From the very moment Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” hit the Honda Center in Anaheim, California at UFC 157, the mainstream MMA audience familiarized itself with one half of quite possibly the biggest fight in the sport’s history.
Sporting a mug as mean as her game, Ronda Rousey stepped into the Octagon and solidified herself as the undisputed UFC women’s bantamweight champion for the world to see. Liz Carmouche proved she stood a greater chance than many of us had given her credit for, but it was Rousey and her patented first-round armbar victory that stole the show.
A UFC darling from February 2013 to August 2015, Rousey collected arm after arm, all while sprinkling in a few knockout and TKO victories in between. All this en route to further solidifying herself as one of the two most dominant female fighters the sport had ever seen.
The other half of that argument and second half to that mega-fight? Cris “Cyborg” Justino.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment Rousey entered Justino’s radar, but one can safely assume the former champion hasn’t left it since. One has to genuinely wonder, however, if she’s ever destined to leave it.
Rousey stood atop the mixed martial arts world for the better part of two years, relishing in the spotlight while the likes of Cat Zingano, Bethe Correia, Alexis Davis, Sara McMann and Miesha Tate all failed to usurp the throne. As frequently as Rousey was featured in the media, her name always remained on the tip of “Cyborg’s” tongue.
Could Rousey’s judo be enough to thwart Justino’s forward pressure?
Would “Cyborg’s” brute strength overpower whatever strategy Rousey put in place?
Who, when all was said and done, would reign supreme as the world’s top female fighter?
All questions the world still doesn’t have answers to. Even as Rousey makes her return to the Octagon from a yearlong layoff this December and UFC President Dana White plants the seeds to regrow interest in a potential super-fight between MMA’s two most popular fighters, there’s little to indicate that those answers will be available to us anytime soon.
Outside of White’s claims, Rousey has yet to publicly claim she has any interest in facing Justino. What’s more, she’s yet to state she has any desire to go against her previous demands of forcing “Cyborg” to make the dangerous cut down to 135 pounds before welcoming the fight altogether. With how much we’ve seen of the Brazilian’s struggles to make 140 pounds, a drop down to the bantamweight limit seems effectively impossible.
What doesn’t seem impossible at the moment, however, is a suitable consolation fight between Justino and MMA’s second most popular bantamweight fighter: Miesha Tate.
Ranked No. 1 in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division and fresh off what she considers to be the worst performance of her pro career, Tate admits she has an interest in testing herself with the sport’s most devastating striker.
“When I was the champ, they told me that they would not … do a catchweight, so either she has to meet you at 135 or you have to not be the champion,” Tate said on The MMA Hour. “So now that I’m not the champion, I technically could fight her at 140. I wouldn’t be against it. The thing is, I just feel like I have nothing to lose in that.”
Tate is right on the money, too. She doesn’t have anything to lose in fighting Justino. Unlike Rousey and Holly Holm, Tate’s chances of competing in a five-round championship fight all but disappeared the moment she tapped out in the opening round to relinquish her title at UFC 200.
Ranked No. 1 or not, fighters such as Julianna Pena, Valentina Shevchenko, Rousey and even Holly Holm have a greater likelihood of fighting for the title before Tate gets another shot. Needing four straight wins to barely be considered for a shot at the crown at UFC 196 (and only after Rousey deemed herself unable), Tate would likely need to hit a similar mark before the UFC granted her a third title shot inside the Octagon.
Beyond all of that, we’ve seen Tate lose several times before. This isn’t Rousey coming back to prove she’s still one of the best fighters who merely had an off night against Holm, or Holm restarting her climb after welcoming bad matchups in 2016; this is “Cupcake” doing what she’s done throughout her entire career: welcoming the toughest challenges the world had available.
“You’re fighting a girl who’s such a powerhouse and such a beast and just crushing girls,” Tate said. “If I went in there and I beat her, or even gave her a solid run for her money, it says a lot. So I wouldn’t be opposed to doing it, but it’s not something that’s been discussed.”
“Cyborg” vs. Tate would undoubtedly become one of the more popular female contests in MMA history; but the world likely won’t be able to help itself but compare it to the fight that could have — and should have — been. Rousey vs. “Cyborg” is the one we all want, regardless of how much steam Justino has gained and how much Rousey’s lost in recent years.
It may never come to pass, however. Not with what likelihood Rousey is to revert to her past preferences of meeting at bantamweight if she wins at UFC 207, or how irrelevant of a contest it would become if she lost for a second straight time at UFC 207.
We may very well have to settle Justino vs. Tate; only leaving us with a sour taste in our mouths based on what could have been.