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Nunes wins the long-awaited Rousey sweepstakes

Amanda Nunes celebrates after defeating Miesha Tate during their women's bantamweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 200, Saturday, July 9, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

The moment Ronda Rousey’s body was removed from its consciousness and forced to give into the demands of the world’s gravitational pull, mixed martial art’s greatest sweepstakes was born.

Rousey, inarguably the most popular MMA fighter at the time (and even perhaps to this day), had just suffered the taste of defeat for the first time in her professional career. After running roughshod against almost all of the elite fighters in the UFC’s 135-pound division, she ran into Holly Holm; and her jab, and her straight left, and her standing elbow, and her left high kick.

In what seemed remarkably unlikely in the moments prior to UFC 193’s main event, Holm pulled off the upset of the millennium.

In doing so, she set herself up for what would easily have been the biggest fight of her — or anybody else’s — professional mixed martial arts career. UFC 200 seemed but a perfect date for Holm vs. Rousey II; bringing together the most popular fighter on the planet, and the woman who just defeated her on the very platform that brought her such unforeseen fame. The most conservative of pundits would have dubbed UFC 200: Holm vs. Rousey II one of the biggest Octagon pay-per-views of all time; those more comfortable in statements of hyperbole would have understandably had it pegged as a lock to break all the records.

Only, as fate would have it, Holm vs. Rousey II would not take place at UFC 200. With the way things are playing out in 2016, there’s a decent chance Holm vs. Rousey II never takes place.

Holm, a prizefighter at her core, took matters into her own hands. Rather than wait for Rousey to make her blockbuster return eight months after their contest at UFC 193, “The Preacher’s Daughter” opted to stay busy and defend her crown. Much to the dismay of UFC President Dana White, Holm vs. Miesha Tate took place at UFC 196. Best-case scenario had Holm vs. Rousey II take place at UFC 200; worst-case scenario and the mega PPV event would have to go without the blockbuster title fight.

For the better part of four rounds, it seemed as though Holm had made the wise call of staying active and defending her crown against Tate. She moved as efficiently as she did against Rousey, though she was unable to replicate the same sort of success with her striking.

Then came Round 5, and all hopes of seeing Rousey return to face Holm for the title had all but dissipated. A costly takedown forced Holm onto the canvas. Her clear inexperience in competing against a high-level grappler forced Holm to slip into a brief sleep. She was no longer the champion. As a result, the opportunity to face Rousey in a blockbuster rematch (one as pure and meaningful, anyway) was gone.

That opportunity now belonged to Tate. While it wasn’t quite as big of a title fight, there was enough history between Rousey and the newly crowned champion to fulfill the public’s need for narrative.

Only, like the champion that came before her, Tate had zero interest in sitting on the sidelines in hopes of remaining on the throne if and when Rousey finally decided it was time to make her comeback. She, like Holm, wanted to keep the division rolling along, rewarding the hard-working contenders that earned a shot at the bantamweight title.

First up in Tate’s popular reign was Nunes, a dominant Brazilian slugger with 12 stoppages in 11 victories. With only about five months left before Rousey was expected to return in December or early January, Tate needed only one more victory to secure the big-ticket fight. Facing a notoriously fast starter with a small gas tank, surviving the first round was key to Tate’s game-plan coming into the main event at UFC 200.

Tate, however, despite all her toughness, barely survived three minutes with the vicious, hungry challenger. Breaking Tate’s nose and will in a matter of minutes, Nunes took the UFC title far quicker than Tate did just three months prior.

Nunes — the woman who beat the woman who beat the woman who beat the woman — now gets her chance to actually beat the woman. Criticized by some for denying Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena of deserved title shots, “The Lioness” opted to wait on the sidelines as a potential matchup against Rousey was only five months away from becoming a reality.

A dark horse contender to actually win the title, Nunes became the champion just in time for the return of the most popular female fighter on the planet. What’s more, she — more than the woman who held the title before her — has a strong chance to spoil Rousey’s big return in potentially handing her a second devastating loss in as many fights.

She may be ridiculed by the likes of Shevchenko, Pena and those who support them, but this was the wise decision. A fighter who’s been calling out the UFC’s golden girl for the better part of her three-year UFC career, this was the only decision.

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