The mark that Ronda Rousey is actively leaving on the sport of mixed martial arts is nothing short of spectacular. Her in-cage dominance, media mastery, social effectiveness and humble core work their way together to form a once in a lifetime athlete.
The unblemished resume that resides in Rousey’s back pocket includes a 12-0 professional record (6-0 UFC), 11 first-round finishes, nine stoppages under one minute, six consecutive UFC women’s bantamweight title defenses and zero opponents who withstood the 28-year-old’s pressurized violence.
Needless to say, the Hollywood crossover is one of the most decorated fighters in the history of MMA. Luckily for us, she’s only getting better every time she steps foot inside of the Octagon.
But despite the marvelous tapestry that Rousey has woven in a short three-year stint in the UFC, the 135-pound queen is not a perfect fighter. She may fight like an unstoppable tornado of timing and execution, but Rousey is not unbeatable.
For that, she must remain hungry to not only get better in the gym, but also inside of the cage (as hard as that is to believe). Because whether you’re Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre or Ronda Rousey, MMA offers uncertainty at every possible turn.
Rousey’s perennial greatness is truly exceptional, but her quest for career perfection is not nearly complete. She must individually gameplan for the seething women at her heels. Ones who represent the group of contenders standing in the champ’s way of eternal glory.
Here are those aforementioned challengers currently standing in Rousey’s way:
Some say Holm is just the next name to be picked, polished and prepped for the UFC’s main attraction. Others point out her perfect record and elite boxing skills as a potential means of debugging Rousey.
Either way you split it, it is going to be very difficult for “The Preacher’s Daughter” to escape UFC 193 this coming Saturday with the women’s bantamweight strap.
— UFC Aus/New Zealand (@UFC_AUSNZ) November 2, 2015
As a relatively untested fighter inside of an eight-sided ring, Holm is still in the teenage stage of her nine-fight MMA career. While Rousey has competed in only three more professional bouts, her grappling experience separates her from the pack.
Holm may in fact train alongside the likes of Jon Jones and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone as a member of Jackson MMA, but her experience inside of the Octagon has been limited to date (2-0 in the UFC). Unlike Rousey, she has never trained for a fight as big as the one she’ll have on Nov. 14 in front of 70,000 screaming fans.
Rousey will most likely feel Holm out in order to gauge her range, kickboxing and strength in the clinch, but it will only be a matter of time before she does what is needed to retain her belt.
A title defense over Holm sends Rousey directly into a clash with the surging Nunes. It’s a matchup that should have been made before Rousey vs Holm, but one worth waiting for.
With arguably the most explosive standup game in the division, Nunes is capable of testing Rousey’s footwork, parrying abilities and strength of chin should they find themselves striking in succession.
However, evident by Cat Zingano’s victory over Nunes at UFC 178, Rousey would be able to neutralize the 27-year-old Brazilian through wrestling, ground-and-pound and consistent pressure.
Nunes will find out that her best chance of winning resides in the first round, although that hasn’t worked out for anyone before her.
It’s difficult to rationalize a trilogy fight between Tate and Rousey. The champ has dismantled “Cupcake” on two separate, yet equally destructive, occasions.
So even though Tate currently owns a four-fight win streak, including victories over Jessica Eye and Sara McMann, the UFC remains hesitant to give one of their biggest female assets another shot at Rousey’s throne.
— Bloody Elbow (@BloodyElbow) November 3, 2015
However, they can only deny Tate for so long. One more victory, which would put her streak at a commanding five straight, should enable her to shoulder her way back into a championship tilt by the end of 2016.
As the only person to ever take Rousey out of the first round, Tate’s familiarity with the champ gives her an upper hand when compared to other divisional contenders. This includes her willingness to remain patient, defend the takedown and make Rousey exchange from long range.
People tend to overlook Pena as a serious threat to Rousey entering 2016.
But as a TUF winner with superior grappling skills, thunderous ground-and-pound and a will to win seen in only a few other ladies, “The Venezuelan Vixen” possesses undying potential within the division.
An unfortunate injury during training set her UFC career back, but she has recently racked off two dominant victories, including a unanimous decision win over Jessica Eye back at UFC 192. And despite her lack of big-fight experience, Pena is growing exponentially every time she competes.
With limited wins over ranked opponents, it is going to take at least two more decisive victories before the 26-year-old is considered a serious contender. But with microphone skills for days, she should have the opportunity to skip rungs on the divisional ladder.
Cristian “Cyborg” Justino
While contenders come and go by the year, it’s highly unlikely that any other names in the division can work their way toward a title shot by 2017.
This includes former standouts like Cat Zingano, Bethe Correia and Sarah Kaufman. Heck, Rousey may be unwilling to hand out second chances at this point.
But there is one name left on the list of fighters who can transform Rousey into a MMA goddess. That white whale is none other than “Cyborg.”
As arguably the best female striker in the world today, with the exception of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Justino represents the final stop on Rousey’s grand tour. She possesses the international popularity, pay-per-view appeal and abrasive fighting style to make a matchup with “Rowdy” the biggest in UFC history (including the men).
But first, Justino must prove she’s capable of making the 135-pound weight limit for a bantamweight title fight. Until that happens during her time on the Invicta FC roster, she’ll remain an unchecked item on Rousey’s Christmas list.