On Saturday night, Ronda Rousey defeated Alexis Davis via knockout after 16 seconds. Davis was the third in the line of “Fighter X” contenders that Ronda has faced. Like Liz Carmouche and Sara McMann, UFC built Davis up as the biggest threat that Rousey has even faced.
Indeed, all three were legit contenders. They had beaten other fighters in the weight class and deserved their title match from a pure sports perspective. It was just that no one outside the hardcores know who these women are. At this point it’s not even a big deal, Rousey fights will draw based on Rousey for now.
At what point will Ronda v Fighter X cease to be a money drawing proposition?
As one of the few draws in the UFC, Rousey needs to have an opponent that differs from the ‘legit contender’ type. There’s a ton of fighters in the Bantamweight division that could step up at any point and draw a Rousey baseline PPV number. Jessica Eye, Amanda Nunes, Jessica Andrade could all step up and get a title fight. They won’t get anybody on the fence to buy the show by themselves but they work as a fine semi main under an established star ala this weekend.
Cat Zingano is the only fighter under contract that can fight Rousey both as a reasonable threat and someone who’s story can connect to that on the fence PPV buying audience. She finished Miesha Tate and was expected to fight Rousey on the year end show. Life got in the way though and she was forced to pull out after a torn ACL. Then in January, her estranged husband Maurice Zingano committed suicide.
After this awful turn of events, Zingano decided to keep training for a return and to get a shot at the belt. The Countdown/Primetime specials leading to the fight could be all time great.
Until Ronda Rousey caught fire, the biggest female MMA fight in history was Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino beating Gina Carano in the main event of a Strikeforce event in August 2009. As a main event it drew nearly 14,000 fans to the HP Pavillion, the fifth biggest attendance in Strikeforce history. It also outdrew UFC 139 from the same venue with a Dan Henderson v Shogun Rua main event.
Signing Carano for a fight with Rousey would be generate great interest. Gina was the poster girl for women’s MMA before Rousey. The issue would be that Carano hasn’t fought since the Cyborg fight and doesn’t deserve the fight from a pure sports perspective. The UFC doesn’t book fights based on that perspective though, they book fights based on what will draw the most money from all available options.
Bring Cyborg back would be easier and harder than ever at the same time. Cyborg is the 145lb champion of Invicta Fighting Championship which has a strategic partnership with the UFC. Indeed Invicta shows will soon be exclusively on UFC Fight Pass. UFC recently took eight fighters from the promotion for their inaugural strawweight division so it’s conceivable that they could acquire the contract of Cyborg for the fight.
The pretty girl v bodybuilder dynamic worked on a smaller scale with Strikeforce and could draw ridiculous money and interest if promoted correctly by the UFC. It should undoubtedly be the biggest women’s fight in MMA history. We don’t know what the ceiling is for women’s MMA but this would be a good estimate.
The biggest hurdle is that Cyborg has failed in the past for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid. The allegations of performance enhancing drug use has followed Cyborg around her entire career with critics pointing our her physique and aggression levels when compare with similar sized female athletes. In the wake of Chael Sonnen failing a drug test for FIVE different substances and the mess involved with licensing Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort, one could argue that signing Cyborg would send a pretty strong message about how the UFC tolerates PED abuse.
With more shows than ever, UFC is dangerously close to having a Ronda Rousey fight turn from a ‘Can’t Miss’ to a ‘Meh’ proposition. For the sake of their buyrates they need to have some real money opponents ready soon.