With Few Real Challenges Ahead, Ronda Rousey's Fighting Future Still Uncertain

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With Few Real Challenges Ahead, Ronda Rousey's Fighting Future Still Uncertain
USA TODAY Sports

Here’s what we know for sure about Ronda Rousey’s future in the Octagon: On Saturday she’ll take on Alexis Davis at UFC 175, she’ll win, and then she’ll go on a vacation.

Given that she opened as an eye-popping 20-1 favorite over Davis, we’d be fools to think anything else about how their fight will go. Rousey will come out of her corner, tinker with a few of the new toys she’s been refining in her striking game and then find a way to finish things, probably on the ground, probably during the first five minutes.

As for every other single thing in her professional life? Well, that’s all a lot more difficult to predict.

Rousey has been going pretty hard since coming to the UFC in February 2013. She’s grown into an industry unto herself, spearheading women’s MMA in a company and mainstream sporting landscape that had historically been dismissive of it. This will be her fourth title defense in 17 months and it’s not as though she’s lacking in other opportunities.

You can’t blame her for wanting to take some time off. The fact is, we thought she might be looking for a respite after beating Sara McMann this past February, but here she is, preparing to dispatch another overmatched opponent and retain her spot as queen of the Octagon.

The multimillion-dollar question lingering over Rousey’s career is: for how long?

If we are to take her at her word, not even the champion has any idea what’s next.

USA TODAY Sports

“I’m taking it one fight at a time,” she told MMA Junkie’s John Morgan leading up to UFC 175. “Everything is changing so fast and so many things are coming up so quickly that I really can’t think more than one day at a time.”

Rousey says she wants to take part in the UFC’s gala end-of-the-year show, but her opponent there is still very much To Be Announced. Rumors that Gina Carano would come out of retirement for a superfight have cooled considerably, but women’s boxing camp Holly Holm is said to be on the verge of a UFC deal, while erstwhile No. 1 contender Cat Zingano still hasn’t gotten her chance.

Of course, none of them is expected to have a realistic chance of beating Rousey.

The only woman who might is Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, and she continues to be at odds with UFC ownership. Rousey had some particularly ugly things to say about Justino during a recent media lunch—proving that either they really do hate each other or Rousey is secretly trying to entice her into the UFC—but each day that passes without a deal makes that fight start to feel more and more like a pipe dream.

Without Cyborg, the lack of competition may be hurting Rousey’s marketability. Her UFC 170 fight against McMann didn’t exactly light the box office on fire, and it remains to be seen how many fans will shell out the money to watch her trounce another, even heavier underdog this weekend.

Meanwhile, a second, possibly more lucrative career is heating up. Rousey has already filmed parts in The Expendables 3 and the big-screen adaptation of HBO’s Entourage series. With production ongoing on Fast & Furious 7 and a part in another big-budget Warner Bros. vehicle in hand, people are publicly beginning to wonder if her Octagon days are numbered.

Arthur Mola/Associated Press

Without much serious competition on the horizon, it’s pretty easy to imagine that proposed December fight—especially if it comes against a high-profile patsy like Carano—could be her last, if it even happens at all.

For her part, Rousey is not making any big promises about how long she’ll stick around.

“You never know how you’re going to feel after a fight,” she told Morgan. “The fights themselves really affect how you feel. If it’s a five-round war, I might not have as many rounds left in me. If it’s a quick finish, then maybe I’ll have some more. It depends on how those fights go.”

Such sentiments likely make UFC brass (and fans of women’s MMA in general) pretty nervous. Rousey has been hailed as perhaps the promotion’s biggest new star, and losing her would be bad news for the fight company and health of the sport she helped build.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The UFC hasn’t really invested in any female fighters beyond Rousey. Its 135-pound women’s division has been a one-horse race since its inception. Yet with the recent addition of a women’s strawweight class and a signed deal to begin showing the all-women InvictaFC organization on its Internet streaming service, it doesn’t seem like the organization is just going to give up on women’s MMA, either.

The wild card in all this, of course, is Rousey. She’s proved to be a savvy and driven businessperson, but being a fighter has consumed basically her entire life. She was a martial arts prodigy nearly from birth (her mom is a decorated judo player), and her innate intensity seems far better suited to a life in gyms and cages than long hours learning lines and hanging around movie sets.

Still, she is smart, and smart people don’t stay in the fight game any longer than they absolutely must.

If there’s a better deal out there for her—and few big-money challenges left in the UFC—nobody will blame her for taking it.

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