With the UFC women’s bantamweight belt around her waist and five title defenses to her credit, Ronda Rousey was the face of women’s MMA when she strutted onto the sport’s biggest stage to face Holy Holm in the main event of last November’s UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia.
But it’s been almost a full year since Holm introduced Rowdy Ronda to the canvas with the highlight-reel kick to the head that ended the longtime ruler’s reign and sparked the division’s ongoing power struggle—and the world she once dominated is now a much different place.
Nevertheless, despite Rousey’s surprisingly long layoff and the recent emergence of several qualified contenders, many still feel that she’s the best in the business, and last week, the UFC guaranteed that she’ll have a chance to prove it when it announced that a main event matchup between Rousey and current bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes has been set for UFC 207 on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas.
In what some are expecting to be her triumphant return to the top, Rousey will face a rock-solid opponent who possesses all the tools to ruin her semi-comeback. Not only is Nunes a heavy-handed striker who boasts both a brown belt in judo and a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, she’s also aggressive enough to chew through the former champ’s stand-up defence with the exact same deadly precision that sent Holm to the winner’s circle.
While some have questioned Nunes’ stamina and her ability to sustain that aggression beyond the first few rounds, the newly-crowned bantamweight queen was tested on her way to the title, defeating Rousey minion Shayna Basler, former title challenger Sarah McMann and the increasingly-dangerous Valentina Shevchenko before submitting Miesha Tate to claim the belt at July’s UFC 200.
If anyone is qualified to give insight on the challenge that awaits Rousey, it’s Tate, and according to the Brazilian’s latest victim, Rowdy Ronda may find herself in serious trouble on December 30th.
”It’s really, really, hard to say, because who knows what we’re going to get out of Ronda when she comes back,” said Tate during a recent interview on ”The MMA Hour”. ”If we’re getting Ronda at the best she’s ever been, then I’d say Ronda [will defeat Nunes]. But if we’re getting Ronda coming back with a half-ass mentality, kind of like ‘I just feel like I have to do this one time’, and she’s got a lot of ring rust and maybe she’s still punch-shy since she hasn’t fought since Holly, and we all saw that obviously Amanda has incredible power with her right hand—so if she [Nunes] hits Ronda with one of those, I could see it being a big problem for Ronda. A big, big problem.”
Obviously, one of Rousey’s biggest concerns following an absence that will extend to more than 400 days by the time she fights in December involves Octagon rust. Crucial aspects of any fighter’s skill-set such as timing and accuracy suffer during a layoff of that length, and jumping into the cage with a striker of Nunes’ calibre is like dropping a shaky swimmer into the middle of the ocean.
Throughout her reign, Rousey was so rarely challenged in the Octagon that an overblown sense of self-confidence was often her most obvious quality. Granted, ten straight victories between Strikeforce and the UFC, and championship belts with both promotions, could give almost anyone an attitude of invincibility. But the version of Rousey first revealed while she coached opposite Tate on ”The Ultimate Fighter” in 2013 exposed her as an arrogant and often immature bully who could’ve been mistaken for a ”Mean Girls” cast member, making it far more difficult to feel any sympathy for the fallen champ in the future.
After watching Rousey’s transparent attempt to up the dramatics before facing Tate, Holm, and Bethe Correia, last February’s tear-soaked appearance on ”The Ellen Degeneres Show” seemed almost hypocritical. Legitimate thoughts of suicide like the ones Rousey described are no joke, and she did lose her father to suicide. But imagine, if one of the opponents that Rousey so easily defeated during her reign reacted to the loss in the same exact way that she has since losing the belt to Holm, and appeared on daytime television saying exactly what Rousey said, what do you think she’d say about that fighter?
However, Rousey’s return isn’t about her past behaviour, extended absence, or status as a part-time ”actress”. It’s about giving a true pioneer of women’s MMA and an accomplished former champion a chance to reclaim her crown, and whether we like it or not, she’s earned it.