and without record-breaking blockbuster fights vs. Gina Carano, Holly Holm, or (again, God Forbid) the terrifying Cris Cyborg, you can bet that starring roles in The Expendables 3Entourage, and Fast and Furious 7 will just make the call even louder.

Heck, Rousey was probably paid more for those three movies than all the money she’s made in the UFC and Strikeforce to date.

She would be crazy to stick around, bouncing back and forth between shoots and training.

And it doesn’t help matters that MMA fans, for the most part, do their best to drive Rousey crazy.

At some point, you’ve got to wonder how long Rowdy will stick around, and exactly how much crap she’s willing to put up with from the sport in general.


Please, Give Rousey a Reason

That brings us back to Kaufman, Tate, Carmouche, and the rest of the UFC’s female fighters.

If there was ever a week to make a statement, this is it. If Kaufman clobbers Smith in their rematch, she should call out Rousey for a second fight. If Tate or Carmouche win an impressive battle, either one can easily use their name value to lobby for another Rousey headliner.

That goes double for Carmouche, who’s come the closest to actually beating Rousey outright.

Besides, if Sports Illustrated was right about Rousey’s contract being just a six-fight deal, then who’s to say that she might not cash out early?

Dana could always change her mind with a dumptruck full of cash, sure—but all the money in the world won’t do much if Rousey’s fights aren’t pulling weight on PPV or in the arena.

Rousey vs. Sara McMann was both a ticket sales and PPV disappointment, and Cat Zingano probably won’t do better when she’s healthy again.

Someone, anyone in the women’s bantamweight ranks needs to step up this month.

Make some noise. Pull a Chael Sonnen. Do something.

Because while the rest of the division can wait around for Carano, Holm, or Cyborg, don’t be too sure Rousey will slow down for anyone else.


McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist. His work has appeared in NVisionBleacher Report, PC World, Macworld, GamePro, 1UP, MMA Mania and The L.A. Times. Follow him at @KenTheGreat1 on Twitter.

McKinley Noble