Ronda Rousey has become the first female champion in UFC history! Hooray hooray! And it couldn’t have happened to a more dominant champion. Unfortunately, another dominant champion has been left on the outside looking in. Does Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche leave “Cyborg” Santos out in the cold?
Yesterday, U.S. Olympic judo medalist and Strikeforce champion Ronda Rousey made history by becoming the first ever female champion in UFC history.
That she won her title via an announcement at a press conference should matter little. As Rousey herself pointed out, WEC champions Jose Aldo and Dominick Crucz were both “gifted” their UFC titles as well – and no one’s going to argue those guys aren’t legit titleholders.
And it’s the same situation with Rousey, who is undeniably the premier fighter in her weight class, perhaps even in all of women’s MMA. In fact, the only person who could challenge her position atop WMMA’s throne is fellow Strikeforce champ Cris “Cyborg” Santos, the lady who drove Gina “The Face of Women’s MMA” Carano out of MMA.
So what the heck is Liz Carmouche doing in the Octagon in Rousey’s debut fight?
When word of Rousey’s UFC debut originally broke on UFC Brazil, it was “Cyborg” who was her scheduled opponent. That story got pulled down pretty quickly, and Cyborg herself said the rumor wasn’t true.
What she also said, however, was that she had agreed to make the 135-pound weight limit, long a sticking point between the two ladies. Wait, that sound sort of wrong. Suffice to say, most fans assumed that this is the fight that would eventually be made.
The UFC’s decision to book Liz Carmouche against Ronda is probably a smart business decision. As far as women’s MMA goes, at the UFC level at least, Ronda is it. She’s the division. Until the talent pool has time to catch up to her, women’s MMA in the UFC is going to be the Ronda Rousey experience featuring everybody else.
I don’t want to be unfair to Carmouche, who is coming off of back-to-back stoppage victories in all-female Invictus FC promotion. The former U.S. Marine has a well-rounded skill set, but every time she has faced the elite of the 135-pound division – against Sarah Kaufman, and Marloes Coenen – she has come up short.
Rousey has proven she’s a greater threat than either of those two women.
So now that Rousey gets a easier passage into the UFC history books, where does that leave “Cyborg”? She hasn’t competed in nearly a year, having been forced to sit out after testing positive for Stanozol in her last fight. The positive test didn’t do a whole lot for the massive, ripped Santos’ goodwill amongst fans, that’s for sure. Only Alistair Overeem was a greater “of course!” failed test than she was.
But before that, there’s no doubting that she sat atop the food chain in women’s MMA. She hasn’t lost since her first professional fight in 2005. Since then, Santos has blazed a trail of destruction through women’s MMA, going undefeated in both the Strikeforce and Elite XC promotions.
Sure, she was rag dolling smaller opponents like a Brazilian She-Hulk – but so what? Do Brock Lesnar’s victories no longer count because he was a human tank who dwarfed all his opponents? If you can make the weight limit, the fight is legitimate. End of story.
Rousey vs. Santos is the premier fight in women’s MMA. The winner would undisputedly be the #1 female fighter in the world, and it would draw an insane amount of hype and interest for a women’s fight. The ceiling Gina Carano established could be shattered by this fight.
But it’s a huge risk, one the UFC and frankly Ronda don’t need to take. Fans will tune in to see her snap arms, no matter who’s arm it is being snapped. No opponent will draw the same level of interest and money as “Cyborg”, but no opponent is as great a threat to blow her out of the building either.
So with the UFC and Rousey playing it smart and safe, where does that leave Santos? Because while Rousey might not need Santos to draw big, Santos certainly needs Rousey to remain relevant.
Otherwise, she risks being lost in the growing cloud of Rousey-mania.