Cat Zingano came charging out of the corner, launching herself at UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey with a fierce determination, murder in her eyes and weeks of muscle memory twitching in every fiber.
That didn't end up being the best decision she's ever made.
Fourteen seconds after the bell rang to signal the commencement of the fight, Zingano was tapping desperately, her arm contorted at a horrible angle, her title dreams dashed. She had no hope of beating Ronda Rousey.
Perhaps no woman in the UFC does.
Last week, Jeremy Botter and I discussed Rousey's place among the most dominant female athletes of all time. But no matter who you pick out of a crowded field of greats, all of them have met defeat. Martina Navratilova, for example, crushed the competition for more than a decade—but she also lost 13 of every 100 matches.
When you watch Rousey fight, you're not watching a typical athletic competition. Her record stands at 11-0. Only one has lasted more than a single round.
The idea of losing never seems to cross her mind. Rousey is an outlier, a fighter without compare. Even the most dominant teams and individuals face the possibility of losing, whether or not it ever comes.
Rousey's unquestioned excellence makes it hard to compare her, even to someone like the famously undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. Floyd has won 47 consecutive fights. A handful of them, however, were close calls. Not Ronda Rousey. Even the most active imagination would be hard-pressed to concoct a case for any of her opponents winning a single round, let alone a whole fight.
Twice an Olympian in her first 21 years, Rousey has improved with age to the point that no one seems to remotely be competitive. Within a year, she was fighting the best 135-pounders in the world. Now, nearly four years into an already-legendary career, she's better than she's ever been before. Her ferocity, athleticism and single-minded obsession with winning is almost frightening.
The very idea of matching her with any of the UFC's top contenders seems vaguely ludicrous. Bethe Correia? Come on. Holly Holm? She doesn't seem close to being ready. A third fight with Miesha Tate? Why bother?
|Fighter||Ronda Rousey||Cris Cyborg|
|Reach||66 inches||69 inches|
No, there is only one fight that makes sense for Ronda Rousey. Just a single contest worthy of her and capable of making fans' hearts race. There is one woman on the planet on Rousey's level—and her name is Cris "Cyborg" Justino.
Like Rousey, Cyborg makes opponents look hapless in the cage. Like Rousey, she appears to be a force of nature. No one has managed to go the distance with her since 2008. And like Rousey, she ran through the competition this weekend, dispatching poor Charmaine Tweet in just 46 seconds at Invicta FC 11, blasting her with a right hand before swarming with punch after punch for the finish.
At 145 pounds no one can touch her. Since running through Gina Carano in the first major MMA event headlined by women back in 2009, she's finished six consecutive opponents by TKO, although a positive test for the steroid stanozolol clouds those accomplishments in the eyes of some.
Performance-enhancing drugs or no performance-enhancing drugs, her path of destruction is impressive on paper. But it's chill-inducing to actually sit down and watch. Cyborg, true to her nickname, barely seems human.
Watching some poor unfortunates take the long walk down that aisle, certain destruction the inevitable result, is almost sad. They know they have no hope. We know it too. The question isn't how—it's when.
Rousey and Cyborg have seemingly been on a collision course for years. One is a grappler, the other a striker. One an American, the other a Brazilian. One a bantamweight, the other a featherweight.
It's these differences that make them such a compelling potential matchup. This is why mixed martial arts was created. This is a battle of styles and a battle of wills. It's art versus art and athlete versus athlete, all in a single bout.
It is, in a word, epic.
Who will win?
Of course, it's also a fight that has been in discussion for years. Rousey dropped to 135 pounds early in her career and called out Cyborg for not seeking the fight at the bantamweight class. Now the bigger star, Rousey, not surprisingly, still wants the fight on her terms—and at 135 pounds.
"(Ronda) will fight her in a minute if she can make 135 pounds," UFC promoter Dana White told the media after the bout. "She wants to fight her. She won't say it. I'll say it."
Whether Cyborg can make that weight is an open question. She will make an attempt at Invicta's July 10 card in Las Vegas. After that, in a perfect world, it's on to Rousey.
"I can't really say that it will happen this year," Invicta promoter Shannon Knapp told MMAFighting.com. "But what I can tell you is the fans should not give up, because this fight is closer than it has ever been—ever. If it's gonna happen, I think we're gonna see it happen possibly by the end of this year or first quarter of next."
That's good news, both for fans and for Rousey. Her goal is to be the greatest fighter ever. You don't earn that accolade by fighting overmatched opponents like Alexis Davis.
Ultimately, others will decide Rousey's legacy—but her decisions now will decide how she's perceived in the future. If Rousey really wants to be the best, she'll prove it against her only peer inside the cage. That's Cris Cyborg. And the clock is ticking.